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Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti reviewed in The Bullet

Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti by Jeb Sprague

"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."

—Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, former First Lady of Haiti

The Bullet

Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 718

October 30, 2012

Michael Barker

On August 20, 2012, retired Colombian military general Mauricio Santoyo, former security chief for ex-president Alvaro Uribe, pled guilty to working with the right-wing paramilitary organization, the United Self Defence Forces of Colombia. In his plea agreement, Santoyo acknowledged accepting at least $5-million in bribes from the murderous, drug-running United Self Defence Forces between 2001 to 2008, that is, during the time he served as Uribe’s anti-terror security tzar.

Such murderous double-dealing of course has real and murderous consequences, most of all, for Colombia’s poor. A sordid tale of institutional violence that is examined in two recent book-length studies, Julie Mazzei’s Death Squads or Self-Defense Forces? and Jasmin Hristov’s Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia. Coinciding with these studies, another critical addition to this chilling literature is Jeb Sprague’s Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, released by Monthly Review Press in August of 2012.

Drawing upon first-hand interviews with both paramilitaries, elites and their victims, and with corroboration provided by thousands of U.S. State Department documents (obtained through Freedom of Information Act document requests), Sprague’s incisive contribution to the historical record makes it all too clear how the U.S. government and a collection of local elites have consistently undermined democracy in Haiti – from the nineteenth century right through to the present day.

The Example of Aristide

For example, on the fateful day in February 1991 that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a priest of the ti legiz (the small church in Haiti), became the first democratically elected president of Haiti, a coup sponsored in part by U.S. intelligence agencies was not far off on the horizon; in September 1991 no less. Proud supporters of Haiti’s first democratically elected government however did all that was humanly possible to resist this attack on their sovereignty, and for their outstanding democratic commitment they were soon cut down in their thousands by well-financed Haitian death squads.

Mass resistance to elite rule evidently had to be violently extinguished, and with the close coordination of the CIA station chief in Port-au-Prince, a new paramilitary organization, the Front pour l’Avancement et le Progrès Haitien (FRAPH) was soon formed. This would become Haiti’s leading death squad, reminding observers of the previous generations of paramilitaries (the Tonton Macoutes and the Attachés).

Sprague explains in the first chapter of his book how during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s a paramilitary apparatus had been deployed under the cold war Duvalier regime; the paramilitary force became a pervasive strata across the country – leaching off the poor and state resources. In many ways the most important achievement of Haiti’s modern pro-democracy movement was in its campaign to undo this paramilitary apparatus and disband the country’s military (which had over decades developed a symbiotic relationship with paramilitary forces in the country)….

Read the entire review in The Bullet

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