JOHANN HARI I want to tell you the story of how our governments have been torturing and tormenting an island in the Caribbean - but it is a much bigger story than that. Its a parable explaining one of the main reasons how and why, across the world, the poor are kept poor, so the rich can be kept rich. If you grasp this situation, you will see some of the ugliest forces in the world laid out before you - so we can figure out how to stop them. For over two centuries, Haiti has been effectively controlled from outside. The French enslaved the entire island in the 18th century and worked much of the population to death. By this century, Western governments were arming, funding and fuelling the psychopathic dictatorship of the Duvalier family. This left Haiti the most unequal country in the world. The elite lived in vast villas in the hills, while below and all around them the overwhelming majority of the population live in tiny tin shacks with no water or electricity. But once the people were finally able to rise up in 1986 to demand democracy, they obviously wanted the countrys wealth to be shared more fairly. They began to organise into a political movement called Lavalas (the flood) to demand higher wages and higher taxes on the rich to build schools and hospitals and subsidies for the poor. This panicked the elite And nobody panicked them more than Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who found himself at the crest of this wave. He said: The rich of my country, a tiny percentage, sit at a vast table overflowing with good food, while the rest of my countrymen are crowded under that table, hunched in the dirt and starving. One day the people under the table will rise up in righteousness. So he was elected in 1990 in the countrys first free and fair election. He kept his promise to the people: increased the minimum wage from 38 cents a day to $1, trebled the number of free secondary schools and disbanded the army that had terrorised the population. Even the IMF had to admit that over the Aristide period and just after Haitis Human Poverty Indicator dropped dramatically from 46.2 percent to 31.8 percent. But why would foreign governments care about a small country with only 10 million inhabitants? Ira Kurzban, an American lawyer based in Haiti, explains: Aristide represented a threat to [foreign powers] because he spoke for the 85 percent of his population who had never been heard.They [US and Europe] dont want real popular democracies to spread because they know it will confront their economic interests. So after Haiti had experienced seven months of democracy, the US toppled Aristide. In 1994, the Clinton administration agreed to return Aristide to power provided he castrate his own political programme and ignore the demands of his people. They made him agree to privatise almost everything, freeze wages, and sack half the civil service. Through gritted teeth, he agreed, and for the remainder of his time in office tried to smuggle through what little progress he could. He was re-elected in an even bigger landslide in 2000 - but even his tiny shuffles towards redistribution were too much. The US and French governments had Aristide kidnapped at gunpoint and dumped him in the Central African Republic. They said he was a dictator, even though the last Gallup poll in a free Haiti found 60 percent supported him. The human rights situation in Haiti then dramatically deteriorated, with a massive campaign of terror and repression. There were huge military assaults on the slums which demanded Aristides return. Today, Aristide is a broken man, living in exile in South Africa and banned from going home. This is part of a plain pattern. When poor countries get uppity and tried to ask for basic justice, our governments have toppled them, from Iran wanting to control its own oil in 1953 to Honduras wanting its workers to be treated decently in 2009. You dont have to overthrow many to terrify the rest. It doesnt have to be this way. This is not the will of the people, in the US or Europe: on the contrary, ordinary citizens are horrified when the propaganda is stripped away and they see the truth. It only happens because a tiny wealthy elite dominates our foreign policy, and uses it to serve their purposes - low wages and control of other peoples economies and resources. Haiti is now in the middle of an election campaign that will climax this November. Thus, the people, who have nothing, were bold and brave enough to campaign and organise to take power back from their undemocratic elites. Are we? The Independent