MICHAEL DEIBERT first visited Haiti in 1997 and serves as the Reuters correspondent in Port-au-Prince from 2001 until 2003. His writing on Latin America and the Caribbean has appeared in Newsday, the Miami Herald, The Village Voice, The Economist Intelligence Unit, Salon, and The Guardian, among other publications.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Must be good if it bothers so many peopleDec 3 2006
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Reading some other readers' reviews of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti, I am reminded of nothing so much as the organized "denunciations" that authoritarian movements so often mount against "incorrect thoughts," "insults to the revolution," and so on. The careful student of history easily recongnizes these slanders for what they are: the scrabbling attempt of second-rate thinkers to prop up flimsy belief systems that barely support their own weight, much less withstand competition. But then, the careful student of history does not generally get involved with such movements; those who do are not thinkers but seekers, believers, looking only for evidence that will support their neatly organized world view and cherrypicking flaws -- ideological and otherwise -- in anything that contradicts it.
I finished this book this fall and find that, yes, it is not perfect. (Shall we page through the Amazon site and see how many books for sale here are?) But while it may be possible to prove Michael wrong on a detail here and there (I cannot say, being no expert on Haiti, and so I must take other reviewers' word for it), I cannot understand the stance taken by some on this page that this book is not worth reading. How could it not be? If you are curious about Haiti, how in good conscience can you pass up the opportunity to read a firsthand account by someone who was there, who speaks the language, whose dispatches have always been conspicuous for their heavy use of quotes from "the people" (obtained at considerable personal risk) rather than merely from generals, ministers and others who can be comfortably interviewed in the hotel bar?
Some reviewers here accuse Michael of being an "imperialist," or otherwise try to place him in an ideological category. This won't work, and it is precisely his post-ideological outlook that makes his book such a valuable contribution. The vitriol aimed at him by some of these commenters seem, as another commenter points out, the fiercer for the fact that Michael claims a position in the political left and yet dares to criticize others who do the same. Why does Michael's criticism of Aristide have to be ideological? Isn't it possible that Aristide was a great and visionary man who at the same time was not ultimately able to transcend the considerable pressures and temptations that act on any ruler of a nation like Haiti? Why does "the left's man" get a free pass; why is it impossible that he turned out to have human flaws? One can be the victim of unscrupulous action by the U.S. government, as Aristide seems to have been, while at the same time being an unsavory sort. Or is this sort of world view too complicated, not explicit enough about how to think?
If you are curious about Haiti specifically and about the struggles of oppressed peoples generally, you will find much to reward you in Michael's book.
Disclosure: I have been personally acquainted with Michael for a number of years. On the other hand, I've never knowingly published a lie. And why would I do so here? According to Amazon stats, 80 percent of the people who view this page buy the book. Michael's work clearly speaks for itself.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
The Truth will OutOct. 2 2006
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I,too, have lived in Haiti and now live in the Dominican Republic. And, yes, have read - no- devoured this book.I was confused why none of the NGO's or Haitians that I have met here or in Haiti shared the standard line on the¨"coup against Aristide" but were really greatful that he was gone. After reading this fast paced and detailed account of the dismal failure of Aristide, I understand why. What I do not understand is how the "cult of Aristide" continues -- except from people on his payroll. And I wonder where that money comes from? Eh? IF you are interested in Haiti, read this book!!
18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
It's All HereJan. 12 2006
B. Fountain III
- Published on Amazon.com
Notes from the Last Testament is an essential book for anyone seeking to understand Haiti in general and its upheavals of the last ten years in particular. Deibert doesn't pull punches: he names names, documents his sources, and levels scathing judgment on those he charges have betrayed Haiti's hopes for a decent future, from Aristide to corrupt police officers to thug-politicians across the ideological spectrum. If the writing and narrative seem somewhat tentative at first, keep reading; Deibert hits stride several chapters in, and the last half of the book is a truly riveting account of the Aristide regime's bloody downward spiral and eventual fall. Especially powerful are the author's accounts of his time among the Cité Soleil and Gonaives gangs, the young men and women born, as Deibert puts it, "in the worst place in the world."
It's all here--the chaos, waste and heartbreak of the past ten years, as well as the startling hits of beauty and mercy that Haiti continues to serve up in the midst of so much hell.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Attempt at a Balanced Viewpoint...worth the read!Oct. 12 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Looking at the reviews for this book it is clear readers either love it or hate it. I for one do not claim to have such specific insights and information as some reviewers seem to have but I will throw in my two cents nonetheless!
I enjoyed reading this book because it was the first time I was able to read really anything on Haiti even marginally analytical of Aristide's time in office. I came at my reading on the country of Haiti as one trying to discern the facts as best I could and become acquainted with the background of Haiti's struggles in the 1990's. Everywhere I turned to look every author was repeating the same Aristide worship while decrying various enemies, the West etc. etc. I can clearly see that Aristide was immensely popular with a very large segment of the population but political popularity in Haiti (and I argue probably in the world in general) is more often than not based not on a lot of solid reasoning but on sound bites played over the radio, the politician's own rhetoric, his/her promises and personality. Also no matter how popular or how wonderful a leader Aristide may have or may not have been he is not a saint for the simple reason that no man is - certainly no politician! To absolve Aristide of ANY and ALL wrongdoing, any and all responsibility for the nation of Haiti's condition under his rule and directly following his rule is ludicris.
I have been living in Haiti for a little over a year now and when you talk to people about Haiti and about Arisitide it is more often than not with an air of disappointment as they express their feelings about what could have been what might have been. They along with so many others were really hopeful as Aristide came to power but were disappointed. I have heard more than once the saying "All smooth roads lead to Aristide's house." Aristide had a grand opportunity laid before him - he had the people of Haiti on his side. He had I firmly believe a vision for his nation and a desire to see the people lifted out of poverty. He unfortunately like so many others wasted that opportunity in favor of furthering his own interests. There are many others who of course can have a share of the blame laid at their feet. You can blame the Americans, the French, the Canadians, the upper class, the rebellious military-like factions in Haiti and maybe even rightfully so but to do so and give the actual leader of that nation a free pass is simply not good enough for me. History always has two sides. There is enough evidence of Aristides misdeeds and liberalities to convict him on many counts. This book lays out many of those charges against Aristide himself and many in his government.
Many critics of this book pick out this little detail or that little detail and want to argue it (which is their right) but how about the big picture? Is Aristide totally innocent? Is there any truth to some of these claims? I believe the answers are obvious. I do not think it is a difficult thing to come to a place of balance and honesty when describing the Aristide years in Haiti and I believe this book attempts to do just that.
18 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Reality versus ideologyFeb. 14 2006
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I purchased Michael Deibert's book "Notes from the Last Testament" as soon as it was published. Having lived and worked in rural Haiti from March 2002 until January 2006, I am always interested to read what people are writing about the country I have come to know so well and love despite all the compromises inherent to living in such a complicated place.
Too many authors write about Haiti with an air of authority when, in fact, their knowledge is based on minimal personal exposure to the country and maximum dependence upon hearsay, propaganda presented as fact by one side or another from the cesspool of Haitian politics or the taint of personal ideology.
Having read the book in its entirety (something that many reviewers in the mainstream media have failed to do prior to forming and promoting their own opinions), I can say that it is an accurate account of what I had seen and experienced in Haiti during my nearly 4 years there. I do not say this because of what I "feel" or "think" but rather because of what I "know". By happenstance, I witnessed many of the events detailed in the book. It was usually a case of my being in the wrong place at the right time. For many other events described by Mr. Deibert, I knew the principals involved and had received firsthand reports of those incidents at the time they occurred. I have countless other personal examples that provide anecdotal support to the contentions made in this book about the Lavalas government and former President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Though my work required that I maintain an apolitical public posture, facts accumulated over time such that it was impossible to maintain this posture in private. It became abundantly clear that the Aristide government had become a criminal enterprise bent on power, wealth and the manipulation of the Haitian poor to maintain both.
I would recommend that anyone who is truly interested in Haiti read this book. It is an excellent primer in understanding how Haiti has become what it is today: a broken country. Of greater importance, it will help the reader understand the underlying strength and nobility of the Haitian people who continue to survive despite the worst intentions of their own leaders and the vagaries of the patronage business that has become international development.
Please do not let the negative reviews deter you from reading this book. There seems to be a clear pattern of disinformation or even outright attempts to rewrite history in much of what has been presented as feedback. Contrary to the ideologues who offer attack pieces knowing that very few people can fact check their assertions, Mr. Deibert writes in a clear, though not completely detached voice, of a journalist who took the time to learn about his subect matter. He lets the facts speak for themselves and is comfortable to let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. The one "taint" that comes out of his writing is his clear affection and respect for Haitians including the chimere of Cite Soleil and the other urban slums of Port-au-Prince. He reminds us that one can find humanity even in the most violent of street hoodlums. This is not a message that many Haitians would embrace willingly. Perhaps Haiti must learn this type of reconciliation before it can turn the corner and make tangible progress toward rebuilding society.
If nothing else lends credibiity to this book, it is Michael Deibert's passion for Haiti. He does not write with any agenda other than wanting the disinterested masses to comprehend the human dimension of Haiti, both its failures and its promise.