Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews. Show all posts

Friday, February 12, 2016

Haiti and the Americas Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins, PhD

Calarge, Carla, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, eds. Haiti and the Americas. Jackson, Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1617037573. 256 pp. Reviewed by Tammie Jenkins, PhD

            Haiti and the Americas, edited by Carla Calarge, Raphael Dalleo, Luis Duno-Gottberg, and Clevis Headley, is a collection of essays that provide the reader with contemporary interpretations of Haiti as more than the sum of its revolutionary roots in the New World. Exploring Haiti as a seat of transnationalism, in the diasporic world, each contributor uses Haiti’s complicated history as a point of departure while placing the island nation on a global stage as a powerful ally and symbol of empowerment whose narratives of freedom sparked discontentment among other European colonies in the Western hemisphere. The volume begins with a detailed introduction written by Raphael Dalleo that provides the scope and sequence for collection. With Dalleo introduction laying the foundation, Haiti and the Americas presents Haiti as “a crossroads to the Americas” (3) as each essay articulates its author’s linguistic vision regarding the role that Haiti played in the creation of other independent nations and countries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as its contemporary representations in the twentieth-first century.
            Advocating a sense of solidarity centered on Haiti’s early contributions to other Caribbean colonies anchored in the belief that they were all connected by a “shared history of slavery and imperialism” (60). Featuring nine chapters, an afterword, and an index, Haiti and the Americas, is subdivided into four sections united by overlapping themes of freedom: Part 1: “Haiti and Hemispheric Independence,” Part 2: “Haiti and Transnational Blackness,” Part 3: “The U. S. Occupation,” and Part 4: “Globalization and Crisis.” Highlighting Haiti’s role as a sanctuary for free people of color in the Caribbean, Sibylle Fischer’s Bolivar in Haiti Republicanism in the Revolutionary Atlantic uses correspondences exchanged between Bolivar and Petion to examine the ways in which Haiti inspired and supported Bolivar’s struggle for independence in Venezuela during the nineteenth century. Continuing along this vein, Mathew Casey’s Between Anti-Humanism and Anti-Imperialism: Haitian and Cuban Political Collaborations in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries draws on the relationships between Haitians, Latin Americans, and Caribbean Creoles to document the ways that these people worked to free themselves and others from European rule. Connecting Haiti with other nations and countries in the Caribbean, Fischer’s and Casey’s essays lay the foundation for the discussion of Pan-Africanism and its role in these conversations.
            Part 2: “Haiti and Transnational Blackness,” investigates the growth of Pan-Africanism throughout the Caribbean, Africa, and the United States. Viewed as a production of dialogical exchanges and social interactions between expatriates from the Harlem Renaissance and intellectuals from former Francophone colonies such as Martinique and Algeria, Pan-Africanism emerged as a source of racial pride centered on an appreciation for Africa and the cultural heritage of diasporic Black people. In Haiti, Pan-Africanism, and Black Atlantic Writing Resistance, Jeff Karem positions the development of Pan-African ideology in Haiti as a reaction to international interference in the island nation’s political, social, and economic affairs. A new symbol of Haitian freedom, David R. Kilroy’s Being a Member of the Colored Race: The Mission of Charles Young, Military Attache to Haiti, 1904-1907 uses Young’s experiences to examine the development of “Pan-African ideologies” (77) as a response to racism and marginalization experienced by inhabitants on the island. Deconstructing perspectives of Haiti as a spectral presence in the New World, the second section of Haiti and the Americas provides the reader with positive images of Haiti by rewriting its narratives into large discourses of freedom.
            Shifting from the reconstruction of Haitian history during the years immediately following the revolution through the early twentieth century, Part 3: “The U. S. Occupation,” studies Haiti as a tactical location in “a larger Caribbean geostrategic puzzle” (99) used by writers and artists in their verbal and visual representations of the island nation. Drawing on American literary and cinematic uses of the Haitian Revolution this section presents essays that juxtapositions Haitian history with Black peoples’ disenfranchisement in the United States. In Haiti’s Revisionary Haunting of Charles Chesnutt’s “Careful” History in Paul Marchand, F. M. C., Bethany Aery Clerico situates Haiti in the lived experiences of Black people in the United States in ways that connect their struggle for a self-defined cultural identity with that of Haiti’s struggle for freedom in the New World. This theme is one that resurfaces in Lindsay Twa’s The Black Magic Island: The Artistic Journeys of Alexander King and Aaron Douglas form and to Haiti as the author considers how members of the Harlem Renaissance drew inspiration for their literary and artistic forms of cultural expression. Using verbal and visual renderings of Haiti and Haitian life, Harlem Renaissance writers and artists used their texts to feed the larger society’s curiosity for stories of their lived experiences and social realities in ways that reflected the sociopolitical climate of the times. This is a study that Nadeve Menard continues in Foreign Impulses in Annie Desroy’s Le Joung in which these this works show a marriage of Haitian and Black American ideologies through the use of Haitian-identified characters and their American counter-parts. Moving the conversations surrounding Haiti from one of revolution to that of a former island superpower weighted down by larger societal reluctance to make its contributions to the Western world a matter of public record.
            Tapping into their inherited “primal unconsciousness” (138) contributors to part 4: “Globalization and Crisis,” features essays that positions Haiti in larger societal conversations of sovereighty or territory by drawing parallels between the lived experiences and social realities of the Haitian populous with those in the United States. Using a documentary film Christopher Garland’s The Rhetoric of Crisis and Foreclosing the Future of Haiti in Ghosts of Cite Soleil explores the use of cinematic rhetoric to reinforce negative images and stereotypes of Haiti. Relying on symbolism to deconstruct prevailing views of Haiti as a country in need of saving and challenging its erasure from Western historical narratives, Myriam J. A. Chancy’s A Marshall Plan for Haiti at Peace: To Continue or End the Legacy of the Revolution ponders solutions for the rebuilding of Haiti and the recognition of its role in the development of other nations and countries in the New World. Relying on the use of counter-narratives, this section re-establishes Haiti’s narrative as an island nation founded by slaves while rejecting the status of exotic erotic in need of saving. This is a point of contention that J. Michael Dash expands upon in the afterword. Providing a fitting summation to the entire edited volume, Dash’s Neither France nor Senegal: Bovarysme and Haiti’s Hemispheric Identity ushers in the next phase of Haiti’s return to its post-revolutionary glory. This essay calls for a rebirth of Negritude and Pan-African philosophies in the Haitian consciousness and for political activism among its citizenry in an effort to reclaim not only its cultural heritage, but also aid it in the creation of a self-defined cultural identity.
            A collection of interrelated essays, Haiti and the Americas places the island nation on a continuum within larger societal conversations of freedom. Using a variety of conceptual frameworks and methodological lenses, each essay provides a fresh, unbiased rearticulation of many taken-for-granted assumptions regarding Haiti and its contributions to discourses of freedom in the Western hemisphere. One strength of the book is that each of the selected essays work in concert with one another while enabling each author to use their text to articulate their individual points of view. However, a weakness of the book was its limited discussion of the contribution of women to these discourses beyond the use of Annie Desroy’s text by Nadeve Menard. Overall, Haiti and the Americas is a balanced, research based collection of essays articulating the narratives of Haiti from its historical past to its present and future. Nonetheless, scholars interested in Diasporic Literature, Cultural Studies, Education, Haitian History, and Black Atlantic Studies may find Haiti and the Americas a useful pre-primer. 
Tammie Jenkins, Ph.D.
Independent Scholar

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Review of "Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti" by Matthew Davidson

Sprague, Jeb. Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-58367-300-3. 400 pp.

In Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague examines how Haitian and transnational elite groups sponsored paramilitary violence during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century in order to crush the democratic aspirations of Haiti’s popular classes and forestall democratic and redistributive reform. Sprague details the role that paramilitaries played in the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991 and then again in 2004, as well as the larger context in which they have operated. Locating paramilitarism as being just one coercive strategy of many that upper-class sectors have used to “neutralize” (12) democracy, Sprague argues that elite groups turn to political violence when William Robinson’s concept of polyarchy – democracy in which dominant social groups are able to maintain control - fails to take hold. Sympathetic to Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas and Haiti’s popular movements, albeit not uncritical of them, Sprague argues that "it was the popular classes - and those organizing in their interests - who have been and continue to be the primary targets of political violence" (14).
This important book went to print while Sprague was still a PhD candidate at UC Santa Barbara. As part of his research for the book, Sprague analyzed more than 11,000 documents accessed through Freedom of Information requests. He also conducted more than fifty interviews with various officials, victims, and death squad leaders, sometimes at considerable risk to his own safety as the introduction shows. In doing so, Sprague gives us a thorough account of how paramilitary forces have been developed in Haiti, and the networks that support them.
Sprague identifies four waves of paramilitarism in Haiti. The first was the Tonton Macoutes, a militia established by François Duvalier in 1958. Active through the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Macoutes served the two Duvalier dictators. When Jean-Claude Duvalier fell in 1986 the Macoutes were officially disbanded, but were actually reorganized as attachés instead. This, Sprague says, began the second wave of paramilitarism. During the regimes of Henry Namphy and Prosper Avril, the attachés continued to work with the military, albeit without the uniforms they previously wore. The second wave subsided in early 1991, but the third began later that year after the military seized power in a coup d’état. The military worked closely with death squads such as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), manned by former Macoutes and attachés, to crush resistance and destroy the popular movements. Democracy was ultimately restored in 1994, but despite President Aristide’s efforts to hold the military and paramilitaries to account for their crimes, paramilitarism remained viable, though largely latent. The most recent wave of paramilitarism emerged in 2000 with the organization of the FLRN (Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti / Front for the National Liberation and Reconstruction of Haiti). This group was closely associated with former members of the FAd’H (the Armed forces of Haiti), and often operated under the guise of being the “new army” (16). After the second coup against Aristide in 2004 these paramilitary groups were sidelined, Sprague says, but many of their numbers have been incorporated into the police force or live comfortably without fear of prosecution.
Though primarily concerned with more recent events, the book begins by detailing the history of political violence against the poor in Haiti. Finding the origins of systemic violence in the genocide of the indigenous inhabitants of the island and in the slave-based economy during the colonial period, the chapter illustrates how dominant groups have tended to rely upon naked violence to maintain their power and privilege, especially when challenged by the subaltern. Sprague also highlights how militias, posses, and other proto-paramilitary forces have been utilized by the powerful throughout Haiti’s past, and how – such as during the American occupation – those forces have also been incorporated into the state. It is in this context that Sprague moves into a discussion of the first and second waves of paramilitarism, describing the violence committed by the Tonton Macoutes and the attachés. Throughout, Sprague highlights the extent to which the United States was complicit in the bloodshed, something which he continues to do throughout the rest of the book.
Chapter Two examines the emergence of popular democracy in Haiti, and the many attempts to reverse or restrict it. Describing paramilitary violence as being part of the elite’s response to an election that they could not control, Sprague considers the 1991 coup against President Aristide and the subsequent targeting of the popular movements. Sprague maps out the Haitian, Dominican, and American opposition to Aristide, detailing the ways that democracy threatened their interests, and the nature of their support for the FRAPH death squad. Yet once Aristide was removed from power and the popular movements subdued, Sprague argues, FRAPH posed a problem for the transnational elite. They struggled to present the de-facto regime as legitimate, and Haiti lacked the sense of predictability and long-term stability that transnational corporations required to do business. Aristide’s momentary return to power in 1994 is partially understood as a negotiated response to this dilemma, though Sprague makes it clear that democracy was restored “with clipped wings” (77).
Chapter Three considers the return of political violence in 2000/2001, just as Aristide was campaigning for a return to the presidency. Detailing the plans for a “preventative coup” (102), Sprague again illuminates the many Haitian and Dominican figures behind the intrigue, as well as the involvement of the U.S. Embassy in the plot. Yet for the moment the concern for stability was greater than the threat posed by Aristide, so embassy officials betrayed the putschists. The plotters fled to the Dominican Republic, where they were protected as they continued to conspire against Aristide. As Chapter Four illustrates, it was there that a band of ex-military men regrouped under the banner of the FLRN.
Supported by the so-called democratic opposition, the FLRN waged an armed campaign against Aristide’s presidency, culminating in the coup of 2004. Chapters Four through Six detail the violence, as well as the response of the government, the popular movements, the opposition, and various international actors such as the United States, various non-governmental organizations, and the Organization of American States (OAS). In doing so, Sprague highlights the hypocrisy of the international observers who condemned the Aristide’s government for alleged human rights abuses while staying silent on the threats faced by the government. He also traces the networks that linked these various domestic and international actors. Ultimately, Sprague suggests that after destabilizing the country, “transnationally oriented state elites operating through the U.S. and its allied apparatuses’ used the situation [they had created] to oust Aristide” (234).
Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti concludes by considering the post-coup period, highlighting the continued attacks on the poor by the paramilitaries as well as their incorporation into Haiti’s police force. This is a dynamic which emerges repeatedly in the book, and Sprague is able to reveal how individuals associated with various paramilitaries or FAd’H were able to infiltrate the police force at various moments, ultimately enabling subsequent waves of paramilitary violence. Sprague also discusses how the paramilitaries fit into the efforts of Haiti’s current President, Michel Martelly, to reinstate the army. On October 9, 2015, Martelly decreed that the Armed Forces of Haiti were to be officially remobilized, so it will be interesting to see what role the paramilitaries play in the reinstated force.
While one may disagree with the author’s politics, it is hard to dismiss Sprague’s findings. The book is well researched, and Sprague’s acumen as an investigator is clear. The theory on which the book rests could have been further developed, however. Sprague relies a little too heavily on William Robinson’s conception of polyarchy when trying to make sense of the moments when violence was not the elites’ preferred tactic. Sprague is devastating when he shows how FRAPH and FLRN were supported by specific sections of the elite, but he is unable to demonstrate the elites’ intent to hold popular democracy at bay through other means. While other scholars have certainly explored that very subject, it would be important to understand how the supporters of paramilitarism navigate between tactics.
Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti is an impressively researched book, and one clearly written with conviction. The popular movements of Haiti have a strong ally in Sprague, who insists that their understanding of events be taken seriously. The study certainly illustrates the merit in doing so. It is a book that illuminates the centrality of violence to global capitalism, but also the power of social movements to organize for social justice and democracy. For anyone wishing to understand the nature of political turmoil and inequality in Haiti, it is a must-read.

Matthew Davidson, University of Miami

 *Matthew Davidson is currently a doctoral student at the University of Miami, where he is studying under the direction of Dr. Kate Ramsey. Matthew's research focuses on U.S. empire and public health in the Caribbean during the early twentieth century. Matthew completed his M.A. from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada, where he wrote a thesis on the 1915-1934 American occupation of Haiti. He was subsequently employed as the Coordinator of the Peterborough chapter of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. Matthew can be reached at

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Review of Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs by Lisa-Marie Pierre

Schuller, Mark. Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-8135-5363-4. 233 pp. 
Reviewed by Lisa-Marie Pierre 

Mark Schuller is the author of Killing with Kindness: Haiti, International Aid, and NGOs, a 2010 Rutgers University Press publication. Schuller has an educational background in anthropology, women’s studies, and global studies. He currently is an assistant professor of anthropology and NGO leadership development at Northern Illinois University. As a scholar, Schuller has published over twenty articles and book chapters, one documentary, and four books on Haiti, non-governmental organizations, gender, and globalization. Killing with Kindness is a great addition to his academic portfolio and topically relevant to current NGO news in Haiti.
Schuller uses a civic infrastructure framework and an ethnographically based analysis to describe the non-governmental politics in Haiti and beyond. This book will interest anthropology students and scholars or individuals interested in learning about Haiti, international development, and nongovernmental organizations through a critical sociopolitical lens. After a descriptive narrative introduction of his time in Haiti during the 2004 coup and after the 2010 earthquake, Schuller reveals his research questions by the end of the introductory chapter. The three central questions that drive Schuller's thesis are as follows:
·         “How are we to evaluate NGOs and their impacts on Haiti and other countries in the global South?” (p. 9)
·         “Do NGOs democratize development, being closer to the people they serve and offering a better system of governance as some believe?” (p. 9)
·         “Are NGOs a tool of imperialism… on what basis can we make and evaluate these claims?” (p. 9)
Schuller often flashes between the past and present to address his research questions. For some readers, this may not be a writing style they enjoy and serves as a distraction to the purpose of the book, but for others, the process of reading through past experiences and comparisons to the 2010 earthquake may help them think through their own opinions about non-governmental organizations and participation at the local level.
Schuller’s goal is that the reader discovers that a relationship exists between development aid, recipient nongovernmental organizations, and communities as it applies to Haiti.  This goal is achievable for readers of this book. The book is divided into five chapters – as Schuller calls it, a ‘detective story’ – all framed by theory, personal accounts, literature and Schuller’s strong ethical standpoint and policy recommendations for international aid in Haiti. The introduction is the first time the reader learns of Schuller’s experiences in Haiti, the research questions, and the structure of the book.
In chapter one, Schuller introduces the readers to the issues women face in Haiti. It is also the introduction to the two organizations – Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. These two organizations are used to frame the importance of women’s organizations and the relationships between donors and local agencies in Haiti. In chapters two through four, Schuller discusses the history of the Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. These three chapters paint the picture of the relationships these two organizations have with their staff, the community, and the donor organizations. Also, Schuller provides insight into the autonomy or lack of autonomy from donor organizations that Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm have at their local office.
In chapter five, Schuller gives insight into the history of USAID and its donor policies, while tying the chapter back to Fanm Tet Ansanm and Sove Lavi and the hierarchical nature between donors and recipients. In the conclusion and afterward, Schuller discusses his theoretical framework in more detail and concludes the book with recommendations on how to end killing with kindness in Haiti. He addresses this section to different actors in the foreign aid system – the grassroots, NGOs, the Haitian government, USAID, donors, citizens, and everyone in general.
The most captivating chapters are those dedicated to the Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm. The detailed descriptions of the inner workings of the employees and the relationships with outside donors are important for readers to understand the nuances of their relationships. It is in these chapters readers can gain insight into the research questions Schuller proposed in the introduction.
The concluding chapters on policy recommendations and future agendas while stimulating, did not seem to push the envelope far enough. They were good critiques that would satisfy an academic or students, but maybe not someone on the ground working in Haiti, who is firsthand dealing with these issues. The general solution was too simple for the complexity of the county.
Despite these shortcomings of the final two chapters, this book is an excellent choice for those who need more understanding of Haiti and NGOs. Particularly, the firsthand accounts are what really drive the book.
By the end of the book, the three central questions are answered – not directly, but implied. Schuller suggests that “central to understanding these questions are participation and autonomy within NGOs” (p. 9). There needs to be balance between using statistics to convey performance and gaining meaningful participation at the local level. Long term studies such as Schuller’s can evaluate NGOs and their impacts on the global South. Using an ethnographic approach allowed Schuller to see how Sove Lavi and Fanm Tet Ansanm progressed over time – it appears that some autonomy can help NGOs offer a better governance system.
Schuller, as evidenced in his title, proposes that Haiti is being killed with kindness. By reading this book and taking note of current news, it can be concluded that yes, Haiti is being killed by kindness.
Lisa-Marie Pierre, Michigan State University