Thursday, April 17, 2008

Michael Deibert responds to Peter Hallward

Michael Deibert responds to Peter Hallward

On my blog last month, I posted a lengthy review of the book Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, written by Middlesex University Professor Peter Hallward [1].

As I noted at the time, the work - composed chiefly of interviews with supporters of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and often unreliably-referenced secondary source material - appeared to represent an attempt by Hallward, who had visited Haiti only twice during its writing and never bothered to learn to speak its poetic native Kreyol language, to excuse the excesses of Aristide’s 2001-2004 second mandate and argue that the president, far from being an exacerbating force in Haiti’s multitude of problems, was instead the hapless victim of a vast plot by local and foreign adversaries. Having first visited Haiti in 1997, and reported on the country for a variety of media outlets from 2000 until 2006, I knew Hallward’s thesis to be an incorrect one, and set about outlining what I found to be some of the more pernicious falsehoods with which he attempted to back it up.

This month, Peter Hallward, writing on the website Haiti Analysis [2], itself a veritable font of fanatical pro-Aristide propaganda, chose to respond to my critique of his book in an article that was subsequently reprinted on the website of MRZine.

Preoccupied as I am with reporting on the struggles of disenfranchised and disadvantaged peoples from often remote and violent locations (Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, India-administered Kashmir, Haiti itself), I confess that I haven’t had the time or inclination to keep up with every self-justifying bit of moral and intellectual acrobatics performed by the affluent foreign commentators that have comprised the bulk of support for Haiti’s disgraced former president since his ouster in February 2004. Given the array of very serious problems that confront Haiti these days - a dysfunctional parliament, spiraling food costs and attendant demonstrations, rampant deforestation and environmental degradation - the attention of those concerned with the country’s fate may indeed also be better focused elsewhere rather than on a protracted back-and-forth between two foreign intellectuals over a book of negligible interest or value to alleviating those ills.

However, briefly, in the interest of correcting the historical record which he seems content to muddy, I will respond to Peter Hallward’s response of my review of his book here.

Though Hallward writes that my 2005 book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press) was “applauding the overthrow” of the second Aristide government, a more accurate characterization might be that it was mourning the fraying of the broad social-democratic coalition that ousted the Duvalier dictatorship for power in 1986 and first brought Aristide to office in 1990, along with criticizing Aristide’s own role in that collapse. Having seen first hand the hopes that Haiti’s poor majority had invested in Aristide, and the way those hopes were cynically betrayed, far from glee and joy at the events of the president’s second mandate, to me the only appropriate response seemed to be sadness and regret at the waste of opportunity and human potential. Writers like Peter Hallward don’t seem to give much credence to emotions such as those when strident sloganeering will do, but I have found in my years in Haiti that political life there exists, not in black and white, but in varying shades of grey, where today’s democrat can be tomorrow’s despot and yesterday’s oppressor can be viewed as today’s unlikely liberator.

Hallward states in his response that I suggested that he deliberately misquoted Anne Hastings, the director of Haiti's lauded micro-credit institution Fonkoze, as coming out in full-throated defense of the Aristide government in his interview with her. Though Hallward may be bothered by a guilty conscience at this point, I said nothing of the sort. Writing to Hasting, who I have known for the better part of the decade as someone who stayed above the fray of Haitian politics to better continue Fonkoze‘s work of aiding Haiti‘s poor, I simply asked whether or not Hallward’s quotation of her was accurate. She responded in a 27 January 2008 email as follows [3]:

I don't think I have ever said or ever would say that. I am always very careful to say I don't know whether there is substance or not. It is up to the Haitian people to make their decision.

In his response to my review, Peter Hallward confirms that his quotation of Anne Hastings was erroneous. Whether it was intentional or not, I have no idea, but it does point to what, in my view, is a troubling pattern in Hallward’s work. Though I can’t claim omniscience in decoding Peter Hallward’s intentions when it comes to presenting such a curiously selected litany of false information as objective history, I do find, given his stated sympathies to the Aristide government and the Fanmi Lavalas party before starting his book or even visiting Haiti, that all of his “errors” should conveniently support his erroneous thesis rather suggestive. Nearly every one of the main claims in Damming the Flood - that the 2000 elections that returned Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power were free and fair, that the Aristide government was not actively involved in arming and organizing street gangs to crush its political opposition, that the government still retained a great deal of popular support in late 2003/early 2004 - are false, and demonstrably so, by the historical record as I laid out in my original review.

When Hallward, writes, for instance, that the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH) Haitian human rights organization was part of "a very partial list of the recipients of USAID, IFES and/or IRI support" during the years leading up to the 2004 overthrow of Aristide, that is false. In his response to my review, Hallward tries to wriggle out of being caught in this obvious inaccuracy by writing that “NCHR’s receipt of USAID money… (is) a matter of the US Congressional record.” In my reviews of the sources of funding for NCHR Haiti (which later became RNDDH), I have found no evidence of money distributed to the group’s Port-au-Prince office by USAID. Seeking further confirmation, I wrote to Pierre Esperance, the group’s director, and he responded on 10 April 2008 with the following email [4]:

RNDDH has never and will not accepted funds from US government.

Though RNDDH/NCHR did receive funding from organziations such as Christian Aid, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Lutheran World Federation and a one-time grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), I still have found no eveidence of the group receiving funding from the United States government.

As to the Hallward’s characterization the massacre of anti-government militants in the northern city of Saint-Marc in February 2004 (along with innocent civilians), as always with Peter Hallward, any vile attack carried out by forces loyal to Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a “clash,” much as the vicious attack on protesting university students on 5 December 2003 (one of the defining moments in the end of Aristide’s second government) was “a brawl.” If Hallward doesn’t view the massacre at least 27 human beings and attendant atrocities such as gang rape which, given the presence of Unite de Securite de la Garde du Palais National d’Haiti personnel and gang members from the capital dressed in police uniforms, was certainly carried out with government knowledge, as a “crime against humanity,” it is hard to know what would qualify as such.

Peter Hallward could have written a perfectly reasonable, factual book outlining why he thought the second Aristide government as it existed deserved to be allowed to finish its mandate, however appalling its excesses, and why the convergence of forces against the president and his political party (many of them thrown together by Aristide’s own actions) would, in the long run, cause even greater harm to Haiti’s poor majority than the violent, corrupt and despotic actors who ruled Haiti from 2001 until 2004.

That is not, however, what Hallward did.

Based on a review of his secondary source material and discussions with some of his primary sources, I have concluded that Hallward, either through intention or through a series of extraordinarily ideologically fortuitous mistakes, time and again printed false information that flies in the face of the documented record and, indeed, the transcripts of his own interviews.

As for Peter Hallward’s statement that I view his book as being written by “an ignorant outsider,” I will simply say this: We are all, those of us of foreign birth who write on Haiti, outsiders to one degree or another. The question is whether or not, that being the case, we operate in good faith when chronicling events in this small, impoverished country. Over the better part of a decade, encouraged by the example of many brave Haitian journalists, I did my best to act in good faith while reporting from a vast array of locales around Haiti about the desire of the Haitian people for a responsive and responsible government to address their legitimate grievances and historic disenfranchisement. I did so often at considerable personal risk and for little or no financial reward. It was the least I owed the long-suffering people there who entrust outsiders such as myself with trying to help the world understand their story.

Finishing Damming the Flood, I believe knowing whether or not Peter Hallward operated in similar good faith is open to debate, but the evidence is not encouraging.

Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press).

1. A Review of Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment , March 16, 2008.

2. One of the “editors” of Haiti Analysis, a seemingly-eternal graduate student named Jeb Sprague, first announced his presence to me by emailing me (unsolicited) a graphic photo of the bullet-riddled, blood-soaked bodies of a Haitian mother and her children along with a smiley-face emoticon. I was left shrugging that perhaps Sprague suffered from some sort of mental illness, as he viewed the dead mother and her toddlers appropriate material for some sort of cheap joke.

3. Email from Anne Hastings, 27 Janaury 2008

4. Email from Pierre Esperance, 10 April 2008.

(Author's note: This response was submitted to
MRZine editor Yoshie Furuhashi who, apparently in the interest of stifling and obscuring discussion on the subject of Haiti, refused to print it. So much for free debate.)

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Security boosted amid violent protests over prices in Haiti

Security boosted amid violent protests over prices in Haiti

(Read the original article here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) — Blue-helmet UN peacekeepers were called in Tuesday to protect Haiti's presidential palace after violent demonstrations against high food and fuel prices broke out in the capital.

At least five people have been killed by gunfire since the protests erupted last week, according to an unofficial count. On Tuesday at least 14 people were rushed to the city's public hospital with bullet wounds, medical sources told AFP.

"This is a provisional injury toll. We're getting a lot of conflicting information," Association of Haitian Doctors president Claude Surena told AFP.

Haitian police clashed with protesters Tuesday and fired in the air to prevent them from breaking into the presidential palace building, witnesses said.

By midday a dozen armored vehicles manned by Brazilian soldiers under the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) took position around the whitewashed palace, firing in the air and hurling tear gas canisters to keep the protesters at bay, witnesses said.

President Rene Preval asked UN peacekeepers to shore up security around the palace, MINUSTAH spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe told AFP.

The UN peacekeepers also beat back protesters who were heading to the city's international airport.

The protests began last week after a sudden jump in fuel and basic food commodity prices in the poor country of 8.5 million.

The rice price has doubled from 35 dollars to 70 dollars for a 120-pound sack, and gasoline has seen its third price hike in less than two months.

Two reporters as well as a photographer and a cameraman were wounded by rubber bullets fired by MINUSTAH forces, the sources told AFP.

One journalist had his car's windows shattered and was attacked by a mob of youths that sacked an Air France office, an AFP reporter said.

"People can keep protesting but they have to respect the property of others," Public Security Secretary Luc Euchere told reporters.

Protests also broke out in the Carrefour quarter on the south side of the capital.

"Living conditions are horrible. We are tired of hearing promises, we want fast action," said a protester named Wilson, 25.

Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis condemned the protests while acknowledging the source of the discontent.

On Monday Alexis announced a 42-million-dollar program to ease the situation, including the creation of thousands of jobs for youth and small business grants.

"These measures take time. We need to have patience," he said on a radio station in the capital.

In the city of Cayes on Monday, thousands of protesters attacked the home of legislator Gabriel Fortune, who was rescued by UN troops and evacuated to the capital.

Fortune said the protesters were "manipulated by drug deals and the Lavalas party" of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has lived in exile in South Africa since 2004.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Eight years of inexplicable impunity in the murder of Jean Dominique

2 April 2008

Eight years of inexplicable impunity in the murder of Jean Dominique

Reporters sans frontières

(Read the original article here)

On the eve of the eighth anniversary of radio Haïti Inter director Jean Dominique’s murder, Reporters Without Borders today said it was baffled by the failure to render justice in this case, especially as the existence of a clear political and judicial will to combat impunity in the past two years has resulted in convictions in two other cases of murders of journalists.

Dominique and Haïti Inter’s caretaker, Jean-Claude Louissaint, were gunned down in the courtyard of the station on 3 April 2000.

“In the course of 2007, there were two convictions in the case of Brignol Lindor, the Radio Echo 2000 journalist who was murdered in Petit-Goâve in 2001, and one conviction in the case of Jacques Roche, the editor of the cultural section of the daily Le Matin, who was kidnapped and murdered in Port-au-Prince in 2005,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“At the same time, investigations into more recent cases led to quick arrests,” the press freedom organisation continued. “And on 10 August 2007, President René Préval, a friend of Dominique’s, installed an Independent Commission to Support Investigations into Murders of Journalists (CIAPEAJ) in the presence of his widow, Michèle Montas. The political and judicial will is there, and we now have proof that impunity is not inevitable.”

The organisation added: “This makes it all the harder to explain why the Dominique case is alone in going nowhere, eight years after his murder. Political factors may have had an impact but they offer no justification for the failure to ever solve this case.”

The investigation into the murder of Dominique and Louissaint concluded on 21 March 2003. It resulted in six men being charged and arrested: Dymsley “Ti Lou” Milien, Jeudi “Guimy” Jean-Daniel, Philippe Markington, Ralph Léger, Freud Junior Demarattes and Ralph Joseph. The charges against the last three were dismissed on 4 August 2003, after they appealed against the indictment.

Ti Lou, Guimy and Markington managed to escape during a prison mutiny in February 2005. Markington fled to Argentina, from where he contacted Reporters Without Borders to insist on his innocence. Ti Lou and Guimy went back to being gang leaders in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Martissant. Ti Lou is now dead.

Former Port-au-Prince deputy mayor Harold Sévère (now in self-imposed exile) and Ostide “Douze” Pétion were arrested on 14 March 2004 as the suspected instigators of the murder. Annette Auguste, who was already being held in connection with other criminal activity, was also accused of involvement on 10 May 2005.

But none of these three has ever been interrogated. There has never been any attempt to verify presumed hit-man Ti Lou’s statement that he was paid 10,000 dollars to murder Dominique. And the death of two witnesses in suspicious circumstances has never been explained.

The supreme court ordered the case reopened on 29 June 2004. But it took nearly a year for a new investigating judge to be appointed, on 3 April 2005, exactly five years after the murder, and the new judge has not had access to the files and has not been given the necessary resources. In all, six judges have been in charge of the investigation, one after another.

The case suffered another setback on 4 April 2007 with the murder of Robert Lecorps, a businessman who was also suspected of involvement in Dominique’s murder. Police superintendent Daniel Ulysse, who was head of the judicial police at the time of Dominique’s murder, was arrested on 10 December 2007 on suspicion of having obstructed the investigation. But the police took nearly a month to execute the warrant for his arrest that was issued by judge Fritzner Fils-Aimé, now in charge of the case.

It has never been possible to corroborate the statements of former senator Dany Toussaint, who has often been cited as a suspect in the case. And since the start of this year, Judge Fils-Aimé has been trying to obtain a statement from senate vice-president Rudolph Boulos, the owner of the pharmaceutical company Pharval.

Shortly before his murder, Dominique spoke on the air about Afébril, a contaminated cough mixture produced and distributed by Pharval that allegedly caused the death of about 100 children in 1996. The CIAPEAJ, the commission created by President Préval, wrote to the senate president on 17 February calling for Senator Boulos to respond to the summonses issued by Fils-Aimé. In a reply one week later, Boulos refused on the grounds of “parliamentary immunity.”