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#4582: Fwd: Chomsky on Haiti (fwd)
From: radman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Noam Chomsky
>Let's stay in Latin America and the Caribbean, which [former US Secretary of
>War and of State] Henry Stimson called "our little region over here which
>has never bothered anyone." Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of
>Haiti in what's been widely described as a free and democratic election.
>Would you comment on what's happened since?
>When Aristide won in December 1990 (he took office in February, 1991), it
>was a big surprise. He was swept into power by a network of popular
>grassroots organizations, what was called Lavalas-the flood-which outside
>observers just weren't aware of (since they don't pay attention to what
>happens among poor people). There had been very extensive and very
>successful organizing, and out of nowhere came this massive popular
>organization that managed to sweep their candidate into power.
>The US was willing to support a democratic election, figuring that its
>candidate, a former World Bank official named Marc Bazin, would easily win.
>He had all the resources and support, and it looked like a shoe-in. He ended
>up getting 14% of the vote, and Aristide got about 67%. The only question in
>the mind of anybody who knows a little history should have been, How is the
>US going to get rid of Aristide? The disaster became even worse in the first
>seven months of Aristide's office. There were some really amazing
>Haiti is, of course, an extremely impoverished country, with awful
>conditions. Aristide was nevertheless beginning to get places. He was able
>to reduce corruption extensively, and to trim a highly bloated state
>bureaucracy. He won a lot of international praise for this, even from the
>international lending institutions, which were offering him loans and
>preferential terms because they liked what he was doing.
>Furthermore, he cut back on drug trafficking. The flow of refugees to the US
>virtually stopped. Atrocities were reduced to way below what they had been
>or would become. There was a considerable degree of popular engagement in
>what was going on, although the contradictions were already beginning to
>show up, and there were constraints on what he could do.
>All of this made Aristide even more unacceptable from the US point of view,
>and we tried to undermine him through what were
>called-naturally-"democracy-enhancing programs." The US, which had never
>cared at all about centralization of power in Haiti when its own favored
>dictators were in charge, all of a sudden began setting up alternative
>institutions that aimed at undermining executive power, supposedly in the
>interests of greater democracy. A number of these alleged human rights and
>labor groups became the governing authorities after the coup, which came on
>September 30, 1991.
>In response to the coup, the Organization of American States declared an
>embargo of Haiti; the US joined it, but with obvious reluctance. The Bush
>administration focused attention on Aristide's alleged atrocities and
>undemocratic activities, downplaying the major atrocities which took place
>right after the coup. The media went along with Bush's line, of course.
>While people were getting slaughtered in the streets of Port-au-Prince
>[Haiti's capital], the media concentrated on alleged human rights abuses
>under the Aristide government.
>Refugees started fleeing again, because the situation was deteriorating so
>rapidly. The Bush administration blocked them-instituted a blockade, in
>effect-to send them back. Within a couple of months, the Bush administration
>had already undermined the embargo by allowing a minor exception-US-owned
>companies would be permitted to ignore it. The New York Times called that
>"fine-tuning" the embargo to improve the restoration of democracy!
>Meanwhile, the US, which is known to be able to exert pressure when it feels
>like it, found no way to influence anyone else to observe the embargo,
>including the Dominican Republic next door. The whole thing was mostly a
>farce. Pretty soon Marc Bazin, the US candidate, was in power as prime
>minister, with the ruling generals behind him. That year-1992-US trade with
>Haiti was not very much below the norm, despite the so-called embargo
>(Commerce Department figures showed that, but I don't think the press ever
>During the 1992 campaign, Clinton bitterly attacked the Bush administration
>for its inhuman policy of returning refugees to this torture chamber-which
>is, incidentally, a flat violation of the Universal Declaration of Human
>Rights, which we claim to uphold. Clinton claimed he was going to change all
>that, but his first act after being elected, even before he took office, was
>to impose even harsher measures to force fleeing refugees back into this
>...Haiti, a starving island, is exporting food to the US-about 35 times as
>much under Clinton as it did under Bush. Baseballs are coming along nicely.
>They're produced in US-owned factories where the women who make them get 10¢
>an hour-if they meet their quota. Since meeting the quota is virtually
>impossible, they actually make something like 5¢ an hour.
>Softballs from Haiti are advertised in the US as being unusually good
>because they're hand-dipped into some chemical that makes them hang together
>properly. The ads don't mention that the chemical the women hand dip the
>balls into is toxic and that, as a result, the women don't last very long at
>In his exile, Aristide ha[d] been asked to make concessions to the military
>And to the right-wing business community.
>That's kind of curious. For the victim-the aggrieved party-to make
>concessions to his victimizer.
>It's perfectly understandable. The Aristide government had entirely the
>wrong base of support. The US has tried for a long time to get him to
>"broaden his government in the interests of democracy."
>This means throw out the two-thirds of the population that voted for him and
>bring in what are called "moderate" elements of the business community-the
>local owners or managers of those textile and baseball-producing plants, and
>those who are linked up with US agribusiness. When they're not in power,
>it's not democratic.
>(The extremist elements of the business community think you ought to just
>slaughter everybody and cut them to pieces and hack off their faces and
>leave them in ditches. The moderates think you ought to have them working in
>your assembly plants for 14 cents an hour under indescribable conditions.)
>Bring the moderates in and give them power and then we'll have a real
>democracy. Unfortunately, Aristide-being kind of backward and disruptive-has
>not been willing to go along with that.
>Clinton's policy has gotten so cynical and outrageous that he's lost almost
>all major domestic support on it. Even the mainstream press is denouncing
>him at this point. So there will have to be some cosmetic changes made.
>But unless there's an awful lot of popular pressure, our policies will
>continue and pretty soon we'll have the "moderates" in power.
>Let's say Aristide is "restored." Given the destruction of popular
>organizations and the devastation of civil society, what are his and the
>Some of the closest observation of this has been done by Americas Watch [a
>US-based human-rights monitoring organization]. They gave an answer to that
>question that I thought was plausible. In early 1993, they said that things
>were reaching the point that even if Aristide were restored, the lively,
>vibrant civil society based on grassroots organizations that had brought him
>to power would have been so decimated that it's unlikely that he'd have the
>popular support to do anything anyway. I don't know if that's true or not.
>Nobody knows, any more than anyone knew how powerful those groups were in
>the first place. Human beings have reserves of courage that are often hard
>to imagine. But I think that's the plan-to decimate the organizations, to
>intimidate people so much that it won't matter if you have democratic
>There was an interesting conference run by the Jesuits in El Salvador
>several months before the Salvadoran elections; its final report came out in
>January . They were talking about the buildup to the elections and the
>ongoing terror, which was substantial. They said that the long-term effect
>of terror- something they've had plenty of experience with-is to domesticate
>people's aspirations, to make them think there's no alternative. to drive
>out any hope. Once you've done that, you can have elections without too much
>If people are sufficiently intimidated, if the popular organizations are
>sufficiently destroyed, if the people have had it beaten into their heads
>that either they accept the rule of those with the guns or else they live
>and die in unrelieved misery, then your elections will all come out the way
>you want. And everybody will cheer.
>Cuban refugees are considered political and are accepted immediately into
>the US, while Haitian refugees are termed economic and are refused entry.
>If you look at the records, many Haitians who are refused asylum in the US
>because they aren't considered to be political refugees are found a few days
>later hacked to pieces in the streets of Haiti.
>There were a couple of interesting leaks from the INS [the Immigration and
>Naturalization Service]. One was from an INS officer who'd been working in
>our embassy in Port-au Prince. In an interview with Dennis Bernstein of KPFA
>[a listener-supported radio station in Berkeley CA], he described in detail
>how they weren't even making the most perfunctory efforts to check the
>credentials of people who were applying for political asylum.
>At about the same time, a document was leaked from the US interests section
>in Havana (which reviews applications for asylum in the US) in which they
>complain that they can't find genuine political asylum cases. The applicants
>they get can't really claim any serious persecution. At most they claim
>various kinds of harassment, which aren't enough to qualify them. So --
>there are the two cases, side by side.
>I should mention that the US Justice Department has just made a slight
>change in US law which makes our violation of international law and the
>Universal Declaration of Human Rights even more grotesque. Now Haitian
>refugees who, by some miracle, reach US territorial waters can be shipped
>back. That's never been allowed before. I doubt that many other countries
>an interview of Noam Chomsky by David Barsamian
>from the book Secrets, Lies and Democracy, published in 1994
>Tucson, AZ 85751
>tel 602-296-4056 or 800-REALSTORY