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Unspinning Haiti's 'Spiral of Violence'

Some media finally get it right. Not the Globe, though.

Derrick O'Keefe 12 Aug
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In recent weeks, the Canadian media's embargo against critical coverage of this country's role in Haiti has begun to be broken. Montreal activist Yves Engler got the ball rolling with his splashing of a red substance on Pierre Pettigrew's favourite suit jacket. Engler's substantive critique might have been lost amidst the Foreign Minister's jokes about his stained Calvin Klein; fortunately, another Klein had just interviewed Haiti's president-in-exile, who confirmed the growing assessment that Canada indeed "has blood on its hands."

This breakthrough - followed by the Toronto Star's publication of a critique of Ottawa's role by Aaron Mate -- for opponents of the 2004 Franco-American-Canadian coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide threatens to explode the government and establishment discourse of Ottawa's interventions as mere benevolent peace-keeping and/or nation-building, in Haiti and elsewhere.

Enter Maria Jimenez of the Globe and Mail.

Her August 1 article in Canada's 'newspaper of record' is rather innocently headlined: 'Haiti's spiral of violence picks up speed. As criminal gangs spread increasing terror, the world is accused of silence.' Unfortunately, the article spins the blame for the bloody spiral right back onto the victims.

Blaming a wimpy UN

Jimenez places the culpability for the worsening violence in Haiti where it clearly doesn't belong: at the feet of the overthrown government and its supporters. Throughout the article, the reporter bemoans the current United Nations military mission's supposed lack of toughness.

The U.S.-backed interim government has been unable to re-establish order, and the 7,400-member United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or Minustah, been criticized for failing to quell the violence. (On July 6, however, Minustah did show its muscle in an eight-hour operation in the slum of Cité Soleil that left six armed gang leaders dead.)

The 'show of muscle' was a full-scale military operation in a crowded neighbourhood that left at least 23 dead, including infants. The reported target of the mission, 'gang leader' Emmanuel 'Dread' Wilme, was also killed. An independent journalist working for Haiti Information Project was able to capture grisly images of the death and destruction (see In an incredible display of courage and resistance, 5000 residents of Cite Soleil took to the streets on July 21 to protest the massacre.

The Globe and Mail article, of course, neglects to mention this and other ongoing demonstrations, many of which have been fired upon by the RCMP-trained Haitian police forces. Jimenez makes a brief reference to Haiti's "long history of oppression, political instability and economic inequality" without mentioning the culprits - the governments of France, the United States and now Canada, and the greed and corruption of their Haitian collaborators. She then cites recently exiled Haitian journalist Nancy Roc, who asserts that behind all of the violence in her country today is none other than the (apparently) omnipotent Aristide:

The United Nations has not been active enough and when they do intervene, all these human-rights groups complain about it. Aristide is fighting an information war from his exile in South Africa.

Roc's complaint is an echo of outgoing U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Roger Noriega, who claimed that "…Aristide and his camp are singularly responsible for most of the violence and for the concerted nature of the violence." ('Aristide accused of fostering violence,' The Miami Herald, June 24 2005)

What in-depth reports say

A number of in-depth reports, however, put the blame for the vast majority of the violence in Haiti on the forces of the de facto government of Gerard Latortue, and the occupying forces. Supporters of Aristide, and of the Lavalas Party, have been specifically targeted, with mass casualties having been inflicted especially in the poorest neighbourhoods where, Jimenez concedes, many "remain loyal to the deposed leader." (The reporter does not deem it necessary to examine the reasons for the foolish loyalties of the urban poor).

The most comprehensive report on the human rights situation in post-coup Haiti was authored by U.S. lawyer Thomas Griffin (see 'Haiti Human Rights Report, November 11-21 2004,' available at here. The document, which activists have made available to a number of Canadian cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament, debunks the simplistic notion that all of the violent gangs in Haiti's slums are agents of Aristide.

In fact, a number of the most ruthless and brutal gang leaders are paid operatives in the service of the country's wealthy elite. The evidence of this is detailed on page 3 of the 51-page Griffin report, where it explains that "Thomas Robinson, alias 'Labanye,' receives financial, firearms, and political support from wealthy businessman and politico Andy Apaid and businessman Reginald Boulous." Yet official police wanted posters featured only suspect Lavalas supporters, "but not Labanye, perhaps the best known of all gangsters."

Ignoring class divide

Given the clearly politicized nature of who in Cite Soleil is deemed to be a legitimate target for the occupying UN forces, it is worth looking at how the recently slain 'Dread' Wilme explained his own motivations, and the conditions in which Haiti's poor exist today:

If the bourgeoisie wanted to do something for the people of Site Solèy [Cite Soleil], this is not the way they would go about doing it because they have never done anything to benefit the people of Site Solèy. They want the people to be their slaves. They want the people to go and vote but to continue living in the same conditions we are living in today.

We have been living for 1 year now under this de facto government which is destroying the country. 95% of the people from the masses who were working government jobs have been fired. Children cannot go to school. Students cannot advance in their studies. We are wondering just how far this crisis will be allowed to go. All of this is why we are in the streets, demonstrating and demanding the physical return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti immediately. This is the only issue the people are interested in today. ('Interview with Dread Wilme,' Lakou New York, April 4 2005)

The Globe and Mail article ignores this record, choosing instead to quote the certainties of a member of the dubiously named Haiti Democracy Project (which featured none other than Roger Noriega at their founding convention):

There is incontrovertible evidence that Aristide supporters are responsible for the lion's share of violence in Port-au-Prince. This is not amorphous violence but a campaign to seize power.

Rehabilitating the coup

It is not possible for Jimenez to be unaware of the political motivations of the sources she chooses. Her article can only be viewed as a blatant attempt to restore the narrative that focuses on explaining away Haiti's misery by demonizing Aristide, the Lavalas Party and its supporters.

Despite such journalist endeavours to rehabilitate the coup and occupation in Haiti, a much broader range of people and organizations are beginning to question the Canadian government's role.

Rather than playing Jimenez's tired and cynical game of blaming the victims, people in Canada have a responsibility to examine the real impact of Ottawa's policy in Haiti. It's time to blame the aggressors. Better yet, it's time to stay their hand and return sovereignty and democracy to Haiti.

Derrick O'Keefe is co-chair of the StopWar coalition in Vancouver and a founding editor of Seven Oaks, an on-line journal of politics, culture and resistance.  [Tyee]

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