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Jeb Sprague: Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti

September 18, Tuesday, 7:00 PM

DePaul University
Lincoln Park Student Center (LPSC) Room 325
2250 North Sheffield, Chicago
Transit: Red & Brown CTA train lines, Fullerton Avenue station.

book cover

With the 1990 election of Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian people undertook a historic struggle for economic and political democracy. What are the contours and features of this history? What social forces have led to continuing reactionary violence? In the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake and the presidential election held in March of 2011, what are the immediate and long-term conditions unfolding in Haiti?

Open University welcomes Jeb Sprague, author of Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, newly published by Monthly Review Press. The book investigates right-wing paramilitarism in Haiti and its role in undermining the democratic aspirations of the Haitian people. The author focuses on the period beginning in 1990 and the election of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Over the ensuing two decades, paramilitary violence was largely directed against the poor and supporters of Aristide's Lavalas movement, taking the lives of thousands of Haitians. The first book to draw on a comprehensive body of research for these years, including numerous interviews and more than 11,000 Freedom of Information Act requests, Sprague seeks to understand how this occurred, and traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti but also in the United States and the Dominican Republic.

Jeb Sprague is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His scholarship has appeared in numerous academic journals, including Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, and Journal of Haitian Studies. His journalism has appeared in Al-Jazeera, NACLA Report on the Americas, TeleSUR, Haïti Liberté Newspaper, Inter Press Service, and FAIR, among many others. Jeb blogs at

"It is absolutely imperative for Haiti's history that such a detailed account of the role of paramilitary violence in the country be recorded … The marshaling of facts and events … [and the] meticulous references are phenomenal … An historical narrative supported by personal testimony, interviews, WikiLeaks, press reports, history and common sense, etc. … careful juxtaposing throughout of information from embassy cables side by side with events as they were happening on the ground during this turbulent time …"

— Mildred Trouillot-Aristide, former First Lady of Haiti and author of L'enfant en domesticité en Haïti, produit d'un fossé historique (Impr. Henri Deschamps, Port-au-Prince, 2003)

"… A crucial work … shows with great detail and analytical acuity how these paramilitaries are in the service of local and transnational elites whose dual agenda is to repress those popular aspirations and to integrate Haiti as a dependent cog ever deeper into the global capitalist order … must reading for all those concerned with the political and paramilitary machinations of the new global capitalist order. It shows just how far the elites who dominate that order are willing to go to hold down the people of a tiny island nation that face one adversity after another and yet continues to struggle for freedom 200 years after they threw off the shackles of slavery and colonialism."

— William I. Robinson, author, Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010)

"… a brilliant diagnosis of the history of political violence in Haiti … highlights the contemporary phenomenon of paramilitarism in Haiti and looks closely at the ways in which it was revived in the early 2000s. From the investigation of the role of paramilitarism in connection to the coup d'état occurring in 2004 to the election of Michel Martelly in 2011 and the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the author examines different elements attempting to keep democracy away from the Haitian people."

— Jean Sénat Fleury, Haitian investigating judge of the Raboteau massacre in Gonaïves, former instructor at Haiti's National Police Academy (1995) and trainer and director of studies at the School for Magistrates (2002); author, The Challenges of Judicial Reform in Haiti (Lulu Press, 2003).