Resisting the Assassins' Power
Why does the movement against corporate globalization protest at meetings like those of the World Economic Forum, recently completed in New York? What does the movement for global justice want?
There are a million ways to answer these questions. One set of compelling answers is contained in Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance, a wonderful new book by Beverly Bell (Cornell University Press). Walking on Fire is a collection of interviews with Haitian women, with astute synthesizing text by Bell.
Relying on the words of a broad cross-section of Haitian society, from former Prime Minister Claudette Werleigh to desperately poor women like Yolande Mevs who are struggling day-to-day to provide enough food to calm their children's aching bellies, Walking on Fire illustrates how the dynamics of corporate globalization overlay with local hierarchies, prejudices and systems of patriarchy to impoverish and marginalize women.
Most searingly, Walking on Fire reveals the raw violence embedded in these overlapping systems of domination. The women in Walking on Fire recount stomach-churning stories of childhood slavery and abuse, rape and immiseration.
Alerte Belance relates a horrifying tale of brutality at the hands of the FRAPH, the CIA-supported paramilitary force that terrorized Haiti during the coup period of the 1990s, when democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced into exile.
A local organizer who supported Aristide's lavalas movement (as did the majority of the country), Belance went into hiding when Aristide was deposed. After the Governor's Island Accord promised Aristide would return to power in October 1993, Belance came out of hiding.
"They came for me on October 15," she recounts, "several days after I'd returned from hiding."
"The vicious ones chopped me up during the night-- I spent a night in the weeds bleeding. They sliced me into pieces with machete strokes. They cut out my tongue and my mouth: my gums, plates, teeth, and jaw on my right side. They cut my face open, my temple and cheek totally open. They cut my eye open. They cut my ear open. They cut my body, my whole shoulder and neck and back slashed with machete blows. They cut off my right arm. They slashed my left arm totally and cut off the ends of all my fingers of my left hand. ... The death squad was so convinced that I died that they dragged me further away to dump me."
Left for dead by the death squad, she survived by luck and will, dragging herself from the bushes to the road, from where she was eventually taken to medical care.
Rosemie Belvius explains the multiple types of violence experienced by peasant women in Haiti. There is the structural violence of coerced theft and dispossession imposed by landlords. "If you harvest 100 cannisters of rice, the big man gets 50, you get 50. This is even though you spent the money, you bought the fertilizer that sells for $60 per sack, and you bought the labor for three dollars a day to hoe the garden."
And, in Haiti, there is, too often, the more overt violence directed against peasants who challenge landlords' power. When Belvius and area farmers constructed a cooperatively owned corn silo, the Tonton Macoutes -- the terror force of Baby Doc Duvalier -- burned it down and torched her house as well.
These are very localized experiences. But people do not experience broad trends of corporate globalization they live their lives with their families and communities and find themselves involuntarily confronting local, national and international structures of domination.
Author Beverly Bell explains how "power structures within the international community and the global economy [are] mirrored in domestic structures."
Walking on Fire is subtitled "Haitian women's stories of survival and resistance" and the emotions of horror stirred by the book are matched by a sense of awe and inspiration of the women, many of whom do struggle just to survive, and especially of those who choose to respond to amazing hardship and myriad challenges by organizing and collective action to improve their and others' lives, and to fight for justice.
"Today," Bell writes, "the popular movement is demanding stronger national sovereignty so that Haiti will no longer be subordinated to more powerful states, lending agencies and international trade and finance institutions. The movement is protesting the foreign-imposed economic policy of structural adjustment, or what Haitians have labeled the plan lanmo, the death plan."
Their protests and organizing take the form of street theater featuring demons labeled "IMF," creating women's associations, organizing trade unions and much more. For the women in Walking on Fire, the fight against the local landlord or structural adjustment is seamless, all to be resisted, with a will of steel. Belvius relates a song from her farmers' organization:
We will not give in, oh no.
We'll never cede the battle.
No we will not surrender
To the assassins' power.