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8198: US Press Coverage Versus Haitian Reality (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <maxblanchet@worldnet.att.net>

US Press Coverage Versus Haitian Reality
by The Haiti Action Committee, California

US Press Coverage Versus Haitian Reality

MYTH:  Elections held in Haiti in 2000 were fraudulent, therefore calling
into question the legitimacy of the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"Every national election since 1997, including the one last Nov. 26 in which
Mr. Aristide claimed victory, has been ruled fraudulent by independent
outside observers."  - Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2001

REALITY:  Both the May parliamentary and local elections and the November
26th presidential elections were historic for their non-violence and popular
participation.  There was a prolonged international controversy regarding
technicalities of the May 21st parliamentary elections.  Both the
Organization of American States, as well as the governments of the US and
Canada, now agree that Aristide's popular mandate is undeniable and have
recognized the need to work with his government.  Presently, it is only the
opposition coalition, the Democratic Convergence, that refuses to recognize
the legitimacy of the Aristide government.

Voters turned out in large numbers across the country to vote in the
26, 2000 presidential elections.  The Electoral Council projected
participation at 61%, a number supported by the largest group of domestic
observers, KOZEPEP.  A campaign of intimidation in the form of sporadic pipe
bombs in Port-au-Prince throughout the week leading up to the elections
convinced some people to stay at home during the early parts of the day.

MYTH:  Haiti is deteriorating into violence; things are worse now than under

"Economic deterioration, drug trafficking, and political assassination of
Lavalas critics have defined Mr. Aristide's Haiti." - Wall Street Journal,
January 26, 2001

REALITY:  Since Aristide was first elected in 1990, Haiti experienced a
bloody military coup d'etat that resulted in the political assassination of
over 5,000 people.  Since Aristide's return to Haiti in 1994, and his
abolition of the military in 1995, state sponsored terrorism is no longer
part of the daily lives of Haiti's citizens.  Freedom of speech has been one
of the most prominent gains in the post 1994 period.  Critics from all sides
can and do speak out in Haiti.  Despite this progress, political violence in
the form of assassinations and assassination attempts has continued with
leaders on all sides of the political spectrum falling victim, including the
sister of Lavalas President Preval.

Haiti's democracy is young and fragile, the police force is inexperienced
the justice system, which for the first 200 years of Haiti's history served
only those who could buy justice, will take years to transform.  However,
there has been progress.  The trial of police officers for the murder of
residents in Carrefour Feuilles in September 2000 and the October 2000
conviction of 19 former military and paramilitary members for their roles in
the Raboteau massacre were landmarks for human rights.  These cases showed
that the justice system and the current government were not only capable of
prosecuting crimes during the coup, but also of holding its own police force
accountable for crimes committed now.

Mainstream media focus on violence in Haiti completely obscures the progress
of the past few years. The following are just a few milestones.

- Haitians have elected local governments for the first time, a major step
towards the process of decentralizing power away from the city and into the

- Haiti launched a major land reform program, which, while not without its
critics, has put land tenure at the center of national policy with peasant
farmers directly participating in the process for the first time in history.

- The Haitian government has made major investments in agriculture, public
transportation and education, with more schools built in Haiti between
1994-2000 than between 1804 and 1994.

MYTH:  Aristide has refused to Condemn Violence by his Supporters.

"Political violence that has left three dead and 16 injured spread to
provinces Wednesday as the government threatened to arrest opposition
leaders, repeating the very warnings that sparked the latest
attacks...Aristide, in this first public statement on the issue, did not
condemn the attacks but said he was 'asking all citizens to promote
peace." -
Associated Press, March 21, 2001

REALITY:  The March 21st headline of Haiti's center-right paper, Le
Nouvelliste, read, "Aristide condemns without reserve all acts of violence."
The actual text of his speech read, "Because we want peace, we condemn
without reserve all acts of violence."  In the particular incident referred
to in this article, the AP writer failed to mention that while Lavalas
supporters threw rocks at the office building of the Democratic Convergence,
individuals within the building were reaching out the windows and shooting
into the crowd with automatic fire.  The three killed were all Lavalas

MYTH:  Aristide is a dictator, violently suppressing the opposition.

REALITY:  Protesters in the streets of Port-au-Prince have been demanding
arrest of Gerard Gourgue, the leader of the Democratic Convergence.  They
supporters of Aristide who feel strongly that the Convergence is waging an
illegal campaign to destroy a democratically elected government.  However,
Aristide has repeatedly condemned the violence on both sides and has asked
for negotiations with the opposition leaders.  Aristide stepped down as
president in 1995 marking the first peaceful transfer of power in Haiti's
history.  His inauguration on Feb. 7, 2001 marks the second.  Aristide
abolished the army in 1995 after the end of the military-led coup.  Gourgue,
the "virtual president" of the opposition, has repeatedly called for the
army's return.

MYTH: Haiti is a major drug trafficking country.

"Columbia narcotics traffickers have established a firm beachhead and, with
their Haitian confederates, have largely succeeded in consolidating a
narco-state in Haiti."
- Representative Gilman, Senator Helms and Representative Goss issue a
statement on Haitian elections, December 8, 2000

REALITY:  Haiti's proximity to the US has resulted in an increase in drug
transport from Columbia to the US by way of Haiti.  Cocaine is not produced
nor consumed in large quantities in Haiti.  In fact, Haiti has allowed the
Drug Enforcement Agency to board ships in Haitian waters and to inspect
Haitian ports.  Haiti has a small police force, a tiny coast guard and
extremely limited resources to fight drug trafficking.  It is absurd to
expect Haiti to stem the flow of drugs.  Like many other countries in the
Caribbean, Haiti is a victim of geography, sitting as it does between a site
of drug production in South America and the huge drug market in the United
States.  The Haitian people are suffering an increase in crime and arms
trading as a consequence.

MYTH:  The United States has spent billions of dollars to bail out Haiti and
this money has all been wasted.

"Haiti is one the world's poorest countries, and yet, says George Fauriol
(Center for Strategic and International Studies), its proximity to the
States gave it a golden opportunity.  Mr. Fauriol: 'Unlike most other
countries in the world, Haiti has, in fact, ironically, been provided with
unusual set of circumstances of goodwill from the United States, from the
international community.  And that goodwill has been, in many ways, wasted."
- NPR, March 10, 2000

REALITY:  Haiti's proximity to the US has resulted in two American military
interventions in the last 100 years.  The 1915 occupation, inspired by the
Monroe Doctrine, ended in 1934 but not before Haiti became the number one
source of cheap labor for US business interests in the Caribbean. US
intervention in 1994 was supposed to restore democracy to Haiti.  But the US
never disarmed the paramilitary terrorists of the FRAPH and other former
military operatives.  The U.S. continues to harbor death squad leaders and
withhold 60,000 pages of FRAPH and military records which document human
rights abuses committed during the coup.  All this helped lay the groundwork
for the current insecurity in Haiti.

The 1994 US intervention was also accompanied by strict conditions of IMF
backed structural adjustment programs that have resulted in an increased
marginalization of the poor population, an inability of the Haitian
government to support national agricultural production, and a serious
devaluation of the Haitian currency.  The same economic squeeze continues

While internal factors are also significant in the crisis Haiti faces today,
Haitians have paid a heavy price for the "goodwill of the United States."

What's At Stake in Haiti?

In 1893 Frederick Douglass, then envoy to Haiti, said he felt compelled to
defend Haiti against the prejudices of "newspaper correspondents and six day
tourists" by pointing out that Haiti seemed capable of enduring crisis
without "falling to pieces and without being hopelessly abandoned to

Not much has changed.  According to much of the mainstream media, Haiti is
still on the brink of chaos.  Despite the fact that President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide was elected with over 70% of the popular vote, the press casts
Aristide as an illegitimate ruler while it touts an elite opposition with no
demonstrable popular support as a "shadow government."

Laced with racism and condescension, corporate media reports depict Haitians
as failures at democracy and incapable of running their own country.  Just
in 1990 when President Aristide was first elected, there is now a concerted
campaign to destabilize and isolate the Haitian government.

At a minimum, this intense international pressure severely limits the
of the Haitian people and government to create progressive social and
economic change.

In 1990, this type of campaign contributed to the violent overthrow of
Haiti's elected government and to the deaths of 5,000 Haitians during the
three years of military rule that followed.

Under the best of circumstances Haiti faces enormous challenges: a harrowing
polarization of wealth, economic poverty, lack of infrastructure, a badly
damaged environment, and the legacy of centuries of education denied to the

Why are the United States Government and its media mouthpieces mounting a
campaign against a country and people struggling under such difficult
circumstances towards genuine democratic development?

1.  Haiti has a vibrant and well-organized popular movement.

During the 1980s a highly diverse and organized popular movement grew up in
Haiti.  Made up of thousands of urban neighborhood groups, peasant
organizations, women's and human rights groups, this movement led the fight
to overthrow the Duvalier regime in 1986, paved the way for Haiti's first
democratic elections in 1990, and heroically resisted the coup d'etat of
1991.  The coup period devastated organized grassroots groups in Haiti.

The years since have seen a slow but steady rebuilding with many groups
turning their attention to the long-term work of building cooperative
economic structures, and of healing the land.

The strength of the Haitian popular movement and its history of struggle
represents a challenge to the dominant economic model of globalization.

2.  The people of Haiti are resisting corporate globalization.

In Haiti globalization is known as the "plan lamo" or the "death plan."
Since 1994 the Haitian people and government have borne intense pressure to
adopt neoliberal economic policies (opening of markets to U.S. goods,
maintaining low wages, austerity programs, and the privatization of state
owned enterprises).

When Aristide came back to Haiti in 1994, U.S. officials expected that
Haiti's public enterprises -- the telephone company, electrical company,
airport, port, three banks, a cement factory and flour mill -- would be
quickly sold to private corporations, preferably to U.S. multinationals
working in partnership with Haitian elites.  In the last months of his first
term as President, Aristide refused to move forward with privatization,
calling instead for a national dialogue on the issue.  In 1996 the Preval
government attempted to fast track privatization and gain US support for his
less popular government.  Preval faced massive popular demonstrations, which
led to the fall of his first government and a protracted political struggle
that left the country without a Prime Minister for almost two years.
U.S. pressure, seven years later only the flour mill and the cement mill

In recent years Aristide has continued to be a spokesman for an alternative
vision, one which places human development at the center of all economic

Now that Aristide is back in power the U.S. is again tightening the screws,
hoping to force his government to accede to Washington's economic agenda,
to severely limit the Haitian government's ability to invest in its own

3.  Haiti has a popularly elected government that has committed itself to
making healthcare and education its top priorities.

The Famni Lavalas platform on which President Aristide based his candidacy
proposes decentralized rural development, funded by Haitian government
resources.  It prioritizes small-scale community-based projects as key to
rural development.  The centerpiece of the platform is a plan to build,
and equip a primary school and primary health care clinic in each of Haiti's
565 rural sections.

4.  Haiti is the only country in the world, aside from Costa Rica, with no

In 1995, President Aristide disbanded the Haitian military.  Wildly popular
in Haiti, the move caught the U.S. by surprise.  Created during the U.S.
occupation of Haiti from 1915-1934, the Haitian military served throughout
its history as a force of internal repression against the Haitian people.
is the case throughout Latin America, the Haitian military was a conduit for
covert and overt United States intervention in Haitian affairs.  This
is now gone.  The Haitian military once absorbed 40% of Haiti's national
budget.  Today, Haiti spends zero on the military, making it a model in
devoting resources to human development rather than to militarism.

5.  Haiti has built close, cooperative ties with Cuba.

On February 6, 1996, in his final act in office, President Aristide
reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba.  The Preval government
and strengthened ties with Cuba.  Cuban assistance has been concrete,
effective, practical, appropriate and speedy -- in stark contrast to the
wasteful, fly-in-another-highly-paid expert type of "aid" offered by the
United States and the international lending agencies.

Cuba has sent more than 800 doctors to Haiti as part of a joint
effort to cut infant mortality in half.  Cuba has also provided critical
assistance in agriculture, literacy, communications, and fisheries.  This
cooperation stands as a clear challenge to U.S. plans for Haiti.

The United States has long considered Haiti a threat.

Since 1804, when Haiti gained independence after the world's only successful
slave revolution, the U.S. refused to recognize the new nation, and viewed
Haitian freedom as a danger to the American system of slavery.

Even then Haiti experienced "globalization."

In 1825 Haiti was forced to assume a 150 million franc debt to France as
"reimbursement" to the former slave owners.  To make the first payment Haiti
had to close all its public schools in what has been called the hemisphere's
first case of structural adjustment.  Today, as Haitians attempt to create
alternative to debt, dependence and the indignity of foreign domination, the
attacks continue.  Haitian grassroots organizations are working for
democracy, better health care, education, reforestation, justice for victims
of violence, and for women to play a full role in Haitian society.  In
support of these goals the new Haitian government has set forth an ambitious
agenda for social investment.  To achieve any of this the Haitian people and
government need political stability, some space to maneuver, and a degree of
freedom from international harassment.  We here in the US owe it to the
Haitian people to help create that opening.

The Haiti Action Committee is a Bay Area based network of activists who have
been supporting the Haitian struggle for democracy since 1991.  Our members
have extensive contacts in the grassroots movement in Haiti and can link
journalists interested in hearing an alternative view with sources both in
Haiti and in the United States.

"Long before 1804, from the moment they were taken from their homes, our
ancestors began the struggle against slavery...The revolution, when it
took thirteen long years to achieve.  Today, the weapons may be different,
but we are in a similar moment of struggle, striving to realize 2004.
--Jean-Bertrand Aristide, 2000

For more information contact Haiti Action Committee at haitiaction@yahoo.com