- Who Owns Haiti: People, Power, and Sovereignty by Robert Maguire and Scott Freeman
Each year, students in development classes ask, "Why Haiti?" Implicit in this question is a desire to understand why Haiti continues to be framed as "the poorest country in the western hemisphere," why the US has exercised a vested interest in securitizing the nation without supporting its many turns toward democracy, often through militarized humanitarianism, why development loans continue to come tethered to structural adjustment programs as conditionalities despite the continued failure to provide empirical justification for them. Who Owns Haiti? People, Power, and Sovereignty turns these, and other questions, inside out. This simple inversion, as Scott Freeman and Robert Maguire note in the Introduction, requires a rethinking of the root of Haiti's "sovereignty dilemma [a]s ultimately related not just to its own internal rumbling but also to roles foreign actors played" (2). And this edited volume pulls no punches in answering these and many other questions that plague not just students of development, but also academics and non-academics alike.
From the Foreword by Amy Wilentz, the question of "who owns Haiti" is answered unequivocally: "the US State Department, military, and president" (xii). However, as Maguire, Freeman, and Nicholas Johnson note in the Conclusion, this volume "does not seek a definitive answer to the complicated question of who owns Haiti. Rather, it offers a synthesis of [symposium] participants' reflections on contemporary ownership and sovereignty" (167-168). Indeed, this volume moves through multiple scales, following the traces and materialities of social, political, economic, and even religious interventions that have led to multi-dimensional conceptions of sovereignty - both abroad and in Haiti. Following the Foreword and Introduction, which each offer concise assessments of the necessity of not just asking this question, but of breaking down the particularities in answering it, Laurent Dubois offers a brief history of Haitian sovereignty, tackling the immediate post-revolutionary period's impact on alternative forms of politics, not just in Haiti, but across the Atlantic World. The Haitian Revolution, he reminds readers, was "a signal and a transformative moment in the political history of the world" (18) that was at once an inspiration and a cause for concern, as enslaved people across the Atlantic and Caribbean regions framed their own struggle for freedom against oppressors.
It is this careful consideration of historical processes that marks this collection as uniquely comprehensive in its scope, even as it seeks to situate the particularities of the period from 2004-2014. Subsequent chapters move across the widely varying geographies of Haiti and Haitians, offering glimpses of the many different ways that the US and international actors such as the UN (particularly MINUSTAH, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, and UNDPKO, the UN Departmen [End Page 256] for Peacekeeping Operations), and a wide array of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have had a hand in usurping the sovereignty of Haiti. To be clear, these are not a rehashing of generalized conceptualizations of neoliberalized development agendas, but rather, each chapter offers a unique perspective into the particularities underpinning policies and programs that have had a lasting impact on the formation and recognition of Haiti beyond the "failed state" trope. For instance, paying special attention to the role of Brazilian (and South American, more generally) political and military engagement in Haiti, Ricardo Seitenfus unpacks a clear framing of "nonindifference" as a guiding principle behind Brazil's President Lula's diplomacy with relation to Haiti. In this way, Seitenfus refuses the often-oversimplified engagement with MINUSTAH to develop a much more complex understanding of South American hemispheric diplomacy that shifts from an overdetermined view of UNDPKO involvement.
At the same time, many of the authors of this volume refuse to frame Haiti and Haitians as lacking agency, highlighting the various ways that Haitians have continuously asserted their sovereignty and independence through grassroots organizing and political activism across scales and...