Blaming the Victim By William Bowles

24 March 2004

Virtually all of the headlines in the corporate press about Haiti and Jean Bertrand Aristide centred on his failures: corruption, economic collapse, Aristide’s use of thugs and gangsters:

“[F]ast-forward to the present and Aristide the petit prêtre is barely recognisable. He has become the very thing he used to despise: an autocratic political leader, seemingly intent on enriching himself and his inner circle, resorting to gangsterism and violence to enforce his will and counter all dissent.” (the Independent 21/02/04)

“Aristide Loyalists Fire on Protesters (the Scotsman, 20/02/04)

“Where was everybody when the first puffs of smoke appeared years ago? When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide started relying on thugs to maintain order? When brave journalists were murdered for writing and broadcasting the truth? When peaceful protests were repressed by violent means?” (Miami Herald 19/02/04)

“Aristide’s slumland army of enforcers prepare to defend ‘people’s’ revolution'” (the Independent 17/02/04)

His inability to stem drug smuggling, his anti-democratic actions:

“First, Haitians who became caught up in gangs and drug-dealing in the US started to be deported in large numbers in the 1990s and invariably ended up in Cité Soleil. And Cité Soleil first gained access to guns thanks to the 20,000-strong US military force which returned Mr Aristide to power in 1994.” (the Independent 17/02/04)

Then there was hysteria over refugees, also assumed to be Aristide’s fault:

“Florida Senators Urge Action on Haiti, Fearing Tide of Refugees” (NYT, 19/02/04).

But ultimately, it’s chaos,

“So the country has fallen to former death squad commanders returning from exile, armed gangs, and every conceivable stripe of criminal, racketeer and drug smuggler.” (the Independent 21/02/04)

A veritable litany of sins that overall, creates the impression of a man and a country totally out of control. But any investigation of the history of Haiti and especially of the past 15-20 years, reveals an entirely different reality, a reality of US interventions, US-inspired coups, US-instigated economic sabotage of the island’s economy, continual interference in the country’s political process, colluding with the local elites that culminated in a US-financed and backed, bloody coup d’etat followed by the blatant kidnapping of the country’s democratically elected president that the media still describes as Aristide “fleeing” the island (the Independent 23/03/04).

Underlying the coverage is a common theme that views all poor countries as incapable of managing their own affairs, intrinsically corrupt and pathologically unable to deal with western ‘democratic ideas and institutions’. The message is clear (if embedded), ‘You had your chance when we ‘gave’ you your independence and you blew it’. Without the ‘guiding hand’ of ‘civilised’ western folk, such states will end in failure.

But even more fundamental is the ideology that underpins this process, a process that has its roots in the rollback of the struggle and painful progress in the world’s former colonies, all brought to a grinding halt following the 1973 economic crisis of capitalism and the emergence of the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda.

Central to the agenda was the assault on the emerging economies of the world through the policies of the World Bank, the IMF and other financial institutions of the capitalist world. With the predictable ‘failure’ brought about by the debt crisis, the propaganda campaign sought to blame the victim, backed up by an media campaign of global proportions, whether of the ‘Live Aid’ kind or the corporate media’s low intensity campaign that sought to discredit those leaders that tried to bring about real change to the lives of their people. People like Jean Bertrand Aristide, warts and all.

Essentially, the neo-liberal (rightwing) agenda is an attempt to return to the ‘good old days’ of empire, when the world’s resources (both human and natural) were at their disposal, what David Harvey in his book “The New Imperialism” calls ‘accumulation by dispossession’ or out and out theft of a nation’s wealth. Dispossession in this case meant the theft of property held in common starting with major enterprises, water, energy and communications coupled to cutbacks in social services, from education to health and housing.

Commensurate with this has been the opening up of local markets that has destroyed many enterprises and in many cases, has enabled western corporations to buy these assets at fire sale prices. Blackmailed, threatened, starved and if these fail, invaded, without a collective voice, the poor countries of the world are defenceless to resist the depredations of these latter-day pirates.

Crucial to this agenda is the cooperation the citizens of the imperium, who are, in greater numbers, no longer buying the lies of their ‘leaders’. Hence the role of the media takes centre stage in the battle for hearts and minds. The treatment of Aristide in Haiti and Chavez in Venezuela follow the same course. Firstly, they are singled out for ‘special treatment’. This involves more coverage but coverage that focuses on their ‘failings’ for example, their less than perfect implementation of ‘democracy’ (something none of the developed countries have anything to crow about). Then it’s their incompetence ie, the economy or perhaps it’s el presidente’s ‘foibles’. If he’s voluble and outspoken, then he’s ‘unstable’. If he addresses the masses directly, then he’s an idealist at best or a demagogue at worst. Hints are dropped about the ‘leader’s connection to ‘drug smuggling’, though none are ever substantiated, or to his ‘regal’ style of living.

A concerted campaign to denigrate, impugn and belittle might go on for several months. Very often, the stories about the ‘leader’ have a common source. In Haiti it was the ‘Democratic Convergence’ and the Group of 184, both financed by the US and a tiny handful of local elites. Both take their cue from White House and State Department communications often via the ‘foundation’ that channels the money to them (eg NED and USAID). The degree of convergence between the publishing of stories including their timing, is nothing short of fantastic.

The US government also follows a well-worn track. “White House rebukes Haitian government for unrest” (08/02/04), “Powell Says Open to Haiti’s Aristide Quitting )19/02/04) “FREEDOM can’t be enjoyed yet, Haitians say” Miami Herald (19/02/04), “POWERS pressure Aristide to reform” The Age (20/02/04), State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We recognize that reaching a political settlement will require some fairly thorough changes in the way Haiti is governed.”

At the same time, the US will put out the predictable pleas for adherence to democracy:

“We will accept no outcome that is not consistent with the constitution. We will accept no outcome that in any way illegally attempts to remove the elected president of Haiti,” Colin Powell (28/02/04)

Concurrent with this, the US government presented a ‘peace plan’ (“US envoys present peace plan to Haiti” 21/02/04) but the self-same political groups the US funds reject the ‘power-sharing’ proposal. But even before the ‘peace plan’ has been presented, the US has sent in its military (“US military experts heading to Haiti” CNN 19/02/04) and by February 23, 50 US Marines arrived in Haiti ostensibly to protect the US embassy.

A brief review of the military coup that brought Raoul Cédras to power in 1991 and the conditions under which the US reinstalled Aristide as president in 1994 reveals the process in all its gory details.

Under Cédras, the popular movement was destroyed, its leaders murdered or forced into exile. Paramilitary death squads such as FRAPH, led by US-trained goons terrorized the population. The US objectives were quite clearly spelt out by its operatives exactly ten years ago:

“The objective, in the words of one U.S. Army Psychological Operations official, is to see to it that Haitians “don’t get the idea that they can do whatever they want.” “The Eagle has landed” by Allan Nairn, The Nation, 10/3/94)

During this period, the US set up SIN or the National Intelligence Service, ostensibly an anti-narcotics operation but in reality its objective was to destroy the popular movement. SIN recruited former Macoutes to eliminate the opposition. The CIA ran SIN’s operations and following the ouster of Cédras:

“a host of U.S. military, CIA and civilian advisors are slated to stay behind, participating in Haitian affairs more deeply than they have in years.” (Nation, op. cit.)

And it’s clear from a US intelligence officials whose side the US is on:

“One veteran intelligence officer said that an early priority for occupying forces should be to establish comfort for “the people who would feel protected by us: the middle class, the U.S. educated, some of the business community” (Nation, op. cit.)

Even more brazen are the words of Major Louis Kernisan, then employed by the US Defense Intelligence Agency:

“Popular uprising?… I doubt it…. They tried that before and it brought them two years of embargo and their little guy [Aristide] in golden exile in the States.” (the Nation op. cit.)

And again:

“The [US] Psy ops man says that through spies and “demonstration killings,” the “military has tried to atomize society much the way that Pinochet did in Chile…. They’ve [the military] largely destroyed civil society….” (the Nation, op. cit.)

And as with the current situation where the US largely created the ‘opposition’ political parties, so too following the removal of Cédras, the US created PIRED (Integrated project for the Reinforcement of Democracy), the ‘Human Rights Fund’ and PLANOP (Platform for Popular Organisations) all funded by USAID, all part of a plan for the “control of the populace”. The tens of thousands of Haitian political refugees were also part of a massive intelligence operation to monitor and collect information on the popular movements, with information collected in the US and at the refugee camps in Guatanamo Bay and fed back to its operatives in Haiti.

Once more, Major Kernisan spells it out for us in no uncertain terms:

“Who are we going to save? You’re going to end up dealing with same folks as before, the five families that run the country, the military and the bourgeoisie. They’re the same folks that are supposed to be the bad guys now, but the bottom line is you know you’re going to always end up dealing with them because they speak your language, they understand your system, they’ve been educated in your country. It’s not going to be the slum guy from Cité Soleil.” (the Nation, op. cit.)

That was ten years ago. Has anything changed? Did coverage in the media ever refer to the history of US involvement and destabilisation of popular movements in Haiti? One searches in vain. And as the US consolidates its hold on the island, its new US-installed interim ‘prime minister’ Gerard Latortue “Praises Uprising” (Guardian, 21/03/040).

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