Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Review of The Prophet and Power

Bob Corbett has recently written a very lengthy and detailed review of Alex Dupuy's new book on Jean-Bertrand Aristide, titled The Prophet and Power (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2006).

Basically, the book is a survey of Aristide's influence on Haiti and Haitian politics, beginning with his early days as a liberation theology priest in the 1980s until he was ousted from in his most recent presidency in early 2004.

Unlike most of what has been written about Aristide in the English language press during the past twenty years, Corbett argues that Dupuy's analysis tends to avoid an either/or dichotomy, providing a more nuanced interpretation of Aristide's legacy:

Alex Dupuy’s over-arching thesis is quite different. He makes a strong case that this story lacks any blameless good folks. Whether it is Aristide’s person and personality, the activities of his party and supporters, or any one or group of his Haitian opposition or the U.S.-led international community, each and everyone comes in for severe and intelligent criticism. There just isn’t, on Dupuy’s account, a “right” or “good” side in this story for the country of Haiti. It is a terrible tragedy of the repeated history of the fall of one failed state, being replaced by an equally failed state.

During Aristide's tenure as a parish priest, Corbett explains:

The first Aristide is, on Dupuy’s account, an appealing figure, but with a radical contradiction in his person and views. I am impressed and persuaded by Dupuy’s analysis that THIS early Aristide is best understood as a man of contradictory tendencies (italics mine): a reformer with a true passion to bring about reforms consistent with the liberation theology concept of “the preferential option of the poor,” yet as a personal revolutionary and one who sees himself as not only a prophet, but as a leader not responsible to others.
Later upon being elected to the presidency of Haiti, these contradictions in Aristide's personality coupled with Haiti's volatile internal situation proved to be his undoing:

He preached democracy and revved up a great deal of support for this notion, yet he had an almost impossible time acting democratically within Lavalas or as president. He seemed deeply committed to his own vision and one was either with him or against him. The clash was devastating.

More importantly, he preached democracy, seems to have wanted a rule by law, but faced enormous forces against him, many of which were using physical force. Thus the more revolutionary, prophetic Aristide turned to the non-democratic “power of the people” to protect him.

Perhaps what got Aristide in the greatest mess was his advocacy of and refusal to deny the use of Pere Lebrun (fiery necklacing of people with tires). Not only was this a terrifying threat to government officials and opposition people in the bourgeoisie. It was a frightening inconsistency – at times Aristide seemed to be agreeable to working with the opposition and compromising here and there, and at other times he would be talking of how wonderful this tool was. It created strong doubt in the minds of many of the reliability of any alliance with Aristide.

I have long argued that Aristide had a brilliant career as a liberation theology priest who helped to bring about the demise of Haiti's corrupt Duvalier regime, but that he failed dismally as Haiti's first freely elected president. Dupuy's book helps us to understand why. Clearly, The Prophet and Power is a must-read book for anyone interested in understanding the legacy of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as well as the broader issues of why Haiti remains stubbornly ungovernable.

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At Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 8:51:00 PM EST , Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

This jives with my view of Aristide. That does NOT mean that his ouster from power--a wholly undemocratic act--was justified. It was part of the lawlessness of BushCo.

If Aristide had been replaced electorally, Haiti might be in MUCH better shape, now.

At Sunday, February 25, 2007 at 6:51:00 PM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Yes, your absolutely right, Michael!


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