Before Duvalier: Interview with historian Matthew J Smith

Informative piece from Ansel Herz introducing “Red & Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change, 1934-1957” by Dr Matthew J Smith.

It’s the first comprehensive history of the post-occupation era, arguing that “the period (from 1934 until the rise of dictator François “Papa Doc” Duvalier to the presidency in 1957) constituted modern Haiti’s greatest moment of political promise.”

The post also includes excerpts from an interview with Dr Smith in September 2010 which has great insight into Haiti’s recent past and present and the misinformation presented by the ‘establishment’ media.

Can you talk about what common threads, if any, that you see connecting the leftist opposition profiled in your book to today’s Haitian left? For example, is there a continuing disconnect between educated activists and the rural peasantry?

The situation has changed a lot in terms of urban left connections with the rural sectors. One major reason for this is that the rural sectors have become far more prominent through grassroots organizations and community development organizations than during the time covered in the book. The presence of peasant organizations and community-based organizations since the 1980s is an important development.

A major weakness of the leftists of the 1940s was their inability to develop strong regional networks. This is not to say that rural sectors were not politically involved then. They probably were. But the evidence connecting them to the larger movements in Port-au-Prince is not strong. So the fact that activists today include the rural peasantry in their focus is a major difference.

The media often talk about Haiti as a failed state or lacking in democratic traditions. In one recent story about Wyclef Jean, the Associated Press concluded, ” Presidents have only rarely completed a constitutional five-year term – most in history have been overthrown, assassinated, declared themselves “president-for-life” or some combination of the three.” What do you make of the mainstream media’s treatment of Haitian history, to the extent that it is referenced at all?

There is a tradition of misinformation about Haiti and its history is often reduced to being simply one of chaotic politics. It is true that Haiti has had a great many short-term presidents. That is undeniable and a part of historical record. But it is easy to highlight the short rule of presidents and the weaknesses of democratic institutions in the country.

I would doubt that any of the overthrown or assassinated presidents expected to be assassinated or exiled when they took the oath of office. There are deeper issues about why democracy has not been successful in Haiti that are never really addressed in media reports. Since the earthquake there have been really abysmal treatments of Haiti’s history in the mainstream media that seems to insinuate that the Haitian Revolution was the root cause of the country’s problems, including the earthquake. I can’t think of any other country that has been subject to this sort of massive misinformation. Some will argue that it is deliberate……Read the full interview here.

Via MediaHacker: Informative and intelligent writing on Haiti

Also worth reading is “Understanding Jean Claude Duvalier’s weekend visit to Haiti” by Hudes Desrameau which goes a long way to explaining why Duvalier arrived in Haiti last Sunday – possibly the most plausible explanations I have read so far including the fact that a “Martelly win would surely bring Haiti back to the pre-1986 environment.”

[via@ezilidanto Also informative and intelligent writing on Haiti]