Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 4

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 26 2013


Aristide was elected by a landslide in November 2000. Many said he had become a corrupt tyrant against whom even the poor had turned. Nevertheless, Gallup polls in 2002, the results of which were never disseminated, showed that, whatever his faults, he was far and away Haiti’s most popular and trusted politician.

The protégés of white supremacist Jesse Helms had more say in Aristide’s fate than the Haitian electorate. The Bush administration sent Roger Noriega to Haiti to ‘work out’ the crisis. Noriega worked for Helms and his allies and US Haiti policy was determined by a small number of people who were prominent in Reagan’s or Bush pére’s cabinets. Reagan’s UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was on the board of the International Republican Institute which actively supported the Opposition in Haiti and backed the demobilized army personnel who provided the opposition’s muscle. Many of Reagan and the elder Bush’s henchman returned to government under Bush fils after spending time in conservative think tanks or lobbying firms. Elliot Abrams, convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings was on the NSC and even today is offering Obama advice in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine.

Although US officials stated initially that Aristide had been “taken to the country of his choice”, Aristide’s claim that he had no idea where he was going seems more plausible.

Aid as a weapon

Haiti’s government, which serves eight million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. Paul Farmer reported that The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved four loans, for health, education, drinking water and road improvement. Haitian and American sources have confirmed to him that the US asked the bank to block the loans until the electoral disputes had been worked out.

The freeze continued throughout Aristide’s tenure even after the dispute was resolved. The US gave Haiti, per capita, one tenth of what it distributed in Kosovo. A great deal of it went to the anti-Aristide opposition. A lot also went to pay for the UN occupation and Halliburton support services. International financial institutions engaged in discriminatory and probably illegal practices towards Haiti.

Many of Aristide’s supporters in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.

Amy Wilentz recounts an anecdote which epitomizes the foreign aid relationship. Joyce and Eldon were Baptist missionaries who wanted the CARE Food-for- Work program to make converts for the Lord. The peasants did not like building a new pigsty for Joyce and Eldon for a meal a day rather than cash. With cash they could store food at home for their families. Food-for-Work felt like slavery.


The Haitian government was forced to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts. About 40% of Haiti’s $1.134 billion international debt was from loans to the Duvalier dictators. In July 2003, Haiti sent more than 90% of all its foreign reserves to Washington to pay off these arrears.

By the end of the 19th century, payments to France consumed around 80% of Haiti’s budget. Aristide declared that France “extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, healthcare, water systems and roads.” He added in interest and adjusted for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48

Régis Debray, left-wing hero of the 1960s and associate of Che Guevara, was sent to Haiti by Chirac in search of arguments to undermine Aristide’s position. Debray concluded that Aristide’s demands had no “legal basis” and claimed that no members of the democratic opposition to Aristide took the reimbursement claims seriously. Debray neglected to mention that the Haitian electorate preferred Aristide to this opposition by a factor of nine or ten to one.


In his book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster, Jonathan Katz describes the role of the international community after the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Aid groups warned potential donors, “Do Not Give To The Haitian Government: Haiti is known to be a corrupt country.” Reviewing the book in the Columbia Journalism Review Justin Peters wrote: “It wouldn’t surprise me if some observers secretly believed the Préval regime had engineered the earthquake in order to steal billions from the international community.”

The “action plan,” demanded strict oversight of their donations, and wealthy investors intent on making the new Haiti a business-friendly place. Small donations were mishandled by NGOs, as big donations never materialized. Katz estimates that of the $2.43 billion spent on ostensible humanitarian relief by the end of 2010, a mere seven percent actually made its way to Haiti. The donors had their own ideas of how to “build back better,” epitomized by the words of Brad Horwitz, an American whose company owned one of Haiti’s largest cell-phone networks: “We need Haiti open for business.” “Open for business” very specifically referred to the production of cheap garments. In Haiti, the plan was to make it a sweatshop economy where the government is largely absent.

Haiti enjoyed a successful slave revolt in 1804. Today is enslaved to the global market.

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Reconciliation in Haiti Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 12 2013

Titid – Le Petit Aristide – was hugely popular with poor Haitians and hated by the elite. The case against him has been put by Peter Dailey in the New York Review of Books, Andre Linard and Maurice Lemoine in Le Monde diplomatique. Kim Ives has demolished Dailey’s NYRB articles. My virtual friend, who calls herself Zen Haitian, has challenged Le Monde diplomatique. Paul Farmer has made the case for Aristide in London Review of Books and been supported by Peter Hallward and Brian Concannon.

Linard wrote of Aristide: “He was attacked for setting up an anti-democratic regime and accused of enriching himself through illicit trafficking. The public was divided between three explanations. Some feel they were conned by Aristide in 1990. A slightly less widely shared view is that he was changed by the 1991 coup that ousted him, his exile in the US and return to power in 1994. There are those who saw him as a victim of constraints: ‘se pa fôt li (it’s not his fault)’, they say in Creole, preferring to blame both his entourage and the international community”.

Dailey’s assertion that the “Aristide government’s increasingly authoritarian behavior has left it isolated and condemned by the international community, which suspended crucial foreign aid” was countered thus by Ives: “The ‘international community’, if defined as the majority of the world’s nations, is sympathetic to the Haitian government and disapproving, at the very least, of the Bush administration’s strong-arming. … the majority of the OAS and CARICOM member states have pleaded for the release of the aid and loans to Haiti, held hostage only by Washington’s hostility to Aristide.”

Titid vs. Washington Consensus

Aristide came under fire from those who advocated more enthusiastic compliance with the US and IMF. Ives: “Aristide was proving to be mercurial and uncooperative about privatizations and other neoliberal reforms.”
Brian Concannon: “The ease with which Haiti’s leftist elite and its foreign supporters joined sweatshop owners, Duvalierists and the Bush administration in a crusade to overthrow Aristide says more about the fluidity of their own political commitments than about Haiti’s government. The real cleavage in Haiti has always been not left-right but up-down. When push came to shove, class allegiance trumped any professed commitment to social equality or democracy.”

Military coup

Aristide was overthrown in a military coup September 1991, in which the US and France were heavily implicated. The military’s leader, General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. Both the Organization of America States and the United Nations issued international sanctions against Haiti in response to the coup.
In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorized by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. My friend Zen Haitian commented: “He was forced to agree to their structural re-adjustment measures in order to be restored to power– he lost some, but was still able to command the love and respect of a majority of Haitians.”

Another electoral triumph

In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. The Haitian government, faced with crippling poverty, was required to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts, many of them linked to loans paid out to the Duvalier dictatorship and to the military regimes that ruled Haiti with great brutality from 1986 to 1990.

The US State Department ignored repeated opposition attacks against Lavalas and the deadly campaign being carried out by neo-Duvalierist guerrillas. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US groups helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH.

Abduction and exile

Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on 28 February, 2004. Aristide has accused the U.S. of kidnapping and deposing him.

In his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague focuses on the period beginning in 1990 with the rise of Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Sprague traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti and in the US and the Dominican Republic.
Peter Hallward argued that people with – generally tenuous – connections to Aristide’s Lavalas party were probably responsible for around thirty killings in all the years he was in office. Five thousand Lavalas supporters were killed while Aristide was in exile between 1991 and 1994, and fifty thousand deaths have been attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.

For all its faults, Lavalas remained the only significant force for popular mobilization in the country. No other political figure of the past fifty years has had anything like Aristide’s stature among the urban and rural poor. Class sympathy among Western elites who felt themselves under similar threat, both at home and abroad, goes a long way to explaining the international perception of the Lavalas regime.

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Reconciliation in Haiti

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 28 2013

After independence, Haiti’s leaders were desperate for recognition. In 1825, under threat of another French invasion and the restoration of slavery, Haitian officials signed a document agreeing to pay an indemnity of 150 million Francs (comparable to US$12.7 billion as of 2009) in return for France recognising Haiti’s independence.

Victor Schoelcher published many articles between 1833 and 1847 about the evils of slavery. He was the first European abolitionist to visit Haiti. Schoelcher argued: “Imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood”.

The impact of the debt repayments – which continued until after World War Two – was devastating. Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars wrote: “the incompetence and frivolity of its leaders had turned a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to then into a nation burdened with debt and trapped in financial obligations that could never be satisfied.” This may be unfair, as the demand was allegedly delivered to the country by twelve French warships armed with 500 cannons.

US Dominance

By the late 19th century, the USA had eclipsed France in Haiti. A US military occupation (1915-34) brought back the corvée (state-imposed forced labour). The Haitian army, which never fought a non-Haitian enemy, was created by an act of the US Congress. The Americans abolished the clause in the Haitian constitution barring foreigners from owning property, took over the National Bank, reorganized the economy to ensure more reliable payments of foreign debt and expropriated land to create their own plantations.

Canadian political philosopher Peter Hallward wrote: “The United States installed several puppet presidents favourably disposed to American corporate interests. But eventually, Haiti stopped being worth the trouble. Strongman regimes made a mockery of democratic governance; millions migrated from the countryside to a capital unready for such a vast population influx. Haiti’s problems were so systemic, its infrastructure so rotten, that when interested foreigners got together to discuss them, the solutions always came down to one of two things: a bulldozer or a bomb.”


François Duvalier was president from 1957 until his death in 1971. He was called Papa Doc because he started out as a simple country doctor, fighting disease among the poor (sponsored by the US). He opposed a military coup in 1950, and was elected president in 1957. He used the Tonton Macoutes (bogeymen) to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoutes had twice the numbers of the regular army. An estimated 30,000 Haitians died as a result of Papa Doc’s tyranny.

He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude, nicknamed “Baby Doc”. After assuming power, Baby introduced cosmetic changes, but thousands of Haitians were killed or tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled the country, further sapping the economy and creating a diaspora. His lavish lifestyle was funded with millions from involvement in the drug trade and from selling body parts from dead Haitians.


Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Titid – Creole for Le petit Aristide) was a proponent of liberation theology. In September 1988, he was saying mass when the church was set on fire by a gang paid by the mayor of Port-au-Prince. Twelve people died. Aristide rose from being a slum priest to be president of Haiti. He was focal point for the pro-democracy movement first under Baby Doc and then under the military transition regime which followed. His party FL (Fanmi Lavalas – “Waterfall Family”, referring to the Biblical flood) claimed to support a policy of “growth with equity” based on Caribbean and Western European social democratic principles. FL’s policy was to invest in education and healthcare and refused IMF austerity measures. In the presidential election on December 16, 1990, Aristide got 67% of the vote in a field of twelve. No run-off was required.

Aristide came under fire from those wanting compliance with the US and IMF and was overthrown in a military coup in September 1991. General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. For the next three years Haiti was run by military-civilian juntas as ruthless as the Duvaliers. According Gayle Smith, a member of the National Security Council staff under Bill Clinton, “Most people around the world believe that Aristide’s departure was at best facilitated, at worst coerced by the US and France”.

In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorised by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US cut off aid and ignored pleas from the Aristide government for an international peacekeeping force as anti-Aristide death squads overran more than half the country. US marines stationed in Haiti made no effort to disarm these rebels. Under disputed circumstances, Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on February 28, 2004. Aristide has accused the U S  of kidnapping and deposing him.



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Reconciliation in Haiti Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April21 2013

The Haitian National Truth and Justice Commission was created on December 1994 by an executive order issued by President Jean Bertrand Aristide. The nation now known as Haiti has the great misfortune to occupy a location far too close to the nation now known as the USA. December 5, 1492 was a bad day for the Taino, an Arawakan people. Christopher Columbus, who was looking for India, stumbled upon the island the Taino called Ayiti. Columbus claimed the island for the Spanish Crown, naming it La Isla Española (“the Spanish Island”) which was later changed to Hispaniola.


The Spaniards did not bring their own women with them. They took Taíno women for their wives. Rape of Taino women was common. The 1518 smallpox epidemic killed 90% of the natives who had not already perished. By 1548 the native population was under 500. Spanish interest in Hispaniola began to wane in the 1520s, as more lucrative gold and silver deposits were found in Mexico and Peru. Nevertheless, up to the 1550s, the Spanish imported large numbers of black African slaves to labor in the gold mines and sugar plantations. Dutch traders/pirates joined their English and French brethren trading on the remote coasts of Hispaniola.
In the 18th century, it became France’s most valuable possession; on the eve of the French Revolution, it was supplying two-thirds of all of Europe’s tropical produce. Santo Domingo, as it was then called, was a brutally efficient slave colony.


Peter Hallward, of King’s College Cambridge, wrote in New Left Review: “The structural basis of Haiti’s crippling poverty is a direct legacy of slavery and its aftermath.” By 1681, there were 2,000 slaves. A hundred years later there were 500,000 slaves and perhaps 700,000 offspring of masters and slaves. A third of new arrivals died within a few years. There were only 40,000 whites who had to use harsh measures to keep control over such large numbers. Religion was important. All slaves had to practise Catholicism and native African religions were suppressed.


Voodoo ceremonies with animal sacrifices were conducted in secret and fomented revolt. According to tradition, after a ceremony on August 14, 1791, a slave overseer and hougan (voodoo priest) called Dutty Boukman gave the signal and slaves from a dozen plantations slaughtered their masters and their families. The revolt spread. The slaves had learnt cruelty from their masters. In her fine book The Rainy Season, Amy Wilentz writes: “The masters had stuffed gunpowder into slaves’ rectums and exploded it. They had rolled their slaves in spiked barrels down hills, they had whipped them and tied them to boards and left them in the swamps to be eaten alive by ants and mosquitoes. The slaves repaid these favours in 1791 by decapitating the masters, raping their wives on top of their bloodied corpses, chopping off their arms and legs, sawing them in half, impaling their infants on proudly carried spikes”.

There had been a revolution in France also. In 1792, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax was sent by the French Legislative Assembly to maintain French control of Saint-Domingue, stabilize the colony, and enforce the social equality recently granted to free people of color by the National Convention of France. In 1793, Sonthonax proclaimed the freedom of the slaves and in 1794 French National Convention abolished slavery by law in France and all its colonies.

White colonists continued to fight Sonthonax with assistance from the British. They were joined by many of the free men of color who opposed the abolition of slavery. Toussaint Louverture and his corps of well-disciplined, battle-hardened former slaves came over to the French Republican side in early May 1794.


With the colony facing a full-scale invasion by Britain, the rebel slaves emerged as a powerful military force under the leadership of Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Louverture successfully drove back the British and by 1798 was the ruler of the colony. He asserted enough independence to persuade Napoleon to send forces in 1802, under his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc, to increase French control. Word began to reach the colony of the French intention to restore slavery. The French burned alive, hanged, drowned, and tortured black prisoners, reviving such practices as burying blacks in piles of insects and boiling them in cauldrons of molasses. After one battle, Leclerc’s successor, Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, Vicomte de Rochambeau, buried 500 prisoners alive; Dessalines responded by hanging 500 French prisoners. Rochambeau’s brutal tactics helped unite black, mulatto, and mestizo soldiers against the French.

Revolution and Republic

Louverture was kidnapped and taken away to a prison in the Jura. He died of exposure and tuberculosis in 1803. In November 1803, the former slaves won the war’s final battle, and on January 1, 1804 Dessalines declared independence, reclaiming the indigenous Taíno name of Haiti (“Land of Mountains”). Hemmed in by slave colonies, Haiti had only one non-colonised neighbor, the slaveholding United States, which refused to recognize its independence.

Dessalines massacred 2,000 Frenchmen at Cap-Français, 900 in Port-au-Prince, and 400 at Jérémie. He issued a proclamation declaring, “We have repaid these cannibals, war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage.”

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Reconciliation in Ghana

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday March 10 2013


On Wednesday March 6, 2013, President Mahama of Ghana paid tribute on the 56th Anniversary of Independence “to the late President Kwame Nkrumah and other leaders who led the struggle for independence for their courage, perseverance and self-determination”.

In Ghana, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) proposed a National Reconciliation Forum in 1999. A National Reconciliation Act was passed in 2002. Professor Gyimah-Boadi, Director of the Centre for Democratic Development, believes that: “By design or default, the process of developing a framework and legislation for national reconciliation in Ghana has been fairly open, consultative, and participatory”.

The territory of modern Ghana was known as the Gold Coast. The ancient kingdom of Ghana controlled the gold trade between the mining areas to the south and the Saharan trade routes to the north. Ancient Ghana was also the focus for the export trade in Saharan copper and salt. Forts and castles were built by Portuguese, Dutch, British and Spanish merchants to repel competitors and store gunpowder, ivory and gold. Slaves replaced gold as the most lucrative trade along the coast, and the forts were used for keeping newly acquired slaves pending the arrival of the ships sent to collect them. Whole regions were destroyed and depopulated.

After the Dutch withdrew in 1874, Britain made the Gold Coast a protectorate and ruled, exploiting ethnic conflict and sapping the regions natural resources, until post-war downsizing forced it to abandon its empire.

Kwame Nkrumah

The colonised people had never passively accepted the imperial yoke. After rioting increased in 1948, members of the United Gold Coast Convention were arrested, including Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah formed his own party, the CPP (Convention People’s Party. After his party gained 34 out of 38 seats in the Legislative Assembly in 1952, Nkrumah was released. After further negotiations with Britain, on March 6, 1957 Nkrumah declared Ghana “free forever”.

Like Hugo Chavez, Nkrumah had ambitions, which displeased the USA, beyond his own nation. His espousal of Pan-Africanism had roots in his experiences as a colonial subject. Living in exile in the USA he absorbed the ideas of thinkers like WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey as well as experiencing at first hand white racism. Nkrumah maintained his contacts with Africans everywhere in the world. He spoke out for the civil rights movement in the USA, met Malcolm X and gave inspiration to the Black Panther movement.

In his book Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah wrote that total African liberation was essential: “We need it to carry forward our construction of a socio-economic system that will support the great mass of our steadily rising population at levels of life which will compare with those in the most advanced countries”.

Aluminium ore

Nkrumah did seek help from the USA in the sense of trying to get a decent return on his country’s resources. Aluminium ore was abundant in Ghana. Having access to a cheap source of electricity with which to process aluminium would have greatly increased profit margins and reduced processing costs for the manufacture of the metal. Nkrumah’s plan was that America would mine Ghana’s minerals and use the Volta Dam’s electricity.
Eisenhower was interested and contacted Kaiser, the world’s largest aluminium manufacturer. Kaiser’s plan was to use Ghana’s cheap electricity – importing aluminium ore from other places in the world, and then exporting the aluminium back to America. Nkrumah had to agree to America’s terms if he wanted the dam to be built, but had to raise $30 million. The infant nation immediately became indebted to the World Bank.

The Volta Dam was completed on January 22, 1966. One month later, Nkrumah was overthrown. Former CIA officer John Stockwell wrote: “The Accra station was encouraged by CIA headquarters to maintain contact with dissidents of the Ghanaian army for the purpose of gathering intelligence on their activities. It was given a generous budget, and maintained intimate contact with the plotters as a coup was hatched.”

A series of coups ended with the ascension to power of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in 1981. The constitution was suspended and political parties banned. The economy declined soon after and many Ghanaians migrated.

Stable democracy

The economy began to recover when a structural adjustment plan was negotiated with the IMF. A new constitution was promulgated in 1992. In recent years, power has been peacefully transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another; Ghana seems to have recovered its status as a stable democracy.

Professor Gyimah-Boadi has warned: “Though the prospects for Ghana’s reconciliation are promising, the country’s program still faces daunting challenges.” Acrimony dogged the debate on the national reconciliation program with erstwhile supporters of the military regimes anxious that they might be targeted and harmed. A practical obstacle to reconciliation is that there has been silence on the question of how restoration, restitution and compensation and institutional reforms would be funded.

Optimists note that Ghana enjoyed a high rate of economic development in 2012. Pessimists call for a new approach in times of austerity. Ernest Opoku-Boateng writes on Ghana Web: “There is no light. There is no water. There is no petrol. There is no LPG. Prices are on the rise. … Mobilizing additional revenue is important but we should also cut our coat according to our size, beginning with the President, his office and his Cabinet”.

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A Tale of Two Wars – A Case for the UNHRC?

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday March 3 2013


Last week I watched a film that began with a realistic depiction of violent combat at the end of a brutal secessionist civil war. There was no glory in this combat. This was hand to hand, opposing troops rolling around in filthy mud, hacking at each other, kicking faces and stabbing guts at close quarters.

There was much talk throughout the movie of a 13th amendment to the Constitution.
The movie was Lincoln. That particular 13th Amendment related to the abolition of slavery. Lincoln, needed a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

J David Hacker, a demographic historian, has recalculated the death toll of the American Civil War, and increased it by more than 20%.  His  estimate of the number of dead up to 850,000 – which Hacker says  means the social impact is about 37,000 more widows, and 90,000 more orphans than previous  estimates.

One commentator says: “The film tells us about the messy reality of governance, and about a democratic process run by flawed mortals whose noble aims often require ignoble means.” True north is essential, the president tells a congressman, but you also have to navigate the swamps and deserts and chasms along the way. If you can’t do that, he asks, “What’s the good of knowing true north?”

Patronage-peddling is given a comic spin in Tony Kushner’s screenplay and Spielberg’s direction. The wiles of “Bilbo” (James Spader) and his group are underlined with comical music to make us laugh at their techniques. In addition to buying votes, Lincoln sends a letter denying any knowledge of a peace delegation from Richmond, even though this is clearly a lie. Jo Ann Skousen writing in Liberty was saddened that the audience in the theatre cheered at this: “I was disheartened that they didn’t feel the same shame I felt when I saw a president of the USA deliberately lie to get his way. But I wasn’t surprised. It’s what we expect today.”

I visited Louisiana in 1996 and got the feeling that the Civil War had not ended. Despite the efforts of Lincoln, JFK, LBJ and MLK, Louisiana is still segregated.  Seemingly-decent whites speak of blacks in terms that would cause horror in polite society in Europe or Sri Lanka. I was shown around a plantation house by a “docent” employed by the heritage industry to sanitise the horrors of the Old South. Following the civil war, Louisiana was under martial law. Nevertheless, white Democrats blocked black voter-registration. In 1900 African-Americans formed 47% of Louisiana’s population – 652,013 black citizens. By 1910, there were only 730 black voters.

White Democrats had established one-party rule which they maintained long into the 20th century. White racists turned to terrorism to dissuade blacks from voting. The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968. The most prevalent alleged crime accusation was murder, followed by a list of infractions that included verbal and physical aggression, spirited business competition and independence of mind. Law-enforcement authorities sometimes participated directly or held suspects in jail until a mob performed the lynching. Lynchings became mass spectacles with a circus-like atmosphere because they were intended to emphasize majority power. Children often attended these public lynchings. A large lynching might be announced beforehand in the newspaper.

Despite Reconstruction, the South became a poverty-stricken backwater and whites re-established their supremacy. Historian Eric Foner argues, “What remains certain is that Reconstruction failed, and that for blacks its failure was a disaster whose magnitude cannot be obscured by the genuine accomplishments that did endure.”

Today, African-Americans account for just over 12% of the US population. About 50% of all prison inmates are black. In 2005, 8.1% of all black males age 25 to 29 were in prison, compared to 1.1% of white males.  Wilbert Rideau, a former inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola Prison Farm), wrote in 2010 that “slavery was commonplace in Angola with perhaps a quarter of the population in bondage”. Weak inmates were gang-raped, and traded and sold like cattle. C. Murray Henderson, one of the wardens brought in to clean up the prison, said that systemic sexual slavery was sanctioned and facilitated by the prison guards.

Today, Louisiana has poverty, crime and health indicators, particularly for blacks, equivalent to  third-world nations. The average life-span of an African-American in New Orleans was nearly as low in 2003 as in North Korea. In 2003-05, the infant mortality rate (IMR) in the US as a whole for African-Americans was 13.6; the rate for White Americans was 5.7 per 1000 births. IMR is generally seen as an indicator of a nation’s level of health development and  is one of  the best predictors of state failures. Louisiana’s poverty rate is 19.2%; more than 26% of the state’s children live in poverty. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen.

America’s civil war lasted four years and ended 148 years ago. When will the reconstruction and reconciliation process be completed? Has it begun? Is there a mechanism for presenting Louisiana’s case to the UNHRC?

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Reconciliation in Fiji

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday February 24 2013


In 2005, amid much controversy, the government of Fiji proposed a Reconciliation and Unity Commission with power to recommend compensation for victims of the 2000 coup, and amnesty for its perpetrators.

What was the need for reconciliation? As in many other conflict zones covered in this series, we see a background of ethnic strife exacerbated by colonialism. Fiji was a British colony for almost a century until 1970, when independence within the Commonwealth was granted.

Between 1879 and 1916 the British brought in girmits, indentured labourers from India, to work on the sugar plantations. Later, Gujerati and Punjabi immigrants arrived as free settlers. Indo-Fijians number 313,798 (37.6%) (2007 census) out of a total of 827,900 people.

1987 Coups

There were two military coups in 1987. The first coup, in which Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra was ousted, took place on May 14. A second coup on September 28 ended the Fijian Monarchy, deposing Elizabeth II. A republic was declared on October 7. The Governor General was replaced by a non-executive president. Both coups were led by Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka cited ethnic Fijian concerns about discrimination in favour of Indo-Fijians. The elections in April 1987 resulted in the replacement of the indigenous government of Sir Kamisese Mara, Prime Minister with a multi-ethnic coalition supported mostly by Indo-Fijians.

1990 Constitution

Rabuka himself became prime minister in 1992, following elections held under the new 1990 constitution. The offices of president and prime minister, along with two-thirds of the Senate, a substantial majority of the House of Representatives were reserved for indigenous Fijians. GARD (Group Against Racial Discrimination) was formed to oppose the unilaterally imposed constitution and to restore the 1970 constitution. Rabuka established the Constitutional Review Commission, which in 1997 led to a new Constitution.

Speight’s Coup 2000

The May 1999 election resulted in a decisive victory for the People’s Coalition, a multiracial grouping that was dominated by the predominantly Indo-Fijian Labour Party, but which also included indigenous Fijians. Mahendra Chaudhry had become the country’s first Indo-Fijian Prime Minister. A group led by George Speight, a businessman who had been declared bankrupt, entered the Parliament buildings on May 19, 2000, and disaffected elements of the Fijian population rallied to his cause. Claims have been made that Fijian nationalism may have been nothing more than a political ploy to attract supporters to what was, in reality, a personal grab for money and power on the part of Speight and his co-conspirators. Several of his accomplices were undischarged bankrupts. Chaudhry claimed the true purpose was to loot the treasury. A military administration took office on May 29. Commodore Frank Bainimarama assumed executive power and 2,000 soldiers went on a rampage.

The High Court ordered the reinstatement of the constitution, and in September 2001, a general election was held. New Prime Minister Qarase found pretexts for not implementing the power-sharing provisions of the Constitution.

2006 Coup

Bainimarama handed down a list of demands to Qarase after the Reconciliation and Unity bill was put forward to parliament, part of which would have offered pardons to participants in the 2000 coup attempt. He gave Qarase an ultimatum date of December 4 to accede to these demands or to resign from his post. Qarase adamantly refused to either concede or resign and on December 5, parliament was dissolved.

Fiji today?

Fiji was fully suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009. CMAG concluded Fiji could not be reinstated until it had restored democracy by holding elections and addressed pressing human rights and legal issues. Fiji has had a chequered relationship with the Commonwealth. It was expelled in 1987 after two military coups, but was re-admitted ten years later when democracy was restored. It was also suspended in 2000 for 18 months. The only other country to be fully suspended in the Commonwealth’s history was Nigeria.

Fiji has been under military rule since 2006. Since the government’s abrogation of Fiji’s Constitution in April 2009, the government has ruled by decree and enforced Public Emergency Regulations that limit basic freedoms. For a country of its size, Fiji has large armed forces. A significant number of Fijians have served in the lucrative security sector in Iraq.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to cease curtailing the rights of Fiji Islanders. The Fiji Trades Union Congress, in a submission to the country’s constitutional commission, has called on the government to hand over control to an interim administration three months before elections scheduled for 2014.

The country, with a current population of 900,000, depends heavily on tourism, but tourists will hardly want to visit a country in crisis. The US has threatened to suspend aid – Fiji is one of the world’s largest per capita recipients of aid – and its neighbors, Australia and New Zealand, are likely to impose sanctions, including a travel ban.


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Julie MacLusky

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