Friday, March 12, 2010

The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is best known to mainstream readers through Tracy Kidder's 2003 book Mountains Beyond Mountains which addresses his Partners in Health activities in Haiti. The Uses of Haiti is a book filled with great passion. Farmer published this book on a private press because he felt no established press would carry it, no doubt because of his vehement stances against the U.S. manipulation of leadership in Haiti, especially in regards to the ouster of Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president. Introductions by Jonathan Kozol and Noam Chomsky set the tone for Farmer's insightful invective.
The book centers around the U.S. support of dictators Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, all in the name of anti communist sentiment. These murderous regimes were considered a strategic asset by the U.S. State Dept. It was the racism of the U.S. stewards that paved the way for noiriste rhetoric from Duvalier whose principal legacy is ethnic cleansing of the elite and powerful mulatto class.
The central thesis is that it was the Cold War that underpinned U.S. policy towards Haiti. This culiminated in the ouster of Aristide, who was extraordinarliy popular among the peasant masses, who elected him in a fair election. The New York Times' Howard French compared Aristide's Lavalas ("flood", because when the rains came the floods washed away all the dirt) movement to Mao's Cultural Revolution. French had incommensurate influence and was chided by some as "foreign minister." Aristide was the first leader to relinquish the Army, which had been put in place in 1915 after invasion by the U.S. Marine Corps. That Army never had to fight a foreign invasion, it was there only to protect the dictators and control the peasants.
Farmer titles the book The Uses of Haiti because he believes Haiti and Haitians exist to serve the powerful. This is ironic in that the U.S. did not even recognize Haiti until 1844. For half a century, Haitian administrations have received foreign aid as a means to retain power. Haiti had great attration in proximity to the U.S. as a sweatshop for the manufacture of cheap goods, like Hong Kong or Taiwan at the time. The value to the U.S. economy was such that USAID fought hard to prevent Aristide from raising the minimum wage. The Haitian elite supported that effort with an ongoing sabotage of the democratic process.
One final note is an interesting case study of the boat people who were routinely screened for AIDS. Guantanamo had a special Camp Bulkeley for retaining only HIV-positive refugees, who were treated like criminals.