Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"Coup d’Etat" or "Coup de Broom" in Haiti and at WBAI?

(Note: The following post was penned by Daniel Simidor, a longtime progressive activist from New York's vibrant Haitian-American community. I have known Daniel, first via the internet and later in person, for some years and, though we don't agree on all issues (Cuba, for example), I have found him to be one of the more eloquent voices from Haiti's democratic left writing regularly in English. This note was originally posted to the Haiti discussion list of Bob Corbett, and is re-printed here with Daniel's permission. MD)

"Coup d’Etat" or "Coup de Broom" in Haiti and at WBAI?

This week’s issue of Kim Ives’ newspaper, “Haiti Liberté” (May 6-12, 2009), carries not one but two lengthy denunciations against me, one in Haitian Creole, the other in English. Normally this would be cause for glee – all this free promotion! Plus I believe with Mao that to be attacked by one’s enemies is proof of one’s good work. But a quick look at Haiti-Liberté reveals a sadly irrelevant and useless newspaper. There just isn’t any glory in being thrashed in Haiti-Liberté, because Haiti-Liberté doesn’t matter to anyone outside the small clique that runs it.

My preference was in fact to shrug off this Lilliputian event, until its authors managed to get it past Bob Corbett’s guidelines against personal attacks and posts not directly related to Haiti. In spite of its “This Week in Haiti” heading, the article in question is only tangentially related to Haiti. It is about a power struggle over WBAI, a radio station in the middle of the FM dial in New York, between an incompetent gang of Afrocentric sinecurists, and the majority of the Local Station Board who want to bring-in new management to save the station from bankruptcy. (Accusations and instances of racism unfortunately abound on both sides.) Kim Ives and his sidekick Marquez Osson, who authored one of the two diatribes in question, run a Haiti program on WBAI, which they stole from a Haitian radio collective, with the complicity of the Justice and Unity Coalition sinecurists in charge of the station. I told that story last week in a letter to the Interim Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation which owns WBAI. I apologize for the tedium involved in recounting it here.

I first became aware of Marquez Osson in the late 1970s when he was producing a Haitian radio program called “Mayi Anmè” (Bitter Corn) on WFUV, the Fordham University student radio station. Mayi Anmè was so dogmatic that the Haitian community literally ignored it. (In comparison another program, “L’Heure Haitienne,” also on a student-run radio station, Columbia University’s WKCR, was the most influential media outlet in the Haitian community.) Marquez’s radio skills have not dramatically improved in the intervening years. This partly explains why “Haiti: the Struggle Continues” has virtually no impact in the Haitian community, in spite of WBAI’s broad reach. But his faithful service to Kim Ives has afforded him a comfortable window from where he can throw mud at other people, without glory or much

The way Osson tells the story, he and Kim Ives expelled me and the members/supporters of MOKAM and the Batay Ouvriye workers organization, who were the majority of the Haitian radio collective at WBAI, because we were supporters of the “coup” that overthrew “democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide” in February 2004. My sin, among others, was an open letter I wrote in Dec. 2002, calling on Aristide to resign in order to save the country an unnecessary bloodbath and the shame of a second foreign military occupation under his mandate. The Haitian left – arguably with one exception – also echoed the growing outcry against the corruption of Aristide’s Lavalas party and against Aristide’s own use of gang
violence to consolidate his power.

The one exception in question was the so-called National Popular Party (PPN), a group run by Kim Ives’ stepfather, Ben Dupuy, that was opportunistically loyal to Aristide. Interestingly, Kim’s promotion of PPN ended abruptly with his split from Ben two years or so ago. Now Kim has no one to support, except Aristide and the Lavalas factions that are vying against each other for power. The problem for Kim is that he needs Aristide more than Aristide needs him, and Aristide knows it. Aristide also knows that Kim’s and Ben’s allegiances lie elsewhere (in Ben’s case with Ben alone), and that the two men can and have turned against him in the past without so much as a “Bonsoir, Titide!”

The claim by Osson and his acolytes that the Haitian left conspired with the U.S. embassy and the Haitian bourgeoisie to overthrow Aristide is a bold-faced lie that, repeated often enough, only convinced those whose semblance of sanity needed them to believe that Aristide could do nothing wrong. In reality, Batay Ouvriye’s conclusion that Aristide and his subalterns and accomplices on the one hand, and the Haitian bourgeoisie with its Group 184 on the other,
were “two dirty butt cheeks in the same torn trousers,” summed up quite well the Haitian left’s attitude at that juncture. The two groups of contenders belonged to the same side of history, and what the left was calling on the people to do was to sweep them aside with a vigorous “coup de balai” (Coup de Broom). What happened in Feb. 2004 is best described as “the coup that wasn’t.” Aristide once again called on the U.S. for protection. If he was deceived in the process and if the U.S. found the other side more reliable the second time around, well, that’s just what happens when small-time players try to fool around with Uncle Sam.

The “democratically-elected” mantra that was supposed to protect Aristide from his enemies and from his own misdeeds still has some currency even today in some quarters. But it should not come as a surprise how much some of the actors in this story look down on democracy itself. It is obvious that Kim Ives and his Workers World Party’s support of the likes of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and Manual Noriega had more to do with those dictators’ perceived willingness to stand up to the U.S., than with democracy or the fate of the people under them.

But what about Aristide’s own willingness to stand up to the U.S? As a priest he railed in the past against U.S. imperialism, but as head of state he shamelessly begged the U.S. for money, for troops and for personal enrichment deals. His private guard was a select group of 60 Steele Foundation mercenaries that cost the impoverished Haitian people the neat sum of $9 million annually. We won’t even go into his unabashed neoliberal policies and his corrupt privatization of state assets. You call that standing up to U.S. imperialism?

The last point I want to make is about Kim Ives’ own aspiration to lead the Haitian community. Last week in the Dominican Republic, a Haitian man by the name of Carlos Mérilus was publicly decapitated on the assumption that his brother had killed a Dominican man. The lynching was witnessed and applauded by many, and coming on the heels of other anti-Haitian acts in recent months and years, raises the specter of another mass killing of Haitians similar to what happened in the Dominican Republic in 1937. One week after Mérilus’ lynching, a smiling photo of his presumed assassin, one Roosevelt de Leon Lara who had surrendered to the police, was published in the Dominican press. The subtext: gruesome as his act might have been, there goes an ordinary Dominican man standing up for his family’s honor against the invading Haitians.

How did "Haiti-Liberté" honor the innocent victim in this instance? With a color photo of his decapitated body splashed on the front page! Kim Ives not only stripped Mérilus of his humanity, he did not even print the victim’s name in his newspaper. The denunciation of my humble person commanded far more space than Mérilus’s horrible execution. A May Day demonstration organized by Batay Ouvriye and other progressive groups that was savagely repressed by the Haitian government’s special police was similarly derided by Haiti-Liberté as a ragtag group of pro-coup opportunists who were getting a measure of their own medicine! And that was the extent of the Haiti coverage in this week’s Haiti-Liberté. The point here is that there is ample room for Haiti-Liberté to write about Haiti. But when it comes to speaking for Haitians, whether in print or on the radio, it’s time for Kim Ives to step aside and let Haitians speak for themselves!

Daniel Simidor

No comments: