Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

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    Jeb Sprague

    Publisher: Monthly Review Press

    Year: 2012

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 400 pages

    ISBN: 9781583673003

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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.

What People Are Saying

"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

"This is a crucial story. For too long, the role of paramilitarism in these events has been recognized but little studied… Sprague is not only concerned with internal Haitian politics, however. The author correctly asserts that Haiti’s battle for popular democracy was never isolated from the broader and profound changes in the Americas… the book reinforces the important point that the survival of progressive movements in the ever-shifting world of Haitian politics is a remarkable testament to the strength of their desire for full inclusion in a process that was set up to keep them out… [The] author does well to remind us why the conversation about Haiti’s recent political history clearly needs to continue." Matthew J. Smith, senior lecturer in history, University of West Indies, Mona; author, Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934–1957

"It is clear upon reading Jeb Sprague’s recounting of the last 20 years in Haiti that the violence had the consistent purpose of weakening the popular movement in its aspirations. The demands are nevertheless the same, and will so remain until such time when there is genuine economic and cultural integration in Haiti. As long as poverty remains structurally entrenched, so will political violence … Jeb’s book is a reminder of Haiti’s delicate nature, like a powder keg ready to explode at any minute. He reminds us that, unless the majority’s concerns are also on the list of policymakers’ priorities, Haiti will remain unstable." Hyppolite Pierre, adjunct faculty in political science, American Military University; author, Haiti, Rising Flames from Burning Ashes: Haiti the Phoenix

"This book is very disturbing … too important a book not to give as much exposure as possible." Norman Girvan, professor emeritus in Economics at the University of the West Indies; author, Cooperation in the Greater Caribbean: The Role of the Association of Caribbean States

"Sprague’s demonstrated expertise on the history of Haitian paramilitaries leaves little doubt that we are witnessing another attempt to turn back the clock by relegitimizing a military force whose wars have always been waged against Haiti’s majority poorest populations… [The author] waited six years to gain access to 11,000 U.S. embassy and State Department documents through the Freedom of Information Act, and he tirelessly catalogs and contextualizes the most salient information that could be gleaned from these documents… He knows that there are many who will resist his claims, and that the exhaustive work of documentation, contextualization, and the organization of events in a clear time line is crucial for his book to be heeded by skeptics… He has set the bar high for those who might seek to counter his claims. Focusing on a period in Haiti (2000-04) that coincides with the dawn of a post-9/11 era in which truth has become a troublingly flexible concept, his book restores faith in the power of evidence and tireless research to prove what really happened." Valerie Kaussen, associate professor in romance languages and literatures, University of Missouri, Columbia; author, Migrant Revolutions: Haitian Literature, Globalization, and U.S. Imperialism

"What I have read is good. We need to expose young Haitians themselves to the analyses by foreign scholars who are in solidarity with the democratic struggle. We need to build new solidarity within “nuestra America.”" Patrick Elie, longtime pro-democracy activist and Haiti’s former Secretary of State for Public Security

About the Author

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 Miami Herald, Jamaica Observer, Inter Press Service, TeleSUR, Al Jazeera, Z Magazine, NACLA, Haiti Liberté, Haiti Progrès, among numerous journals. This is his first book. For more, visit his blog, twitter page, or university website.

Book Details

Author: Jeb Sprague
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781583673003
Size: 400 pages
Publisher: Monthly Review Press
Year: 2012

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