Ignoring murder in post-coup Haiti
by Jeb Sprague
www.fair.org, July/August 2006
In an eight-minute report (6/5/05) in
which she rode in a U.N. armored personnel carrier and extolled
the bravery of U.N. soldiers, NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro
cited "human rights organizations" as saying that "things
have improved since the Aristide days." The NPR report interviewed
two members of the U.N. force, one U.S. police trainer, one Haitian
police official and Gerard Latortue, the head of Haiti's unelected
interim government. It neglected to quote any victims of the violence
perpetrated by the Latortue regime or any human rights organizations
critical of the governmental-sponsored violence-perhaps because
they might have pointed out that such violence actually increased
dramatically during Latortue's time in power.
After Haiti's democratically elected leader,
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in February 2004,
the United States, Canada and France put into place an interim
government made up of members of the opposition. Latortue, a wealthy
Haitian-American, was installed as the head of this government.
On April 30, 2004, the United Nations,
under U.N. Resolution 1542, established the U.N. Stabilization
Mission to Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, grouping more than 9,000
military and police personnel from more than 40 countries under
the leadership of Brazil and Canada. For more than 26 months,
the interim government used former members of Haiti's disbanded
military, along with U.N.-trained paramilitary police, to crack
down on the slumdwelling supporters of the ousted government and
of Fanmi Lavalas, the political party which had voted Aristide
into office. During this period, the mainstream U.S. press observed
a virtual blackout on the state-sponsored violence perpetrated
by the U.S.-backed interim Haitian government.
Aristide under fire
For more than two-and-a-half years prior
to the 2004 coup, paramilitary rebels led by former Haitian police
chief Guy Philippe had attacked Haiti from bases in the Dominican
Republic. They killed civilians and government officials, targeted
police stations, Haiti's largest dam and even the presidential
palace, all sparking further violence. Government aid embargoes
by both the Clinton and Bush administrations further stripped
bare the foreign aid-dependent Haitian state.
Opposition-aligned political parties and
anti-government "civil society" organizations, however,
received tens of millions of dollars in training and support funds
during that time from U.S., Canadian and European aid agencies,
such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National
Endowment for Democracy and the Canadian International Development
Agency. With the Haitian currency, the gourde, plunging in value,
poverty-stricken Haitians struggled under mounting prices and
Even under these conditions, the Aristide
government continued to invest in education, medical training
and a program to fight human trafficking, albeit with a yearly
budget of approximately $300 million for a population of about
8 million. Daring to resist IMF calls to privatize its public
industries while raising the minimum wage for Haitian garment
industry workers and bringing suit against France for $21 billion
in colonial reparations, the Aristide government accumulated powerful
Further political polarization resulted
in violence, doggedly covered by the mainstream U.S. press throughout
Aristide's second administration (2/01-2/04). One of Aristide's
most widely publicized North American critics counted approximately
212 politically motivated deaths during Aristide's second government,
attributing 50 of those killings to the opposition (Michael Deibert,
Notes From the Last Testament).
By contrast, a National Lawyers Guild
investigation documented that "800 bodies" had been
"dumped and buried" by the morgue in Port-au-Prince
in just the first week following the coup; the usual number under
Aristide was less than 100 a month (3/29-4/5/04). The University
of Miami Human Rights Investigation, a 10-day survey (11/11-21/04)
during the interim government, discovered piles of corpses in
Haiti's capital of Port-au Prince-victims of state security and
paramilitary forces (Boston Globe, 4/19/05). World Bank official
Carolyn Antsey told this reporter that "thousands died"
as a result of the February 2004 events.
Alternative press agencies, human rights
organizations and independent investigations, including Amnesty
International, the New York University School of Law, L'Agence
Haltienne de Presse (AHP) and Dr. Paul Farmer's Partners in Health,
reported a concerted wave of interim government violence and persecution,
while much of the U.S. mainstream press remained virtually silent.
Throughout 2004 and 2005, reports from
the non-profit alternative news service Haiti Information Project
(HIP) uncovered killings of Lavalas supporters carried out by
members of the interim government's Haitian National Police (HNP).
HIP (7/05) also documented murderous operations, with victims
often shot in the head, committed by the Brazilian and Jordanian
contingents of MINUSTAH. The University of Miami Human Rights
Investigation, conducted by Boston immigration lawyer Thomas Griffin
in mid-November 2004, documented mass murder by the HNP, mass
graves, cramped prisons, no-medicine hospitals, corpse-strewn
streets and maggot-infested morgues-the interim regime's means
of dealing with the supporters of the ousted Aristide government.
Nine months after Aristide was removed, Griffin wrote,
U.S. officials blame the crisis on armed
gangs in the poor neighborhoods, not the official abuses and atrocities,
nor the unconstitutional ouster of the elected president. Their
support for the interim government is not surprising, as top officials,
including the minister of justice, worked for U.S. government
projects that undermined their elected predecessors.
U.N. police and soldiers, unable to speak
the language of most Haitians resort to heavy-handed incursions
into the poorest neighborhoods that force intermittent peace at
the expense of innocent residents. The injured prefer to die at
home untreated rather than risk arrest at the hospital. Those
who do reach the hospital soak in puddles of their own blood,
ignored by doctors.
A few mainstream outlets occasionally
reported on individual incidents of violence perpetrated by the
interim government. The Miami Herald (3/1/05) reported: "Haitian
police opened fire on peaceful protesters Monday, killing two,
wounding others and scattering an estimated 2,000 people marching
through the capital [on February 28] to mark the first anniversary
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ouster .... Peacekeepers,
whose orders are to support the police, stood by as the attack
occurred. The police quickly disappeared, leaving the bodies on
On March 24, 2005, the Associated Press
wrote: "Police opened fire Thursday during a street march
in Haiti's capital to demand the return of ousted President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. Witnesses said at least one person was killed .... Associated
Press reporters saw police firing into the air and toward protesters."
Another AP dispatch (4/27/05) reported, "Police fired on
protesters demanding the release of detainees loyal to Haiti's
ousted president Wednesday, killing at least five demonstrators."
On June 5, 2005, Reuters wrote, "As many as 25 people were
killed in police raids on Friday and Saturday in the slums of
In one of the most graphic accounts to
find its way into the mainstream press, the Miami Herald wrote
The police carried assault rifles and
wore black masks. The gang they accompanied had brand-new machetes.
According to witnesses and U.N. investigators, they stormed into
a soccer match during halftime, ordered everyone to lie on the
ground and began shooting and hacking people to death in broad
daylight as several thousand spectators fled for their lives ....
Some were handcuffed and shot in the head by police, witnesses
said. Others were hacked to death.
Missing the story
But such forthright reporting was exceptional,
particularly in the most prominent news outlets. Studying the
last two years of coverage by three leading mainstream U.S. newspapers-the
New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today along with National
Public Radio, Extra! found that 98.6 percent of the pieces related
to Haiti ignored the role of state-sponsored violence and persecution.
The few that did mention them provided a few isolated examples,
usually working to discredit the documented incidents as partisan
political allegations. The human rights reports citing a high
number of political prisoners and killings by the interim government's
HNP were rarely cited by the mainstream press.
Following the 2004 coup, press accounts
based on interviews with interim government, MINUSTAH and U.S.
government officials ensured that an official version of events
prevailed. These media outlets demonized Lavalas supporters as
"gangs" and "supporters of violence," and
justified the foreign-backed destabilization and overthrow of
the constitutional government.
The New York Times published 642 pieces
that mentioned Haiti between March 1, 2004 and May 1, 2006-close
to one a day. But only four dealt with the violence against and
persecution of members and supporters of the former government.
While the New York Times reported (10/26/04) on the imprisonment
of Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a pro-Aristide priest imprisoned
for political reasons, it failed to investigate the nearly 1,000
other political prisoners, many underfed and living in dilapidated
jails for more than two years without being charged.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times had 244
pieces mentioning Haiti from March 1, 2004 to May 1, 2006, but
only five discussed-briefly -the violent persecution of Lavalas
supporters. At the same time, the paper managed to cover every
single death of a MINUSTAH soldier.
Well over half of all the quotes in LA.
Times articles dealing entirely with Haiti came from official
sources. One LA. Times article covered the imprisonment of former
Prime Minister Yvon Neptune (7/5/05), but failed to mention the
evidentiary weakness of the charges leveled against him by a U.S.-funded
NGO (Baltimore Sun, 5/29/05), or that there were nearly a thousand
other political prisoners languishing in the jails of the interim
With a smaller international section,
USA Today had 13 articles specifically on Haiti between March
1, 2004 and May 1, 2006. Two (1/4/05, 9/27/05) were critical of
the Latortue government, citing its involvement in human rights
violations. One of these was followed by a rebuttal from Roger
Noriega (1/12/05), then assistant secretary of state for Western
Hemisphere affairs and a primary architect of the 2004 coup. USA
Today's pieces also showed an extreme source bias toward U.S.
government and U.S -installed interim government officials. In
its articles, seven U.S. government officials, one U.N. official
and 16 Haitian government officials were quoted, compared with
only one human rights official and one member of Lavalas.
NPR, according to its website, had approximately
79 stories covering Haiti between March 1, 2004 and May 1, 2006.
Only three mentioned violence against Lavalas supporters (10/4/04,
10/7/04, 1/25/06), all of these placing the majority of the blame
on pro-Aristide "political and gang" violence, failing
to interview victims of state-sponsored or U.N. violence. The
role of MINUSTAH and the HNP was almost completely ignored.
The introductions of sources in articles
covering Haiti illustrates the reliance on official sources: "diplomats
say," "an anonymous diplomat says," "a source
involved in the palace brainstorming," "a U.S. diplomat
in Port-au-Prince said," "U.N. officials say,"
"Haitian police say," "USAID workers explain,"
"a member of Haiti's electoral council said," "the
new commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force assured," "council
members said," "interim officials say," "State
Department officials say," etc. Rarely, if ever, do we read
what the wounded, imprisoned and exiled say-the testimonies that
don't sustain the official story.
Jeb Sprague is a graduate student, freelance
journalist and correspondent for Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints.
He is currently writing a book on the destabilization and overthrow
of democracy in Haiti, 2000-04. Visit his blog at wwwfreehaiti