Thursday, December 15, 2005

The flaws of Fanmi Lavalas

An interesting critique of Fanmi Lavalas by the Haitian activist and Lavalas insider Patrick Elie was published by Znet on December 14th. [Interview with Patrick Elie, "Taking us to democracy like cattle to a killing house"]

He believes the 2004 coup indicates how weakened Aristide's support among the peasantry and the poor in general had become:
ELIE: Well, we have to have a bit of historical background to understand my position on Fanmi Lavalas. Fanmi Lavalas does not have a monopoly on Lavalas. Lavalas is a large movement of the Haitian people. Fanmi Lavalas is a political organization that was built to go after political power...

And by going after power in the election of 1990, the movement exposed itself to the repression that would follow. And that repression exerted terrible casualties on this movement, either by killing the grassroots leaders or forcing - or enticing - them into exile. So when President Aristide came back, that movement had been weakened. He came under occupation, and the movement was only a shadow of itself in terms of grassroots organization. And also the conditions were different.

Then, also, we know about Preval's presidency. What we can say about it that is positive is that Preval kind of opened the Lavalas movement and his presidency toward the peasants, because Lavalas was really first based in the cities. It carried along the peasants because the peasants and the poor in the cities are related, but it didn't have an organic tie with the peasants. Under Preval that was opened as a possibility that offered new blood and an anchor for the movement.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Fanmi Lavalas was created as a political organization. But a lot of the people who came to it, especially the cadres, did not come as they did in the first wave of Lavalas, out of political conviction. They came and joined because they knew that this machine was going to win. They came for the personal advantage that running for office and being part of a political power structure brings to you. And it is this mentality that slipped into Fanmi Lavalas, and became hegemonic - even though there are very good militants, very honest people in Fanmi Lavalas, the tone was being given by these opportunists. Unfortunately, President Aristide was never able to rein them in.

During the three years of President Aristide's power, I must say that I could see in the people themselves, especially in the poor people, resentment toward Fanmi Lavalas, resentment against these guys who were running around in these huge cars, building houses, getting rich. This resentment tended, generally, to spare President Aristide himself. But the policy that was being followed and the head-honchos of Fanmi Lavalas - the senators, the deputies, the mayors - were being resented by the population because they were nothing but traditional Haitian politicians under a new disguise.

So many of these people actually participated in sabotaging the presidency of President Aristide. One thing that happened that for me was terrible was the fact that the policy of opening toward peasants that had been undertaken by Preval was ditched by President Aristide. And we started losing the power base in the countryside, which made it easy for the likes of Guy Philippe and Chamblain to come in and do their military-type raids. If the Haitian peasant had felt at the time a unity with the regime, these guys would not have walked 200 yards into Haitian territory. The peasants would have run them out. But that did not happen. The peasants were more or less indifferent to the power struggle that was going on because they didn't feel that it was about them.

Again, my critiques toward Fanmi Lavalas, as a party or a political organization, is that it relied too much on President Aristide's personal charisma and popularity, and never actually built a real network and a real structure to direct the party or the political fight. So when the enemy hit on February 29 and was able to kidnap the leader, the leadership either ran or didn't have a clue of what to do, how to adapt to the new situation, and how to serve as cadre to the popular resistance to this new situation. The result is that you had an army with soldiers that were very determined, especially in the poor neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince or of Cap. But the generals were either outside of the country or fending for themselves.

And the other thing is that there was no strategy put forward by Fanmi Lavalas. They only had a slogan; "Bring President Aristide back." And I'd like to compare it to the situation back in the war of independence when the French came in and snatched away Toussaint Louverture. The masses then did not say "Bring Louverture back," they developed an alternative toward independence which had become indispensable because it was the only way to secure the abolishment of slavery. But they developed new tools. And this was what was [on the agenda] in this occupation: to develop new tools, new strategy. And that has not been done.

Elie goes on to contrast the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the popular movements in Venezuela today with Lavalas:
When President Mbeki was the only head of state to come to the celebration of Haiti's bi-centennial, and when South Africa was the country that extended its hand to President Aristide in exile, this got me thinking. South Africans had been kept out of the electoral process altogether for tens of years. And yet they were able to have a significant political impact, a significant diplomacy nevertheless, even though they didn't have a single mayor, a single deputy, a single senator. So I said, this is somewhere we can learn from: build grassroots organizations, network them, and evolve a political agenda from these grassroots organizations. It's going to take more time than simply organizing an electoral campaign. But it's going to have the ability to resist the reaction that we're going to meet, the opposition we're going to meet from the powers that be locally and internationally. Because it's going to become the property of the people themselves. They're not going to be simply relying on a Messiah who turns out to be powerless without the people behind him.

I think we have to build for at least the mid-term, so that when we regain our sovereignty it will be for a long time. We've lost it twice in ten years, so obviously something is wrong. And since I don't believe that we can regain our sovereignty with military action, the only way we're going to do it is by mobilizing, organizing, and by being able, also to wage a diplomatic campaign, an action on public opinion, networking with countries like Venezuela where you have a strong grassroots movement aside from Mr. Chavez himself, who is a charismatic leader, but you do also have a grassroots movement that is the best guarantee against the kind of operation that we've seen performed here on February 29th. They couldn't do it in Venezuela. And why is that? Because you had this ability to mobilize and resist.


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