Eyes of the Heart: Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of Globalization, by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is an important book, written not just for Haiti and its people, but on behalf of all people living in developing countries. It is a cry for social justice for the poor of the world, and in the book, Aristide uses his experiences of poverty and development in Haiti to lay bare and to berate the morality of a world that can allow situations, such as the one Haiti has lived through (and indeed continues to live through), to occur and to continue. It is necessary to know something of the life of the author, and of the history of Haiti in order to appreciate the significance of this book, and so I will begin with short synopses of these topics.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide has fine credentials and a strong background with which to discuss such major, provocative issues: he was a priest, was also President of Haiti, and currently heads a foundation which campaigns for democracy and social justice. During a particularly brutal period under the Haitian dictatorship of Duvalier, Aristide led a march to the Duvalier prison in Port-au-Prince (where tens of thousands of people had been killed); during the march, the Haitian police, instructed by the dictator, opened fire on the marchers and killed many. Aristide, it is said, continued with his prayers throughout the massacre, which in the eyes of many, confirmed him to be a selfless opponent of the regime.
In 1990, Haiti went through an election, and in the first free elections in Haiti in many years, Aristide was pronounced President. This was short-lived. In 1991, the Haitian military overthrew the democratically-elected government, and Aristide was forced in to exile. During his exile and the period of military rule, until his return in 1994, it is estimated that the military killed over 10,000 Haitian citizens, with a Haitian diaspora of many more tens of thousands, who fled to the United States, Canada and Latin America. In 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti, and completed the last months of his presidential term, during which he enabled the country to regain some measure of political and economic stability (including the dismantling of the Haitian military), which by no means met even acceptable standards in Western terms.
Besides all of his other credentials - priest, first democratically-elected President of Haiti - Jean-Bertrand Aristide is also the founder (sand now Director) of a charity, 'The Aristide Foundation for Democracy', which campaigns for support for Haiti, in terms of economic stability (community-based economic initiatives to support Haitians); educational advances, justice for those killed at the hands of the military, and land reform, to redistribute the land more fairly amongst Haitians. It is from this viewpoint, based on this work, that Aristide wrote his book, as a manifesto, with the view that,
We begin with what is in front of us. I cannot see God, but I can see you. I cannot see God, but I see the child in front of me, the woman, the man. Through them, through this material world in which we live we know God. Through them we know and experience love, we glimpse and seek justice." (page 2).
His book is hailed by many - development workers and religious leaders alike - as a definitive manifesto for the world's poor. The book discusses the many troubles and tragedies of Haiti's difficult transition to democracy, and also discusses the people of Haiti, who Aristide represents as having a quiet, simple dignity, amidst all of the tragedy and devastation of their past, and their current, daily lives. As he says, on page 20, "The average Haitian survives on less than 250 U.S. dollars a year. This requires imagination every day." Aristide lays bare the problems that Haiti, and many developing countries face, when he says, "One percent of the population controls 45% of the national wealth." (Page 20). Discussions of the problems that this skewed distribution of wealth poses for the world's poor are the central core of the book. From the outset of the book, he berates the current Western obsession with wealth, and the current lack of values in many Western societies, saying,
Among the poor, immeasurable human suffering, among the others, the powerful, the policymakers, a poverty of spirit which has made a religion of the market and its invisible hand. A crisis of imagination so profound that the only measure of value is profit, the only measure of human progress economic growth." (page 2).
In the book, Aristide also discusses the threats to Haiti (and by extrapolation, to many developing countries) from what he terms "the predatory forces of the global economy" (page 25). In this sense, the book lays bare, and supports, many of the anti-globalization arguments that are put forward by many development workers, who argue that globalization simply makes the rich richer by exploiting the poor. As he says,
Our planet is entering the new century with fully 1.3 billion people living on less than one dollar a day. Three billion people, or half the population of the world, live on less than two dollars a day. Yet this same planet is experiencing unprecedented economic growth. The statistics that describe the accumulation of wealth in the world are mind-boggling. From where we sit, the most staggering statistics of all are those that reflect the polarization of this wealth. In 1960 the richest 20% of the world's population had 70% of the world's wealth, today they have 86% of the wealth. In 1960 the poorest 20% of the world's population had just 2.3% of the wealth of the world. Today this had shrunk to just barely 1%
" (page 5)
Aristide, through his book, and using the example of Haiti, is concerned with development, more specifically what happens when "global free trade meets local markets, eradicating local economies in its wake, and thereby increasing dependence on foreign aid, which itself is crippling" (page 12):
in 1995, severely indebted low-income countries paid one billion dollars more in debt and interest to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) than they received from it. For the 46 countries of Subsaharan Africa, foreign debt service was four times their combined governmental health and education budgets in 1996. So, we find that aid does not aid." (page 13)
In this book, Aristide also argues strongly that democracy needs to start from the people, arguing that for democracy to work, it needs to be upheld by the people, arguing that corruption should not be accepted, should even be punished by the people once they see it is happening, saying, recently heard a beautiful story about holding representatives accountable in democracy. In Colombia a member of an indigenous community was elected to parliament to represent his people. On one particularly important vote, the community elders had decided how they wished their representative to vote. The parliamentarian, now far away from his community in the halls of power in the capital, voted differently. Again the elders met and agreed that for defying the wishes of the community he was elected to represent, the parliamentarian should walk many miles through the mountains and then bathe in the freezing water of a sacred mountain lake in order to purge himself. This he did, and balance within the community was restored. Perhaps this technique would not be appropriate elsewhere, but the point is that it is up to each country and indeed each community to search for ways to both keep the peace and protect against the potential betrayal of elected leaders." (page 35).
All in all, Aristide's book is a hymn to the strength of people in Haiti, to all people in the developing world, who, even under repression, under conditions that no-one in developed…