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#1875: (fwd) Shacochis interview extract (fwd)

From: Charles Arthur <charlesarthur@hotmail.com>

Shacochis...is looking forward to the tour for the Haiti book, he says 
whilepetting the dog. He and (his partner) Petersen will be apart for 
months, which is how they have always lived -- apart and then together, 
committed to always coming back to one another. When he did the research for 
the Haiti book, he was gone for 18 months, returning home every few months 
for a weekend. Then, it took him 2 1/2 more years to write the book. ``It 
was a very heavy object to lift,'' he says.
A look behind the mountain
In September 1994, when Shacochis went to Haiti and checked
into the Oloffson Hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince, his original intent was 
to do a magazine article for Harper's on the U.S. military invasion that 
would restore democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide to 
power in Haiti. The plan was to get in and get out, just like the Pentagon 
told the U.S. Army to do. But Shacochis stuck around.
Every writer who has sat on the porch of the Hotel Oloffson has thought 
about writing a book about Haiti. About the journalists, the thugs, the 
saints, the bureaucrats and the pirates who come there -- about how they 
connect to each other and to Haiti. Thought about it, yes. But actually done 
it, no. This is because making sense of Haiti is too burdensome a task, too 
maddening and time-consuming. What seems crystal clear on the hotel porch 
becomes hazy out in the dusty streets. What appears mythic while sipping rum 
on the veranda diminishes to caricature in the glaring sun.
``Beyond the mountain is another mountain,'' goes the Haitian
proverb, and anyone who has tried to write extensively about Haiti
understands what this means. The obstacles to truth -- the
contradictions, the rumors and the propaganda -- discourage all but the
most determined writers from doing a book. It took Shacochis four years.
He went broke trying to finish, having used $45,000 of the $75,000 he
got for the book on travel expenses. He made a lot of people angry
because it's impossible to write about Haiti and U.S. foreign policy and
not feel the political and journalistic heat -- especially when it's
done with Shacochis' passion and indignation. He ignored the advice of
friends -- like novelist John Irving -- who suggested he go back to
fiction, where Irving says Shacochis has ``the easy ways of an old
Interest fades in U.S.
While working on the Haiti book, Shacochis watched U.S.
press interest in Haiti dwindle. And he listened
as the few remaining Haiti watchers became increasingly cynical about
its future. But he stuck with the book, struggling to get at some of the
evasive truths that comprised the complex world of Haiti during the
invasion. Why? ``Because when you see a piece of history that no one is
lifting up for the world to see, you have an obligation to put it out
there yourself,'' says Shacochis. It's about engaging and trying, he
That's what life is.
After 18 months in Haiti and hundreds of interviews,
this is what Shacochis showed in the book: The United States
purposely missed a golden opportunity to set Haiti on a democratic track
when our military invaded in 1994. This happened because U.S. State
Department officials told high-ranking military officers not to allow
U.S. troops to dismantle FRAPH, a powerful and violent paramilitary
group. Instead, the U.S. cast FRAPH in the role of loyal opposition,
making it off-limits for U.S. troops to take action against the group --
even when its members harmed people in front of troops. This decision,
despite Aristide's return as president, allowed FRAPH to remain powerful
enough to continue its de facto reign of terror, making democracy an
impossibility. To come to this conclusion, Shacochis went back and forth
between high-ranking military officers, embassy officials, FRAPH members
and the Haitians and U.S. soldiers caught in the middle. What kept him
working, he says, was the people in the middle -- the U.S. soldiers who
wanted to make a difference to the future of Haiti and the Haitian
people who managed to survive and stay hopeful despite increasing reason
not to be.
Dreaded prison is noted
At the end of the book, Shacochis
writes about Fort Dimanche, the dreaded prison outside Port-au-Prince
where thousands of Haitians had been tortured and murdered before
Aristide closed it down. In 1995, when Shacochis went there, it had
become home to thousands of squatters who were ``cramming into its cells
and its stacks of airless kennel-size tiger cages, erecting shanties on
its killing grounds out of tin and cardboard.'' In this fierce, cruel
place, Shacochis got the inspiration he needed to ``lift up the heavy
object'' that would become his book on Haiti: ``Here was the barefoot
Guy Gilvert, twenty-five years old, like all of the youth in the slums a
front-liner in Haiti's long war against her people, who welcomed us with
a sunbeam smile, pumping our hands with gratitude for bothering to
imagine that his life might have some interest or value. He and his
fellow squatters had renamed the infamous prison Village Demokrasi;
they'd organized a letter-writing campaign to Aristide, asking the
president to help them with their problems. . . . '' Gilvert, Shacochis 
writes, had never held a job in his life, but collected rocks from the 
barren landscape to sell because there was nothing else to do. The young man 
told the writer: ``I want to work and as long as I am alive I have hope.''
`Soul of Haiti'
In this young man Shacochis saw ``the irrepressible spirit . . . that is the 
soul of Haiti.'' In this most unlikely of places he saw Gilvert and his 
friends engaging with life --struggling to do what they believed needed to 
be done. In this young man, he saw what he looks for in the world to have a 
sense of family and what inspires him to keep writing.
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