Back in December 2005 I stumbled across one of the most poorly informed articles about Haiti that I had ever read in the form of the piece "Undermining Haiti" by Center for Economic and Policy Research co -director Mark Weisbrot, a man with virtually no experience at all in the country and even less grasp of its complicated recent history. I responded with a letter to the publication saying, among other things, that "articles like this, hatched in a cocoon of ideology where rude reality never intrudes, do little to help that long-suffering country." Weisbrot then responded with a libelous tirade against me that one Haiti observer wrote was "pretty pathetic" and which "confirms exactly what you are accusing him of." When I approached then-Nation editor Karen Rothmyer about correcting such libel, I received a pouting response that "if you feel strongly, I'll get our lawyers involved." So much for informing the public, I guess.
In his letter responding to my critique of his article, Weisbrot writes: "Most of the Fanmi Lavalas leadership and activists are in jail, hiding or exile. Nothing approaching this magnitude of state-sponsored violence or repression existed under Aristide."
False, in several aspects. Despite the continuation of brutality and impunity under the interim government that was one of the hallmarks of the Aristide years, many Lavalas leaders, such as cabinet minister Leslie Voltaire, former Senate president Yvon Feuillé, former Chamber of Deputies presidents Rudy Herivaux and Yves Christallin, former Milot mayor Moise Jean-Charles, Aristide's first prime minister during his second term Jean-Marie Cherestal and others still operate with freedom throughout Haiti and, indeed, are still actively involved in politics. As someone who was in Haiti from December 2003 until June 2004 (one of many periods spent living in the country), I can truly say I have rarely seen greater state-sponsored violence or terror than those of us in Haiti witnessed during the final months of the Aristide government. Please refer to my book, Notes from the Last Testament (Seven Stories Press) or reports filed by National Public Radio's Gerry Hadden here and here, to cite but two examples), the Haitian organization AlterPresse, or a myriad of other
sources, for elaboration.
Weisbrot writes: "There is little evidence that the Aristide government "actively thwarted" the investigation of the murder of journalist Jean Léopold Dominique."
False. On March 3rd, 2002, on her daily broadcast on Radio Haiti-Inter, Michele Montas, Mr. Dominique's widow and 2002 winner of the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for excellence in journalism from Columbia University, said the following, referring explicitly to the Aristide government's undermining of the investigation, and investigating judge, Claudy Gassant:
On this same date last year, March 3, 2001, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to Radio Haiti to express his support publicly for the judicial inquiry and pledge that the executive branch of government would make available to justice the resources needed to investigate the April 3, 2000 assassinations at Radio Haiti. Today, twenty-three months later, facts are speaking louder than words: Fact: The Chief of State, who has the direct and exclusive authority to renew Judge Gassant's mandate, has still not done so although that judge diligently and systematically conducted the investigation for sixteen months with courage and competence. . . . Facts: All the resources, i.e., logistical, technical and financial made available in this judicial case by the preceding government have been cancelled. The special and relatively modest funds which had helped in the success of the trials of Raboteau and Carrefour Feuilles, as well as the funds allocated, among other resources, to the work of the first two investigating judges assigned to the murder cases of Jean Dominique and Jean-Claude Louissaint, allowing them to follow the leads of a difficult investigation in several
areas of the countries, were cancelled.
The fact that the Aristide government directly stonewalled the Dominique murder investigation has since been re-confirmed to me, both by Ms. Montas herself and by numerous other sources in Haiti. At a press conference held by the Radio Haiti-Inter staff on April 3, 2002 (which I attended), Radio Haiti Inter reporter Sony Esteus said that:
Manoeuvre after manoeuvre has been made by the justice minister, by the dean of the civil court, by the 21 May Senate and by the police in order to block the investigation. The person who believes he can deliver the coup de grace is President Aristide. We say the coup de grace because President Aristide, as head of state, has blocked the investigations for four months...President Aristide is chief of a political party that controls the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and he has blocked this investigation at every turn. We demand the president renew the mandate and ensure the security of Judge Gassant.
Weisbrot writes: "(Deibert) claims that thugs acted in December with "visible collusion with police," but that is simply an allegation."
False. During the attack on the university on December 5, 2003, employees of the nearby Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL) run by Michèle Pierre-Louis, the former sister-in-law of a well-known slain priest, Jean Pierre- Louis and a pair of visiting French diplomats watched the violence from the organization's headquarters on Avenue Christophe and later released a scathing press release in which they recounted the scene, which read, in part, as follows:
Those present during the attack, and footage in the filmmaker Arnold Antonin's documentary about the Aristide government's bloody denouement, GNB Kont Attila, have since confirmed this version of events.
Weisbrot writes: "Aristide made concerted efforts to reform the justice system and to address the root causes of the country's violence."
False. After driving two judges - Jean Sénat Fleury, and Claudy Gassant - off of the Jean Dominique case, in mid-April 2002, the Aristide government succeeded in pressing Henry Kesner Noel, magistrate of the city of Saint Marc, into signing an arrest warrant charging former dictator Prosper Avril with orchestrating the 1990 massacre of peasant farmers in the village of Piatre, in central Haiti, even though the massacre occurred after the dictator had been ousted from power. Following the signing of Avril's arrest warrant, Justice Noel fled Haiti for Florida, saying that Aristide officials - Noel mentioned Secretary of State for Public Security Gérard Dubreuil by name - had forced him to sign the warrant and he feared for his life should he remain in Haiti. The Aristide government's actions in this event were a blatant violation of Article 60 of Haiti's constitution, which delegated firmly the independence of the executive and judicial branches of government. In January 2003, when Judge Marcel Jean, the investigating judge in charge of Aristide-loyalist Amiot Metayer's case in the city of Gonaives, attempted to board a plane to the United States on, he discovered that his name was on a list of those banned from leaving the country by Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert. Jean's passport was seized, and he was denied the right to leave the country. Many viewed the move as an attempt to force Jean to "legalize" Metayer's jailbreak of August 2 the previous year. Eventually, Jean slipped out of the country and went into exile. Rosemond Jean, who helped form and became the spokesman for the Coordination Nationale des Societaires Victimes (CONASOVIC) on behalf of the victims of the co-operative scandal, was held from September 2002 until March 2003 without trial.
The list goes on and on. Another example of Aristide's commitment to the rule of law was the speech he gave gave while visiting Haiti's police headquarters in June 2001, Referring to *zenglendos*?the
Kreyol term for common criminals that had become an all-purpose catch phrase for referring to people that those in a position of power in Haiti wanted to eliminate, Aristide said that "If a zenglendo stops a car out on the street, takes the car keys, forces the driver to get out and drives away with the vehicle, then that person is guilty. You do not need to take him to court to answer to the judge, because the car does not belong to him. If a criminal carries out physical violence against somebody out in the street with intent to kill that person, you do not need to wait for that criminal to appear before the judge, you can prevent that murderer from taking action. When it has to do with criminals it is zero tolerance. Period and full stop." So much for due process.
Following the murder of journalist Brignol Lindor in December 2001, his killers - members of a pro-government gang called Domi Nan Bwa in the provincial city of Petit Goave who readily confessed to their crime - announced that they had meted out "zero tolerance" to Lindor.
Weisbrot writes: "Since all governments commit mistakes and abuses, this argument can always be constructed; it is perhaps easier to do so for a very poor country where the rule of law is not well established. Deibert's efforts fall squarely within that dishonorable tradition."
As Mao's defenders in the West such as the journalists Felix Greene, Anna Louise Strong, Edgar Snow and the economist Gilbert Etienne, attempted to deny the terrible reality of the suffering inflicted on the Chinese people during The Great Leap Forward, when tens of millions of people died needlessly, most of starvation, on the alter of Mao's vanity, so Mr. Weisbrot would appear to be dancing perilously close to his own "dishonorable tradition," that of the Western observer who believes that the lives of the world's poor are some how more expendable to bring about a desired political reality than their own sheltered, pampered existence.
As the noted Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck has written about Haiti and the serial defenders of the Aristide government's excesses: "It became a habit among the tyrant's "friends," in particular among his American friends in the pseudo-left sector, to downplay these trends, or to hold his entourage
responsible. Is this to say that there are crimes condemnable in a western country but acceptable in Haiti? Are journalists' assassinations, threats, the dismissal of judges who are honest or not "flexible" enough, the forced exile of bothersome adversarie, ?are these "acceptable?" Do we only deserve a dime store version of democracy? A patronizing conceit that "low-end" democracy is good enough for "poor" Haitians?"
Whether Mr. Weisbrot is deliberately spreading misinformation, or is simply ill-informed in opining about things he has little first-hand knowledge of, is a matter for him to explain. But I think, given the evidence of his deception, he owes Haiti's poor majority greater intellectual and historical rigor when commenting on their struggle than he has thus far displayed.