Saturday, February 10, 2007

Book Review: Eyes of the Heart

Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization
by Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Common Courage Press, 2000, $12.00
ISBN 1-56751-187-2

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was President of Haiti in 1991, again from 1994 to 1996, and then from 2001 to 2004. Aristide is a controversial figure. To some, he represents populist democracy: an advocate of the poor and downtrodden whose election brought new hope to Haiti, only to be overthrown by special interests protecting the status quo. To others, Aristide represents the worst of Marxism, a fanatic, a dictator, who got rich off the poor, and deposing him brought new hope to downtrodden Haiti.

Two books represent both sides of Aristide's reputation:

  • Aristide: The Death of a Nation, by Lynn Garrison, presents the anti-Aristide argument (also anti-Clinton and anti-human rights organizations and anti-left in general).

  • Plunging into Haiti: Clinton, Aristide, And the Defeat of Diplomacy,
    by Ralph Pezzullo, presents the pro-Aristide argument.

Aristide himself has nine books in English:

  1. Why (1978)
  2. Raise the Table (1986)
  3. 100 Verses of Dechoukaj (1986)
  4. The Truth in Truth (1989)
  5. In the parish of the poor : writings from Haiti (1990)
  6. Aristide : an autobiography (1992)
  7. Theology and Politics (1993)
  8. Dignity (1995)
  9. Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization (2000)
For more: Searching Amazon

I have just read Eyes of the Heart. It is short (80 pages), passionate, and inspiring. Aristide movingly describes the terrible poverty of Haiti, and cites historical statistics to argue that this poverty is created by outside forces that also create poverty elsewhere. The cure is that terror of the libertarian marketplace, the mobilization of the poor. True political democracy and true economic democracy must go hand in hand.

It is hard to argue with this book unless one claims, as Aristide's critics do, that it is a lie from beginning to end. The book leaves me wanting to know a lot more about Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and about Haiti.

Quotes from the book:

"At home we are hungry. But if we sit home we will surely die. If we go to the street we may also die, but there at least is a glimmer of hope."

"There will never be money enough, but there are people enough... A wealth of experience, knowledge, skill, energy and the power to mobilize resides with the poor. From this creativity, this panorama of human endurance of the poor in Haiti, and the poor in Mexico, and in Brazil, and Southeast Asia and Africa, and more and more of the poor in North America and Europe, we can learn."

"Do not confuse democracy with the holding of elections. Elections are the exam, testing the health of our system. Voter participation is the grade. But school is in session every day. Only the day-to-day participation of the people at all levels of government can breathe life into democracy and create the possibility for people to play a significant role in shaping the state and the society that they want."

"Democracy asks us to put the needs and rights of people at the center of our endeavors. This means investing in people. Investing in people means first of all food, clean water, education and healthcare. These are basic human rights. It is the challenge of any real democracy to guarantee them."

"Remember that history moves in waves. We cannot expect to always live on the crests. We have to keep floating even when the waters ebb."

Links:
Sometime during Aristide's presidency, Real Change published an article about the program for Haitian street youth that he founded, and speaks of in Eyes of the Heart, Lafanmi Selavi. The article is very positive about the organization, and by implication, about Aristide.

A Wikipedia article on Aristide attempts to be neutral, but its neutrality is disputed.


Write On!
Anitra

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