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Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 375
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  • Book Info
    Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-302-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 9-18)

    His right eye blinked furiously, swollen and red; he continued to rub it. In Kreyòl, he demanded to know how I had found him: “Kote w ou jwenn nimewo telefòn mwen?” (Where did you get my phone number?); “Pou kiyès wap travay?” (Who are you working for?), he said as he stared at me with suspicion. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the man sitting across from me, had been a commander of the paramilitary force (paramilitaries are irregular armed organizations backed by sectors of the upper class) known as the Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti (also known as the Front for...

  5. 1. A History of Political Violence Against the Poor
    (pp. 19-50)

    The historical roots of systematic political violence by dominant groups targeting people in the Caribbean region can be traced back centuries.¹ The indigenous peoples, inhabitants of the region for at least 5,000 years, were almost completely decimated just fifty years after Christopher Columbus landed in 1492 on the island he dubbed Hispañola. In 1697, the western part of the island became a French possession called Saint Domingue, and the eastern section was named Santo Domingo and stayed under the Spanish crown. During the next century, Saint Domingue, known as Haiti since independence in 1804, became one of the richest colonies...

  6. 2. Popular Democracy and Attempts to Turn It Back, 1990–2000
    (pp. 51-100)

    In the closing years of the Cold War, as right-wing dictatorships from Manila to Brasilia collapsed, new social conflicts arose in their wake. Transnational elites could not countenance electoral victories by movements from the left, so they worked through the agencies of the United States and other countries to promote their local elite counterparts. In this way they could effect carefully controlled transitions from dictatorship to civilian government. This is what William I. Robinson has described as a strategy of polyarchy, brought into being in part through what Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead have dubbed “demonstration elections.”¹

    In Haiti, there...

  7. 3. The Return of Paramilitarism, 2000–2001
    (pp. 101-124)

    The earliest phase of the new paramilitary campaign to destabilize and topple Haiti’s democracy began in October 2000.

    This chapter examines the first stage of this renewed campaign of paramilitary terror, beginning in 2000. Numerous interviews I conducted provided details on the formation and early activities of the paramilitary organization known as the Front pour la Libération et la Reconstruction Nationale. The FLRN was composed of individuals who had formerly served as police, military, and paramilitary forces in Haiti. Little has been written of FLRN activities in its early years of existence and about the role of a collection of...

  8. 4. The Initial Attacks on the Aristide Presidency, 2001
    (pp. 125-164)

    Unable to defeat Lavalas at the polls, opposition leaders resorted to blatantly undemocratic tactics, the worst of which was their support for the FLRN paramilitaries. Regrouped on Dominican soil, the ex-military men plotted to launch raids into Haiti. The Front pour la Libération et la Reconstruction Nationales (FLRN) was ironically named given that their goal was to violently bring down Haiti’s constitutional order and reconstitute a murderous and destructive military.

    By February 2001, leading figures of the CD were openly calling for the Bush administration to topple Aristide and reinstitute the military, arguing that the CIA should train and equip...

  9. 5. War of Attrition 2002–2004
    (pp. 165-200)

    In the wake of a failed attack on the National Palace, the insurgency began to dig in its heels. The new strategy was to mount a protracted guerilla campaign in the Central Plateau, and from there strike into other parts of the country. Judie C. Roy, Georges Saati, and a handful of other rightist bourgeoisie and older Duvalierists, appear to have gathered early on the financial support that was required for the paramilitaries to function.¹ By 2002, more and more officials from various opposition political parties began traveling to Santo Domingo to meet with Guy Philippe and other paramilitary leaders....

  10. 6. The “Uprising” of January and February 2004
    (pp. 201-234)

    As opposition groups attempted to sabotage the government’s bicentennial celebrations, a full-scale “uprising” was now being planned.¹ Much of the focus of diplomats’ and journalists’ attention was now on the country’s security forces and whose side would they take. Would they resist a full-scale paramilitary attack upon the country’s large cities? Would the exhausted popular classes or the various Lavalas popular organizations and militants put up much of a fight? By early February 2004, the U.S. embassy was “carefully monitoring HNP actions and morale.” ²

    One of the most intense struggles during this period occurred over the port city of...

  11. 7. The Post-Coup Period, 2004–2005, and Beyond
    (pp. 235-274)

    This chapter will look at how armed groups violently attacked poor communities following the 2004 coup, paramilitaries continued to be used but also transitioned into new roles and were guided by—and in some cases clashed with—transnational elites that took power following the ouster of Haiti’s democratic government. Information in this chapter relies heavily on Freedom of Information Act requests and U.S. embassy cables released through WikiLeaks.

    In March 2004, a reinvigorated paramilitary campaign was launched in the face of an anti-coup backlash by Haiti’s poor, who organized huge demonstrations and rallies.

    “Although an important part of the official...

  12. 8. Conclusion: Unending Social Conflict
    (pp. 275-286)

    Haiti’s contemporary social conflict is rooted in historical dynamics of inequality and repression. The campaign to end the ability of army and paramilitary gunmen to brutalize the poor resonates with many in Haiti and abroad, as does Lavalas’s transformational agenda in which the moun en deyo were central in ending their own exclusion from Haiti’s politics. With Haiti’s 1986 constitution in place but not yet fully realized, and the organizing of the country’s popular classes and local political fights going through cycles, local elites will continue to utilize avenues of deceit or political violence, refusing to recognize as full human...

  13. APPENDIX: Literature and Media Review
    (pp. 287-304)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 305-388)
  15. Index
    (pp. 389-400)