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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Digging Deep into Haitian History

By Hudes Desrameaux

 Special to CSMS MagazineReleased last year in the United States, Hyppolite Pierre’s book “Haiti, Rising Flames From Burning Ahes”, appears not to have caught the attention of too many readers or critics both inside and outside Haiti.That is unfortunate as the author, a long-time Maryland resident, provides an insightful interpretation of Haitian history—past and present. This book is a true primer on Haitian history and can be used in any Haitian History 101 class.Hyppolite could never be accused and found guilty of intellectual laziness inasmuch this book of 374 pages represents a serious attempt to understand all these events that have shaped Haiti since its birth in 1804 while simultaneously proposing a cure to Haiti’s political ailments.Not to forget the fact that the author drops throughout the book countless tidbits, details about Haitian history that can be of interest to both the casual reader and the serious academician.This book makes for easy reading. A collection of 25 essays, it allows the reader the freedom to start with any chapter and still be able to foray confidently in this minefield of information, facts and analysis the author deems important to share with the readership.While easy to read, it is nevertheless quite a challenge to excavate through this book of essays and find the “line of thought” that gives this book its unity and coherence.The author fine-tunes his analytical tools to critically look at all the major institutions that form Haiti’s political landscape: the judiciary, the legislative, the executive, the military, the electoral council, the role of culture and a slew of other important topics.This method reveals both the strength and the weakness of the book. Indeed, the author left no stones unturned to understand past and contemporary Haitian history, but some sections, like the chapter on the role of the media, left to be desired due to maybe the author’s lack of knowledge on this subject.Hyppolite goes through Haitian history and builds a case for historical unity despite all the different historical periods. Pétion is seen as the first Haitian populist, while Christophe is portrayed as the first politician of the political Right. Mistrust and an aversion for concessions run deep through Haitian history from the beginning until today, according to the author.This book is not without fault.While the author is very thoughtful throughout the book, some comments betray, though, the author’s surprising lack of analytical sophistication. Here is one: “Haitians must start thinking in terms of perfection….to reach their goal of development”.I doubt there is such a thing as “fighting for perfection” in politics. Haitians, instead, must aggressively strive to achieve the realistically possible while minimizing the internal and external threats and maximizing the internal and international opportunities that the country faces.I could go on to identify other statements where the author seems to have again removed his thinking cap. Aristide didn’t ultimately fall in 2004 because of the French’s displeasure with the former restitution initiative. Aristide’s fall was fundamentally internal: His authoritarian practices were the root cause.Aristide didn’t give the Haitian masses “a very clear voice in the system”. The claim that “without Voodoo, Haiti would not have been independent”, smacks more of a petit-bourgeois/folkloric view of history than anything else.In page 136, Hyppolite warns the reader: “There is a tendency in Haiti to simplify sophisticated issues”.I fear that the author may not have heeded this judicious warning as at times he gives a facile explanation of why Haiti is what it is today. Hyppolite summarizes the Haitian tragedy this way: mistrust, the lack of compromise among the leaders and the use of violence to accede to, and stay in, power.He may be right in the sense that the presence of these factors in the Haitian body politics has indeed wrought havoc in our beloved country. However, one should go beyond the surface of events to reveal other layers that may hold the key to understanding Haitian history.Haiti’s current predicament is rather the rotten fruit of political infighting among its dominant classes to see which of its various sectors would steal the most of the economic pie. The mistrust or the lack of compromise is the symptom, not the cause, of the Haitian debacle.Another mistake is the author’s repeated tendency to make a series of historical assumptions. If such event was negotiated this way instead of that way or if our Haitian leaders would show more, and not less, concessions, Haiti would have been in a much better shape. How do you know?Without saying it clearly, the author dangles the USA example as the perfect model of political and economic development: a two plus party system, an investigative media, a powerful civil society, a military that protects the economy.The author is right on some of the prescriptions. However, this is what Haiti needs the most: a truly organized popular democratic movement anchored around a clear ideological line of economic justice, social inclusion and political sovereignty and a clear goal to peacefully and collaboratively govern Haiti on behalf of all.Also see Cowboy in Caracas: A book that meticulously describes the true nature of the bourgeoisie in Venezuela in its war against president Hugo ChavezNote: Hudes Desrameaux is a writer and editorialist for the New York-based weekly The Haitian Times. He lives in Miami, Florida.

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