Sociologist Jeb Sprague discussed his new book on paramilitary activity in Haiti at an event organized by the SFS Center for Latin American Studies in Intercultural Center Tuesday evening.

“The basic theme of my book is that throughout Haitian history there have been democratic steps moving forward, but continuously there have been pushbacks,” said Sprague, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Sprague based his research on interviews with government officials from Haiti and the Dominican Republic and diplomatic cables that became available through WikiLeaks.

“I basically read all the WikiLeaks on Haiti from 2004 to 2010,” he said. “There is one U.S. cable I have that says ‘Well, we think the French might be funding these paramilitaries.’”

Paramilitaries — unofficially organized military forces — were established in Haiti after the United States helped dictator François Duvalier gain power in 1957. His police force, the Tonton Macoutes, carried out brutal attacks throughout the country.

“They became this pervasive force in Haitian society,” Sprague said.

Sprague said he was surprised by the amount of international support offered to the paramilitaries.

“The astonishing thing is that so many of the people I interviewed are so open about it, about being with the paramilitary,” Sprague said. “Another sector backing the paramilitary was the Dominican foreign ministry. There’s a whole group of people there who are clearly close with the paramilitaries.”

Sprague dedicated his presentation and book to Pierre Antoine Lovinsky, a Haitan human rights activist who was kidnapped from Haiti in August 2007.

Steeve Simbert (COL ’14), who left Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and is now studying at Georgetown, was moved by Sprague’s presentation.

“I think that the Haitian people really have to get all the political games behind them and work together.”

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