A Plastic Bone

February 4, 2011

Joegodson and Paul

Finally, this (Thursday) morning at eight o’clock, Haitians learned that there would be a run-off election on March 20 between the top two contenders in races where no one received fifty percent of the vote. So, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat will contest the presidency. Meanwhile, the Unity Party will have a majority in both of the legislative houses.

The tension was mounting. People were frustrated. If Célestin had been on the ballot, Joegodson thinks there would have been serious protests. One can imagine that Washington would be careful at this moment of crisis in the Middle East to avoid opening up another front of protest against its support for repressive and non-democratic regimes. Perhaps that accounts for all the gushing praise for Haitian democracy from the centres of power.

Le Nouvelliste quickly posted three articles that seem to have been written by the same hand. Washington “welcomed” the news as a good day for Haiti, the CEP having followed the recommendations of the OAS. The United Nations “welcomed” the announcement of the definitive results of the first round of the elections. Reginald Boulos, speaking for the Economic Forum of the Private Sector, “welcomed” the news and congratulated everyone who had anything to do with advancing Haitian democracy. He might have gone a bit overboard, saying that the Forum remains profoundly convinced of the importance of free elections, honest and transparent, which allow a periodic renewal of the political actors on the basis of the principle of one man-one vote. (The Forum must be intending to send ballots to South Africa so that Aristide might be able to add his one voice to the mix; nothing would better demonstrate the commitment of Haiti’s financial and sweatshop owning class to democracy than that humble gesture.) Apparently, the Forum believes that democracy best guarantees political stability, which they say results in social harmony that is the condition for attracting the foreign investment that will create a sustainable economy with jobs and prosperity for all of Haiti’s citizens.

And so all of the powerful players are delighted that Haitian democracy is proceeding just as they planned it should.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, American foreign policy propagandists stumbled upon a winning formula. Having liberated Europe from Nazi occupation (with some insignificant allies), the Americans next went to war on language. The United States meant freedom (four freedoms, in FDR’s wartime formulation). In remaking the world to serve American interests, Washington positioned itself as the purveyor of freedom. It represented, at the same time, capitalism, freedom, and democracy, which it collapsed into one. Within this framework, it is impossible to be liberated from the United States. It is literally unthinkable to be freed from capitalism.  You cannot be oppressed by the United States. Language does not permit it. The promotion of freedom, the propagandists were well aware, would necessitate military force when local populations claimed the right to their own resources and states.

The intervening history is full of vulnerable populations trying to escape the fate of being liberated by the United States and subjected to American democracy. The Arab world is attempting to liberate itself from the American-led empire of capital. (These become challenging linguistic formulations, since every word has to be reclaimed in the process of communicating.) Now, when the Haitian ruling class trumpets democracy and the capital penetration of Haiti, we see what freedom means. In the current global economy, the choice for the world’s working class is to work in assembly plants for whatever salary and in whatever conditions are determined by interests that are, in fact, uninterested in the well-being of the workers. There is no choice involved in the freedom that is imposed. And so, people like Boulos praise democracy in the most efffusive and meaningless language. That language, French in this case, is grounded in the early Cold War.  

How will Haitians respond to this democracy? The fraudulent elections were already ignored by three-quarters of the population. The group of twelve and many of their supporters continue to refuse the elections already rejected by the majority as illegitimate. Joegodson thinks that those rejecting the elections are in the ascendant. He also thinks that Aristide’s presence in the country (nothing more than that) would cast a pall over the process, reminding people what democracy once meant.

For those who see democracy in terms of elections that imply a competition that one contestant wins and an opponent loses, like a boxing match, then Martelly might have the upper hand. Ignorant of the fact that Martelly has hired a savvy campaign manager who specializes in the manipulation of public opinion, many poor Haitians are responding to his performance in the campaign. He is playing the role of the little uneducated guy who is, nonetheless, smart enough to know that the more qualified the politician, the deeper the corruption. Some people like quips like that. And Martelly is, at the same time, carefully respecting the power brokers. He has negotiated a tricky path, effectively bonding with the poor while praising the leadership of the class that impoverishes them. He defends the right of Haitians to develop their own country. Which Haitians? He attacks the MINUSTAH soldiers for doing policing work that rightly belongs to Haitians. He finds (or someone finds for him) just the right message to address the resentment of the poor. Martelly is still singing; he’s just changing the key depending on the class he’s addressing.

People want most to eat and live decently. People are listening with their stomachs, thinks Joegodson. It’s like they are hungry dogs and Martelly is waving a bone in front of them. They are ready to follow him anywhere to get the bone. Joegodson thinks that they’ll find out it was a plastic bone when the time comes. But when you’re hungry, you can make yourself believe even a plastic bone is edible.

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