Haiti’s new Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation
Haiti’s new Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation.
By JUSTIN PODUR. Pluto Press, 2012. $29.95
Reviewed by Natali Downer
The controversial book Haiti’s new Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation is a significant contribution to current discussions around globalisation, political economy, development, post-colonialism, and human rights. Podur’s work provides welcome insight and a critical perspective on the struggle for sovereignty in modern day Haiti. The author takes the reader through Haiti’s political history, beginning with the slave revolution of 1804, which established Haiti as the world’s first independent black Republic. The historical account grounds the reader in Haiti’s reality—the ongoing battle for economic and political sovereignty within its borders. Since its independence, Podur argues, the successful slave revolt in Haiti has been an ontological challenge to those who would seek to impose colonialism; it is the challenge they posed in 1804 and today.
Podur sections the book into historical eras, including the Duvalier dictatorship followed by Haiti’s popular movement and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which act as signposts for his study. In Podur’s analysis of the second and pivotal coup against Aristide in 2004, he argues that the new dictatorship was imposed and solidified under the control of the U.S., Canada, France and later, the United Nations. Specifically, under the guise of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (the new iteration of the “White Man’s Burden”,) western countries employed the old colonial pretext in order to “overthrow Haiti’s elected government and replace it with an internationally constructed dictatorship.” Drawing on Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s concept of dictatorship, as the use of violence and centralization of power, Podur adds “impunity” to the description as it characterizes how violations by the regime and its supporters go unpunished. Podur categorises the new international variety of dictatorship as a “laboratory experiment in a new kind of imperialism.”
Podur discusses the contradictory role of the domestic and international media as contributing to the success of the coup. He argues that the media misrepresented the details surrounding the kidnapping and replacement of a democratically elected prime minister with the dictatorship of the United Nations. He describes the “media disinformation loop” as part of the coup infrastructure by shaping beliefs and actions. Podur’s work is an attempt to publicize an alternative to corrupt mainstream reporting.
The media did not question the legitimacy of the coup regime or the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Podur argues that the occupation of Haiti by the MINUSTAH occurred under peculiar justifications. He reports that, “in Haiti an internationalized military solution is being offered for what even the UN admitted were problems of poverty and social crime that occur in many places.” He argues that violence and murder rates are higher in other countries, including the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad, and Jamaica. The mainstream rationale for UN occupation in Haiti has evaded inquiry.
Podur’s analysis of the coup extends to the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the new dictatorship. In Haiti, Podur argues, NGOs perform tasks that belong in the hands of a functioning public service, accountable to the people. Instead, NGOs operate in the interests of their donor countries—“offering wealthy countries a morally responsible way of subcontracting the sovereignty of the nations they exploit.” Making NGOs “less non-governmental and more ‘over governmental’” and revealing the determinant role of external intervention in corrupting sovereignty.
NGOs are responsible for the bulk of disaster response in Haiti. Podur’s analysis of the earthquake of 2010 reveals a stunning account of how well-meaning donors are part of a feedback loop that (in part) finances a corrupt system. This system of local elites, international enterprises, and NGOs acts with impunity as they create and reinforce vulnerabilities because funds are controlled by western technocrats and corporations (particularly in times of crisis). Rather than geographic factors, Podur argues that social factors are the major cause of Haiti’s horrific death toll following disasters. The decapitation of Haiti’s government and the subsequent program cuts demobilizes the public service while it enables the rise of the “republic of NGOs” and the UN Dictatorship. As Haiti lacks the sovereignty to orchestrate its own disaster response, the failure to rebuild after the earthquake marks the failure of the new dictatorship and not the people of Haiti.
Podur illustrates the character of the new dictatorship allowing readers to understand the truly gruesome nature of the post-coup occupiers. Podur’s report leaves the reader spinning from accounts of murder and corruption; page after page the reader experiences Haiti’s grim reality in the new imperialist regime. While the lists of events in the book become disorienting to read, they serve to demonstrate the brutality of actions performed by western nations, the Haitian elite, and armed factions.
In this book Podur argues that Haiti is engaged in a historical struggle for democracy against external control. Podur’s work on Haiti reveals how a multilateral violation of sovereignty is organized and carried out, and exposes the “new face of dictatorship in the twenty-first century global order.” However, the larger project of this book suggests a call to action. Podur recounts the illegitimacy of the occupation and its atrocities so that widespread recognition can be achieved and policies changed. Podur challenges us to consider what it truly means to help Haiti, to face the consequences of our “do-good” attempts at aid and instead aim to assist Haitians to reclaim national sovereignty.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Haiti, State Against Nation: The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990. Print.
NATALI DOWNER is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. Her research explores the contradictions of capitalism as expressed in the twin crisis of peak oil and climate change.
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