Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment

“A marvelous book ... riveting and deeply informed.”—Noam Chomsky
Long before a devastating earthquake hit in January 2010, Haiti was one of the most impoverished and oppressed countries in the world. However, in the late 1980s a remarkable popular mobilization known as Lavalas (“the flood”) sought to liberate the island from decades of US-backed dictatorial rule. Damming the Flood analyzes how and why the Lavalas governments led by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were overthrown, in 1991 and again in 2004, by the enemies of democracy in Haiti and abroad.

The elaborate campaign to suppress Lavalas was perhaps the most successful act of imperial sabotage since the end of the Cold War. It has left the people of Haiti at the mercy of some of the most rapacious political and economic forces on the planet.

Updated with a substantial new afterword that addresses the international response to the earthquake, Damming the Flood is both an invaluable account of recent Haitian history and an illuminating analysis of twenty-first-century imperialism.


  • “This riveting and deeply informed account should be carefully read by those who recognize that Haiti's tragic history is a microcosm of imperial savagery and heroic resistance.”
  • “A detailed account of the 'democratic containment' of Haiti's radical politics in the past two decades ... an outstanding book.”
  • “An excellent book ... the first accurate analysis of recent Haitian history, and of its history in the making.”
  • Damming the Flood is a brilliant, politically sophisticated and morally infuriating work on a shameful piece of very recent history that the US press has either distorted or ignored. It is the most important and devastating book I’ve read on American betrayal of democracy in one of the most tormented nations in the world.”
  • “The book is a masterpiece. As someone who lived through those years, Damming the Flood is not only incredibly accurate and well sourced but the analysis is also flawless.”
  • “This is a book about the latest crime that the world’s most powerful nation committed against one of the world’s poorest. I like this book for its scholarship, its measured tone, and its good writing. But I am grateful for it above all because at long last it presents another side of a story that has been reported, almost universally, with stunning tendentiousness and in apparent ignorance of the lives and opinions of most Haitians. This book goes a long way to setting the record straight ... It ought to be required reading for every historian of the Americas and for every student of political science.”
  • Damming the Flood is the best source for anyone trying to understand what has happened in Haiti, and it is unfortunately equally valuable for explaining what is happening elsewhere in Latin America. It is meticulously researched, with ample citations to the mainstream press, human rights reports, and experts from many countries and political perspectives.”
  • Damming the Flooddemonstrates that, contrary to what so many self-proclaimed experts have led us to believe with the steady diet of half-truths and outright lies they have been feeding us, it is indeed possible to ‘get Haiti right.’ All it takes is a healthy dose of respect for a nation and a people so deserving of it, and an uncompromising devotion to the truth.”


  • Uprisings in South America: A reading list

    As neoliberal policies and monetary hegemony continue to dominate around the globe, protests for democracy and against the political elite are widespread. With the start of the World Cup in Brazil it is, yet again, kicking off everywhere.

    Riot police fired percussion grenades and teargas at anti-World Cup protesters in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Thursday as the countdown to the kick-off was marred by demonstrations in at least 10 Brazilian cities. Just hours before the opening ceremony at the Itaquerão stadium, about 100 protesters started fires and threw rocks at police in an apparent attempt to block a road leading to the venue.

    The "Our Cup is on the Street" protests are targeting the high cost of the stadiums, corruption, police brutality and evictions. "The World Cup steals money from healthcare, education and the poor. The homeless are being forced from the streets. This is not for Brazil, it's for the tourists," said Denize Adriana Ferreira in this Guardian report.

    The following reading list from Verso suggests books to help us understand the multifaceted histories of uprising in Central and South America, as well as the anti-world cup protests.

    Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague

    by Marc Perelman

    What does hosting the World Cup really mean for Brazil? Marc Perelman explores this, and more, in Barbaric Sport.

    Boycott Football and Fifa - read his piece on the world cup here.

    Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of A New Architecture
    by Justin McGuirk

    Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving. 

    'We want FIFA standard schools and hospitals' - what the World Cup means for Rio: read an extract from Radical Cities here.

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  • New review of Peter Hallward's Damming the Flood and radio interview

    José Antonio Gutiérrez of the Latin American Solidarity Centre has reviewed Peter Hallward's Damming the Flood: Haiti and the Politics of Containment for the Irish Left Review: 

    This new edition provides an additional chapter which updates us with the events in Haiti after and around the earthquake. These fateful events don't alter the conclusions Hallward arrived at in the first edition; if anything they're re-enforced and proved right. The speed at which a humanitarian tragedy was turned into an opportunity to further deepen military occupation, allowing the US take over the island, proves that Haiti has not lost its appeal for the "Humanitarian Interventionists" in any way. Also, the widespread acceptance of the occupation as a positive action by most of the world's media shows that popular perception has come to accept that it is natural to keep Haitians at gun point, even in the most extraordinary and tragic circumstances. Lastly, it sadly proves through the series of logistical blunders, such as the primacy of military over humanitarian aid, the state of neglect in which the victims were abandoned for weeks before they saw any meaningful help (with the exception of understaffed Cuban doctors), and by the fact that most aid which was promised by foreign donors (both agencies and governments) has not been delivered more than one year later, that Haitian people's lives are a very low priority on the international community's agenda. This year's anniversary of the earthquake was one of shame for all the self-proclaimed "friends" of Haiti.

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  • Jean-Bertrand Aristide's historic return to Haiti - live updates and background

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide has returned to Haiti after seven years of exile in South Africa. Aristide and the remarkable Lavalas movement twice won landslide victories in democratic elections, and twice were ousted in US-backed coups.

    Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! (along with actor Danny Glover) travelled on the plane with Aristide  and is blogging live updates on the Democracy Now site.

    However, Aristide's return does not mean that US intervention in Haiti has come to an end—according to the Press Association:

    US President Barack Obama had tried to keep the controversial figure away from his country until it holds a presidential election on Sunday, fearing he could destabilise the process.

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Other books by Peter Hallward