Amy Wilentz on Haiti


posted to on March 2, 2004


(This article appears all the more rancid after the way things have turned out in Haiti. Wilentz is a Columbia University journalism professor who epitomizes everything that is bad about the Nation Magazine. With its combination of disgusting politics and a highly polished writing style, the article provides an experience not unlike eating a glazed donut stuffed with dog feces. The entire article is at: I am commenting on selected passages.)


Haiti's Collapse by Amy Wilentz


The Aristide administration, which has been overthrown once already, has been egalitarian in the lives destroyed during its time: Among its dead can be counted the president's former friends and his foes, democrats and supporters of dictatorship. Among the victims have been policemen and prisoners and politicians; rich men and poor, journalists and slum-dwellers, human-rights workers and doctors and businessmen. Almost no sector has been untouched.


COMMENT: So what "dead" are we talking about? Did Aristide sponsor death squads? How were lives destroyed? You'll note the utter lack of substantiation. I guess that the Nation Magazine (and Bad Subjects) both cannot be bothered by mundane questions of fact-checking.


WILENTZ: No one can argue that Jean-Bertrand Aristide's presidency has been in any way successful other than this: It exists. He was elected in 1990 with enormous hope by an overwhelming majority in a legitimate election--and quickly overthrown by the Haitian Army and its friends. In 1994 he was returned to power through the good will of the Clinton Administration, in the optimistic expectation that he would be able to turn Haiti around.


COMMENT: The "good will of the Clinton Administration"? This is typical double-talk from this Yellow Dog Democrat magazine. Clinton intervened in Haiti in 1994 because there was A REFUGEE CRISIS. If boat people fleeing Haiti were not flooding the shores of Florida, he wouldn't have lifted a finger. As it is, his measures could hardly be described as "good will", as Patrick Cockburn reported in the Sept. 15th The Independent:


The US pursued a contradictory policy. Restore Fr Aristide but clip his wings. Put him back in the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince but keep the military as a balance. It might have worked but it was based on a fundamental error: the Haitian military was not prepared to share power, particularly as they thought the US would pull its punches at the last minute.


General Cedras and Colonel Michel Francois are both graduates of Fort Benning in the US. They had close links with the CIA. They knew Washington was deeply divided. But they were prepared to talk.


The first phase of Mr Clinton's foreign policy on Haiti was orchestrated by his special envoy, Lawrence Pezzullo, and the UN and OAS special envoy, Dante Caputo, a former Argentinian foreign minister. Sanctions had been imposed after the coup in 1991. In June 1992 they were reinforced to include oil and arms. Pressure was put on Fr Aristide, now based in Washington, to offer the military a compromise solution. Ian Martin, a Haitian specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote: ''The United States hoped to preserve the military - an institution it had often assisted and, in fact, had created for purposes of internal control during the American occupation of 1915-34.''


If this has anything to do with "good will", I'll vote for Kerry in 2004.


WILENTZ: Meanwhile, the Haitian opposition has been coddled and pushed toward the depths of intransigence by Aristide's detractors in the US government, in both Haiti and in Washington. By now, with the country well on its way to chaos, many argue that Aristide has exhausted the electorate's patience and must be replaced.


COMMENT: This is a trick they must teach at Columbia University's School of Journalism. By stating "many argue", you avoid the need to specify who or what you are talking about. It is the preferred form of indirection employed in NY Times editorials and other weasel forums. (No offense meant to these good animals.)


WILENTZ: Yet now--as he finally begins to recognize how powerful the opposition has become despite all his political jockeying and playacting--should be the time for all friends of Haiti, especially in the US government, to support Aristide's continuation at the helm: not because he is good but because he is president. Aristide is a transitional figure and not the best of these. He is no Mandela, and he does not have the political maturity to control the violent forces that swirl through Haitian politics--no easy job.


COMMENT: He lacks the "political maturity"? I guess he is not a real grown-up like Bill Clinton. I suppose black men have a lot of growing up to do before they can become chief executives. More to the point, what fucking business is it of "friends of Haiti" in the US government to have a say in who governs this country, either one way or another. When you accept Bill Clinton's right to interfere in Haiti's internal affairs on a "good will" basis, the door is also opened to George W. Bush's more openly hostile meddling. Thus, humanitarian interventions become the "soft cop" brother to the "hard cop" regime changes.


WILENTZ: Yet the future of Haiti hinges on support for institutions and for a state based on law. As part of the unrest, a gang element managed to take over Gona´ves, one of Haiti's largest cities--a ramshackle affair of shantytowns and gingerbread houses atop salt flats and roads made undrivable by potholes, with few enough institutions as it is. This gang, which styles itself the Cannibal Army or, in its latest incarnation, the Artibonite Resistance Front (perhaps more palatable to the international community), has burned down the courthouse and the prison in Gona´ves, released the prison population and forced the mayor to flee. Though there may be elaborate and in some cases good excuses for these actions, taken as a trend they do not bode well for the rule of law.


COMMENT: I'd love to hear what "good excuses" there are for any actions by something calling itself "the Cannibal Army". But then again, the Nation Magazine is highly skilled at making the unpalatable palatable.