Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Eyes of the Heart
Review of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Eyes of the Heart
What was natural about the disaster that struck Haiti on 12 January, 2010? An estimated three million were affected by the earthquake. The Haitian government reported hat an estimated 230,000 had died and 300,000 injured. 100,000 were made homeless. 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. (1) When the quake hit, media across the First World focused on scenes of Haitians struggling to survive. What was largely unacknowledged in the media was that Haiti was already going through a crisis when the earthquake hit. The earthquake merely pushed a society that was already over the abyss a bit further. The real disaster in Haiti has been ongoing since Haiti’s beginnings. A decade ago, in his book Eyes of the Heart, Jean-Bertrand Aristide points out that Haiti’s story is unique, but, in many ways, typical of much of the Third World. Haiti was not always a poor country. There was a time when Haiti produced more wealth than all 13 original colonies of the United States. Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capitol, was busier than any port in France. However, France punished Haiti when Haiti gained its independence in a successful slave revolt. France launched a total war against the Haitian people, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying much of the country’s infrastructure. In addition, France forced Haiti to pay 150 million Francs in compensation for losing its slave colony. This was France’s price for peace. “To pay for our freedom we were forced to mortgage our future.” (2) Thus Haiti, from the beginning, was in crisis, burdened with debt and encircled by imperialists. Although Haiti was officially free, it was and still is beholden to imperialists. Imperialists continue to exert influence on Haiti to this day. This is the true crisis that has been far more devastating than any earthquake.
Haiti is one poor country among many others in the Third World. These poor countries are weak and are preyed upon by the wealthy ones. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor countries in terms of wealth and power in the international economic order. In addition, the global capitalist economy has also produced huge gaps between the rich and poor within countries. Aristide writes, “The average Haitian survives on less that 250 U.S. dollars a year.. One percent of the population controls 45% of the national wealth. There is no welfare.” (3) The median income worldwide is about $ 2.50 a day. By contrast, even someone at the poverty line in the United States is one of the richest 13 % globally. Arisitide is no scientific communist, but even Aristide is more aware of global class structure than First Worldist “Marxist” pretenders. The most glaring fact about global society is the tremendous gap between the wealthy countries of the First World and the poor countries of the Third World. Under capitalism-imperialism, a minority of countries in the First World live comfortably at the expense of the vast majority of the world’s population in the Third World who, often, are barely able to survive from day to day. When Karl Marx described the proletariat as having nothing to lose but its chains, as only making enough to reproduce its labor from day to day, as being immiserated to survival or sub-survival levels, he was not describing wage laborers of the First World. However, Marx’s description of the proletariat fits many in the Third World to a T.
Aristide criticizes the free-market consensus of the past few decades. Globalization has promised that the integration of the world’s markets will “lift all boats.” Both rich and poor countries will have access to the global culture of entertainment and consumer goods. According to the promise, the elimination of trade barriers, and the integration of economies, will bring material happiness to all. Since 1980, most Third World states have embraced some version of the globalization thesis. However, the rhetoric of globalization does not match up with reality. (4) Aristide asks, “What happens to poor countries when they embrace free trade?” Aristide points out that the consequences of free trade have been deadly for the Third World. For example, free trade has destroyed much of Haiti’s agricultural sector in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986, Haiti imported just 7000 tons of rice, the main staple of the country. The vast majority of rice was grown in Haiti. After Haiti became compliant with the free trade policies of international lending agencies, cheaper rice immediately flooded the country from the United States where rice production is subsidized. In the United States, the state increased rice subsidies with the 1985 Farm Bill. (5) In the United States, 40% of the profits of the rice industry were from state subsidies in 1987. Haiti’s peasants simply could not compete. In 1996, Haiti was importing 196,000 tons of rice at a cost of 100 million dollars a year. Haitian rice production became negligible. (6) Once Haiti was dependent on foreign rice, prices began to rise. Haiti’s population, especially the urban poor, was devastated. Haiti is not unique in this respect. A few years ago, Mexican peasants took to the streets to protest the rising price of their staple of corn. This story is a common one in the Third World.
Aristide points out that globalization puts poor nations at the mercy of financial markets. From 1985 to 1995, the United States was the top beneficiary of foreign investment in Haiti with 477 billion dollars. Britain was next with 199 billion dollars made from investments in Haiti. Mexico, the only Third World country with significant investments in Haiti received 44 billion dollars from their investments. However, most of these investments fled Haiti overnight as a result of the Mexican financial meltdown in 1995. Thus under the current economic order, speculation passes for investment. The peoples of the poor countries are the ones who suffer the most from market instability under the current economic order. (7)
One World Bank strategy paper predicted that the majority of Haitian peasants, who make up 70 % of Haiti’s population, are unlikely to survive the Bank-advocated free market measures. (8) The paper concluded that their choice would be to work in the industrial sector or emigrate. However, Haiti’s industrial sector is so underdeveloped and cannot handle such an influx of people. Aristide points out, “at present the industrial sector employs only about 20,000 Haitians. There are already approximately 2.5 million people living in Port-au-Prince, 70 % of them are officially unemployed and living in perhaps the most desperate conditions in the Western Hemisphere.” One only has to look at the tragic situation of Haiti’s boat people to see that emigration is not a real option either. (9) The international economic order offers poor countries a choice between death and death, according to Aristide. “Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or we refuse, and face death by slow starvation.” (10) According to Aristide, a third option must be found. However, Aristide’s solution is not the revolutionary one. Aristide does not advocate the path of Stalin or Mao. Rather, Aristide does not seek to destroy the current economic order. Nor does he seek to make Haiti an island unto itself like North Korea today. Rather, Aristide seeks a solution within the current economic order. “We must find some room to maneuver, some open space to survive.” (11)
Haiti’s story is repeated across the Third World. Poor peoples across the Third World must suffer the whims of the global market. Aristide’s solution is fundamentally flawed. It seeks a space which does not exist under capitalism-imperialism. Capitalism is a system that places profit above human needs. These problems are a result of what Karl Marx identified as the anarchy of production under capitalism. Capitalism produces for the market, it does not produce to meet the needs of the vast majority. Gross global inequalities and systematic violence that affects billions of people are part of how capitalism functions. Capitalism is only able to reproduce itself because billions in the Third World suffer. Capitalism does not function despite this mass suffering in the Third World, it functions because of it. Aristide is not that much different from those who replaced him. Aristide seeks a capitalism with a human face, but capitalism has no human face — at least not in the Third World. The real crisis in Haiti, like everywhere in the Third World, is capitalism itself. By contrast, socialism places people above profits. Under socialism, the global distribution will be one that is more rational and egalitarian. The First World itself will be abolished under global socialism. Under socialism, the few will not benefit at the expense of the many. The solution to Haiti’s crisis will not be found in the pages of Aristide’s Eyes of the Heart. Rather, the Haitian people should look to the works of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Leading Light Communism. Global People’s War is the solution in Haiti and across the Third World.
2. Aristide, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Eyes of the Heart. Common Courage Press. 2000. p. 30
3. ibid. p. 20
4. ibid. p. 20
5. ibid. p. 11
6. ibid. pp. 11-12
7. ibid. p. 12
8. ibid. pp. 12-13
9. ibid. pp. 15 -16
10. ibid. pp. 16-18
11. ibid. pp. 16-18