(San Francisco Chronicle, 11 April 04)
After cocaine, Haiti’s most successful export product is knee-jerkism
By Herbert Gold
Knees that jerk also have the gift of speech; here’s what they say about
Haiti: The George W. Bush administration set out to depose the democratic
president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, because malign American forces
wanted to control Haiti’s resources and cheap labor.
There was no conceivable benefit to Bush or the United States in amplifying
the chaos of a destroyed nation. The United States can’t spare the troops
already sent, or the increased military forces which will need to be sent.
There are no natural resources (this time no oil, folks) in Haiti. Cheap
labor is economically useless in a society sunk into violent anarchy;
businesses won’t take the chance of investment.
At one time Aristide was overwhelmingly popular, called “The Messiah” by a
desperate population. After the coup which deposed him, he was brought back
in 1994 by over 20,000 American troops ( Times change. Last week, U.S.
authorities threatened to indict him for drug smuggling).
At the celebratory Mass in the Port-au-Prince cathedral after his return,
he promised a fresh start for his nation. He abolished the corrupt and
brutal Haitian army. He agreed to privatize the corrupt state enterprises,
run and bled by the MCE’s, the Morally Corrupt Elite. He accepted these
conditions in return for substantial aid.
Back in office, he violated his agreements; the foreign aid was suspended.
For the corrupt and brutal Haitian army, he substituted his personal gangs,
thugs called “Chimeres” or the “Cannibal Army,” who had licenses to deal
drugs, extort and murder rivals to Aristide’s one-party reign. During my
three trips to Haiti during the past several years, there was continual
news of assassinations of political critics. None was solved. Jonathan
Demme has made a documentary film, “The Agronomist,” about the murder of
his friend Jean Dominique, the most popular Haitian radio journalist.
Aristide was clearly implicated.
In the town of Petit Goave, the mayor, a member of Aristide’s Lavalas
party, one day stated a policy of “zero tolerance” for dissent. The next
day a local journalist was slaughtered with machetes in the street. Many
witnesses, no one arrested. I asked if anybody would be charged. The answer
was a shrug and a finger to the mouth and advice not to bother my head with
further silly questions.
Recently on KPFA radio I heard an American from the East Bay, whom I happen
to know, shouting excitedly that Aristide was led handcuffed, a gun to his
head, to the plane that carried him into exile. (“This is Kevin Pina,
special correspondent for Pacifica, on the ground in Port-au-Prince, Haiti
… ”) Aristide himself talks to his supporters about “American troops …
white American soldiers!” who forced him out. Wrong. He left to avoid a
bloodbath, including his own. Very likely his wife, a lawyer raised in the
United States, suggested: Hey, let’s not get killed, it’s not good for our
health, let’s just say we were expelled by the racist Americans. That way
we can be martyrs and heroes, plus live to enjoy it.
The corruption watch group, Transparency International, only ranked Jean-
Claude (a.k.a. Baby Doc or Furniture Face) Duvalier sixth on its list of
heads of state who have stolen the most money, between Milosovic of
Yugoslavia ($1 billion) and Fujimori of Peru ($600 million). We should be
forgiving about his weak standing, estimated at a take of between a mere
$300 and $800 million dollars. His country was a poor one; hard to compete.
He did the best he could, but as luck would have it, his family, friends,
and ex-wife carried off most of his booty, properly stolen by him, so now
he can’t even pay the gardener to mow the lawn at his villa in southern
France. Contributions are invited; bring your own shrub trimmer.
Recently, Baby Doc, slimmed down somewhat by this gardening travails, was
sighted in Florida, ready to return to Haiti if they ask nicely. A stash of
several hundred thousand dollars was found in Aristide’s mansion when he
hurriedly departed. As Haitians say, in their country there are mountains
beyond the mountains and, for presidents, money tomorrow beyond the few
dollars trickling today into the national treasury.
Which brings us to the role of the Congressional Black Caucus, the well-
worn New and Less New Left, and the knee-jerk street political thinkers,
their bullhorns still warm from yesterday’s rally. Aristide always seemed
to have plenty of money for his propagandists, importing allies for care
and feeding, paying lawyers and lobbyists to represent him abroad,
sweet-talking folks hypnotized by his pious demeanor, his reiteration of
“l’amour, la paix,” — peace, love — as if pronouncing these words with
eyes raised to heaven could somehow bring peace and love to Haiti. Call
these followers the Bon Ton Macoutes; call them the Coalition of the
Willing to Be Manipulated.
A declaration from a group of Haitian feminist organizations, the National
Coordination for Advocacy of Women’s Rights, expresses “shock and outrage”
at their “dear Sisters of the Caribbean” for swallowing the p.c. line about
Aristide. The declaration details Lavalas-sponsored murders, suppression of
free elections, drug dealing, stagnation and profiteering at the expense of
the Haitian people. It begs the “dear Sisters” to pay attention to the dear
facts. Aristide, brought back with so much hope, plus his guitar, turned
out to be a predator in his own unctuous way as so many other Haitian
leaders. One long day at the National Palace, I watched him gaze into the
self-reflecting mirror of the adoring who paraded before him. Where Baby
Doc scattered coins to the mob, “Titid” strummed his guitar and sang folk
At a rally on Market Street in San Francisco, fully outfitted with
leaflets, placards, and a declaration by an East Bay congresswoman (CIA OUT
OF HAITI! BRING BACK ARISTIDE!), I listened to a young woman denounce the
“racist Bush CIA coup.” She described herself as Haitian, but when I spoke
to her in Creole, it turned out that she had left as a child and spoke no
French or Creole. I asked if she believed the ardent words she had just
yelled into the microphone. She shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” Maybe.
“My parents don’t like Aristide, so I …” And charmingly, eloquently, she
“I don’t know” is a good answer to questions about the salvation of Haiti,
but of course it’s not as dramatic as screaming, “CIA! BUSH! RACISM!” into
A plausible demagogue like the wispy former priest Aristide can travel in
style with his more extensive vocabulary, his stash of cash, and friends
like Congresspersons Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles,
and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the self-appointed guardian of all he surveys,
Randall Robinson, and the leaflet-scattering crowds at Market Street
rallies, who speak with the purity of those who inherit their knowledge and
need no information.
Poor Haiti, with its talented and abused 8 million people, deserves better
Herbert Gold’s book, “Haiti, Best Nightmare on Earth,” (Transaction
Publishers) has been reissued with a new chapter about the Aristide regime.