Dec 1 1994

Haiti: The Crisis Is Not Over

The New Yorker magazine wrote an editorial (10/17/94) to mark President Aristide’s return to Port-au-Prince. “Political murders,” the liberal weekly stated, “have practically ended…. Haiti’s extreme human rights emergency — the reign of torture, terror and death…is for the moment over.”

In fact, as the Weekly News Update on the Americas (published by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network) pointed out (10/16/94), human rights violations actually continued at nearly the same rate following the U.S. occupation. The total reported killings by “attaches” and others associated with the military regime was between 31 and 46 during the first weeks of the U.S. occupation, or about 10 to 15 murders each week. If, as the U.S. government estimates, 3,000 people were murdered during three years of military rule, that’s roughly 19 murders a week.

Despite the actual record in Haiti, mainstream news outlets have been pushing the idea that the human rights crisis in Haiti is over. The real threat, journalists suggest, is now from “popular vengeance” or “mob violence” — overlooking the continuing violence coming from the very sectors that the U.S. military has picked to keep “order” in Haiti.

Some major media — including the Washington Post, New York Times, CBS and NBC — did pick up on Allan Nairn’s reporting in the Nation (10/24/94) about U.S. ties to the Haitian death squad FRAPH. But an interesting pattern was noted by Village Voice press critic James Ledbetter (10/18/94): Most outlets covered Nairn’s revelation that FRAPH leader Emannuel Constant was a paid informant of the CIA. But Constant’s statement that he was encouraged to form FRAPH by the U.S. military intelligence attache, who wanted a “balance” to forces seeking the return of ousted President Aristide, was reported only “sporadically,” Ledbetter noted. And Constant’s charge that this same U.S. intelligence official, along with the top-ranking CIA officer in Haiti, were both present in Haiti’s military headquarters the day that Aristide was overthrown, was almost totally ignored.

This pattern suggests that the mainstream press is not ready to fully discuss U.S. intelligence involvement with the forces that the U.S. military is supposedly in Haiti to displace. It’s OK to admit that the CIA is getting information from unsavory organizations, but looking into whether those unsavory organizations were set up by the CIA? They’ll leave that to the Nation.

The unwillingness to see the U.S. role in Haiti’s politics was taken to an extreme in a Washington Post piece by Ken Ringle (10/13/94), headlined: “The Spirit of Haiti: Haunted by a Dark History, It Remains an Island in the Sun.” It’s presented as a lesson in Haitian history, but the history has some obvious gaps: It skips from 1915 to 1957, for example, completely omitting the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. The piece doesn’t mention any of the countless foreign interventions that have plagued Haiti since its independence. And even its descriptions of the horrors of French colonialism are an opportunity for Ringle to tout the comparatively enlightened slave-owners in the U.S. South, where “slaves’ value as property mitigated to a great extent mistreatment that endangered their lives.”

Ringle demonstrates how far Haiti had sunk into “poverty, terror and superstition” by quoting Sir Spenser St. John, a British diplomat, on supposed Haitian cannibalism. Ringle might have quoted a longer passage from St. John’s writings, to illustrate the caliber of the sources the Post relies on: “I know what the black man is,” St. John declared (Uses of Haiti, Paul Farmer), “and I have no hesitation in declaring that he is incapable of the art of government,and that to trust him with framing and working the laws for our islands is to condemn them to inevitable ruin.”

Someone who is a bit more willing to examine the real historical role of the U.S. in “our islands” is George Bergman, who at 96 is one of the last living veterans of the last U.S. occupation of Haiti. Interviewed on NPR‘s Morning Edition (10/12/94), Bergman said that he spent most of his time there hunting down rebels:

It was our job to root ’em out. I don’t know why, but that’s the job we were given. That’s what we did. See, in retrospect, you see a lot of things in retrospect you never see immediately. In retrospect, to me right now, if you ask me, I say they were the patriots and…we were the intruders. But that comes 75 years later,that thinking.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 75 years for some better reporting on the current situation in Haiti.