Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Letter to Sunday Times regarding Haiti

Greetings. My name is Michael Deibert, a journalist, author, and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York. Having covered Haiti for many years for a variety of publications (including a 2001-2003 tenure as the Reuters correspondent in the country), I authored a book about the 1994-2004 era there, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005). As Haiti receives so little press attention, I was pleased to see the Sunday Times devote so much space to the historian Alex von Tunzelmann's account of her recent visit to Haiti (Haiti: the land where children eat mud).

There is, however, a significant factual error in Ms. Von Tunzelmann's story, as well as a conclusion that I believe has not been born out by recent history.

In the article, Ms. Von Tunzelmann writes that Haiti's former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was "ousted in a highly controversial UN intervention in 2004."

When Mr. Aristide flew into exile on the morning of February 29, 2004 (I was in Haiti at the time), there was no multinational force of any kind deployed anywhere in the country. Following Mr. Aristide's departure, a Multinational Interim Force (MIF), authorized by Security Council resolution 1529, entered the country, under the command of Brigadier General Ronald Coleman. The MIF was responsible for peacekeeping duties in Haiti until transferring authority to the Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti (MINUSTAH) on June 1, 2004, a ceremony at which I was present, three months after Mr. Aristide's depature. It is fairly simple for even those new to Haiti, such as Ms. Von Tunzelmann, to find such information, here for example. It is factually inaccurate for Ms. Von Tunzelmann to say that the United Nations was in any way responsible for Mr. Aristide's departure.

A second point: Ms. Von Tunzelmann writes that Mr. Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, which is currently a shadow of its former strength and riddled by internal divisions, is "the most popular party among the impoverished majority."

In Haiti’s 2006 parliamentary elections (the country's last nationwide ballot in which Fanmi Lavalas participated), Fanmi Lavalas gained only 4 seats in the country's senate, the same amount as political parties such as the Fusion des Sociaux-Démocrates Haïtienne (FUSION) and the Organisation du Peuple en Lutte (OPL). By comparison, the Lespwa party of Haitian President René Préval won 11 seats. In Haiti's lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, Fanmi Lavalas failed to win a single seat in 6 of the country's 9 departments, while Lespwa won seats in all but two. and Fusion won seats in six departments. In the Chamber, Lespwa garnered a total of of 19 seats, the Alliance Démocratique (Alyans) took 13 seats and the OPL 10 seats. Fanmi Lavalas won only 6 seats.

As Haiti is unarguably a poor-majority country, how could one thus argue that Fanmi Lavalas is "the most popular party among the impoverished majority?" On what factual basis does Ms. Von Tunzelmann make her claim?

Many thanks for your time in reading this email, and I hope that the Times will consider issuing a clarification, certainly on the first point and perhaps on the second, as well. Though a small, impoverished country, I believe that Haiti is no less deserving of rigorous scholarship than any other nation.

Very best regards,

Michael Deibert


Elizabeth Eames Roebling said...

MD- thanks for staying on top of the news. I become disheartened by such stories- where people who appear to have little knowledge or depth of understanding of Haiti wrtie these "shock" pieces. I am stunned to read the rape figures once again and have never seen any study to support them. Rape is a new phenomona in Haiti - quite out of character, introduced under Aristide. I often think that the NGOs who host such "scholars" are in the business of upholding poverty, in order to uphold their own well paid jobs.

kembe la
elizabeth eames roebling
santo domingo

Marilyn Allien - LFHH said...

Thank you, Michael, for your commitment to Haiti and your unflagging defense of the truth each time journalists and writers churn out idiotic errors or outright lies about what happened here during Aristide's second term. You are right to state that slipshod reporting is not made acceptable by Haiti's chronic misery and needyness. Unchecked mistruths create perceptions that linger on and on and can be harmful when these perceptions are flawed.

Haiti and its people do deserve better.

Again, thank you.