“Revolution is a scary thing”
After seven years in exile, Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide will return to the country this week.
In today’s New York Times, author Amy Wilentz describes why Aristide’s return is a threat to Haiti’s elites, who are vastly outnumbered by the country’s poor — many of whom are intensely loyal to Aristide:
SAY the name Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti this week, and it’s as if the revolutionary slave leaders Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines were still riding over the plains and mountains here, astride Delacroix-worthy steeds, making their descent with sabers drawn upon the vast plantations of the French masters.
[...] Cut off their heads and burn down their houses, Dessalines told his troops, who went on to win a historic and singular victory over the French Army in 1804. Two centuries later, the elite, some of whom are descendants of the French colonists, still have a profound fear of the poverty-stricken general population. They understand fully that the triumph of the slaves never brought about the structural changes in Haitian society for which those early, bloody battles were fought. The ruling class still fears the overturning of the customary order. Revolution is a scary thing.
When the slaves gathered in 1791 to plot the end of French rule, there were about 500,000 of them on the island, and some 40,000 French colonists. Today the demographics are even more skewed, with about nine million people living in unimaginable poverty, while a microscopic elite guards among themselves whatever wealth is to be had here. Among all this flits the aid and development community, who have arrived in droves since the January 2010 earthquake, with their airy expensive apartments, S.U.V.’s, vans and pickup trucks, and packets of money to hand out.
[...] It’s perfect volatile tinder in which to toss the match of Mr. Aristide’s return.
It’s a great piece that draws on Haiti’s fascinating and contradictory history to make sense of this week’s sure-to-be major political development. You can read the whole thing here.