Media vs. Reality in Haiti


Judging by the corporate media’s recent coverage of the crisis in Haiti, one might be led to believe that they are “aiding and abetting” an attempted coup d’etat aimed at the democratically elected Jean Bertand Aristide. On a daily basis, mainstream international media is churning out stories provided mainly by the Associated Press and Reuters that have little basis in fact.


On Feb. 10th, the Globe and Mail, Canada’s main national daily, reprinted an AP article that relied on Haiti’s elite-owned Radio Vision 2000. [1] This article contrasted the recent “violent uprising” in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city, with the 1986 uprising that saw the overthrow of the oppressive Duvalier dictatorship. The inevitable conclusion that the Canadian readership is steered toward is that Aristide is, or could be, a dictator, who may or may not deserve what he is about to get. This is hardly the kind of context that will compel citizens to lend support to the embattled Haitians.


The Globe’s paul Knox has been reporting from Haiti since Feb. 11th, and has submitted two stories thus far, neither of which have strayed from the “disinformation loop” which sees the recycling of dubious elite-spawned information by the corporate press corps. [see Pina] The same context as above is given credence – that Aristide faces a legitimate opposition that has every right to support his violent overthrow. Knox quotes Charles Baker, a wealthy factory owner who says: “We are all fighting for the same thing. Aristide has to resign.” [2]


Canada’s other national daily, the National Post [also considered the more ‘right wing’ of the two dailies] has no problem running headlines like the one featured on February 13th website: “Rock-throwing Aristide militants force opponents to cancel protest march.” [3] Nowhere in the article is President Aristide’s press release mentioned, which condemned the obstruction of the protest, and called for the constitutional right of peaceful demonstration to be adhered to.


Interestingly, the corporate media has neglected to mention that the “opposition” to which they refer and repeatedly give legitimacy to, only represents a meagre 8 per cent of registered voters in Haiti, according to a US poll conducted in 2000. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs [COHA], “their only policy goal seems to be reconstituting the army and the implementation of rigorous structural adjustment programs.” [4] As corporate journalists rely on the opposition for little more than inflammatory soundbites, information that would otherwise be sought to lend their efforts credibility is repeatedly overlooked.


US Congresswoman Maxine Waters issued a press release Feb. 11th, on the heels of her recent visit to Haiti, that called on the Bush administration to join her in condemning the “so-called opposition” and, specifically, Andre Apaid Jr., who is a “Duvalier supporter” that, along with his Group of 184, is “attempting to instigate a bloodbath in Haiti and then blame the government for the resulting disaster in the belief that the U.S. will aid the so-called protestors against President Aristide.” [5]


She also took aim at the World Bank and IMF and their “continuing embargo” , which amounts to hundreds of millions of desperately needed funds. Rep. Waters outlined the following positive measures that Aristide has initiated:


“Under his leadership, the Haitian government has made major investments in agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure…The government [recently] doubled the minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes per day, despite strong opposition from the business community…President Aristide has also made health care and education national priorities.  More schools were built in Haiti between 1994 and 2000 than between 1804 and 1994.  The government expanded school lunch and school bus programs and provides a 70% subsidy for schoolbooks and uniforms”


Rep. Waters made clear assertions on Aristide’s behalf that are otherwise absent from Bush administration commentary and corporate media deceptions regarding Haiti. Waters completed her statement with an important appeal, which called on the corporate media to “discontinue the practice of repeating rumours and innuendos,” whereby they function as “international megaphones for the opposition. They lie shamelessly on a daily basis.”


Another Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, directly challenged Colin Powell in a formal letter to him February 12th, after Powell had announced that the US administration is “not interested in regime change” in Haiti. Said Lee: “It appears that the US is aiding and abetting the attempt to violently topple the Aristide government. With all due respect, this looks like “regime change”…Our actions – or inaction – may be making things worse.” [6]


In a press conference Wednesday, Aristide called for peace and a democratic resolution to the unrest ongoing in Haiti. He once again called on the opposition to rationally discuss things with his government so that they can work toward an equitable resolution.


Now would seem to be a good opportunity for broad-based social justice groups to galvanize around the critical issue of Haiti. Haitians are desperately in need of popular international support if they are to overcome the latest onslaught. With history as our guide, we should be extremely wary when one side of the US administration’s mouth promotes “democracy and freedom” and a “peaceful resolution” to the situation in Haiti, while out of the other they support the interests of such players as André Apaid Jr. The statements of some US representatives are encouraging. Others are somewhat flaky.


In a conversation today with Congressman Gregory Meeks, his slippery position was made quite clear. Meeks’s “primary concern is democracy” and the promotion of democracy does not entail “taking sides”. This is a familiar position that is being trumpeted, whereby the US supports democracy but is not willing to actively support the democratically elected leader. The Miami Herald made note today that the Congressional Black Caucus, whose position is supported by Meeks, “is calling for an end to the violence in Haiti but not repeating its traditional support of Aristide.” [emphasis mine]


These are some dangerous indications, considering that Haitian towns remain under illegal siege by former paramilitary members, who – according to Pina – “Gathered in the Dominican and are now brandishing brand new M16s.” Pina also made note that the Dominican Republic is known to have recently received a shipment of 20,000 American made M16s.


Since a great deal of the current problems plaguing Haiti stem from dire economic issues, we should now turn to these. In his 1997 book, “Haiti in the New World Order”, Alex Dupuy sums up the US disposition toward Haiti:


“For the foreign policy intelligentsia, the defense and promotion of democracy and the free market serve as the “grander vision” underlying U.S. policy objectives in the new world order…Democracy is not likely to take hold unless its corollaries – a free market economy and a free trade system – are also fostered.” [7]


The logic of the State Department, according to COHA, sees Aristide as “little more than a ‘beardless Castro’”, who was despised by Jesse Helms, a tradition that is being carried on by his “ideological heirs” in the State Department, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. We should recall that this sort of attitude was prominent over a decade ago, when Aristide was first elected President.


In 1991, Aristide was overthrown by the brutal paramilitary, led by former CIA employees Emmanuel Constant and Raoul Cedras. The massive influx of refugees fleeing Haiti from the brutal FRAPH paramilitary regime, in addition to a groundswell of domestic support for Haiti, forced Clinton to “restore democracy” to Haiti in 1994. Aristide, having his way cleared by US troops, returned to Haiti recognized internationally as its legitimate leader.


Aristide’s return was only made possible when he “embraced the Haitian bourgeoisie and accepted a U.S. occupation and Washington’s neoliberal agenda.”  As Noam Chomsky has detailed, “The Aristide government [was] to keep to a standard “structural adjustment” package, with foreign funds devoted primarily to debt repayment and the needs of the business sectors, and with an “open foreign investment policy.” [8]


By then, the neoliberal agenda has become entrenched as part of the New World Order, which was designed to respond to “the South’s plea for justice, equity, and democracy in the global society.”  This agenda has led others such as Susan George to sum it up as such:


“Neo-liberalism has become the major world religion with its dogmatic doctrine, its priesthood, its law-giving institutions and perhaps most important of all, its hell for heathen and sinners who dare to contest the revealed truth.” [9]


The World Bank predicted in 1996 that up to 70 per cent of Haitians would be unlikely to survive bank-advocated free market measures in Haiti. According to a 2002 Guardian article, by the end of the 1990’s “Haiti’s rice production had halved and subsidized imports from the U.S. accounted for over half of local rice sales.” [10] As Haiti became the “star pupil” of IMF and World Bank, such policies “devastated” local farmers.


Structural Adjustment Programmes [SAPs], which have been forced upon Haiti, have in traditional style promoted the privatisation of state industries. According to Aristide in his 2000 book “Eyes of the Heart”, privatisation will “further concentrate wealth” where 1 per cent of the population already controls 45 per cent of the overall wealth. As for why Haiti would agree to World Bank and IMF measures, Aristide provides context along a “dead if we do, dead if we don’t” line: “Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or, we refuse, and face death by slow starvation.”  [11]


While keeping in mind that the US effectively controls the World Bank and IMF [12], we should consider Susan George and the Transnational Institutes findings based on extensive research of these institutions: “The economic policies imposed on debtors…caused untold human suffering and widespread environmental suffering while simultaneously emptying debtor countries of their resources.” [13]


George notes how the consequences of this “debt boomerang” which sees rich nations actually profiting from the enormous debt service rendered on the poor, as affecting all of us. While the people in the South “are far more grievously affected by debt than those in the North, in both cases, a tiny minority benefits while the overwhelming majority pays.” [14]


The US administration, the World Bank-IMF couplet, and Haitian elites who stand to benefit from a neoliberal agenda, are all aware that Aristide favours genuine democracy over neoliberal reform. Aristide still stands behind the beliefs that swept him to power as the first democratically elected Haitian leader in 1991. As Kevin Pina told me yesterday, the popular [impoverished] masses who revered Aristide in 1991 “are still willing to fight for him. They are willing to die if it means Aristide can complete his term.”


In Monterrey last month at the Special Summit of the Americas, a Third Border Initiative was committed to by the Caribbean Community and the United States. One of the primary aims of the initiative is to “make sure the benefits of globalization are felt in even the smallest economies,”  while coordinating ties that discourage terrorist activities and increase security for the area. [15]
 
We will only know for certain how this applies to the case of Haiti as things progress – or deteriorate. In closing our conversation yesterday, Kevin Pina asserted the following:


“Haiti desperately needs to establish democratic traditions. How is the pattern of instability supposed to be broken? What’s to stop the next democratically elected President from being asked to step down? If people are falling for these distortions and lies they are doing a disservice to Haiti.”


Citizens of Canada, the United States, and Europe all have a stake in this, to the extent that the fomenting of Haitian instability and continued Haitian misery is being carried out and financed in our names. By falling for the delusional picture of Haiti that is drawn by our corporate media, we are actively violating fundamental human rights along with Haiti’s right to self-determination. Anything that can be done to expose this circulation of lies should be done so with an immediacy that above all appreciates the right of all Haitians to determine their own future.



[1] Globe and Mail, February 10, 2004, “Haitian Insurrection Spreads to several more towns.” A16.


[2] Globe and Mail, February 11, 2004 “Haiti’s ‘peaceful people’ erupt in Violence”, A16.


[3] National Post, February 13, 2004.


[4] “Unfair and Indecent Diplomacy: Washington’s Vendetta against Haiti’s President Aristide,” January 15, 2004.


[5] Transcript obtained from Haiti’s Foreign Press Liason, Michelle Karshan, February 11, 2004.


[6] From the office of Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Contact: 202-225-2398


[7] Alex Dupuy, “Haiti in the New World Order: The Limits of Democratic Revolution,” p. 7.


[8] See Chomsky’s “The Tragedy of Haiti” in his “Year 501: The Conquest Continues” pp. 197-219.


[9] Susan George’s “A Short History of Neoliberalism” speech, March 1999:
http://www.globalpolicy.org/globaliz/econ/histneol.htm


[10] See The Guardian’s “Haiti: proof of hypocrisy”, April 11, 2002:

[11] Excerpts from Aristide’s book at:


[12] Quoting the Brookings Institution’s “U.S. Relations with the World Bank: 1945-1992”: “More than any other country, the United States has shaped and directed the institutional evolution, policies, and activities of the World Bank,” p. 88. The Brookings Institution, incidentally, is a known affiliate of the Haiti Democracy Project, which is friendly with Andre Apaid Jr., and G-184.


[13] See George’s “The Debt Boomerang,” 1992.


[14] Ibid.


[15] Bush II quote, U.S. Department of State website:

Leave a comment