from the book

The Uses of Haiti

Noam Chomsky
... we are the richest and most powerful country in the world, while Haiti is at the opposite extreme of human existence: miserable, horrifying, black, ugly. We may pity Haitians and other backward peoples who have, unaccountably, failed to achieve our nobility and wealth, and we may even try to lend them a helping hand, out of humanitarian impulse. But responsibility stops there.

Many Americans resist the idea that U.S. administrations have hastened the decline of this beleaguered little nation. This resistance is due to many factors, not the least of which is the discomfort born of facing ugly realities about the role of our government in the Third World.

[A] gigantic wall is being constructed in the Third World, to hide the reality of the poor majorities. A wall between the rich and the poor is being built, so that poverty does not annoy the powerful and the poor are obliged to die in the silence of history... A wall of disinformation...is being built to casually pervert the reality of the Third World.

Gustavo Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History

"... rereading history ... means remaking history. It means repairing it from the bottom up. And so it will be a subversive history. History must be turned upside-down from the bottom, not from the top."

(Christopher Columbus arrived on the island of Hispanola in 1492, and the Arawak-speaking natives warmly welcomed Columbus, but they did not survive long against a deadly admixture of imported infectious disease, slavery and outright slaughter.)

The "lovable, tractable, peaceable, gentle, decorous Indians," as Columbus had described them in letters home, sickened and died at a rate that appalled even the Europeans. Estimates of their number at the close of the fifteenth century reach as high as eight million, but by 1510, only 50,000 natives remained on the island. Less than thirty years later, the native population could be counted in the hundreds, and the French chronicler Moreau de Saint-Mery would later note that, late in the seventeenth century, "there remained not a single Indian when the French came to wrest the island from the Spanish."

The plantation machine established the Caribbean' as "an important historico-economic sea." Soon, slave ships were running a triangular trade, exchanging manufactured goods from the European metropolises for slaves from the west coast of Africa, ferrying Africans to the Caribbean and bearing the sugar and spirits produced by slave labor back to Europe. This trade brought down kingdoms, African and European, accelerated the development of virtually all important European port cities, and changed forever the populations of the new world.


Baron de Vastey, a Haitian slave

"Have they not hung up men with heads downward. drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks. buried them alive, crushed them in mortars? Have they not forced them to eat shit? And, after having flayed them with the lash, have they not cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitoes? Have they not thrown them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup?"

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull

"President Trujillo is one the greatest men in Central America and in most of South America.''

It has often been remarked that Francois Duvalier was elected in Haiti's first universal suffrage. This is incorrect. No official observers monitored the 1957 election. Had they been present, they might have wondered about army-organized elections that excluded the single most popular candidate-Fignole-and featured such transparent anomalies as were registered on the small island of La Tortue, where 900 registered voters delivered 7,500 ballots for Duvalier. Similar irregularities were reported throughout the republic. Duvalier was, of course, the army's candidate, as well as that of a number of U.S. citizens influential in Haiti.

anthropologist Robert Lawless suggests:

"Apparently, the 1971 transition from Duvalier Senior to Duvalier Junior...was part of a deal worked out between Francois Duvalier and the Nixon administration during Vice President Nelson Rockefeller's trip there in 1970. The United States would support the continuation of the Duvalier dynasty, and Jean-Claude. when he came to power, would support a new economic program guided by the United States, a program featuring private investments from the United States that would be drawn to Haiti by such incentives as no customs taxes, a minimum wage kept very low, the suppression of labor unions, and the right of American companies to repatriate their profits."

In fact, Haiti and El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s resembled each other more than the government of either would care to admit. Each was poor, overcrowded, and ruled by a U.S.-backed right-wing regime, factors all intimately related to the growth of the U.S.-backed assembly plants: "Largely because of its cheap labor force, extensive government repression, and denial of even minimal labor rights, Haiti is one of the most attractive countries for both the subcontractors and the maquilas." The misery of the Haitian majority was not without certain benefits, according to a CIA document from the same period: "To some extent the incredibly low standard of living and the backwardness of the Haitian masses work against communist exploitation in that most Haitians are so completely downtrodden as to be politically inert."

The public-relations war continued long after Aristide was overthrown. On October 30, 1993, British journalist Isabel Hilton noted that, 'Today the little priest should have returned in triumph. But the miracle didn't happen."

Isabel Hilton, British journalist October 30, 1993

On what had happened in between - in the eight months of Fr Aristide's rule - opinions divide. For those who share his faith, it was an age of miracles, the priest in the white palace was their man. For those whom one US ambassador called the "morally repugnant elite," it was a time of unsufferable humiliation."

Poet Jean-Claude Martineau recently attempted to address this question:

And why do the elite hate him so much? All their traditional privileges have been questioned: the way that they make their money, most of the time illegally: drugs, and contraband, and abuse. All of these kinds of things have been questioned, with a very strong possibility of changing the way the country is run: changing the way people perceive power. Because in Haiti the power is an absolute power.

Haitian businessman to a reporter a couple of weeks before the 1991 coup against Aristide

"Everyone who is anyone is against Aristide. Except the people."

In an October 8 article entitled "The White House Refuses to Link Aristide's Return and Democracy," New York Times diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman wrote that,

"American officials signaled privately that they were moving away from their unequivocal support of Father Aristide in light of concerns over his human rights record....Today, when the White House spokesman. Marlin Fitzwater, was asked if that was the case, he responded with a less than ringing endorsement for the Haitian president. and suggested that Washington was most interested in the restoration of constitutional democracy in Haiti, not a particular individual.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 1991
Haiti's Richest Families Financed Coup That Toppled Aristide

In what now appears to have been a well-coordinated operation, Haiti's small and wealthy elite provided money, food and transport to the rebellious soldiers who took over the country late last month in a bloody coup. Details have emerged of weapons shipments and payments to military units before the September 30 coup, and they implicate some of the richest and most reactionary families in Haiti.

Howard French, New York Times, 1992

Despite much blood on the army's hands, United States diplomats consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle rhetoric...threatened or antagonized traditional power centers at home abroad.

Noam Chomsky

"the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly."

Haiti's tragedy is less about race, more about the right of investors to determine l the living conditions of the poor. As Amy Wilentz has noted, "By tradition, the country was the private property of whoever ruled it; its coffers and customs were their source of revenue; its airstrips, ports, boats and planes theirs to use to ship whatever was most profitable: in our day cocaine."

Drug transshipment became big business under Baby Doc; during his tenure, the trade was said to be linked to his wife's family (her brother was jailed in the United States on related charges). After February 1986, the trade was assured by Casernes Dessalines, as military headquarters are termed. One South American diplomat explained that the military have an airstrip on a ranch by the Dominican border. "It works like this: The big planes fly up from Colombia, unload there, and fly back. The stuff's then put in the little planes, and goes on its way. The fee is $30,000 a cargo. Of course, the whole operation is run out of Casernes Dessalines."

Aristide's anti-drug campaign thus threatened a very lucrative enterprise. Small wonder, then, that those new Uzis and assault rifles are said to have been paid for with drug money.

Noam Chomsky

"An 'ultranationalist' regime becomes an even greater threat if it appears to be succeeding in ways that might be meaningful to other poor and oppressed people. In that case it is a 'virus' that might 'infect' others, a 'rotten apple' that might 'spoil the barrel.' It is a threat to 'stability.' Echoes of the nineteenth century allusions to the dangerous Black Republic resound.

Aristide's ascent, then, was a message of international currency. For the first time since 1804, the symbolic uses of Haiti included its value as a model of justice. Aristide's election was watched with interest throughout the rest of Latin America, as the comments of Msgr. Jacques Gaillot, the Bishop of Evreux, France, suggest:

"Aristide's inauguration represents immense hope, not only for the Haitian people, but also. I believe, for the people of the Dominican Republic and all the other peoples of Latin America. The beacon is no longer Nicaragua, it is now Haiti, and Haiti truly has the duty and the right to succeed on behalf of all people who desire this experience of liberation."

It is for this reason, surely, that so much was invested in containing Aristide's ideas. Assembly plants can be moved, hastily if need be, but it is far more difficult to quash ideas such as the one so eloquently embedded in the notion of an "option for the poor." And so, conservative "counterweights" to Aristide were glutted with money from the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and the CIA. Did the CIA fund or encourage the coup, as has happened elsewhere in Latin America when progressive governments came to power? The point may be moot:

"There need not be evidence the CIA egged on the military for this episode to inspire a re-evaluation of how the agency does overseas business. Merely by paying thuggish military leaders to be intelligence assets, the CIA might have caused coup plotters to believe their assault against Aristide would not upset their generous American friends. Predictably, with NED and CIA money, Washington endowed not forces of democracy but of murderous oppression.

In a scholarly assessment of the Guatemalan' coup, historian Richard Immerman describes the philosophies of Arbenz and his predecessor, Juan Arevalo. Arbenz was a talented young military officer; Arevalo, a major figure in Guatemalan political and educational thought. Through them, "'Arevalism,' a romantic, pragmatic, and neo-idealist movement that rejected historical materialism and communism, guided Guatemala for almost a decade.

On several points, Arevalo and Arbenz resemble the young Aristide who tried to assemble a coalition in 1991:

Each was a nationalist, somewhat of an eclectic idealist whose philosophy could best be characterized as an amalgam of liberal reformism, democratic socialism, and a certain tinge of anti-Yankee sentiment. As mandated by the 1944 revolution, they vowed to modernize Guatemala, to create the conditions necessary for the country's self-sufficiency, and to increase the standard of living for the majority of the population. Each outlined his programs during his campaign for the presidency, and each adhered to his platform.

Another assessment, by historian Sheldon Liss, notes that Arbenz was dedicated to "converting the backward economy into a modern capitalist one, and elevating the living standards of the masses." Although these philosophies and platforms were far from radical, they enraged the local oligarchy, which wished to maintain the feudal structures that guaranteed their privileges: "Condemning government officials as inexperienced, incompetent, and easily corrupted (and, of course, Communist), they predicted widespread looting, rampant inflation, and social and political chaos. '

As specious as such projections were, the Guatemalan elite knew that it could count on the supportive echo of the government of the United States. Communism was defined, then as now, as opposition to U.S. interests ...


Fred Sherwood, the former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Guatemala, offered the following comments in September 1980: "Why should we worry about the death squads?

"They're bumping off the commies, our enemies. I'd give them more power. Hell, I'd give them some cartridges if I could, and everyone else would too...Why should we criticize them? The death squad-I'm for it."

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Reagan's ambassador to the U.N. in the 1980s, indignant about the Salvadoran government's implication in death squads:

" ... I think it's a terrible injustice to the [Salvadoran] Government and the military system when you suggest that they were somehow responsible for terrorism and assassination."

Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation

Although the privileged of this world can accept the existence of poverty on a massive scale and not be overawed by it, problems begin when the causes of this poverty are pointed out to them. Once causes are determined, then there is talk of 'social injustice,' and the privileged begin to resist. This is especially true when to structural analysis there is added a concrete historical perspective in which personal responsibilities come to light. But it is the consientization and resultant organization of poor sectors that rouse the greatest fears and the strongest resistance.

Noam Chomsky, The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many

In a situation of occupation or domination, the occupier, the dominant power, has to justify what it's doing. There is only one way to do it - become a racist. You have to blame the victim. Once you've become a raving racist in self-defense, you've lost your capacity to understand what's happening.

Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928

The conscious and Intelligent manipulation of the organized habits of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.

1968, Noam Chomsky, an essay on "Objectivity and Liberal scholarship

If it is plausible that ideology will in general serve as a mask for self-interest, then it is a natural presumption that intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy, will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning popular movements and mass participation in decision-making, and emphasizing rather the necessity for supervision by those who possess the knowledge and understanding that is required (so they claim) to manage society and control social change.

Noam Chomsky

Many ... factors induce the media to conform to the requirements of the state-corporate nexus. To confront power is costly and difficult: high standards of evidence and argument are imposed, and critical analysis is naturally not welcomed by those who are in a position to react vigorously and to determine the array of rewards and punishments. Conformity to a 'patriotic agenda,' in contrast, imposes no such costs.

In November 1993, some 12,000 documents regarding U.S. activities in El Salvador were declassified:

The thousands of State Department, Defense Department and CIA documents demanded by Congress show that the Reagan White House was fully aware of who ran, funded and protected the El Salvador death squads of the 1980s, and planned the 1980 death of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. The documents were turned over the first week in November by a reluctant Clinton White House under pressure from Congressman Joe Moakley, D-Mass., and Lee Hamilton, D-lnd., and other congressional signatories.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

In Haiti. it is not enough to heal wounds, for every day another wound opens up. It is not enough to give the poor food for one day, to buy them antibiotics one day, to teach them to read a few sentences or to write a few words. Hypocrisy. The next day they will be starving again, feverish again, and they will never be able to buy the books that hold the words that might deliver them.

a song by Manno Charlemagne, a Haitian folk singer

"International organizations are not on our side. They're there to help the thieves rob and devour... International health stays on the sidelines of our struggle."

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