The media’s complicity in suppressing the reality that is Haiti today By William Bowles

15 May 2005

“I only saw three murdered (homeless) children between 1995 and the beginning of 2004,” says one missionary who works with homeless children and asked that her name not be used. “Since Feb. 29, I have seen or heard of over 150 murders of street children and have personally witnessed the attacks on more than a dozen occasions.” – ‘Too Tired to Cry’ by Lyn Duff, January 12, 2005

Whilst the world rushed to the aid of the victims of the Tsunami and the leaders of the ‘free world’ pontificated on how humanitarian they are, children, in all likelihood, hundreds of children are being exterminated by death squads, aided and abetted by US/UN occupation forces in Haiti. But if you wanted to find out about this outrage in the corporate or state-run media, you’ll look in vain as it’s yet another example of how the media fails to report events that will disturb the carefully constructed illusion that surrounds the armed overthrow of the first and only democratically elected leader, Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti has ever had.

As I have reported here in the past, the history of Haiti is an object lesson in the history of imperialism but as far as the present is concerned it is more clearly an object lesson in how the media misrepresents and distorts reportage of events as even the most cursory analysis of press coverage of the overthrow and subsequent destruction of everything the Aristide government achieved shows (in spite of every obstacle thrown in its path by the US and the international ‘community’).

Starting with the murder of Haiti’s street kids, the latest obscenity which is but one of the legacies of US-imposed ‘democracy’, a search of the BBC, the Independent and the Guardian, all allegedly objective and comprehensive reporters of the ‘news’ revealed not one single story or even a reference to the one published here yesterday and quoted from above, which contains eye-witness accounts of the cold-blooded murder and torture of children as young as eight years old and numbering in the hundreds, by members of the former military/paramilitaries now back in power with US/UN backing.

Can you imagine the headlines and hang-wringing by our media whores were the children murdered by Aristide, Saddam Hussein or some other demonised individual? But the distortions go much deeper and are far more insidious than merely ignoring such events, the distortions by the news media are to be found by implication in the way events are selectiverly covered. Take for example these two examples, both from BBC news stories:

Armed gangs, known as chimeres, loyal to the ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide are thought to be responsible for many of the killings.

Or:

“Titide” is the affectionate nickname given to Jean-Bertrand Aristide by his largely poor supporters.

A charismatic former priest, Mr Aristide is now in exile in South Africa, pushed from power in February after an armed uprising by former soldiers and members of the political opposition. – ‘Riot-hit Haitians fear for future

In the first extract, supposedly objective reporting we read that the ‘chimeres’ are thought to be largely responsible for many of the killings, but we are not told who thinks so or whether there is any substance to the allegation. In the second example, the fact that Aristide’s supporters are largely poor ignores the fact that fully ninety per cent of Haiti’s population are poor. The subtext therefore is that it’s only the poor as if they are some kind of small section of the population. The extract also talks of Aristide being “pushed from power” but doesn’t mention the well documented fact that the former military were armed and supported by the US and that this was the second coup supported by the US, the first one being in 1990. Nor is there any reference to the decades-long support by the US of the Duvalier dictatorship. The real history is erased and we are left only with ‘chimeres’, allegedly Aristide’s armed ‘gangs’ and a motley crew of “rebels” whose only objective is “power” as if power exists in a vacuum.

To compound the gross distortions in the same article (written by BBC journalist Daniel Lak) we read:

The interim Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, a former UN official and Florida resident, has no doubt who [is] to blame for the trouble.

But Lak fails to mention who Latortue really is and who is his associates are in the ‘interim government’. Casual reading of Lak’s article would lead one to believe that he is a responsible person when the complete opposite is true:

These opposition groups, funded, trained and supplied by U.S. forces, are waging a contra style war against Haiti. The new government, led by Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, is made up of human rights criminals, drug dealers, and thugs involved in the 1990 and 2004 insurrections. A consistent and systematic campaign of terror and violence is being carried out by the likes of Guy Philippe, Louis Jodel Chamblain, and Jean Tatoune. Philippe, a drug dealer and former police chief, plucked from the Haitian army to be specially trained by U.S. forces in Ecuador, organized the Haitian opposition from the Dominican Republic where he was required to check in with the CIA two to three times a month. Chamblain, former number two man in FRAPH, sentenced twice for murder, convicted in the 1994 Raboteau massacre and in the 1993 assasination of democracy-activist Antoine Izmery, joins Philippe to lead seminars on “democratic” opposition with machine guns slung over their shoulders. Tatoune, another FRAPH leader also convicted of massacre in Raboteau and identified by victims as having shot several civilians, arrived in an U.S. helicopter to stand next to the de facto prime minister as a “freedom fighter.” – ‘The Destabilisation of Haiti’  28/11/04

Lak’s article fails to mention any of this past at all and in fact, checking through dozens of articles on the BBC’s website on Haiti, we find only three references to convicted murderer and CIA hitman, Louis Jodel Chamblain, who was acquitted in November 2004 in Haiti of murder in a trial that Amnesty International called a ‘mockery of justice’. The BBC story mentions this but fails to mention Chamblain’s association with the CIA or US involvement in the 1990 coup that Chamblain was a part of.

In one of the other three BBC stories Chamblain is described as being:

Trained in the United States and Ecuador, he was a senior security official under President Rene Preval, a civilian elected in 1995.

But not that he was in the employ of the CIA. Later, in the same piece we read (with astonishment) the following:

BBC America’s regional analyst, James Painter, says it is hard to see any political ideology behind the rebels, only a desire to seize power. – ‘Analysis: Haiti’s Diverse Rebels

Hard to see because Painter isn’t looking and doesn’t want us to look either. By misrepresenting these hired assassins of the US merely as “rebels” (but note, not “insurgents”) who just want power, the US involvement is removed completely as well as perpetuating the myth of the ‘failed state’. Painter fails to refer to the history of these assassins and their long association with the US, without which they would be nothing. Painter’s (hidden) ideology obscures the history of the real motives behind the coup, a history that’s not difficult to discover (as long as you don’t rely on the BBC or other mass media outlets).

Under the Preval government, the US-imposed Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) led directly to the situation inherited by Aristide. The real cause of the problems of Haiti are as they are with all the post/neo-colonial states, their grossly unequal relationship with capitalism. Aristide’s first 1990 government, overthrown in 1991 sought to bring economic as well political justice to the nation’s poor. When the US talks of bringing ‘democracy’ to Haiti what it really means is bringing unrestrained capitalist exploitation. In 1995, after the US overthrew the military coup, it ensured that Aristide would not be returned to power. Instead it backed the Lavalas government of Preval, a government committed to SAP:

… one of the most radical programs being implemented anywhere in the world. The SAP has already led to the complete elimination, in some cases, of export duties and the sharp reduction of most import tariffs. That means trouble for most of Haiti’s population, which lives in the countryside. Foreign goods are already flooding into the country, threatening the ability of farmers to sell their produce. To be sure, peasants growing corn, Haiti’s largest crop, with only a hoe and a machete cannot hope to compete with the massive combine harvesters of Bob Dole’s Kansas.

… At the same time, the SAP aims to steal Haiti’s nine most valuable state-owned industries, including the flour mill and cement factories, which have both received bids. The real prizes, though, are the telephone and electric companies. The telephone company generates huge profits and largely sustained President Aristide’s government in exile for three years. With a planned expansion from the existing 66,000 lines to a reported 750,000 lines, the profits will be enormous, given all the international phone calls to and from the Haitian diaspora.

The electric company, EDH, also can generate substantial profits. But its main importance, from Washington’s perspective, lies in powering Haiti’s assembly industries. Presently, most factories have their own costly power generation systems. But if Haiti is to “take advantage” of its exceedingly low wages, other production costs also must be “competitive” so that investors can profit even more enormously. That necessitates a relatively low cost and reliable supply of electricity. Ironically, most of the Haitian and foreign capitalists who today would like to buy EDH each owe the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in electric bills dating back for years.
‘This Week in Haiti’, December 27, 1995 – January 2, 1996 Vol. 13, No. 40. (See also ‘The Dictatorship of Debt; The World Bank and Haiti’ By Yves Engler for a current analysis and Wealthy Nations Give Haiti Under Dictatorship Aid Denied Democracy)

This is the real context that underpins the overthrow of the Aristide government, Haiti as an offshore assembly and manufacturing location for the likes of Levis and as a market for US-subsidised agricultural products. In all of the stories carried by the BBC, the Independent and the Guardian, there is not a single mention of this reality in the context of the current situation in Haiti. By decoupling the economic and political reality from the appearance of events, the public gets an entirely fictitious picture of the causes of the current situation. Thus a distorted picture is fed to the public who are denied access to the real reasons that lie behind events.

There is moreover, an overriding ideological component to the media’s distorted coverage that is an intrinsic component of the corporate disinformation campaign; at no point must a country, but especially a poor country demonstrate that there is a viable alternative to capitalism. All such attempts must be shown to be intrinsically failures, even if ‘well-meaning’ failures. Hence at every step of the way, every conceivable obstacle will be placed in the path of any country that foolishly chooses to defy the imperium. The media in turn, participates in the process through the way it covers events, either through omission, distortion or the more subtle process of decoupling our current reality from history, of how things came to be the way they are.

Events, according to the BBC and other mouthpieces of the state and corporate interests, are decided by individuals, not institutions. There are, according to the BBC, no vested interests other than personal greed or the desire for power. The West is presented (as ever) as the disinterested onlooker, with only the best interests of the Haitian people in mind, to suggest otherwise is to view events as a) a conspiracy or b) the deluded ravings of an outmoded leftist ideology. The journalists and ‘experts’ who write the drivel I’ve quoted above are fully ’embedded’ in this corporatist worldview, whether they subscribe to it or not. That they are ‘witnesses’ means nothing other than to give a gloss to the fiction of reality. Interviews with witnesess without history or context also mean nothing, they are at best, opinions that are dependent on the overall ‘logic’ of the reportage, something the unfortunate interviewees have no control over.

In order to unpack events, it is firstly necessary to be fully informed and secondly, to be able to apply some critical ability which implies an understanding of why things happen, who stands to gain (or lose). The never-ending onslaught on our senses and sensibilities by the media, whether fully or semi-literate attempts to make sure that we accept things as they are; that we take things at face value and question the status quo as little as possible. The poor of the planet are always victims of one force or another, something they unfortunately share with us, the ‘consumers’ of the media’s take on things, at least that’s how the corporate and state-run press would like us to see things.

In the case of Haiti, the media focused exclusively on the ‘failings’ of Aristide’s government and his “armed thugs” and there is no doubt that in line with the US strategy of making sure that Aristide failed, mistakes were made; but in order to project the US-inspired agenda, it was necessary to play down the fact that it was a democratic government, indeed drown the fact that it was a democratic government in a deluge of stories that focused almost exclusively on the ‘chaos’ and corruption, thus relegating the ‘holy grail’ of Western democracy to those ‘fit’ to enjoy it, thus demonstrating that ‘democracy’, far from being an absolute, is merely yet another weapon of the West’s war on the poor of the planet.

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