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A Dishonest Case for a Coup


[Note: This is a rejoinder to Michael Deibert's reply to Podur's review]

I reviewed Michael Deibert’s book in an article titled "Kofi Annan’s Haiti" in New Left Review (NLR 37, Jan-Feb 2006). That review summarized Deibert’s book and its major flaws, while providing some relevant context and a picture of Haiti since the February 2004 coup against the elected government.

Deibert has replied to the review.

Why I did not want to debate Deibert

I was convinced, reluctantly, into replying to Deibert. My inclination was not to do it. After going through the long and painful process of reading 450 pages of his writing, I know enough to realize that debating him is a waste of time. For a debate to occur, there would have to be some limit on personal attacks and demonization. There would have to be some separation of allegation from evidence. There would have to be some sense that the other person was paying attention to what you were actually saying. Deibert is manifestly incapable of any of this.

Indeed, debating him in person would have been even worse. Luckily for me, unlike him, I do not have a website called justinpodur.com (he has michaeldeibert.com) that includes pictures of myself, with Haiti in the background as a coup unfolds (here’s one of him from Feb 2004). If I had such pictures of me, perhaps I might be at risk of being described the way Deibert describes Aristide, ‘his large head, seemingly too big for his body, bobbing expressively’ (pg. 158). Or maybe he would call me ‘a bald-headed, slit-eyed thug’ (pg. 341), as he did with a police chief, Emmanuel Mompremier. Or perhaps he would take issue with the way I spoke, and describe me answering questions with my ‘lips pulled back into a despotic sneer’ (pg. 377), the way he does with Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Still, it wouldn’t do to read too much into a white person describing black people this way. He refers to other Haitians, like factory owner and member of Group 184, Andy Apaid as having ‘a soft voice and a somewhat cherubic appearance’ (pg. 372). And anyway, having one’s body critiqued or caricatured may not be the worst fate for someone with whom Deibert disagrees.

Consider how he handles Paul Farmer (pp.295-303), an American physician who has done some of the best HIV/AIDS work in the world and written some of the best materials on Haiti, including a recent piece on the coup, which Deibert does not mention (Paul Farmer, ‘Who Removed Aristide’, London Review of Books, April 2004). At first, it seems Farmer is to be a hero, meriting even a comparison to Deibert himself (‘I believed, with so few people of good conscience concerned with the plight of the Haitians, it was our responsibility to keep a dialogue open on any subject we could’ pg. 296) and praise as a ‘scholarly and precise thinker’ (pg. 296). But before long, Deibert is interspersing Farmer’s answers with his own opinions (pg. 300), suggesting that Aristide has channeled resources to the areas around Farmer’s clinic to bamboozle him (pg. 300), and interspersing Farmer’s views with those of someone else, a man named Gabriel, who happened to be in the room where the interview took place, and who makes an easier target for Deibert (pp. 300-301). Finally, Deibert accuses him of ‘willful ignorance’ of the ‘criminal government’ actions (pg. 301), and ultimately denounces ‘Farmer’s quasi-Lavalassian approach to no-dissent, zero-option politics’, and his ‘slavish adherence to Aristide’ (pg. 302). By the next page, Deibert is criticizing Farmer for things there is no evidence Farmer has said or believes:

‘Very much like Aristide, Farmer’s over-romanticization of the "loyal" poor meant… the student leaders in the capital or the provinces were utterly worthless traitors to the cause of lower-class solidarity he had built up in his mind. It was utterly intolerable to him that products of Haiti’s peasant heartland… would dare voice an opinion that challenged his own. The idea that somehow the poor, such as those who lived in Cite Soleil and Hinche, were somehow less worthy as human beings because they dared criticize his hero was a repugnant one to me and one that I could not help but voice my opposition to." (pg.303)

Farmer has not expressed these sentiments anywhere.

Similarly, Deibert attacks Noam Chomsky by insinuation without reference to a single word of Chomsky’s. In fact, what he writes about Chomsky (pg. 431), that he ‘laid most of Haiti’s problems on the "establishment press"’, is another outright lie, one that would have been more easily verified had Deibert provided an actual reference (Noam Chomsky, US-Haiti, ZNet, March 9, 2004).
 
So, I didn’t want to interact with Deibert, even indirectly. Nor was I surprised, when I read Deibert’s response, to see that I was now in the very good company of Chomsky and Farmer, in the very large group of people who have been slandered by Deibert.

He refrained from critiquing my physique (I assume he’ll get around to it if he ever sees it), but he assigned me (listing slurs in order that they appear) a "cursory knowledge" of Haiti, "an inch-deep grasp" of its history, accuses me of "chastising" Haitians, of "lies", of "fealty" to Haitian politicians, of taking "shelter in shop-worn rhetoric learned in the safety of North American universities and activist circles", of being "unable to conceive of a Lavalas partisan [I] wouldn’t like", of having "skepticism about corporate motives" which "becomes wide-eyed credulity when confronted with the dubious financial dealings of Haiti’s former government", of calling people "chimeres", of "seeming to dissemble for political effect", of "ignorance of the demographic and political makeup of Haiti and its people", of taking a "novice approach".

Of course, as he did with Chomsky and Farmer, Deibert is contrasting me, with my ignorance, my fealties, and my shop-worn rhetoric, with himself, the main hero of his book and his reply. He has "a decade’s worth of experience there" (I suspect some creative accounting is going on. Though his book jacket says that he first visited Haiti in 1996, it says he was a Reuters correspondent there from 2001-2003. The book suggests he was there from late 2001 and left in mid-2003, with shorter trips after that) after all, he has an "ache within" him for Haiti (pg. 434), and his book views the country "through the eyes of Haiti’s poor".

Having established such credentials, and so thoroughly discredited me, Deibert has put me in a predicament. Shall I compete with him to be the voice of Haiti’s poor? Shall I tell him that I am the true voice of the poor and not him? It’s would be a real problem, except that I’m not posturing as the voice of Haiti’s poor. My interest in Haiti was sparked by the actions of my government there, something Deibert doesn’t understand.

It’s enough to read Deibert’s reply to be suspicious. I’ve read 450 pages plus another 5200 words of Deibert, now. I don’t think I have seen him write a paragraph involving someone he disagrees with without using insults, imputing motives, or making insinuations. The introduction to his book, by Raoul Peck, is no different. When someone needs to sling that much mud, they’re usually covering for something.

At the end of the day there seems increasingly little value in an exchange like this with Deibert. He’s following a well-worn career path: he’s done good service for US foreign policy, thrown in some slurs against Chomsky to get a good review or two, and developed a style based on deceptions hidden by nasty insults. He has years of long-winded posturing ahead of him and there will be many apologetics that need to be written. And, conversely, ZNet readers have more important things to do than read back-and-forth with him. What is harder to understand is why he would bother with ZNet, given his insulting posture towards us, when he could just post to michaeldeibert.com.

Another question is why 7 Stories would bother with him. Why did 7 Stories publish a history that amounts to apologetics for a US coup, based on insinuation and malicious slander? Perhaps because of the recommendation of Raoul Peck, a filmmaker, former Haitian Minister of Culture, and anti-Aristide activist. But Peck’s introduction, and endorsement of the book, is itself full of unsubstantiated allegations and mudslinging. Both Peck and Deibert seem to hate Aristide so much that they cannot see any context. Indeed, such context, about the Bush administration’s stance on Haiti, for example, is to Peck the "stubborn anti-Bush posture" of the Congressional Black Caucus who put forth "the absurd thesis of his kidnapping by the US government." (pg. XVI) Because it is "absurd", presumably, there is no need to provide evidence one way or another (see this note by Haitian-Canadian activist Jean St.Vil about Peck).

Whatever the process that led to publication, the result is a big, dishonest, malicious, justification for a coup with a 7 Stories label on it. Because of its single focus on Aristide, the book makes it more difficult for concerned people – and concerned people will pick up the book because of that 7 Stories label – to understand what is happening in Haiti now, two years and probably thousands of dead later, as foreign powers continue to undermine the popular will of Haitians.

Some letters…

My review was published in NLR, a print publication with space limitations. Deibert’s reply was published on ZNet, and runs, like his book, to considerable length. Since space is no consideration, I will reproduce a few letters in this rejoinder.

Some of Deibert’s book is first-hand reporting, and as such is difficult for the reader to verify. I did have a rare opportunity to verify one of Deibert’s claims. I met Haitian activist Patrick Elie (who I found, from a brief interaction, to be a very courageous and brilliant individual) in Port au Prince in September 2005. When I saw him mentioned in Deibert’s book, I wrote to him (on January 2, 2006):

Hi Patrick.

I am going through Deibert’s book the second time today and reached the part where he describes you. It’s page 285. December 3, 2002, at the memorial of journalist Brignol Lindor, he describes "chimere" who showed up and chanted for Aristide under the direction of Hermione Leonard.

"I stood on the steps and watched as journalists who had been honoring Lindor began to come out and the ! chimere advanced to the cathedral steps, flinging Aristide pictures at them, shrieking ‘git mama w, blan’ and about how they worked for ‘colon blan’. As Michele Montas descended the stairs, one stood screaming ‘Aristide a vie’ about five feet away from her… Patrick Elie, the head of the Eko Vwa Jean Dominique organization that had strung those damning banners around Port au Prince on the second anniversary of Dominique’s death, shook his head and looked disgusted."

-J.

Patrick replied immediately:

Justin,
 
I never attended any religious ceremony for Lindor and have not set foot in the cathedral since February 7, 1991, the day of Aristide’s first inauguration, when I was in charge of his security. Deibert sure has a creative writing style, which is a nice way to say that he is a goddamn liar.
 
Patrick

Such a definitive reply from a subject of one of Deibert’s eyewitness tells us something about the credibility of his reporting. Most of Deibert’s replies to me rely on his reporting and his supposed decade of experience in Haiti. Some of his principal sources, like Labanye and Billy, are now dead or missing, and so, unlike Elie, can’t say whether he’s misrepresented them. Deibert presents himself as the voice of Haiti’s poor. I suppose one way of putting it is that he’s a voice of the voiceless. Another way of putting it is that he speaks about those who can’t defend themselves.

Another, different, letter comes via The Nation. Presumably in order to get his name and the title of his book out to its audience, Deibert wrote a letter to The Nation about a Haiti article by Mark Weisbrot, an economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research. Weisbrot’s reply was elegant and succinct, and I had hoped to reproduce it in full somewhere on the web, and I am glad of the opportunity to do it here. Weisbrot was talking about Deibert’s letter, but he could have been talking about Deibert’s entire book.

*WEISBROT REPLIES*

/Washington, DC/

Michael Deibert does not challenge that a democratically elected president of Haiti (Aristide) was twice (1991 and 2004) overthrown and replaced with a brutal, violent dictatorship. Nor does he deny that the current dictatorship keeps opposition leaders as political prisoners and intends to hold an election to replace the constitutional government with them in jail. Nor does he dispute that the United States waged a multiyear destabilization campaign supporting the 2004 coup, which included cutting off almost all international (not just US) aid to a government that could not function without these funds, as well as providing massive funding for opposition groups.

What then is his point? If Deibert could show that Aristide’s government was a monstrosity, like Saddam Hussein’s, he could argue that the illegal and violent overthrow was justified, as George W. Bush does regarding Iraq. But Aristide’s government compares favorably with previous governments, other countries of similar per-capita income levels (mostly in Africa) and, most glaringly, with the current dictatorship that Washington has installed. These are the relevant comparisons, not some ideal invoked in order to justify this terrible crime. With regard to the current dictatorship, there is no comparison–an uncounted number, probably in the thousands, have been murdered since the coup. Most of the Fanmi Lavalas leadership and activists are in jail, hiding or exile. Nothing approaching this magnitude of state-sponsored violence or repression existed under Aristide. The current violence is primarily a result of trying to deny Haitians the right to a free election, which Lavalas (and even Aristide today) could win overwhelmingly.

Deibert’s excuses for this forced exclusion are weak. Marc Bazin seems to have very little support within the Lavalas Party. Préval does have support, and may even win, but so might others who are not allowed to run. And the repression of Lavalas will make it more difficult for Préval to end up with a working majority in the legislature if he wins. Haitians should have the right to vote for whomever they want, as they did before this occupation.

The anecdotal evidence Deibert offers is mostly unsubstantiated or misleading. There is little evidence that the Aristide government "actively thwarted" the investigation of the murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique. As for the other violence that he mentions, it has not been shown that Aristide or anyone under his control was responsible for it. He claims that thugs acted in December with "visible collusion with police," but that is simply an allegation.

Aristide made concerted efforts to reform the justice system and to address the root causes of the country’s violence. He was trying to reform a judiciary inherited from past dictatorships. But he was also facing a massive, well-funded and ultimately successful effort to rip apart all democratic institutions so as to topple his government.

But even if all of Deibert’s allegations were true, which they clearly are not, it would never justify the coup or the current dictatorship. After every US intervention that used violence, economic sabotage and destabilization to topple a democratically elected government–e.g., Allende’s Chile in 1973, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (democratically elected in 1984) or even the brief 2002 coup against Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez–there has been no shortage of academics and journalists seeking to blame the victims for their own demise. Since all governments commit mistakes and abuses, this argument can always be constructed; it is perhaps easier to do so for a very poor country where the rule of law is not well established. Deibert’s efforts fall squarely within that dishonorable tradition.

MARK WEISBROT

… and some reluctant rejoinders

I believe I have expressed above good reasons for not wanting to reply to Deibert. But his reply has given me a few opportunities to add material that I wasn’t able to incorporate in the NLR review. Before I answer just a few parts, it’s worth pointing out that I wrote a 4,000 word review of a 450 page book, and Deibert replied to the tune of 5,200 words, some of which was cut and paste from his book, other parts of which were just abuse. Stripping away the abuse, there are a few factual claims that can be evaluated, for what it’s worth.

1. Deibert says I don’t offer proof (his formulation is "offers zero proof whatsoever", which I guess sounds more dramatic) that Aristide’s overthrow involved anyone other than Haitian paramilitaries. But Paul Martin, Canada’s Prime Minister during the coup, told CBC reporters later that "We were the ones who secured the airport in Haiti. Those were Canadian forces who did that. We’ve got to be able to play that kind of role." (CBC December 15, 2004). Military forces take time to mobilize, especially when they involve three different countries (the US, France, Canada). They were there on February 29, 2004. The coup was planned in advance, and executed by foreign military forces, by the admission of Martin and others. For that matter, I described in my review how Deibert revealed the extent of US coordination of Guy Philippe’s paramilitaries (on pg. 411) when he described how US Embassy officials phoned Philippe to tell him to delay his assault on the capital.

2. I said that MINUSTAH had left the ex-FADH paramilitaries who overthrew Aristide armed. Deibert says this is "False, in several aspects". He points out that on several occasions since the coup, MINUSTAH engaged in gun battles with those ex-FADH groups, even killing one of the commanders, Remissainthe Ravix. This is true, but irrelevant to my claim. Despite these gun-battles (which are dwarfed in scale by MINUSTAH operations in the poor neighbourhoods) ex-FADH are still armed and that MINUSTAH opted to focus its ‘DDR’ program (Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reinsertion) on disarming social gangs in the capital and not the ex-FADH and other paramilitaries who overthrew the elected government.

3. I said that the ex-FADH paramilitaries had been integrated into the Haitian police (PNH), despite being guilty of significant human rights abuses. I was talking about what happened since the coup: Deibert’s reply is about what happened before it. It’s an evasion.

As for Aristide attempting to fill the police with his loyalists, it is clear that the PNH was a contested territory from its inception. Aristide no doubt wanted police that were loyal to him. There were also other groups and factions, people involved in legal and illegal businesses, vying for control of the PNH or parts of it. The US (and Canada), who were involved in training the PNH during those years, had their own agenda for the PNH – the creation of an armed force that could act as a foreign policy instrument for them. This is a standard strategy of US foreign policy, and training programs have always been a vehicle for it. Finally, there were probably some decent people just trying to do a job. The main armed activity of the coup was killing and driving off the pro-Aristide and neutral elements in the PNH, to replace them with the paramilitaries.

4. Deibert makes various arguments about Aristide’s violation of the Haitian Constitution. I believe Weisbrot’s reply to Deibert is the most useful in thinking about these matters. Such arguments can always be constructed, about any government, from that of George Bush to that of Hugo Chavez. There is no proportion between the constitutional and human rights violations of the FRAPH era, or for that matter the MINUSTAH era, and the Aristide era. Those are the relevant comparisons.

5. I made a point about Deibert’s use of the passive voice to minimize killings of Lavalas partisans during the low-level civil war that preceded the coup. Deibert replied by quoting a passage of his book I had noted when I first read it: `As the brothers marched past the Boston section of Cité Soleil, on their way to take part in a massive pro-Aristide demonstration, they were fired upon by Labanye’s gang, now protected from arrest due to his friendship with Andy Apaid, and a contingent of Haitian police.´´

First, an interesting aside. Andy Apaid, an owner of factories and a leader of the "Group 184", presents himself as a private citizen and an activist. Deibert presents him that way in his book. So, how does a private citizen and activist have the power to protect a gang from arrest?

Back to the matter at hand, my point was not about the specific violent incident that Deibert describes – the only way of evaluating Deibert’s eyewitness claims are by assessing whether or not he’s credible as a reporter. I believe I’ve done that above. My point was rather about Deibert’s partisan use of the passive voice. I counted about 50 such uses of the passive voice in the book. To choose five at random: 5 people wounded in Gonaives ‘by gunfire amidst continued clashes’ (pg. 283), large opposition demonstrations ‘marred by the killing of one pro-government activist’ (pg. 388), police fighting the anti-Aristide rebels ‘left at least 9 dead comrades’ (pg. 391), a gunfight ‘erupted’, but even though it just spontaneously ‘erupted’, it also ‘succeeded’ in wounding ‘the hated… (pro-Aristide) Camille Marcellus’ (pg. 357), ‘one civilian was killed in the melee’ (pg. 427). Contrast these with Deibert’s descriptions, which I outlined in my review and which Deibert repeats in his reply, of crimes he attributes to Lavalas partisans. This is reporting worthy of the Israel/Palestine conflict, in which Palestinians kill Israelis, but Palestinians just die. Perhaps Deibert should try his skills there? They would likely be rewarded handsomely.

6. Deibert writes that "unfortunately for Mr. Podur, the most damning information in the book comes from the intimates of Mr. Aristide themselves." I’ll leave the reader to work out the insinuation there. He then proceeds to name various sources making allegations about Aristide. But Aristide is Deibert’s obsession, not mine. My intention in reviewing his book was not to contest claims about Aristide. It is to show how Deibert’s book is apologetics for a coup.

But this is an occasion to discuss Deibert’s sources. It is worth noting that whether they are unnamed sources (I counted about 80 uses of such, including ‘many said’, ‘most said’, ‘critics wondered’, ‘rumors’, ‘unusually detailed rumors’, taxi drivers (four of these, though maybe it was the same one four times), and then ‘US officials said’), members of the opposition (Apaid, Baker, Paul, Esperance), or former members of Lavalas, like the ones he describes in his reply, incorporated the media (including Deibert) into their strategy for overthrowing the government. Deibert’s book is not an evaluation of the pre-coup period by a "balanced" reporter, much less a view "through the eyes of the Haitian poor", but a contribution to the coup itself, and to its whitewashing, which will prepare the ground for more such coups and suppression of democracy in the future. As for the "sustained and important presence in the narrative" of supporters of the Aristide government claimed by Deibert, they are dwarfed by the opposition and unnamed sources, punctuated with Deibert’s opinions and rejoinders, and accompanied occasionally with the insulting adjectives that readers can see are a Deibert trademark.

7. Deibert says I "pointedly ignore" Aristide’s funding of lobbyists (in my 4,000 word review of his 450-page book). While reading his book, I actually did note Deibert’s use of freedom-of-information requests to track Aristide’s funding to various American lobby groups. I assumed that his information was accurate, and that Aristide’s government paid lobbyists and attorneys in the US several million dollars over several years in order to represent it in the US. I also assumed the information he gave about Congresswoman Waters’s business dealings was true. In truth, I did not see any of this as being of much interest. Governments spend money on foreign lobbyists. Congresspeople have business dealings. The lobby industry in DC is huge, and a few million dollars to a few politicians and lobbyists is not, and evidently was not, enough to change the direction of US foreign policy.

More interesting to me are the money flows in the other direction. For example, the Canadian government’s international development agency, CIDA, was a funder of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR, the group led by Pierre Esperance, which now goes by a different name. Deibert says Esperance, who he quotes on five different occasions, was a "flicker of hope in the darkness that sometimes seemed to threaten to engulf us all" [pg. XI]). NCHR has been responsible for the political persecution of members of the ousted government, most visibly Yvon Neptune. The relationship between CIDA, NCHR, and the case of Yvon Neptune – the constitutional Prime Minister, still in jail – is outlined in Kevin Skerrett’s article, ‘Manufacturing Genocide’. Other interesting questions about money flows also arise, and these have been tracked by people like Jeb Sprague and Anthony Fenton. A recent NYT article by Bogdanich has more material on the IRI.

Going well beyond these relatively small amounts of money, there is the simple fact that Haiti’s economy has been destroyed, from its agricultural basis on up, due largely to outside intervention. Even if their effect was not to simply exploit cheap Haitian labor and send the profits to large multinationals, even if they had worker’s protections and high wages (they don’t), the factories of Apaid and other subcontractors for Canadian and American firms would be a drop in the ocean compared to Haiti’s problems of unemployment and lack of capital. This is documented (and I mean "documented" in a different sense from Deibert) by people like Chomsky and Farmer. Deibert calls this a "flurry of numbers" and them guilty of "colonial arrogance" and "sweeping critiques of history" (pg. 431).

The set of policies by which the economies of poor countries are destroyed by outside intervention is usually called "neoliberalism". The word appears in Deibert’s book several times, always in quote marks (e.g. pg. 55). He refers to privatizations as ‘success’ (pg. 70, pg. 87). As always with Deibert, the case is made by insinuation. Here, the insinuation is that privatizations are good, and that Lavalas critiques of neoliberalism were silly rhetoric, perhaps even "shop-worn" rhetoric. But, despite these feelings about privatization, Deibert lectures me about how I need to educate myself about socialism and Jean Dominique.

As another aside, I would recommend Demme’s film, "The Agronomist", about Dominique. It is an excellent film about a remarkable human being. It would be a shame if Deibert’s attempts to associate himself with Dominique were to be taken as a reflection on Dominique himself. Also, for readers interested in "educating themselves" about neoliberalism in Haiti and the Lavalas economic program as originally conceived in the 1980s, see Alex Dupuy, Haiti in the new world order, Westview Press, 1997.

8. One of Deibert’s replies offers a window into how Deibert does particularly sneaky evasions (there are others in the book of this same type). Deibert is replying to my raising some of what I called "circumstantial evidence" of US involvement in arming the paramilitaries. I quote Deibert’s reply in full to show the reader just how sneaky:

The passage in question, relating a PNH attempt to re-take Gonaives after the Cannibal Army had seized it in February 2004, reads as follows: “Attempting to fight back, government forces ventured several bold incursions toward the city center, but were beaten back each time, with the Front now having in their possession prime weaponry such as brand new M16s looted from the Gonaives police station.´´ No mention of rebels arriving from the Dominican Republic or anywhere else with “brand new M16s“is made. For confirmation of the type of weaponry the PNH was supplied with, the photo archives of the Associated Press and Reuters, and the film footage of the Haitian-American filmmaking duo Jane Regan and Daniel Morel offer ample proof. Like myself, of course, and unlike Mr. Podur, they were actually in Haiti at the time.

Ignore the posturing about "Like myself, of course, and unlike Mr. Podur", and look at what Jane Regan and Daniel Morel actually offer: "ample proof" of "the type of weaponry the PNH was supplied with." But notice Deibert does not say what type of weaponry that is. He does not say, in other words, that the PNH in Gonaives had "brand new M-16s". If you suspected that the rebels were armed with M-16s via the US and not the PNH in Gonaives, Deibert’s reply sounds like it should dispel your suspicion, but read carefully, it does not.

It’s hard to believe that such deception could be accidental. Deibert describes in detail in his book, citing Radio Signal FM, (pp. 395-396) how Guy Philippe and Jodel Chamblain arrived in Gonaives in February 2004 "with two trucks full of weapons and men". He quotes a Dominican newspaper describing the story of Philippe’s crossing from the Dominican Republic (pg. 395). So, no, Deibert did not say the rebels arrived from the DR with M-16s. He merely said that they arrived from the DR, that they arrived in Gonaives with weapons, and hat later, they had "brand new M-16s". That’s all he said.

9. Deibert provides yet another reason why debating with him is so unproductive in his discussion of my Colombia comparison. First, Deibert missed that I compared a single year in Colombia to three years in Haiti. Deibert’s figures suggest 212 killed in Haiti over 3 years, 50 of which Deibert himself attributes to the opposition (44 to Lavalas, 43 to the PNH, 24 to Labanye’s gang, 13 to Wilme’s gang, 2 to the UN, 45 unknown). That would be the equivalent of 1050 in Colombia over 3 years, or 350 annually (about a tenth of Colombia, that US supported and armed regime, 3,600). Second, more importantly, my point in comparing Amnesty International figures for those killed and disappeared under Uribe in Colombia with Deibert’s figures for those killed under Aristide was to show that the US did not act against Aristide out of human rights considerations. The human rights situation in Colombia under Uribe, who was being funded and supported by the US at the time, was more urgent than that in Haiti for the whole period under discussion. So, the US (and Canada and France) acted against Aristide for some other reason. In other words, I was making a point about US foreign policy and how the US decides that a "human rights crisis" is underway, not how I make such a decision.

But since he brought it up, it is worth contrasting his figure for Aristide’s 3 years in power with his figure for a period of several weeks under the occupation, September-October 2003, which he says claimed (note the passive voice again) "nearly seven hundred lives" (pg. 429). Deibert says that these killings, too, were Aristide’s responsibility, echoing Peck’s charge that Haiti’s post-coup violence was being orchestrated by remote control from South Africa. These are allegations, offered without evidence. And they are also inconsistent: Deibert takes the view that all of the violence that occurred when Aristide was in power was Aristide’s responsibility. But Deibert and Peck do not hold the interim government and the UN to the same standards. When Aristide is in power, he is responsible for violence by his regime, against his regime, and unassociated with his regime. When Aristide is out of power, he is responsible for the much greater violence (according to Deibert’s own figures, which are lower than estimates by Thomas Griffin and others) by the coupsters, police, and UN against people in the poor neighbourhoods and members of Aristide’s party.

The point of Deibert’s misinterpretation is to make it sound like I, like Chomsky, am writing "as if none of the dead of Haiti… had ever felt their faces go flush with anger under the Caribbean sun" (pg. 432). But it offers me an opportunity to discuss Deibert’s lack of proportion. When I point out that he compares Aristide to the Duvaliers, and then to Pol Pot, and government news agencies to Nazi and Rwandan genocidaire propaganda, he replies by invoking the authority of Laennec Hurbon and calling me a "novice". But whatever Hurbon’s authority to comment on Aristide might be, even a "novice" can see that the comparison to Pol Pot is excessive. And the Nazi and genocidaire analogies were made by Deibert, not Hurbon. The insult to the victims of those regimes is Deibert’s responsibility.

10. Deibert provides two sources for the story about Annette Auguste murdering a baby in a voudoun ritual. Johnny Occilius, who went on Radio Kiskeya from Florida to tell the story in July 2003. Then Jean-Michard Mercier tells a ‘strikingly similar account’ in August 2003, also on the radio. Could Mercier’s account be so ‘strikingly similar’ to Occilius’s account because Occilius’s account had been on the radio a month before? Wouldn’t anyone who heard it, first or second-hand, be able to give a strikingly similar account to Occilius’s after his radio appearance? Deibert is insinuating that the strikingly similar accounts lend credibility to the story. Instead, he is providing more information for the idea of a "disinformation loop": someone makes a claim, it’s repeated somewhere else, it’s cited by someone else, and in the process it transmutes into fact. All Deibert has done is show that his standards for evidence are low.

And on to more important things

I have serious doubts that reading this rejoinder is of any more use than reading Deibert, especially now as events in Haiti develop rapidly and external powers, having bungled the fixing of the election, look for ways to domesticate Preval.

Still, I went through the experience of reading the book and then reading the reply. Readers will know, by the end of this, that either Deibert is lying or I am. My intention in this reply was to provide enough information to readers to know which.

It is not fun or informative reading, but there is no reason to be especially upset about Deibert. Even though he is a particularly vulgar case, Deibert doesn’t really stand out from others in the industry that exists to make villains out of US enemies and whitewash the crimes of the powerful, especially on Haiti. If he keeps it up, Deibert will thrive in the mainstream and his book will probably sell well. He will move on to bigger deals and bigger publishers, and maybe even bigger coups (Lula?) His book will probably get some good reviews and sell well, bringing profits to 7 Stories.

I just hope that the book was an anomaly for 7 Stories. If so, it could be seen as a significant error, but not one that cancels out all of their great work over the years, and hopefully not a signal of a change of direction. If that hope fails, I guess I’ll have to settle for hoping for an appearance in the second edition (I’m flexible: I’m sure Deibert can write me in as a novice, opportunist, or a even a mercenary), with all the creative writing style that we now know Deibert can muster.

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