douard Jean. Toussaint Dirige Vers la Bataille
IN THE PARISH OF THE POOR
By Jean-Bertrand Aristide Translated, edited and introduced by Amy Wilentz
ORBIS BOOKS, 1990 Maryknoll, NY, 10545 $10.95 (paper)
REVIEW by Bob Corbett
This passage reflects Father Aristide's central thesis: systemic change must come to Haiti. The Duvalierists must go and Haitians must, at long last, achieve the control which their "freedom" of 1804 never gave. Aristide is writing to his brothers and sisters of the Caribbean, Central and South America. He is writing to others already in the movement of liberation theology. He knows that they know the basic story of suffering, oppression and domination by the elite of one's own nation, by the United States and its international corporations, and even the Roman Catholic Church. Aristide's message is that Haiti is not only there with them, but that liberation theology is in the forefront of Haiti's battle for true freedom.
His fiery poetic message is that struggle for systemic change must continue and intensify. At times he even sees the culmination of the struggle to be an inevitable violence:
Aristide's tirade condemns three sources of suffering in Haiti--the Duvalierist system of government which is still in place today, the United States government's policies and U.S. based international corporations and the Vatican's policies. The critique of the first two are a familiar theme in Haitian literature, but Aristide's scathing critique of his own church is less often heard.
But caveat emptor! Will the people buy that package? Not any longer. The various struggles of the world's poor for economic and political liberation, combined with the establishment of an indigenous clergy and involved lay people (the Little Church--you, my brothers and sisters!), have made the people wary of the yellow and white package."
Aristide's is a moving critique. In attacking the abuses of the Haitian government he gives names, dates and stories from his own experience; attempts on his own life. However, his attack on the U.S., the international economic order and the Catholic Church is more general; an angry, anguished lashing out at a vaguely seen enemy. He pulls strongly at our hearts but does little to provide a solid analysis of the evils and complicity he alleges.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Aristide's message is his solution, or lack of one. He has grand hopes that the progressive Catholic Church, the 'ti legliz,' the small base communities, can be a central factor is the restructuring of Haiti. But he offers little concrete advice or description of how the ti legliz will achieve this miracle of change which has eluded Haiti the past 500 years. In a radio broadcast in 1988 he echoes his hopes:
Does Aristide really believe this flood of population is about to drown the ancient system of oppression in Haiti? Or is Aristide trying to create this flood with his own powerful rhetoric? Probably a little of each. He is sincere, a masterful molder of peoples' passions. Yet I doubt that he's created much which is lasting or powerful in modern Haiti.
This first volume of Aristide's writings is mainly a long essay "A Letter To My Brothers and Sisters." It is addressed to others within the movement of liberation theology in the Third World of the Americas. This 60 page essay is supplemented by the texts of two sermons and three radio speeches. Aristide wants to tell Haiti's story, to let his brothers and sisters know that Haiti, too, is in the same struggle for independence for which they labor.
Unfortunately Haiti's struggle is, for Aristide, his own biography, his own struggle. This points to a great weakness of his leadership --its centeredness in and on Aristide, himself. His unwillingness or inability to make links with other progressive leaders in Haiti weakens his own contribution. Nonetheless, he is a strong and important voice in modern Haiti. Stripped of his parish, and his priestly faculties, prohibited by constant violence from carrying on his fight in Haiti, this book will be his strongest current message to his followers. The fact that it will appear first in English, not his native Creole, is symptomatic that today Aristide speaks more to foreigners and through the foreign press than he does in Haiti.
The progressive church is an important factor in Haiti's current struggle. The ti legliz movement, especially in the rural areas where Aristide's influence is weakest, continues to be an important part of progressive resistance. Aristide's impassioned critique is a welcomed addition to the slim literature of modern Haiti available in English. Any reader concerned with this struggle needs to hear his version of it. Hopefully this volume will be a stimulus to other authors to explore the larger place of the ti legliz movement in Haiti's current battle against Duvalierism, and the struggle toward personal freedom and democratic participation in national life. The Catholic Church's left wing is in the forefront of today's struggle. Aristide is one part of that movement, not its totality, nor even its center. We must be hopeful that the whole story will soon be told.