Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume IV, Number 7 March 14 - 20, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
By Noam Chomsky
who have any concern for Haiti will naturally want to understand how its most
recent tragedy has been unfolding. And for those who have had the privilege of
any contact with the people of this tortured land, it is not just natural but
inescapable. Nevertheless, we make a serious error if we focus too narrowly on
the events of the recent past, or even on Haiti alone.
crucial issue for us is what we should be doing about what is taking place. That
would be true even if our options and our responsibility were limited; far more
so when they are immense and decisive, as in the case of Haiti. And even more so
because the course of the terrible story was predictable years ago -- if we
failed to act to prevent it. And fail we did. The lessons are clear, and so
important that they would be the topic of daily front-page articles in a free
what was taking place in Haiti shortly after Clinton "restored
democracy" in 1994, I was compelled to conclude, unhappily, in Z Magazine
that "It would not be very surprising, then, if the Haitian operations
become another catastrophe," and if so, "It is not a difficult chore
to trot out the familiar phrases that will explain the failure of our mission of
benevolence in this failed society." The reasons were evident to anyone who
chose to look. And the familiar phrases again resound, sadly and predictably.
is much solemn discussion today explaining, correctly, that democracy means more
than flipping a lever every few years. Functioning democracy has preconditions.
One is that the population should have some way to learn what is happening in
the world. The real world, not the self-serving portrait offered by the
"establishment press," which is disfigured by its "subservience
to state power" and "the usual hostility to popular movements" -
the accurate words of Paul Farmer, whose work on Haiti is, in its own way,
perhaps even as remarkable as what he has accomplished within the country.
was writing in 1993, reviewing mainstream commentary and reporting on Haiti, a
disgraceful record that goes back to the days of Wilson's vicious and
destructive invasion in 1915, and on to the present. The facts are extensively
documented, appalling, and shameful. And they are deemed irrelevant for the
usual reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are
efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole, though they can be unearthed
by those who have some interest in the real world.
will rarely be found, however, in the "establishment press." Keeping
to the more liberal and knowledgeable end of the spectrum, the standard version
is that in "failed states" like Haiti and Iraq the US must become
engaged in benevolent "nation-building" to "enhance
democracy," a "noble goal" but one that may
be beyond our means because of the inadequacies of the objects of our
solicitude. In Haiti, despite Washington's dedicated efforts from Wilson to FDR
while the country was under Marine occupation, "the new dawn of Haitian
democracy never came." And "not all America's good wishes, nor all its
Marines, can achieve [democracy today] until the Haitians do it themselves"
(H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe). As New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple
recounted two centuries of history in 1994, reflecting on the prospects for
Clinton's endeavor to "restore democracy" then underway, "Like
the French in the 19th century, like the Marines who occupied Haiti from 1915 to
1934, the American forces who are trying to impose a new order will confront a
complex and violent society with no history of democracy."
does appear to go a bit beyond the norm in his reference to Napoleon's savage
assault on Haiti, leaving it in ruins, in order to prevent the crime of
liberation in the world's richest colony, the source of much of France's wealth.
perhaps that undertaking too satisfies the fundamental criterion of benevolence:
it was supported by the United States, which was naturally outraged and
frightened by "the first nation in the world to argue the case of universal
freedom for all humankind, revealing the limited definition of freedom adopted
by the French and American revolutions." So Haitian historian Patrick
Bellegarde-Smith writes, accurately describing the terror in the slave state
next door, which was not relieved even when Haiti's successful liberation
struggle, at enormous cost, opened the way to the expansion to the West by
compelling Napoleon to accept the Louisiana Purchase. The US continued to do
what it could to strangle Haiti, even supporting France's insistence that Haiti
pay a huge indemnity for the crime of liberating itself, a burden it has never
escaped - and France, of course, dismisses with elegant disdain Haiti's request,
recently under Aristide, that it at least repay the indemnity, forgetting the
responsibilities that a civilized society would accept.
basic contours of what led to the current tragedy are pretty clear. Just
beginning with the 1990 election of Aristide (far too narrow a time frame),
Washington was appalled by the election of a populist candidate with a
grass-roots constituency just as it had been appalled by the prospect of the
hemisphere's first free country on its doorstep two centuries earlier.
Washington's traditional allies in Haiti naturally agreed. "The fear of
democracy exists, by definitional necessity, in elite groups who monopolize
economic and political power," Bellegarde-Smith observes in his perceptive
history of Haiti; whether in Haiti or the US or anywhere else.
threat of democracy in Haiti in 1991 was even more ominous because of the
favorable reaction of the international financial institutions (World Bank, IADB)
to Aristide's programs, which awakened traditional concerns over the
"virus" effect of successful independent development. These are
familiar themes in international affairs: American independence aroused similar
concerns among European leaders. The dangers are commonly perceived to be
particularly grave in a country like Haiti, which had been ravaged by France and
then reduced to utter misery by a century of US intervention. If even people in
such dire circumstances can take their fate into their own hands, who knows what
might happen elsewhere as the "contagion spreads."
Bush I administration reacted to the disaster of democracy by shifting aid from
the democratically elected government to what are called "democratic
forces": the wealthy elites and the business sectors, who, along with the
murderers and torturers of the military and paramilitaries, had been lauded by
the current incumbents in Washington, in their Reaganite phase, for their
progress in "democratic development," justifying lavish new aid. The
praise came in response to ratification by the Haitian parliament of a law
granting Washington's client killer and torturer Baby Doc Duvalier the authority
to suspend the rights of any political party without reasons. The law passed by
a majority of 99.98%. It therefore marked a positive step towards democracy as
compared with the 99% approval of a 1918 law granting US corporations the right
to turn the country into a US plantation, passed by 5% of the population after
the Haitian Parliament was disbanded at gunpoint by Wilson's Marines when it
refused to accept this "progressive measure," essential for
"economic development." Their reaction to Baby Doc's encouraging
progress towards democracy was characteristic - worldwide – on the part of the
visionaries who are now entrancing educated opinion with their dedication to
bringing democracy to a suffering world - although, to be sure, their actual
exploits are being tastefully rewritten to satisfy current needs.
fleeing to the US from the terror of the US-backed dictatorships were forcefully
returned, in gross violation of international humanitarian law. The policy was
reversed when a democratically elected government took office. Though the flow
of refugees reduced to a trickle, they were mostly granted political asylum.
Policy returned to normal when a military junta overthrew the Aristide
government after seven months, and state terrorist atrocities rose to new
heights. The perpetrators were the army – the inheritors of the National Guard
left by Wilson's invaders to control the population - and its paramilitary
forces. The most important of these, FRAPH, was founded by CIA asset Emmanuel
Constant, who now lives happily in Queens, Clinton and Bush II having dismissed
extradition requests – because he would reveal US ties to the murderous junta,
it is widely assumed. Constant's contributions to state terror were, after all,
meager; merely prime responsibility for the murder of 4-5000 poor blacks.
the core element of the Bush doctrine, which has "already become a de facto
rule of international relations," Harvard's Graham Allison writes in
Foreign Affairs: "those who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the
terrorists themselves," in the President's words, and must be treated
accordingly, by large-scale bombing and invasion.
Aristide was overthrown by the 1991 military coup, the Organization of American
States declared an embargo. Bush I announced that the US would violate it by
exempting US firms. He was thus "fine tuning" the embargo for the
benefit of the suffering population, the New York Times reported. Clinton
authorized even more extreme violations of the embargo: US trade with the junta
and its wealthy supporters sharply increased. The crucial element of the embargo
was, of course, oil. While the CIA solemnly testified to Congress that the junta
"probably will be out of fuel and power very shortly" and "Our
intelligence efforts are focused on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo
and monitoring its impact," Clinton secretly authorized the Texaco Oil
Company to ship oil to the junta illegally, in violation of presidential
directives. This remarkable revelation was the lead story on the AP wires the
day before Clinton sent the Marines to "restore democracy," impossible
to miss - I happened to be monitoring AP wires that day and saw it repeated
prominently over and over – and obviously of enormous significance for anyone
who wanted to understand what was happening. It was suppressed with truly
impressive discipline, though reported in industry journals along with scant
mention buried in the business press.
efficiently suppressed were the crucial conditions that Clinton imposed for
Aristide's return: that he adopt the program of the defeated U.S. candidate in
the 1990 elections, a former World Bank official who had received 14% of the
vote. We call this "restoring democracy," a prime illustration of how
US foreign policy has entered a "noble phase" with a "saintly
glow," the national press explained. The harsh neoliberal program that
Aristide was compelled to adopt was virtually guaranteed to demolish the
remaining shreds of economic sovereignty, extending Wilson's progressive
legislation and similar US-imposed measures since.
democracy was thereby restored, the World Bank announced that "The
renovated state must focus on an economic strategy centered on the energy and
initiative of Civil Society, especially the private sector, both national and
foreign." That has the merit of honesty: Haitian Civil Society includes the
tiny rich elite and US corporations, but not the vast majority of the
population, the peasants and slum-dwellers who had committed the grave sin of
organizing to elect their own president. World Bank officers explained that the
neoliberal program would benefit the "more open, enlightened, business
class" and foreign investors, but assured us that the program "is not
going to hurt the poor to the extent it has in other countries" subjected
to structural adjustment, because the Haitian poor already lacked minimal
protection from proper economic policy, such as subsidies for basic goods.
Aristide's Minister in charge of rural development and agrarian reform was not
notified of the plans to be imposed on this largely peasant society, to be
returned by "America's good wishes" to the track from which it veered
briefly after the regrettable democratic
then proceeded in their predictable course. A 1995 USAID report explained that
the "export-driven trade and investment policy" that Washington
imposed will "relentlessly squeeze the domestic rice farmer," who will
be forced to turn to agroexport, with incidental benefits to U.S. agribusiness
and investors. Despite their extreme poverty, Haitian rice farmers are quite
efficient, but cannot possibly compete with U.S. agribusiness, even if it did
not receive 40% of its profits from government subsidies, sharply increased
under the Reaganites who are again in power, still producing enlightened
rhetoric about the miracles of the market. We now read that Haiti cannot feed
itself, another sign of a "failed state."
few small industries were still able to function, for example, making chicken
parts. But U.S. conglomerates have a large surplus of dark meat, and therefore
demanded the right to dump their excess products in Haiti. They tried to do the
same in Canada and Mexico too, but there illegal dumping could be barred. Not in
Haiti, compelled to submit to efficient market principles by the U.S.
government and the corporations it serves.
might note that the Pentagon's proconsul in Iraq, Paul Bremer, ordered a very
similar program to be instituted there, with the same beneficiaries in mind.
That's also called "enhancing democracy." In fact, the record, highly
revealing and important, goes back to the 18th century. Similar programs had a
large role in creating today's third world. Meanwhile the powerful ignored the
rules, except when they could benefit from them, and were able to become rich
developed societies; dramatically the US, which led the way in modern
protectionism and, particularly since World War II, has relied crucially on the
dynamic state sector for innovation and development, socializing risk and cost.
punishment of Haiti became much more severe under Bush II -- there are
differences within the narrow spectrum of cruelty and greed. Aid was cut and
international institutions were pressured to do likewise, under pretexts too
outlandish to merit discussion. They are extensively reviewed in Paul Farmer's
Uses of Haiti, and in some current press commentary, notably by Jeffrey Sachs
(Financial Times) and Tracy Kidder (New York Times).
details aside, what has happened since is eerily similar to the overthrow of
Haiti's first democratic government in 1991. The Aristide government, once
again, was undermined by US planners, who understood, under Clinton, that the
threat of democracy can be overcome if economic sovereignty is eliminated, and
presumably also understood that economic development will also be a faint hope
under such conditions, one of the best-confirmed lessons of economic history.
Bush II planners are even more dedicated to undermining democracy and
independence, and despised Aristide and the popular organizations that swept him
to power with perhaps even more passion than their predecessors. The forces that
reconquered the country are mostly inheritors of the US-installed army and
who are intent on diverting attention from the US role will object that the
situation is more complex -- as is always true -- and that Aristide too was
guilty of many crimes. Correct, but if he had been a saint the situation would
hardly have developed very differently, as was evident in 1994, when the only
real hope was that a democratic revolution in the US would make it possible to
shift policy in a more civilized direction.
is happening now is awful, maybe beyond repair. And there is plenty of
short-term responsibility on all sides. But the right way for the US and France
to proceed is very clear. They should begin with payment of enormous reparations
to Haiti (France is perhaps even more hypocritical and disgraceful in this
regard than the US). That, however, requires construction of functioning
democratic societies in which, at the very least, people have a prayer of
knowing what's going on. Commentary on Haiti,Iraq, and other "failed
societies" is quite right in stressing the importance of overcoming
the "democratic deficit" that substantially reduces the
significance of elections.
does not, however, draw the obvious corollary: the lesson applies in spades to a
country where "politics is the shadow cast on society by big
business," in the words of America's leading social philosopher, John
Dewey, describing his own country in days when the blight had spread nowhere
near as far as it has today.
For those who are concerned with the substance of democracy and human rights, the basic tasks at home are also clear enough. They have been carried out before, with no slight success, and under incomparably harsher conditions elsewhere, including the slums and hills of Haiti. We do not have to submit, voluntary, to living in a failed state suffering from an enormous democratic deficit. Posted by Bulatlat.com