For years, Marguerite Laurent (alias Zili Danto) a Haitian-American has been an ardent defender and a defacto spokesperson for former Haitian dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide. What always struck me as being strange was that she injected a heavy dose of racism into her defense of Aristide when the Haitian people were focused on the political violence and vast corruption that led to his downfall. Shedding light on her race baiting, a YouTube video recently surfaced in which African-American leader Louis Farrakhan discusses Haiti’s history and gives advice to presidential candidate and hip hop star, Wyclef Jean. In the speech, Farrakhan briefly mentions Zili (see “Minister Farrakhan's Prophetic Warning to Wyclef Jean on Leading Hait” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ky3yraY1QM; Farrakhan’s mention of Zili is at 5 mins 38 seconds).
Is Zili using her access to Farrakhan’s church to promote her race-based interpretations of Haiti’s history? Race baiters have always tried to leverage the fact that Haiti is the world’s first black republic to their personal or ideological advantage. That was the case of Randal Robinson and his wife Hazel Robinson who became rich on the back of the Haitians thanks to Aristide’s corrupt business dealings and spreading around state funds to his corrupt allies (for more details click here: http://www.haitipolicy.org/Lobbying7.htm). And now they have injected race into Haiti’s recovery and presidential elections by using Farrakhan. Because he was poorly advised by Zili, Farrakhan’s speech is full of historical distortion, factual errors and contradictions.
To be sure, Haiti is 99% black and proud to be the world's first black republic. However, Haiti’s independence was not just about race. Haiti's founding fathers saw beyond race to the universal values of freedom and equality. Haitians fought alongside Simon Bolivar in his quest to liberate the Latin American countries. They fought alongside the Americans in the Revolutionary War against the British. It was not about Latinos or Americans. For Haitians, it was about freedom and liberation. It is true, however, that the ruling powers of that time may have considered us a threat because of our cause and because of our race, but that did not have an impact on our purpose. Our founding fathers, including Toussaint Louverture and Jacques Dessalines, were visionaries and truly unique, brave men who selflessly put their lives on the line for freedom. They should be an inspiration to us all as we rebuild our country.
Distorting and essentially rewriting Haiti’s history undermines our forefathers and their great history. Haiti’s history should be sacred, but the collective memory of the Haitian independence movement could be tainted by these assertions, and that’s a travesty.
What is also interesting about Zili’s link to Farrakhan and the supportive tenor for Wyclef in his speech. It is surprising that she would be involved with a speech that was essentially “blessing” Wyclef’s candidacy. Wyclef very publicly sided against Aristide in 2004. He supported the violent rebellion led by Guy Phillippe and called for Aristide’s resignation (for Wyclef’s statement see: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1485326/20040225/jean_wyclef.jhtml?headlines=true). Further, proudly sitting behind Wyclef is Ron Daniel, also a once fervent Aristide supporter, who has pursued every avenue possible to make money in Haiti. How do these Aristide defenders explain their support for someone who condemned Aristide?
It seems some of the more prominent Aristidiennes have chosen a new master: Farrakhan. Their impassioned defense of Aristide has fallen by the wayside; opportunism or access to money and power has trumped principle exposing them for what they are: Haiti exploiters. The fact is Aristidiennes see opportunity associated with Wyclef -- and that far outweighs their “commitment” to Aristide.
And finally, in another historical blunder, Farrakhan goes on to say that Aristide was the first democratically elected president of Haiti. This is just not true. Article 106 of the Constitution of 1806 inaugurated the first elections in Haiti. The first election was held in 1810. Over the past 200 years, we have had many democratic elections and 36 elected legislatures. Unfortunately, we have not had continuous democracy over the past 200 years, however. The elections of 1990 that swept Aristide into power were the first democratic elections of the modern era, but again, let us not ignore the achievements of our founders by saying that these were the first democratic elections.
Race baiters and opportunists have always tried to exploit Haiti. At this fragile time in our history, we need to expose these people for what they are and make a clean break from their manipulation. Opportunists such as Zili Danto reduce our proud history to racism for personal gain. She alone should have to live with her personal contradictions and lack of principle – she shouldn’t inflict insult on a proud country with a proud history.