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13 January 2010

Haiti: some context

Slavoj Žižek on people power.

By Daniel Trilling

Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, is one of those countries that only makes the news when it is struck by disaster. But despite the images of desperation that are now zooming around the globe — not to mention the periodic stories of abject poverty that filter out of the country — its people are not passive victims.

This is a good moment — after you have donated to the relief effort — to reread Slavoj Žižek’s review of Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, which we first published in 2008. Žižek traces Haiti’s predicament, from the French Revolution to the downfall of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. These two passages are salient:

The Lavalas movement has won every free presidential election since 1990, but it has twice been the victim of US-sponsored military coups.


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Haiti was an exception from the very beginning, from its revolutionary fight against slavery, which ended in independence in January 1804. “Only in Haiti,” Hallward notes, “was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day” . . . Denounced by Talleyrand as “a horrible spectacle for all white nations”, the “mere existence of an independent Haiti” was itself an intolerable threat to the slave-owning status quo. Haiti thus had to be made an exemplary case of economic failure, to dissuade other countries from taking the same path.

Read the full review here.