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Home > World

To live and die in Haiti

20 February 2004

As the noose tightens, the officially “embattled” President of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is suddenly full of gallows wisdom:

"I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country," he declared, he chin set square against the rebel forces. “If wars are expensive, peace can be even more expensive."

In this oddly cryptic statement, which has been widely quoted but little analysed, Aristide seems to be saying that in order to secure a peaceful future for Haiti his is willing to die – and that his death, in the cause of peace, would somehow have an extra-special value: “if wars are expensive, peace can be even more expensive.” His death (still at this point in time only imagined) takes on the form of a magical offering for peace. More “expensive” than the deaths of any soldiers in war.

The death of the president is, according to Aristide’s formula, the death of the corn king – torn to pieces to renew the yearly cycle. “The king is dead. Long live the king!” The life of the president/king/god has special value, therefore so does his death.

But Aristide is not the only man prepared to die for his country. The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Guy Philippe, a 35-year-old former police chief, who was trained by the US Secret Service to protect his president but now wants him dead:

"I have 210 men, ready to fight, ready to die for what they believe. The president is nothing. We gave him this job. Now we want this job back."

Aristide, the former Catholic priest, has already survived three assassination attempts, so losing his life for his country is no empty phrase for him. He can feel the pistol in his ribs.

Whether or not his death will be a grand enough gesture to allow his country to be reborn from its current bloody self-destruction remains to be seen.

5ive facts about Haiti in this week's Friday Thing

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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