Fatton: No ray of hope for
|Supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide march
in the Bel-Air district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on March
By Elizabeth Kiem
|Robert Fatton Jr.
Fatton Jr. is much in demand these days. For the past two months,
the armed revolt that toppled President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide from power has kept
Haitian politics in the headlines worldwide. Fatton, the Haitian-born chairman
of U.Va.’s Department of
Politics, is regularly quoted under those
headlines. On a typical day last month, his views could be found in dispatches
New York Times, The Washington Post, the Irish Times, the Australian Broadcasting
Corp., National Public Radio and Reuters.
don’t think it’s that they like me so much,” joked Fatton
about being courted by the media. “But there are not very many [Haiti scholars].
You can count them on two hands.”
Fatton said that attention to Haiti in the press is crisis-driven,
as is the U.S. government’s interest in the country. But while he makes himself available
for the media, Fatton says he feels his expertise is less appreciated by Washington
are irrelevant consultations,” he said of meetings with the Bush
administration’s point-men on Haitian affairs, who are famously conservative
and anti-Aristide. Fatton said he would have advised U.S. officials to seek more
compromises from the opposition in Haiti before assisting in Aristide’s
removal from the country.
He said the ouster of the populist priest Aristide and his
replacement by a nonpartisan government, headed by technocrat
Gerard Latortue, is
fortune. Without more reliable commitment and financial assistance from the international
community, he said, there is little chance for Haiti to overcome its poverty
and political instability.
Moreover, Fatton is emphatic in his belief that the majority
of Haitians still support Aristide, despite the broken
promises and corruption
very poor don’t recognize themselves in the opposition. … I wouldn’t
want to be in the position of the prime minister,” he said.
As expressed in his 2002 book, “Haiti’s Predatory Republic: The Unending
Transition to Democracy,” Fatton’s outlook for his homeland is bleak.
you look at Haiti, you have a political crisis, you have an
economic disaster and an ecological catastrophe. Then you have
a moral crisis. All of them are
linked to each other … so [overcoming these problems is] a huge task.”
Fatton was raised among the Haitian intellectual elite during
the successive dictatorships of Francois Duvalier and son,
Jean-Paul. He recalled
a sense of security during his youth, interrupted by bouts
during which his family left the country to live in Europe.
His parents, now retired,
are living in Haiti, but Fatton long ago chose to become a
member of the “diaspo.”
“It’s not the lifestyle I would want,” he said of his decision not
to live in Haiti, with its stark demarcation of classes, and where the elite
now employ private security and erect physical barriers against the impoverished
I wanted to go to the places I used to go 30 years ago, I would
be a dead man,” he said. But, he added, the police
state of the Duvalier reign was equally unpalatable.
always felt absolutely disgusted. That’s why I left. I can’t cope
with the social structure. It’s something that to me is repugnant.”
Fatton left Haiti permanently in 1973. After studying
at the University of Paris, he enrolled in Goshen College
and then received
Dame. U.Va. offered him a teaching position in 1981,
he became department chairman in 1996.
In addition to his study of Haiti, Fatton is well known
for his scholarship as an Africanist. He has written
in Senegal and
South Africa and draws many comparisons between the
restive socio-political climates of
and many African nations.
Fatton noted that even as Haiti struggles through
another political power struggle, the republic
He said the leaders
of the 1804
revolt against the French are in part responsible
for the country’s history
fellows, whatever their greatness in terms of being slaves
and rising up against the slave owners, were nonetheless extremely
authoritarian and saw themselves
as messianic figures. That’s very much what you have now.”
Fatton is married to Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton,
a professor of African and Caribbean religions
have a young son, Luke,
for whom Fatton
he was born, I put a soccer ball next to him,” said the self-described “soccer
He said his passion for the great Latin pastime
dates from the day in 1974 when, as a rookie
sportscaster, he called
the World Cup.
was carnivale for three days in December,” he recalled.
Fatton plans to step down from chairmanship of his department
this summer and take a yearlong sabbatical
to complete a new book. He
said he is
to handing over the administrative responsibilities
to his colleague Sidney Milkis, the James Hart
Professor of Politics.
“I’m not keeping the Haitian tradition of trying to be a leader for life,” he
said with a laugh.