The Attempted Character Assassination
by Ben Dupuy
from Censored 1999 (Project Censored)
Haiti, it is well known, is the only country in world history
which carried out a successful slave revolution. It began in 1791,
on the heels of the French Revolution. The man who led the slave
armies through most of our 13-year liberation war was a former
slave named Toussaint Louverture.
While much can be said about his military genius, Toussaint
was above all a master in the art of what we might call "diplomatic
guile." In other words, he sometimes pretended to go along
with his powerful adversaries-variously the French, English, and
Spanish-to get what he wanted, which was the abolition of slavery
(at least in its classical form).
One who has deeply studied and borrowed from Toussaint's tactics
is Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Just as Toussaint attempted to advance
his people's interests by sometimes fighting against the French,
then sometimes working with them, Aristide has been locked into
a similar dance with Haiti's principal adversary in this century:
the United States.
The debate about the viability or correctness of using Toussaint's
tactics in the 20th century can be left for another time. But
one thing is certain: President Aristide has fallen in and out
of favor with leading sectors of the U.S. ruling class and government
on several occasions, and this offers a very revealing case study
of how the mainstream corporate media has alternately demonized
and glorified him as a leader, not depending on his support from
or attachment to the masses, but according to his professed attitude
toward U.S. business interests and U.S. government dictates.
Let us briefly review a little history.
First we must remember that Jean Bertrand Aristide emerged
in Haiti as a liberation theologian with an anti-imperialist message.
"Capitalism is a mortal sin" was one of the refrains
of the fiery sermons he would deliver at a church located in the
La Saline slum of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
Although his prestige in Haiti was growing, the U.S. corporate
press made little mention of him, even though the U.S. Embassy
in Haiti was watching his rise very carefully.
Of course, the U.S. mainstream media could no longer ignore
him when he announced he was running for president in October
l990, thereby unleashing the euphoric uprising known as the "Lavalas,"
or the flood.
The initial portrayal of Aristide by the mainstream in that
pre-election period can be summed up by the description given
by Howard French of The New York Times on November 12, 1990: Aristide
was "a mix of [Iran's Ayatolla] Khomeini and [Cuba's Fidel]
But of course, it was hard to frontally attack a man who came
to power not through a revolution, but through elections which
the U.S. government had sponsored and paid for.
All the mainstream press could do after Aristide's overwhelming
victory on December 16, 1990 was to attempt to intimidate him.
The New York Times in a December 13 editorial warned Aristide
that he had "acquired a duty to respect the constitutional
procedures that assured his victory" and "to be patient,
and to preach patience," cautioning that he "can now
become either the father of Haitian democracy, or just one more
of its many betrayers."
Well, we know who ended up betraying Haitian democracy. The
U.S. government, through its CIA, would work with Duvalierism
to overthrow Aristide after less than eight months in power, with
a bloody coup on September 30, 1991.
Rather than condemning the coup, the mainstream press began
attacking Aristide. "Returning President Aristide to Haiti
is going to be difficult for reasons to which he himself has greatly
contributed," stated a Washington Post editorial on October
6, 1991. "The president is a hero to the desperate people
who live in the slums of Port-au-Prince .... He has organized
them into an instrument of real terror .... He has left the country
deeply polarized between his followers and the substantial numbers
of people who have reason to fear them." The next day, the
Post reported that Aristide had a "seeming disregard of legal
structures" and cited "independent observers and diplomats"
who charged that he "repeatedly has used explicit and implicit
threats of mob violence."
"Mob violence." If you look through the mainstream
press clippings for the period right after the coup, you will
see this refrain throughout. According to Katie Orenstein of The
Latin American Review, "during the two-week period after
the coup, The New York Times spent over three times as many column
inches discussing Aristide's alleged transgression than it spent
reporting on the ongoing military repression. Mass murders, executions,
and tortures that were later reported in human rights publications
earned less than 4 percent of the space than The Times devoted
to Haiti in those weeks."
Throughout the coup, the mainstream press never stopped casting
suspicion on Aristide. Negotiations with the putschists began
and Aristide was always portrayed as "intransigent"
and "inflexible," even though he was making all the
concessions and the putschists were scuttling every deal. But
Haitians in the diaspora maintained constant demonstrations in
support of Aristide and against the coup. The Democrats took advantage
of this movement to find support for Bill Clinton's 1992 election.
This is where there emerged a difference between the two factions
of the U.S. ruling class. President George Bush and the Republicans
were perfectly happy to leave Aristide permanently in exile and
work with their old allies, the Haitian military and Duvalierists,
in Haiti. But the Democrats, who are supposed to be more "enlightened,"
calculated that the generals would never provide real stability
and would never have legitimacy. So the Clinton Administration
decided that they would try to co-opt Aristide and force him to
accept what is known in Haiti as "the American plan."
The essence of this plan is to discard justice and reconcile with
Duvalierist criminals, and structurally adjust the Haitian economy:
that is, privatize profitable state enterprises, lower tariff
walls, lay off state employees, mainly from schools and hospitals,
and slash social subsidies and price-supports.
Of course, even if Aristide accepted the deal, Washington
felt he could not really be trusted, so U.S. troops would have
to militarily occupy the country as an insurance policy.
That is how the Governors Island Accord was constructed in
the summer of 1993, whereby U.N. peacekeepers would land in Haiti
prior to Aristide's return on October 3O, 1993.
Well, the Republicans didn't like this arrangement at all.
Neither did the "invisible government" in the U.S.,
that is the Pentagon and the CIA. Therefore, the CIA began pumping
up a death squad in Haiti known as the FRAPH, which they called
a "counterweight" to the Lavalas.
The FRAPH and CIA coordinated their strategies. First, the
FRAPH staged a demonstration with a few dozen thugs at the Port-au-Prince
wharf on October 11, 1993, so that the Pentagon had an excuse
to withdraw its troop carrier, the Harlan County, which was to
off-load 200 U.S. and Canadian soldiers. The following week, Brian
Latell, the CIA's chief Latin American analyst, launched an offensive
in the U.S. Congress and mainstream media to portray Aristide
as "mentally unstable" and a "murderer and psychopath,"
while the coup's leader General Raoul Cedras and his cohorts came
from "the most promising group of Haitian leaders to emerge
since the Duvalier family." Henry Kissinger went on TV to
call Aristide "a psychopath." Right-wing politician
Patrick Buchanan called him "a bloodthirsty little socialist."
Some of the liberal dailies, like The New York Times, made
a half-hearted attempt to cast doubt on the right-wing attack
and the CIA's characterization of Aristide, but most of the television
networks faithfully regurgitated the lies.
Despite the "invisible government's" temporary victory
in stopping Aristide's return in 1993, Haiti kept coming back
to haunt the U.S. Repression continued and refugees kept flooding
out of the country, eventually forcing the Clinton Administration
to re-examine how to return Aristide to Haiti under U.S. supervision.
This time the Clinton Administration opted for a massive military
invasion of 20,000 U.S. troops on September 19. 1994.
When President Aristide agreed to this intervention, along
with the structural adjustment program, there was a major shift
in the portrayal of Aristide. He was warily praised as a "statesman"
who had "matured" and become more "realistic."
He was the prodigal son.
"I think the best thing that has happened to Aristide
and his administration-in-exile is that they have had a crash
course in democracy and capitalism, and come to understand that
too much revolution scares away investors. Small countries can't
afford too much social experimentation," said former Ambassador
Robert E. White, a Carter Center agent, shortly after the invasion
in the Boston Globe.
Time magazine also spoke candidly about Clinton Administration
"For the next 17 months or so, the U.S. must pin its
hopes on Aristide. His 1990 election victory gives him an aura
of legitimacy no other Haitian figure can come close to matching
[one remark: 67.5 percent of the vote usually gives legitimacy,
not its aura]; the U.S. can hardly pretend to be restoring Haitian
democracy if it backs anyone else. If he is a leftist and no admirer
of the U.S., well, in a perverse way, that makes American intervention
easier to defend against possible cries of Yanqui imperialism.
Instead of overthrowing a populist reformer to install a military
dictatorship friendly to the U.S., Washington will be doing the
Two or three months after his return, since there was no revolution,
the corporate media was thinking they had won him over. Listen
to a December 1, 1994 Washington Post article. As is the U.S.
"objective" style, they quote an official to give the
spin: "'He is doing more than we ever dreamed he would. He
is doing everything right,' gushed a senior U.S. official who
had long privately expressed doubts about Aristide. 'It's like
But the dream didn't last for long. As 1995 progressed, friction
between Aristide and the U.S. began to surface. For example, on
March 28, three days before President Clinton was to visit Haiti,
a putschist political figure, Mireille Durocher Bertin was publicly
assassinated. The hit was never solved but its highly professional
execution suggests it was a CIA operation carried out to smear
Aristide and embarrass Clinton.
In the U.S. mainstream press, Bertin was lionized as an "opposition
figure" and "an expert in international law." Listen
to the beginning of a March 31 Associated Press dispatch movingly
titled, "Her Last Days" by Michelle Faul: "She
was setting up an opposition party running her busy law office,
redecorating her home, writing and publishing a newsletter, and
making time to educate her four children." They never say
that she defended the slaughter of over 5,000 people by Haitian
soldiers and FRAPH thugs during the coup. Indeed, she sat on the
leadership committee of the death squad FRAPH.
Soon the laments for Bertin became a full-fledged trial of
the Aristide government, which was accused of the murder. U.S.
government officials said that the killing was "masterminded"
by Haitian Interior Minister Mondesir Beaubrun, who vehemently
denied the charge.
Leading the attack were coup supporters like reactionary columnist
Robert Novak, who claims in an April 3, 1995 column to have unearthed
an "enemies list compiled by President Aristide's supporters."
Novak went on to assert that "it is common knowledge in Haiti
that a shadow government is headed by notorious former prime minister
Rene Preval" who oversees a "commando unit greatly feared
by the political opposition" as well as "the flow of
weapons to the commando units" through the coastal town of
St. Marc. His insinuation was that the supposed "commando
unit" rubbed out Bertin.
One might dismiss Novak's accusations of a 30-person "hit
list" and other things as the mere rantings of the conservative
fringe. But the same day, the Associated Press reported that Bertin
"was among more than 100 people on a hit list discovered
by the U.S. government days before the slaying." Other reports
speak of a 96-person list. The simultaneous discovery of supposed
"hit lists" point to a typical U.S. government/mainstream
media coordinated campaign.
On April 4, the Washington Post launched another missile.
Writer Douglas Farah said he was not "suggesting Aristide
knew of or sanctioned the killing," but noted that Aristide's
"unwillingness to take steps against Beaubrun, despite heavy
U.S. pressure and the advice of some of his closest advisers,
has revived old questions about the president's willingness to
tolerate abuses among those who have shown loyalty to him."
The assumption here, of course, is that Beaubrun is guilty! No
trial, no evidence,
just the accusation of the U.S. government and its media.
Other conflicts began to develop as Aristide disbanded the
Army, resisted U.S. plans to double the size of the police force,
and dragged his feet on privatizing the state enterprises. In
October 1995, Aristide's pro-neoliberal Prime Minister Smarck
Michel quit in frustration. "Relations between Mr. Aristide's
government and the United Nations coalition that brought him back
to power have been fraying since Prime Minister Smarck Michel
stepped down," said The New York Times. "Mr. Michel
resigned and was replaced by Mrs. Werleigh after failing to persuade
Mr. Aristide to carry out an agreement signed with Haiti's creditors
to privatize nine state companies."
Then on November 7, Aristide's cousin, Deputy Jean-Hubert
Feuille, was assassinated. When Aristide ordered Haitian authorities
to arrest former Haitian dictator General Prosper Avril for possible
involvement in the murder, the U.S. intervened to protect Avril.
The U.S.'s meddling set the stage for a dramatic speech Aristide
gave at the Portau-Prince cathedral on November 11.
Standing before U.S. and U.N. officials, Aristide assailed
their policies in Haiti. "The game of hypocrisy is over,"
he said. He condemned the failure of the U.N. occupation forces
to help disarm anti-democratic forces, particularly the rich and
powerful in their big houses. "We say again that peace must
reign here, and for this peace to reign, there must be no accomplices,"
Aristide said, referring to the U.S./U.N. troops. "The big
guns of the international community are here to accompany the
Haitian police to disarm all the criminals, all the terrorists,
all the extremists," Aristide said. "If not, I'm going
to tell them it's over... I'm saying now, whosoever tries to block
the legal operation of disarmament, if they're Haitian, we'll
arrest them, if they're not Haitian, we'll send them back to their
parents," he said in the mostly Creole speech.
Well, you can imagine the U.S. government and corporate press
reaction. The November 19 The New York Times reported on "Mr.
Aristide's tirade," saying that "foreign officials who
have been working closely with the Aristide government in efforts
to build democracy here after nearly three decades of dictatorship
(dictatorships which the U.S. government supported economically
and militarily) described themselves as shocked and even betrayed
by the President's unexpected behavior."
The Times' editorial on November 26 entitled "Mr. Aristide's
Deadly Rhetoric" said that he had "alarmingly reverted
to the demagogic political style that scarred his Presidency before
the 1991 military coup that forced him into exile. That earlier
performance, which included incitements to mob violence, planted
reasonable doubts about his commitment to the rule of law and
fanned suggestions he was not fit to run the country. Mr. Aristide's
latest outburst . . . has already cost at least 10 lives and threatens
to destroy Haiti's best chance ever at democracy . . . With this
episode of deliberately provoked terror, Mr. Aristide has shaken
the fragile tranquillity painstakingly developed since Washington
helped bring him back to Haiti 14 months ago .... America's ally
in Haiti is democracy, not any individual politician. If Mr. Aristide
means to prove his critics right and destroy Haiti's chance for
democracy, he should not have American help."
Democracy is threatened not because the U.S. and U.N. occupying
forces have shielded Tonton Macoutes (as Duvalierist thugs are
called) and putschist criminals from arrest and prosecution, allowing
them to hide and use their vast arsenals of weapons to create
the worst climate of violence and insecurity which the country
has ever seen. It is not because World Bank and International
Monetary Fund austerity policies have ruined farmers, destroyed
small businessmen, and impoverished a country that was already
the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. It is because of "Mr.
Aristide's tirade" and those unruly "Haitian mobs."
In these same articles and editorials, the mainstream press
clamored in unison that Aristide and his supporters might want
him to recoup the three years he spent in exile. "He may
go back on his pledge to the United States and try to extend his
term past its scheduled end next February," warned The New
York Times. The New York Daily News said that Aristide was "becoming
tiresome. The man who had to be prodded to say thanks to the 20,000
Yanks who restored him to power now is talking about ignoring
his pledge-and the Haitian constitution-to step down early next
year. Coming on top of some inflammatory rhetoric that helped
spark a riot, the comments suggest that maybe the CIA was right
to fear that Aristide is unstable. Regardless, he is flat out
Now who gives the U.S. government and its hireling press the
right to interpret the Haitian Constitution? Where in the Constitution
does it say that the clock is ticking on a President's term when
he is removed from power by a bloody coup? The Constitution says
nothing about what to do in case of a coup, and if a determination
is to be made, it should be by the Haitian people, not Washington
and its subservient media.
To make a long story short, the Lavalas Political Organization
(OPL), the party which was formed to support the national democratic
Lavalas agenda, made a deal with the U.S., betrayed Aristide,
and ran Rene Preval for President. Aristide finally acquiesced
and turned over power to Preval on February 7, 1996, with the
parting shot of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
In the two years since that time, Aristide [has] established
the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which has launched a credit
union, a food cooperative, and a children's radio station among
other things. Many mass meetings take place at the Foundation's
He also founded a new party, the Fanmi Lavalas, which largely
won legislative and municipal elections held on April 6, 1997.
The OPL has refused to accept the election results and has launched
what Aristide has called "a coup d'etat which is revised,
corrected, and improved." The result is that the country
has been without a Prime Minister since last June and without
even a caretaker government since last October. The OPL has blocked
in the Parliament every Prime Minister proposed by President Preval.
But if you read the mainstream press, who do they say is responsible
for Haiti's deadlock? You guessed it. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
For example, "Aristide: An Obstacle to Haiti's Progress"
was the title of a June 29, 1997 news/analysis piece by the Miami
Herald's Haiti correspondent Don Bohning. "The one-time-priest-turned-politician...
is simultaneously the country's most popular figure and one of
the biggest obstacles to its progress. And there are those who
see him as a threat to democracy itself."
Why is Aristide now seen as such an "obstacle" when
he is out of office? Because he has become an outspoken critic
of neoliberalism. In a bipartisan U.S. Congressional report from
June 1997, which The Herald and other mainstream media heavily
publicized, Aristide is taken to task.
The lack of a strong leader-particularly given Aristide's
renewed prominent role in economic and political questions-poses
a serious threat to U.S. interests in privatization and economic
reform in Haiti. Aristide's criticisms- which offer no constructive
suggestions as to how to reform Haiti's moribund economy currently
suffering between 70 and 80 percent unemployment-are based on
anti-U.S. and anti-international community slogans which suggest
a re-emerging nationalism.
And, for the U.S. government and mainstream media, there is
no greater sin than being a nationalist, well, except being a
bloodthirsty little socialist.
Meanwhile, President Preval, who has embraced the neoliberal
austerity package, has become the new darling. Take this June
11, 1996 Herald report: "I think President Preval has done
a fantastic job. He has really taken the bull by the horns and
said 'either we are going to sit around and do nothing, or we
will move forward on economic reforms,"' and official of
a multilateral aid organization said. "You really get a feeling
that things are moving. It's not the usual lethargy." Or
here is Don Bohning's February 13, 1997 glowing portrait of Preval
in the Miami Herald: "Relaxed and informal, he responded
to questions candidly with an occasional flash of humor."
Other characterizations: "Low-key and unpretentious,"
or "Preval's modesty and low-key personality." In recent
months, as the crisis has dragged on, the press has criticized
Preval for not acting strongly enough on behalf of the "American
plan" and against Aristide.
When one follows the guidelines, one is rewarded. Depart from
them, and you will feel the whip. This is why they now attack
Aristide regularly for blocking everything in Haiti because he
no longer plays along. Take for example a March 2O, 1998 Miami
Herald article by Bohning entitled "Political Impasse Puts
Elections at Risk in Haiti." He claims that Aristide's Fanmi
Lavalas has "refused to go along" with elections in
This isn't only bad spin, it's just plain false. The Fanmi
Lavalas has been calling for elections to continue. And how can
it block elections? Aristide's party has no members in the executive
branch or in the Parliament. And it should have members in the
parliament because it won several seats in the April 6 election,
but the OPL has not allowed them to participate, calling them
illegal. They are legal according to the Provisional Electoral
Council that governs such matters. The mainstream press doesn't
castigate and vilify the OPL, even though this party has blocked
three different attempts to ratify a new Haitian Prime Minister.
If OPL were aligned with Aristide, you would see it in the headlines
and on your TV every day.
The sheer volume of misinformation is so vast that it is difficult
to show or repudiate anything more than a small fraction. There
are so many other lies and distortions to denounce. But I will
finish with the latest and most insidious mainstream media campaign.
To show the insidious nature, I just want to offer an anecdote.
When we were coordinating President Aristide's participation in
this conference-airfares, hotels, and the like-we encountered
some financial obstacles. One of the conference organizers, who
will remain nameless, asked, "Why are we going through all
of this? Doesn't Aristide have money?" Here is a very conscious,
engaged, and progressive person helping to organize a conference
to combat the big media's lies, who has unconsciously absorbed
the media's lies. This shows you the power we are up against.
Their new campaign involves portraying Aristide as a "millionaire,"
who is corrupt and manipulative and living in a palace. Take the
lead of this April 5, 1997 Reuters piece: "Ensconced in a
luxury villa behind pink walls, Haiti's former president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide still wears the mantle of a champion of the poor as he
snipes at the government of his successor and one-time ally."
The article goes on to cite Aristide's "self-enrichment that
past leaders indulged in" and "a substantial house and
A May 14, 1998 article in the Los Angeles Times is another
good example of the smear job being attempted. The article relies
chiefly on two Aristide critics. "After he came back in 1994,
Aristide got the taste of power," said Gerald Dalvius, an
opposition politician who has announced his presidential aspirations
for 2000. "Now he only believes in power. Maybe he looked
for the money to get the power or maybe to make more money."
"In every case, I believe power changes people, but in
the case of Aristide more than any other, power aggravated the
true personality," said Gerard Pierre-Charles, leader of
the OPL." Pierre-Charles also compared Aristide to Duvalier,
accused him of being "fascist," of smuggling arms into
Haiti, and then "blamed Aristide for the political impasse
that has paralyzed Haiti."
In short, Aristide is a devil in the eyes of the U.S. government
and the mainstream press because he criticizes their plans for
Haiti. He is the "obstacle," the great manipulator,
the "threat to democracy." Well, the real manipulator,
the real threat to democracy is the corporate media and more generally
the capitalist system of which it is a pillar. In Corporate Media
and the Threat to Democracy professor Robert W. McChesney tells
us that "fewer than 10 colossal vertically integrated media
conglomerates now dominate U.S. media," companies like Time
Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, and TCI.
I think most of the participants in this conference are already
pretty clear about the undemocratic, distorting, and falsifying
nature of the corporate mainstream media. But what is to be done?
How to fight back?
To our way of thinking, there is no way to "reform"
the mainstream media to make it more reliable or truthful. It
is not just a bad approach or policy. The mainstream media, just
like the state, functions to preserve and defend the interests
of monopoly capitalism, and can only function that way.
We might win some media battles, build some media alternatives,
denounce the lies, and raise consciousness about the corporate
media in various ways. We print Haati Progras each week as some
kind of antidote to and analysis of all the lies they spread each
However, the only real solution is to take control of the
means of communication from the increasingly tiny ruling class
that also owns all the means of production. A truly democratic
media will only result from the revolutionary change of capitalist
society. Let us all use the media resources in our reach to fight
toward that end.
Ben Dupuy is the Former Ambassador-at-Large of President of
Secrets and Lies