. . . [F]or a quarter century, the main question about Haitian politics was Who is Aristide? Saint, sinner, martyr, sorcerer, rapist, family man, friend to the poor, exploiter of the poor, sell-out, has-been, will-be, messiah.That is from a very interesting piece on Jean-Bertrand Aristide by Pooja Bhatia in the London Review of Books.
Aristide could also be characterized as a researcher/scientist:
Last May I went to see Jean-Bertrand Aristide at his big white house in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince. I’d been there in March, when the former president had been back home only a week, and the place had the feel of a set under construction: workmen in overalls among the mango trees, the smell of new paint, a sputtering tap in the office bathroom. Now the Aristides’ boxes had arrived from Pretoria, where the family spent most of their seven-year exile, and Aristide’s office was dominated by a piece of scientific equipment, positioned – conspicuously, I thought – near the visitors’ couch. Its gleaming monitor was set to ‘on’ and displayed several jagged graphs. A thicket of bright-coloured electrodes dangled from a rack.
Aristide explained that it was an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine and that he used it for his research. He had a PhD in African languages from the University of South Africa – his dissertation posited a ‘psycho-theological’ kinship between Zulu and Haitian Creole – and he was continuing his linguistics research, he said, though now from a biological perspective. All day long there were visitors (‘from early in the morning to late at night, they come and come and come’), but he also sat for several hours before his EEG machine, studying the effect on brainwaves of different words, languages and music. The EEG machine allowed one to ‘go deep’ into the functioning of the brain, he explained. He deflected my questions about his study’s hypothesis and its preliminary findings, saying it would take too long to explain.
‘Really?’ I said.
‘Well, how much do you know about the anatomy of the brain?’
‘Not very much.’
‘Yes, it would take a very long time.’
On the issue of reparations
Aristide’s demand in 2004 for $21 billion in reparations from France showed how the logical became illogical when it happened in Haiti, and how Aristide’s reputation bore the brunt. It was the bicentenary of Haiti’s independence, and the $21 billion was the inflation-adjusted equivalent of the money Haiti started paying France in 1825 to compensate colonial plantation owners for the loss of their property, largely slaves. In return, France had recognised Haiti’s sovereignty, lifted a trade embargo, and financed a usurious loan for indemnity payments that Haitians bore for almost a hundred years.Merci, patron! Aristide’s call for restitution was considered another sign of his lunacy.
Aristide suffered numerous ‘nervous prostrations’ and migraines throughout his years in public life. For weeks on end, he would refuse to get out of bed, to take medicine, to eat, to talk. His Salesian order first tried to send him away – he was getting too political, its leaders said – and then expelled him.