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
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
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
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
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 share.how will the book end? Somebody will care, someday."