COHA, The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, recently published a piece by one of its research associates, Michael Glenwick, entitled “PrÃ©val of Haiti — A Provisional Report Card: Grade B+.” In it, Glenwick recycles the smears that contributed to Haitian President Aristide’s ouster in 2004 and, subsequently, to the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere. There can be no serious dispute about the scale of the bloodbath under Gerard Latortue’s coup installed government — one that was backed (quite predictably) by the US, Canada, France and the UN Security Council. Less predictable, and in some ways more important, was the backing Lortortue received from progressive and “independent” institutions. Glenwick’s article moves COHA decisively into the camp of NGOs and media outlets that have served Haiti’s neo-Duvalierists so effectively in recent years. This represents a significant loss. Shortly before and after the coup, COHA stood admirably apart from the corporate media herd in its analysis of events in Haiti.
The opening paragraph of Glenwick’s article says that Latortue’s “accomplishments were meager at best” and that those years were “unstable” and “wasted.” In the next paragraph Glenwick says that “hundreds — if not thousands — of opposition party members were murdered” under Latortue. One is left wondering how many Haitians would have to die before Glenwick would condemn Latortue rather than offer modest praise and mild rebukes. In contrast, COHA‘s Jeesica Leigh wrote a piece in 2004, coauthored by COHA director Larry Birns, about Latortue’s government entitled “A brutal regime shows its true colors.”
Citing no evidence, Glenwick equates Aristide to Latortue by writing that Aristide’s time in office was an “equally rocky period” but then goes on to assess Aristide much more harshly than Latortue by writing “Perhaps due to the attempted coup in late 2001 — or, just as likely, his own insensitivity to inclusive rule — Aristide seemed to manifest a show of lassitude to the rule of law as well as indifference to democratic institution building. He encouraged citizens to use violence when needed to fight the nation’s armed opposition, and civil liberties and political/human rights were in short supply.”
People who care to look for evidence to evaluate Aristide’s human rights record, especially compared to Latortue, Cedras, Duvalier, would come to quite a different conclusion.
A scientific survey by Athena Kolbe and Royce Hudson found that at least 4000 political murders were perpetrated during Latortue’s time in office – overwhelmingly by government security forces and their proxies. In contrast, after scouring Amnesty International reports, Perter Hallward, a UK based researcher, wrote “Amnesty International’s reports covering the years 2000-03 attribute a total of around 20 to 30 killings to the police and supporters of the FL [Aristide’s party] — a far cry from the 5,000 committed by the junta and its supporters in 1991-94, let alone the 50,000 usually attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.”
Pierre Esperance, one of Aristide’s most vehement, and dishonest, critics claimed in a (successful) funding request to the Canadian government that 100 people had been killed (not all Aristide opponents) during the “last several months” before the coup which he described as the worst period under Aristide.*
These numbers do not only reveal that Aristide’s track record was vastly superior to his opponents, they also show why it was inevitable that some of his partisans would conclude that violence was justified. Even during most of his second term Aristide’s supporters were more likely to be killed than his opponents’ supporters. Glenwick completely disregards the massive amount of violence Haiti’s poor have been subjected to, and the threats they continually faced, to join the chorus of pious Western intellectuals who condemn Aristide for having said that the poor have the right to defend themselves. Many of those intellectuals also argue that the U.S. has the right to bomb defenseless countries thousands of miles away in “self defense.” The hypocrisy is as breathtaking as it is unnoticed by countless writers who have condemned Aristide for “incendiary” speeches.
Astonishingly, Glenwick refers to the presidential election that Preval won as “Haiti’s fairest election in decades.” In reality, as COHA accurately reported at the time, the election was a “caricature of the real thing.” Preval won, not because the election was fair, but because his opponents were so despised that they couldn’t win an election they had rigged.
Prominent Aristide allies such as the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, So Ann, and Yvon Neptune were in jail on trumped up charges. Thousands of other Aristide supporters were also in prison, exiled or in hiding. Aristide strongholds were subjected to state sanctioned terrorism by the Haitian National Police (fully supported by UN troops). Again, much of this was documented by COHA (for example, in a piece entitled “Haiti – And you call this an election?” among other articles.)
Another barrier placed in the way of participation by Haiti’s poor was the number of polling stations. About ten times more stations were available when Aristide was elected in 2000. COHA reported “many Haitians will have to walk more than two hours just to reach a voting center.” Haitians endured huge lineups and travel time in order to vote. When it was clear Preval was headed for victory in the first round a last ditch attempt at fraud was attempted. A truckload of ballots marked for Preval was found in the trash. Huge, non-violent demonstrations pressured Latortue’s regime to honor the results.
Glenwick noted that Preval was “a close friend and political comrade of Aristide” but did not explain the significance of Preval’s victory. Preval was untarnished by participation in the coup or association with Aristide’s opponents. Haiti’s ambassador to the US, in a letter to the New York Times, used Preval’s candidacy to imply that Aristide’s Lavalas movement was not being persecuted. Preval received the endorsement of the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, who was not allowed to register from prison as a candidate in the election. If Glenwick’s characterization of Aristide’s government had been accurate then Preval would never had stood a chance in a fair election, never mind one designed to disenfranchise most of the people who would vote for him.
The Herculean efforts required to elect Preval were not replicated during the legislative elections. The turnout was much lower than in the presidential election. Unpopular parties heavily backed by foreign democratization agencies obtained disproportionate power, but Glewnwick approvingly refers to this outcome as a necessary check on Preval. Glenwick’s fear is that, like Aristide, Preval might demonstrate “insensitivity to inclusive rule” (i.e. be reluctant to capitulate to politicians unable to win in fair elections).
Much of the material required to refute Glecnwick is on COHA‘s website. Did Glenwick read any of it? Did COHA‘s editors? Should we expect a retraction of the articles COHA published in the past that refute Glenwick? Without engaging in Orwellian “doublethink” COHA must choose to either stand behind Glenwick’s analysis or their past work on Haiti. I hope people contact COHA director Larry Birns (email@example.com) and respectfully ask him which COHA articles he stands behind.
*Documents obtained under Freedom of Information act by Anthony Fenton, a Canadian independent journalist
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Joe Emersberger contributes to HaitiAnalysis.com