Peace and Justice

Another day in paradise", posted March 1, 2004

A month or two ago I was reading The Rainy Season, Amy Wilentz' definitive book on Haiti during the immediate post-Duvalier years of 1986-89. It was during this time when Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to be noticed as a potential political force in Haiti, but before he ran for any office. Amy had an anonymous source in the U.S. Embassy then, and at one point she was describing the first Haitian elections, 1987, I think, and a violent incident then where Father Aristide barely escaped with his life. I don't have the book in front of me as I write, but I can almost remember the sentence from the well-placed Embassy official about the disappointment that Aristide had escaped with his life. That is how it has been ever since for President Aristide with the United States (The Rainy Season is an outstanding place to start if you have any interest in learning about this country which is about to become very familiar to us.)

Monday morning, March 1, 2004: The last communications last night - there were three of them from three different sources - raise questions about how President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ultimately left his office at the Haiti National Palace, and exactly when. The three accounts are in general agreement. I have kept them all. As best as I can piece the story together so far Aristide's final address to Haiti, on national television, ended early in the morning of February 28, and he was removed unexpectedly from the Presidential Palace in the dead of night, very early in the morning of Sunday, February 29. American military and the American embassy are said to have been involved. Whether any precise truth will ever become known is an open question. I do believe, from numerous other communications, the President's leaving the presidential palace was by short notice, rather than planned; his departure from the presidency coerced, rather than free will.

Suddenly, the temporary cancellation of American Airlines flights to Haiti (last week), becomes logical. I didn't pay too much attention to that at the time - I was not booked on one of those cancelled flights. If I recall rightly, American flights were said, last week, to possibly resume on March 3. The White House seeming casualness about possibly sending ships with Marines to Haiti sometime this week now also makes sense; as does the small contingent of Marines sent to supposedly protect the American embassy. The French weighing in officially against Aristide when they did also becomes a relevant part of the 'solution' to the Haiti problem (will French Fries again become part of the Congressional Mess, after a year of Freedom Fries?)

It will be very difficult to convince me that the removal of President Aristide was a random event, or that Aristide left office on his own, or because of pressure from the Haitian opposition. This was a coup d'etat - Haiti's 33rd - and the United States government was in the thick of it.

We will likely soon know where Aristide ended up. Expect nothing honest from any political source, especially the puppet government of Haiti and the U.S. or other governments. Perhaps sooner or later Aristide will be willing and able to talk honestly and freely, and we will know more. But it will probably be a while before that happens.

* * * * * * * * *

I woke early Sunday morning, February 29, as usual, and one of the first messages on my screen was a news release following a very late night television appearance in Haiti by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, February 27-28. While I was going through the overnight messages came a breaking news flash from MSNBC that Aristide had left the country.

I went to coffee, to church, to the gym: there was absolutely no sense that what was happening in Haiti was of any concern to my fellow Americans. Sunday was, as Phil Collins so effectively sang about the downtrodden of our society about 1990, "just another day in paradise." At the gym, the locker room TV was on golf, but no one was watching.

A year earlier, the day of 'shock and awe' over Baghdad, it was standing room only by that same TV: everyone was watching the bombs rain down over Baghdad.)

While ushering in church Sunday I got to thinking about this issue.

Last July, when I agreed to go to Haiti, I had no idea what was ahead for me. When the six of us touched down at Port-au-Prince on December 6, 2003, we had absolutely no idea of the power of the next seven days.and none of us would have believed the power of those we talked with; nor could we imagine what faces us today, March 1, 2004. It is almost surreal.

Standing at the back of the Basilica, Sunday, I began to pen some thoughts, which in a slightly more refined form follow:

"No one much cares about the coup d'etat in Haiti today. This is a coup d'etat very likely engineered by the United States and France. Few will much care about those who will die, or who have died, in the violence there, so long as they are not American deaths.

(Paradoxically, the Haitian poor may even see short term benefits from the overthrow of the very government which they freely elected. After being economically punished for years by the U.S. for their abysmal lack of common sense in electing someone who actually believed in the value of the poor, and was in fact from them and believed in them, foreign aid will soon flow to some puppet government of Haiti. There is, after all, lots of cheap labor in Haiti, ready to be exploited. And entrepreneurs ready to cash in, in the U.S. and in Haiti.)

Of course, Haiti is not the first, and will certainly not be the last, occasion where something bad happened somewhere else, and no one much cared.

Too few seem to care that the official premise for bombing the hell out of Iraq a year ago, beginning March 20, 2003, turned out to be a totally false premise: "We got Saddam, didn't we?" justifies the official lies. And of course, no one cares much about the Iraqi casualties - they aren't even newsworthy.

No one cared, either, when the first military advisers went to Vietnam in 1962. I was in the Army then, and career NCO's wanted to go to Saigon: it was 'good duty'. No one much cared about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution (August, 1964), even when it turned out to be based on fatally flawed, if not false, intelligence. Ten years and 58,000 American deaths later, we cared. But it was a little late, then, at least for those 58,000, not to mention the dead Vietnamese, etc.

Of course "no one cared" lists can go on and on.

Almost no one cared when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis took control in Germany in 1933: "just some crazy politicians, and you know how THEY are". In fact, it was nearly nine years before the U.S. cared enough about what Germany was doing to the world and it was only Pearl Harbor and the death of "American boys" that finally engaged us in WWII. By the time we cared enough, most of Europe had fallen to the Nazis.

Indeed, no one seems to care.

What will be the next chapter in Haiti, and in the U.S., and in the world we will the book end? Somebody will care, someday."