Books & Arts
Want to send this page or a link to a friend? Click on mail at the top of this window.
Posted November 25, 2005
miami herald logo.gif (4125 bytes)
The rise and fall of Haiti's 'savior'

The author deftly chronicles Aristide's transformation from a perceived messiah to a master manipulator.


Michael Deibert. Introduction by Raoul Peck. Seven Stories. 448 pages. $22.95 in paper.

Notes from the Last Testament should convince all but those few remaining foreign believers in former President Jean Bertrand Aristide -- many of whom were on his payroll -- that he was just one more would-be tyrant in a long line of self-serving and corrupt Haitian leaders.

The book has problems, particularly an overload of Haitian history and culture that distracts from what essentially is a memoir. But this is a minor flaw in Deibert's powerfully documented exposť of what amounts to Aristide's criminal rule of Haiti.

Deibert was the Reuters news service correspondent in Haiti as well as a contributor to several foreign newspapers. He got to know leaders of Aristide-financed slum gangs, called chimeres, who were, as Deibert documents, on call for word from the National Palace to disrupt an opposition demonstration or carry out other nefarious tasks on Aristide's behalf.

As Deibert observes in recounting the infamous massacre of an opposition group in St. Marc a few weeks before Aristide's flight to exile on February 29, 2004: Haitians ``were forced to endure unimaginable agony so that one man -- with the aid of a small cadre of killers for hire, corrupt officials and cynical, avaricious foreign advocates -- could attempt to build his own personal empire on the ruins of what was once a country.''

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, came to power in a December 1990 presidential election generally regarded as the only free and democratic election in Haiti's 200 years of independence. He won by more than some two-thirds of the popular vote by an electorate that hailed him as a savior.

Deibert deftly chronicles Aristide's transformation from a perceived messiah to a master manipulator as he moved to consolidate his control over the hemisphere's poorest country. Even before he was overthrown by a military coup seven months after taking office on Feb. 7, 1991, there were clear signs he was not the savior that many had hoped. Among the early signals was his call to supporters for street violence to thwart an attempted coup by Roger LaFontant, an old-line backer of former dictator Francois ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier.

Those answering the call destroyed the historic cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince and burned scores of people in old tires.

After his ouster in September 1991, Aristide went to Venezuela, where he soon wore out his welcome, spending the remainder of his three-year exile in Washington. The Clinton administration restored him to power in the fall of 1994, following an invasion by 20,000 troops. Bitter that the United States would not accept the extension of his term for the three years spent in exile, he increasingly took on the mantle of his authoritarian and corrupt predecessors.

He was elected president again in November 2000, a largely sham vote boycotted by the opposition, in which he ran against six unknown candidates. Anti-Aristide sentiment grew, though, and negotiations began for his departure in late 2003, and on Feb. 29, 2004, in a plane provided by the United States, he left for eventual exile in South Africa, where he remains. But after his departure, and as duplicitous as ever, Aristide claimed he had been ``kidnapped.''

Don Bohning is a former Herald Latin America editor and author of the recently published book: The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba 1959-1965.

Reprinted from The Miami Herald of Sunday, November 20, 2005. Related text:

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the prophet of deception, the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
More from
Main / Columns / Books And Arts / Miscellaneous