Friday, August 17, 2012

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

by Jeb Sprague-Monthly Review Press

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti
Paperback, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1-58367-300-3
Cloth (ISBN-13: 978-1-58367-301-0)
August 2012 
Price: $23.95 
Click here for a list of upcoming events with the author!
In this path-breaking book, Jeb Sprague investigates the dangerous world of right-wing paramilitarism in Haiti and its role in undermining the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people. Sprague focuses on the period beginning in 1990 with the rise of Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Over the ensuing two decades, paramilitary violence was largely directed against the poor and supporters of Aristide’s Lavalas movement, taking the lives of thousands of Haitians. Sprague seeks to understand how this occurred, and traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti but also in the United States and the Dominican Republic.
The product of years of original research, this book draws on over fifty interviews—some of which placed the author in severe danger—and more than 11,000 documents secured through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. It makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of Haiti today, and is a vivid reminder of how democratic struggles in poor countries are often met with extreme violence organized at the behest of capital.
It is absolutely imperative for Haiti’s history that such a detailed account of the role of paramilitary violence in the country be recorded… The marshalling of facts and events… [and the] meticulous references are phenomenal… an historical narrative – supported by personal testimony, interviews, WikiLeaks, press reports, history and common sense, etc… careful juxtaposing throughout of information from embassy cables side by side with events as they were happening on the ground during this turbulent time. It shows the contradiction with what [the] mainstream press was reporting.
—Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, former First Lady of Haiti; author, L’enfant en domesticité en Haïti, produit d’un fossé historique
In this crucial work, based on years of interviews, investigative reporting, and analysis of classified U.S. government documents, veteran journalist and scholar Jeb Sprague provides a shocking account of the role of paramilitaries in subverting the aspirations of the Haitian people for democracy, freedom, and development. He shows with great detail and analytical acuity how these paramilitaries are in the service of local and transnational elites whose dual agenda is to repress those popular aspirations and to integrate Haiti as a dependent cog ever deeper into the global capitalist order. What comes through most clear are the lies and deceit of the U.S. government and other Western representatives, for whom ‘democracy’ is but a smokescreen for systematic and far-reaching efforts to prop up a decadent local elite, turn the country over to transnational capital, and repress through paramilitary terror any resistance to its plan for Haiti. This book is must reading for all those concerned with the political and paramilitary machinations of the new global capitalist order. It shows just how far the elites who dominate that order are willing to go to hold down the people of a tiny island nation that face one adversity after another and yet continues to struggle for freedom 200 years after they threw off the shackles of slavery and colonialism.
—William I. Robinson, professor of sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara; author, Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective
This book offers the most substantial and detailed account yet written of the paramilitary insurgency that contributed to the internationally-sanctioned overthrow of Haiti’s constitutional government in 2004. Based on an impressive range of newly uncovered documents, the book provides a thorough and convincing analysis of this scandalously under-studied sequence, including a careful reconstruction of the struggle for power in the Haitian police force in 2000-2001, the Contra-style subversion campaign of 2003-2004, and the role played by the neighboring Dominican Republic. The result of this campaign more or less destroyed Haiti’s precarious democracy and crippled the country’s capacity to invest in its people or to respond to disaster; an understanding of the coup of 2004 and its consequences should remain central to any discussion of Haiti’s reconstruction today.
—Peter Hallward, professor of philosophy, Kingston University, London; author, Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment
This book offers a brilliant diagnosis of the history of political violence in Haiti. Jeb Sprague, who is a PhD student in Sociology, having interviewed some of the principal actors behind Haiti’s transitional period, brings to light many political events from 1990 to 2005. The book highlights the contemporary phenomenon of paramilitarism in Haiti and looks closely at the ways in which it was revived in the early 2000s. From the investigation of the role of paramilitarism in connection to the coup d’état occurring in 2004 to the election of Michel Martelly in 2011 and the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the author examines different elements attempting to keep democracy away from the Haitian people. Here’s a book that I will recommend everyone to read.
—Jean Sénat Fleury, Haitian investigating judge of the Raboteau massacre in Gonaïves, former instructor at Haiti’s National Police Academy (1995) and trainer and director of studies at the School for Magistrates (2002); author,The Challenges of Judicial Reform in Haiti
One might quibble about Jeb Sprague’s evaluation of Lavalas’s historical accomplishments, but one cannot deny that his book is a major and provocative contribution to our understanding of the travail of Haitian paramilitarism since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti is a must-read not only for Haitianists, but also for anyone interested in the processes of political destabilization and popular disempowerment.
—Robert Fatton, professor of politics, University of Virginia; author, Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending Transition to Democracy
Jeb Sprague is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He received a Project Censored Award in 2008 for an article (coauthored with Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre) from Port-au-Prince, and has written for the Inter Press ServiceTeleSURAl JazeeraZ MagazineNACLAHaiti LibertéHaiti Progrès, among numerous journals. This is his first book. For more, visit his blog, twitter page, or university website.

Book Exposes Violent Role of Paramilitaries in Haiti

By Judith Scherrl
Paramilitaries destroyed the free school buses that had been operating in Cap Haitian under Aristide's government. Credit: Judith Scherr, Cap Haitian, Haiti, August 2004.
Paramilitaries destroyed the free school buses that had been operating in Cap Haitian under Aristide's government. Credit: Judith Scherr, Cap Haitian, Haiti, August 2004.
OAKLAND, California, Aug 16 2012 (IPS) - Haiti’s brutal army was disbanded in 1995, yet armed and uniformed paramilitaries, with no government affiliation, occupy former army bases today.
President Michel Martelly, who has promised to restore the army, has not called on police or U.N. troops to dislodge these ad-hoc soldiers.
Given the army’s history of violent opposition to democracy, Martelly’s plan to renew the army “can only lead to more suffering”, says Jeb Sprague in his forthcoming book “Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti”, to be released mid August by Monthly Review Press.
The role of Haiti’s military and paramilitary forces has received too little academic and media attention, says Sprague, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He hopes his book will help to fill that gap.

Sprague researched the book over more than six years, traveling numerous times to Haiti, procuring some 11,000 U.S. State Department documents through the Freedom of Information Act, interviewing more than 50 people, reading the Wikileaks’ files on Haiti, and studying secondary sources.
The author is an academic, but he doesn’t strive for neutrality. His is an unapologetic belief in the right of the Haitian masses to control their destiny.
To support his narrative, Sprague includes 100 pages of footnotes.
“I know there will be critics of the book,” he told IPS, “I wanted to have a lot of information there to back up what I’m saying, so it’s not just seen as conjecture or rumour.”
In his historical analysis, Sprague takes the reader back to the “poison gift” the U.S. gave Haiti during its 1915-1934 occupation: an army “that would continue the U.S. occupation long after U.S. troops were gone,” Sprague writes, explaining that U.S. Marines created an army “subservient to the interests of the U.S., the bourgeoisie, and the big landowners”.
Sprague writes about the period of the father and son dictators Duvalier, 1957-1986, when the U.S. considered the Haitian army a “bulwark” against the spread of communism. He explores the military’s “incestuous” relationship to the Duvaliers’ infamous Tontons Macoute, whose purpose, he writes, was “to extort and attack government critics, often acting as secret police or executioners”.
After the Duvaliers, paramilitary forces continued their violence. In 1988, gunmen were thwarted in their attempt to murder the liberation theologian priest Jean Bertrand Aristide, whose popularity was rising; 13 people were killed and 80 injured in the attack.
The gunmen didn’t act alone. Sprague ties these paramilitaries to a former Macoute trained at the School of the Americas, the mayor of Port-au-Prince and wealthy businesspeople.