Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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 the National Liberation and Reconstruction of Haiti, or FLRN). He explained to me that he had taken up his position during an “uprising” in early 2004 against Haiti’s government. He was also a cofounder in the mid1990s of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) death squads. According to Human Rights Watch, the fraph took part in the killing of at least 4,000 people as well as in thousands of rapes and other acts of torture. Before cofounding the fraph, Chamblain had served with the Tonton Macoutes, the infamous paramilitary arm of the Duvalier dictatorship, which according to human rights organizations was responsible for killing tens of thousands of people and victimizing many more. in early 2011, Chamblain would head up security for Jean-Claude Duvalier when the former dictator made a surprise return to Haiti.

Having interviewed and met some of the victims and family members that Chamblain and his fellow paramilitaries had brutalized, I knew what he was capable of doing. I was afraid of him, but I thought speaking with him could potentially reveal important information. Might he let something slip? Who had supported the paramilitaries in Haiti? What would he reveal about the . . .

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