Monday, January 10, 2011

The Guardian's Haiti Problem

(Reading the last absurd magnum opus from Centre for Economic and Policy Research co-director Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian - a paper whose coverage I generally respect - I felt compelled to respond in the Comments section. Though this is something I almost never do, I felt that response, included below, might be of some general interest. MD)

As a contributor to the Guardian from time to time myself, I have written in the past to Cif editor Matt Seaton and asked when, perhaps, the newspaper would be willing to publish an Op-Ed on Haiti from someone a bit more knowledgeable about the country than Mr. Weisbrot, who has spent virtually no time there, doesn't speak the language and knows almost nothing of it's history.

I had previously written to Mr. Seaton following Mr. Weisbrot's previous screed, taking issue with, among other things, Mr. Weisbrot's statement that Jean-Bertrand Aristide is Haiti’s “most popular political leader” and that his Fanmi Lavalas party was banned from the ballot.

As his government drowned in violence, impunity, corruption and nepotism, Mr. Aristide was overthrown in February 2004 by a mass movement that encompassed sectors of Haitian society I had never seen agree on anything before or since. I saw it. I was there. And if Mr. Seaton didn't believe me, I advised him to ask other journalists - actual journalists who were on the streets of Haiti and not behind a desk in Washington somewhere like Mr. Weisbrot. I also stated that I could recommend some for him to talk to, if he liked, if he don't want to take my word for it as a Creole-speaking reporter who has covered the country for some 15 years.

While the banning of Fanmi Lavalas as a party is technically true (and something I opposed), in Haiti's most recently corrupted ballot, virtually all of the major figures of the Lavalas party - Yvon Neptune, Leslie Voltaire, Nawoon Marcellus, Yves Christalin, etc - participated, albeit as part of different political groupings. A Haitian acquiantance who was instrumental in the constriction of the original (late 1980s/early 1990s) Lavalas movement wrote to me that "Fanmi Lavalas has all its people in the election, it’s a blan’s (foreigner's) myth that they were excluded and I have been 3 times to Haiti between August and last week. My feeling is that it’s a made-for-foreign-consumption issue.”

Here we read again that Fanmi Lavalas is "the most popular political party in the country."

I opposed the exclusion of the party named Fanmi Lavalas (now a shadow of its former self) from Haiti's recent ballot, but a look at the 2006 elections - the country's last nationwide ballot in which Fanmi Lavalas participated and which Weisbrot also absurdly denounced - is instructive.

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 10 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.

I asked Mr. Seaton where on earth he and Mr. Weisbrot get their history from to thus call Fanmi Lavalas the country's most popular political party and was met with a curt dismissal, as if somehow facts are not important when writing about a country like Haiti.

So much for freedom of debate in the pages of the Guardian, alas. And so much for the paper's discussion of Haiti veering very far from the rigid ideological line to which Mr. Seaton appears to hew.

Because Haiti is a poor country with few among its number able to write in English in papers such as the Guardian, people who are appallingly ignorant of it, its history and its people are allowed to inveigh in a way that a Haitian would never be allowed to about, say, the United States or the UK. To some of us who have spent a great deal of time there, this is really disgraceful. If facts are indeed “sacred,” then the Guardian owes Haiti's people, who struggle for the necessities of survival, better than they are giving them at present. At least some sort of diversity of views is in order, I think.

I would advise the paper to try digging up an actual Haitian to write about Haiti sometime. It may seem like a radical move, but in a country that boasts perhaps the most impressive intellectual and literary tradition in the Caribbean, I can recommend quite a few.

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