WASHINGTON — Jan. 12 marks five years since a magnitude-7.0 earthquake razed Port-au-Prince and threw Haiti into chaos. Raymond Joseph was Haiti’s ambassador to the United States at the time. While his country’s president and politicians hid from the public, he famously filled the void of leadership, activating the international community’s first-aid response.
Now Joseph, 83, is stepping forward once again, this time to warn against the rise of a new dictatorship in Haiti.
“For Whom the Dogs Spy” — which spans history from the dictatorships of François “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to the current day — is an insider look at Haiti by a diplomat who served under four presidents. Joseph will be signing the book at a Jan. 12 “We Remember Haiti” launch party in New York.
The 352-page book paints a chilling portrait of how Haiti has suffered devastation at the hands of both nature and man. Among other things, it describes how Papa Doc used the legend of voodoo to bewitch Haiti into fearing him, and how he set Joseph up to be kidnapped in New York.
The book also discusses the harmful role New York’s governor, Nelson A. Rockefeller, played in the early 1960s in supporting the Duvalier dictatorship, and the involving of Rudy Giuliani and Bill Clinton in Haitian politics.
“Ray Joseph, among the most distinguished Haitians of recent generations, has given us a compelling memoir that is also a penetrating modern history,” writes Peter Kann, former chairman and CEO of Dow Jones & Co., and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal, where Joseph worked as a reporter in his early days. “Presidents Duvalier, Aristide and Martelly, voodoo, cruelty, carnivals, corruption and the environmental degradation of Haiti — all are laid bare on these pages.”
Adds Pulitzer Prize winner Stanley Penn: “Ray Joseph is the voice and conscience of Haiti. Nobody can tell the story better.”
On the brink of dictatorship
Joseph is convinced that Haiti is on the brink of dictatorship.
“If the political leaders in Haiti had the muscles, and were not hamstrung by international constraints, they would have already instituted a dictatorship there. In fact, the Haitian government has been slowly moving toward dictatorship ever since it failed to hold local elections in 2011,” he said. “The specter of a president ruling by decree is a distinct possibility. That, in effect, would be a dictatorship.”
And that would have dire consequences for the United States as well, he warned.
“Unrest in Haiti has led to a flow of political and economic refugees from Haiti to the U.S. Moreover, billions of foreign dollars are required to keep order in Haiti,” he said. “For example, MINUSTAH — the United Nations military force that operates in Haiti — has been active for over a decade. Who is paying for its upkeep? U.S. taxpayers are major contributors.”
The book’s title, “For Whom the Dogs Spy,” was inspired by an urban legend in Haiti that certain animals — especially dogs — could spy for Papa Doc. That helped instill fear of his regime, which lasted from 1957 to 1971 (his son took over and ruled until his ouster in 1986). Baby Doc died of a heart attack last October at the age of 63.
Voodoo still plays a part in Haitian politics, said Joseph.
“For example, the Haitian consul general at a major post refused to meet his predecessor because his witch doctor told him that he shouldn’t shake hands with the former consul, whose hands were mystically ‘mounted,’ and would cause the failure of his mission,” Joseph said. “That consul changed all the furniture in the office and ordered a new, expensive vehicle to ward off negative vibes that were supposedly left behind.”
He added: “When I was called back in 2004 to take over the Haitian Embassy in Washington, a Haitian mystic offered to wipe my office clean. I thanked him and said I knew what to do.”
Asked what he wants readers to take away from his book, Joseph emphasized that Haiti — despite its current impoverishment — was not always the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
“Two centuries ago, Haiti successfully defeated slavery and paved the way for the liberation of the Western Hemisphere from European colonialism. As retaliation, slave-owning powers of the day ostracized and punished Haiti by instituting strict embargoes, so Haiti’s development was mortgaged from the beginning,” he said.
“Haiti’s leadership has also contributed to its downfall,” he added. “For the most part, its leaders over the years have been interested in personal power — for life — and self-aggrandizement, leading to the current situation of the country, which finds itself at the bottom of a pit.”