Book review: Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

Sprague, Jeff. Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. 2012. Monthly Review Press, NY, USA. ISBN 978-1-58367-301-0
Review by Theresa Wolfwood

Sprague, a USA scholar, has written a detailed and readable history of Haiti, now the poorest country in this hemisphere; once the source of great wealth for its colonizer, France. His emphasis after reviewing early history is on the last 40 years of paramilitarism. (Paramilitarism is militarism that is outside the structure of regular government military – in Haiti’s case, militarism controlled by wealthy elites.)

He writes, “The central focus of this book, the phenomenon of paramilitarism in Haiti and its role in crushing Haitian people’s experiment in popular democracy begins in the last quarter of the twentieth century, when democratic struggles for social justice and inclusion were taking place around the world.”

Canada has had a significant role in that crushing of democracy. In 1991 a pro-democracy movement organized and elected the first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. After several bloody coups driven by paramilitarism, Aristide was driven from office in 2004; his accomplishments were destroyed and his supporters, the popular movements, repressed and punished. Canada was right there with the USA and France doing the job of global capitalism – not allowing this small poor country the chance of being a model for other countries and an inspiration for oppressed people everywhere. Paramilitary forces, backed by the USA, have been a major reason for the continuing violent suppression of democracy movements since 2004.

Sprague explains the different waves or groups that have been formed and re-assembled to do this dirty work. “In its contemporary form in Haiti, paramilitarism was institutionalized by the state under the Duvalierist regime with the backing of wealthy elites and at key periods the U.S. and, very likely, French intelligence agencies.”

All this is a much needed background to why Haiti has been continually punished for its courage to try to be independent and democratic. In spite of its poverty, lack of infrastructure and deforestation and soil erosion, all exacerbated by the earthquake of January, 2010, Haiti is a rich country, easy plucking for global corporate interests.

“The recognition of Haiti's mineral potential, coupled with an improving business climate, resulted in EMX's establishment of an exploration program in early 2006. EMX's initial exploration successes at the La Miel and La Mine projects led to the establishment in 2008 of a Joint Venture and Regional Strategic Alliance with Newmont Ventures Limited ("Newmont"), a wholly owned subsidiary of Newmont Mining Corporation.”  From - the website of Eurasian Minerals, whose head office is in Vancouver.

Jane Regan, lead author of "Gold Rush in Haiti: Who Will Get Rich?" a report by Haiti Grassroots Watch quoted in The Guardian and Haïti Liberté, wrote "You’ve got a perfect storm brewing whereby you’re looking at giant pit mines in the north, in a country that’s already environmentally devastated, and giant pit mines being run by Canadian and American companies…Most of the money that’s made and most of the gold that’s dug up will go straight north."

These quotes go a long way to explain both the Canadian government’s eagerness to cooperate with the overthrow of Aristide’s government which was attempting to protect Haiti’ people and resources, and our government’s support of the present Haitian government.

In his concluding chapter: Unending Social Conflict Sprague writes “the most pressing question is how we can expose paramilitarism and promote justice for the victims of rightist political violence in Haiti…New strategies are needed by activists and movements from below to investigate and communicate to a mass audience the levels of extreme violence that are being used against the poor.”

He emphasizes the importance of building links between grassroots movements and organizations active in Haiti and other countries He urges us to act; and hopes that “truth compels our actions”.

Join the Canada Haiti Action Network, the Vancouver based group that sponsored Sprague’s Canada book tour:  for ongoing action and current information.