Sunday, March 30, 2008

Exploding the Myth of Aristide

There is a long standing English list serve on Haiti, run by Bob Corbertt out of Webster University. Over the last three years, I have been sparring there with the supporters of deposed Haitian President Aristide. Aristide still has many supporters, mostly among the left in the United States, many still most certainly still on his payroll from the ill gotten gains that he stole from the people of Haiti.

In Haiti, things are moving along fine under the duly elected President Preval. now three years into his 5 year term.

Brian Concannon, once Aristide's lawyer, ( and a fellow alumna of Middlebury College)still runs a number of groups - namely the IJDH, which has for some strange reason overtaken the literate women at WILPF. They are promoting a book written by a Englishman enamoured by the myth of Aristide.

Michael Deibert, a journalist who cover Haiti for over ten years, has written a detailed review of this book. by Peter Hallward.

One Aristide supporter posted to the Corbett list a small quibble on Deibert's review. Here is what I posted in response:

I have not read Hallward's book I have however, read Deibert’s book, Notes from the Last Testament. I have read it entirely through four times. I have also purchased ten copies, giving them out rather freely to people who are working in the development field with the DR and Haiti.

Mr. Deibert’s book is masterful account of what he saw happening on the ground. I found that time and again, he clarified his own point of view, informing his readers of what was going on inside his own mind, seperating as best as any journalist can, the difference between what he saw and what he felt about what he saw.

I have also read the Farmer book- which is not journalism but a plea for attention to the poor – and have an ever growing bookshelf here of books in English and French – on Haiti. I have also read most of Aristide’s books. And since I had lived in Haiti, I was an avid consumer of the news at the time of Coup number one and Coup number two.

When I first arrived here four years ago, I had only been informed of Haitian events via the US press, both the standard press and the more “left leaning” progressive press, via Amy Goodman on Pacifica – whom I tended to believe more than the NY Times or Washington Post- what with the historic “disinformation” on US foreign policy.

Yes, indeed, I do have Howard Zinn on my bookshelf.

What I discovered from my time here on the ground was that “traditional” press had a more accurate portrayal of what had happened here than the “left”. Goodman, Farmer, Chomsky, Z magazine – all failed in my opinion – to meet my standards for journalism – in that it should at least attempt to cover both sides of the story.

When I arrived and started to talk with people here, I found that I had an embarassingly simplistic take on the situation. I did not know about the co-op bank scandal. I did not know about the number of people in Aristide’s government who had been indicted for narcotic trafficking., I did not know about the actual uprising on the ground.

All I knew was that the “international community, via the International Republican Institute” had engineered a coup d’etat against “the most popular democratically elected President ever.” I believed Aristide when Amy Goodman said that he been kidnapped. I no longer do.

I knew nothing of the attacks by the Lavalas supporters against those who opposed them. I knew nothing about the terror that had overtaken the streets of Port au Prince. I did not know that Aristide’s government had been labeled a “press predator” by Reporters without Borders.

But I have spent four years now becoming better informed. For one year, I spent almost four hours a day reading both the press and the list servs in French from Haiti. Now clearly, those who are writing in French do not represent the majority of Haitians. They represent the educated class.

I have also been educated by a young Haitian college graduate who was my roommate for a time – whose parents are not literate but certainly have opinons, and whose own family is divided between Aristide and Preval. I have spoken to people on the streets in Ouanaminthe and Anse A Pitres who are removed and a bit neglected by the their government, by people in NGOs – both Haitian and American.

I know that my information will always be flawed because, unlike Deibert, I am not fluent in Kreyole but must always find a Haitian who can translate from either French or Spanish. But I know for certain that there are many people in the States who have neither Kreyole, nor French but pretend that they know what is going on in Haiti. Deibert is not one of them. He is fluent in English, French, Kryeole, and Spanish.

So now I have grave doubts over anyone who still defends Lavalas. I despair a bit about the entire Left in the US – who listen to people whose integrity is compromised by blind loyalty to (and paychecks from) Aristide, a man whom history will, I believe, judge to be more interested in his personal power than the welfare of his people.

Again - here is the link to the review of Hallward's book.

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