HISTORY: The Tragedy of Haiti … and Us

Dr. Paul Farmer tells the story of the beautiful young Haitian girl Acéphie, whose family was driven out of their small farm by powerful forces: a hydroelectric company whose dam flooded the farmland; a dictator (Duvalier) who paid workers 10 cents a day; political violence that disrupted the operations of medical clinics. And a soldier who took advantage of her and gave her AIDS. When she died, her grief-stricken father hanged himself. [1]

Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier became president of Haiti in 1957, and upon his death in 1971 was succeeded by his son Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. During their 30 years of rule 60,000 Haitians were killed and many others were tortured by death squads. The Duvaliers, supported by the U.S., enriched themselves with foreign aid money while Haiti became the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian people worked in sweatshops for pennies a day while foreign industrialists made millions. In 1986, a people’s rebellion forced Baby Doc out, and the U.S. installed a military government, which continued to terrorize the citizens. [2]

In 1990 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest, was elected president in Haiti’s first free democratic election. He surprised the western world by winning 67% of the vote in a field of 12 candidates that included the U.S. candidate, a former World Bank official. Months later Aristide was overthrown by a US-backed military coup. [3] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs stated after the coup: “Under Aristide…Haiti seemed to be on the verge of tearing free from the fabric of despotism and tyranny…”

For the next three years anarchy reigned in Haiti. A study by Boston Media Action revealed that while human rights abuses attributed to Aristide supporters were less than 1% of the total, they comprised 60% of the coverage in major journals during the two weeks following the coup, and over half of coverage in the New York Times through mid-1992. [4]

Aristide was finally allowed to return, provided that he accept a number of political and economic conditions mandated by the United States.

In 2000 Aristide was re-elected president with over 90% of the vote. The Organization of American States claimed that the election was conducted unfairly, and the U.S. began to withhold foreign aid from Haiti. [5] In 2003 the country was forced to send 90% of its foreign reserves to Washington to pay off its debt. Pressure from business and international organizations was relentless. Aristide was vilified by the Reuters and AP wire services, which relied on local media owned by Aristide’s opponents. On February 5, 2004 a major revolt again forced him out of office. He was flown by the U.S. to the Central African Republic. [6]

Conditions in Haiti have remained desperate, with crumbling roads and infrastructure and nonexistent public services, unemployment at 70%, half the adults illiterate, and the richest 1% of the population controlling nearly half of all of the wealth. [7]

It doesn’t seem possible that the situation could get worse. But now it has.

Paul Buchheit teaches at DePaul University. He can be reached at: pbuchhei@depaul.edu

Notes.

1 Paul Farmer, “Pathologies of Power” (University of California Press, 2005)

2 Noam Chomsky, “Year 501: the conquest continues” (Boston: South End Press, 1993)

3 “Coup in Haiti,” by Amy Wilentz, The Nation, March 4, 2004 (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040322/wilentz)

A MUST READ: A Thorn in the Side of the U.S. Military in Haiti

Watch the U.S. media and its coverage of the crisis in Haiti, and you get the impression that Washington is a benevolent power doing its utmost to help with emergency relief in the Caribbean island nation. But tune into al-Jazeera English or South American news network Telesur and you come away with a very different view. I was particularly struck by one hard hitting al-Jazeera report posted on You Tube which serves as a fitting antidote to the usual mainstream fare. The report is highly critical of the U.S., which according to the reporter has focused most of its energy on fostering stability and putting boots on the ground as opposed to rebuilding Haitian society.

It’s not the first time that al-Jazeera has taken on the U.S. military. Indeed, the network fell afoul of American authorities as long as seven years ago during the invasion of Iraq. A news organization comprised of many editors, journalists, presenters and technical staff who had formerly worked with the BBC in London, al-Jazeera broadcast shockingly graphic pictures of dead and captured American soldiers.

When the network aired footage of the captured U.S. soldiers, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld accused al-Jazeera of violating the Geneva conventions. The network, however, was unrepentant. “Look who’s talking about international law and regulations,” said spokesperson Jihad Ballout. “We didn’t make the pictures – the pictures are there. It’s a facet of the war. Our duty is to show the war from all angles,” he added.

Yosri Fouda, al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in London, chimed in. “I can see why American and British politicians and military leaders don’t like us showing these pictures,” he remarked. “They show a side of the war that they don’t want projected because it may affect public opinion in their country negatively. In these things, the western media is highly sanitized. You are not seeing what war, this war, is actually like.”

During the short-lived war, al-Jazeera had correspondents posted around Iraq. While the U.S. mainstream media encouraged its own narrative of advancing and triumphant coalition forces, al-Jazeera broadcast horrific images of Iraqi victims of coalition bombing campaigns. One showed the head of a young child that had been split apart, reportedly in a coalition assault on Basra.

Perhaps, the U.S. military was literally gunning for al-Jazeera as a result of the network’s controversial news coverage. During an American air raid and artillery barrage on Baghdad, U.S. forces killed at least three journalists including an al-Jazeera correspondent, Tariq Ayoub. The building was hit by two air-to-surface missiles. At the time, the reporter was standing on the roof of al-Jazeera’s station doing a live broadcast.

U.S. military officials said they regretted the deaths of the journalists and claimed they did not know every place that journalists were operating. Al-Jazeera, however, declared that it had previously informed the Pentagon of the location of its Baghdad office. In fact, in a letter to the Pentagon, the Middle Eastern network gave the exact coordinates of its building.

It wasn’t the first time that al-Jazeera had suffered at the hands of the U.S. military. During the invasion of Afghanistan, the network’s Kabul office was destroyed by U.S. “smart” bombs two hours before the Northern Alliance took over the city. According to one report, President Bush may have even suggested that al-Jazeera offices in Qatar be bombed during a meeting with then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Though al-Jazeera provided critical coverage of the U.S. military, the network has never become a mouthpiece for Arab regimes in the Middle East. Even as many Arabic TV stations (including Iraq’s before the invasion) referred to the U.S. military as “forces of aggression,” al-Jazeera opted for “invading forces.” What’s more, al-Jazeera conducted long interviews with Tony Blair, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and even Ariel Sharon.

In addition, the network has gotten on the wrong side of several Arab governments and reporters have been banned or harassed in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Al-Jazeera was criticized by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain reportedly accused the network of being pro-Zionist. As a result of the network’s impartiality and independence, many Arabs have become subscribers as they believe al-Jazeera sees the world as they do.
In the wake of the tragedy in Haiti, al-Jazeera is now bringing its critical coverage to bear in the Caribbean. While the U.S. military operating in the island nation may not like it, commanders will have to put up with the same kind of close media scrutiny they were placed under in the Middle East. For the U.S. military however, the headache now runs deeper. In addition to al-Jazeera, commanders must now contend with Venezuelan media and Telesur.

***

Like al-Jazeera, which receives state funding from Qatar’s government, Telesur or Television of the South also receives government support, specifically from leftist Latin American and Caribbean governments including Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. And, similarly to al-Jazeera, Telesur is a media enterprise designed to compete with traditional U.S. outlets such as CNN.

When Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez helped to found Telesur in 2005 as an affiliate of state TV Venezolana de Televisión, U.S. conservatives grew concerned. Connie Mack, a Republican Congressman from Florida, remarked that the new network was “patterned after al-Jazeera,” and threatened to spread anti-U.S. ideas across Latin America.

When Telesur announced a content-sharing agreement with al-Jazeera in 2006, Mack went ballistic and declared that the decision was designed to create a “global television network for terrorists.” Adding to conservatives’ ire, Telesur signed an agreement with al-Jazeera whereby Latin personnel would receive training at the hands of the Middle Eastern network.
If al-Jazeera’s trial by fire was Iraq, the crucial test for Telesur was Honduras in 2009. In the wake of the right wing coup d’etat which deposed democratically elected president José Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran army cut off Telesur’s local broadcasts. However, the network’s signal was still available on the internet and a local radio station occasionally picked up Telesur audio.

Adriana Sivori, Telesur’s correspondent in Tegucigalpa, was in her hotel room speaking on the telephone to her network when 10 soldiers arrived with rifles drawn. The men unplugged Telesur’s editing equipment in an effort to halt the network’s coverage of protests in support of ousted president Zelaya.

When a soldier lightly slapped Sivori’s hand so she would hang up, the journalist grew alarmed. “They’re taking us prisoner at gunpoint,” she remarked. Sivori, along with producer María José Díaz and cameraman Larry Sánchez, were taken to an immigration office in a military caravan. There, the authorities beat them and demanded to see their Honduran visas. Shortly later, the journalists were released and the authorities warned Telesur journalists to cease transmitting images in support of Zelaya or face further detention. Defiantly however, Telesur continued to throw a lot of resources at the Honduras story. Indeed, at times during the first week after the coup Telesur was the only channel with a live feed. In a media scoop, Telesur even broadcast a live telephone interview with Zelaya from his Venezuelan plane when the ousted leader attempted to return to Tegucigalpa.

***

To be sure, Telesur’s visibility increased as a result of its ground breaking Honduras coverage. However, what has given Telesur most credibility is the station’s willingness to take on other controversial topics, some of which have rattled left-leaning South American governments. One of those issues is Haiti.

Like al-Jazeera, which has pursued independent journalism in the Middle East, Telesur went into Haiti and took a no-holds-barred approach. According to station manager Aram Aharonian, who I interviewed for my book Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008), Telesur’s Haiti coverage proved controversial with the Chilean, Argentine, and Uruguayan governments.

One of the first stories that Telesur broadcast from the island nation concerned MINUSTAH, the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti. In the report, Haitians said that Latin American peace keeping soldiers deployed to Haiti were repressing the people. The reporting ruffled feathers and “some officials in various countries” called Aharonian to protest the coverage.

Now, in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti, Telesur has joined al-Jazeera in providing critical coverage of events. Moving on from the MINUSTAH mission, Telesur has focused in laser-like on United States’ misplaced priorities in the Caribbean island nation. While most Americans watch the mainstream media and bask in a wave of self-congratulation, Telesur has painted a darker picture of the U.S. response.

In one report for example, Telesur focused on U.S. policy towards Haitian migrants. According to the story, U.S. officials have drawn up plans to house the migrants at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo instead of transferring them to the United States. Meanwhile, U.S. naval vessels including aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson are prepared to intercept Haitian boats and repatriate the desperately needy if necessary.

In another story, Telesur reported on European Union unhappiness about the U.S. relief effort in Haiti. According to the report, the EU seeks more relief coordination and less of a foreign military presence in Haiti. Reed Lindsay, Telesur’s correspondent in Haiti, remarks that it is the U.S. military which decides who goes in and out of the Port-au-Prince airport and what kinds of humanitarian aid gets through. According to Telesur reports, EU concerns are echoed by many Latin American governments who fear that the U.S. is using the crisis in Haiti to launch a military occupation.

Could the U.S. military be running out of patience with foreign media reporting, which has proven much less deferential to Washington when it comes to Haiti coverage? One recent report by Cuba’s Prensa Latina is worth noting. According to the story, U.S. marines recently barred Venezolana de Televisión journalists from entering Haitian hospitals. At Haiti’s central hospital, Haitians seeking to help their loved ones inside were reportedly mistreated. Those who tried to bring water and food to their relatives were unable to enter the hospital, as the marines stopped them from entering the facilities.

Al-Jazeera has always proven to be a thorn in the side of the U.S. military. Now, Washington must also contend with rising star Telesur. In the coming days, as the relief effort proceeds in Haiti, relations between the Pentagon and these new media outlets could prove testy.

Ref: counterpunch

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of the upcoming No Rain In the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects The Entire Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2010). Visit his website, senorchichero.

NO WE CAN´T – Barack Obama’s speech disappoints and fuels frustration at Copenhagen

US president offers no further commitment on reducing emissions or on finance to poor countries. Barack Obama stepped into the chaotic final hours of the Copenhagen summit today saying he was convinced the world could act “boldly and decisively” on climate change.

But his speech offered no indication America was ready to embrace bold measures, after world leaders had been working desperately against the clock to try to paper over an agreement to prevent two years of wasted effort — and a 10-day meeting — from ending in total collapse.

Obama, who had been skittish about coming to Copenhagen at all unless it could be cast as a foreign policy success, looked visibly frustrated as he appeared before world leaders.

He offered no further commitments on reducing emissions or on finance to poor countries beyond Hillary Clinton’s announcement yesterday that America would support a $100bn global fund to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

He did not even press the Senate to move ahead on climate change legislation, which environmental organisations have been urging for months.

The president did say America would follow through on his administration’s clean energy agenda, and that it would live up to its pledges to the international community.

“We have charted our course, we have made our commitments, and we will do what we say,” Obama said.

But in the absence of any evidence of that commitment the words rang hollow and there was a palpable sense of disappointment in the audience.

Instead, he warned African states and low island nations who have been resisting what they see as a weak agreement that the later alternative — no agreement — was far worse.

“We know the fault lines because we’ve been imprisoned by them for years. But here is the bottom line: we can embrace this accord, take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation,” he said.

“Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of climate change grows until it is irreversible.”

He also took a dig at China, drawing attention to its status as the world’s biggest emitter and reinforcing America’s hardline on the issue of accountability for greenhouse gas emissions.

The lacklustre speech proved a huge frustration to a summit that had been looking to Obama to use his stature on the world stage – and his special following among African leaders – to try to come to an ambitious deal.

The president was drawn into the chaos within minutes of his arrival at Copenhagen, ditching his schedule to take part in a meeting of major industrialised and rapidly emerging economies.

Responding to Obama’s speech, a British official said: “Gordon Brown is committed to doing all he can and will stay until the very last minute to secure a deal… but others also need to show the same level of commitment. The prospects of a deal are not great.”

Tim Jones, a spokesman for the World Development Movement, said: “The president said he came to act, but showed little evidence of doing so. He showed no awareness of the inequality and injustice of climate change. If America has really made its choice, it is a choice that condemns hundreds of millions of people to climate change disaster.”

Friends of the Earth said in a statement, “Obama has deeply disappointed not only those listening to his speech at the UN talks, he has disappointed the whole world.”

The World Wildlife Fund said Obama had let down the international community by failing to commit to pushing for action in Congress: “The only way the world can be sure the US is standing behind its commitments is for the president to clearly state that climate change will be his next top legislative priority.”

The extent of crisis in the talks has taken leaders by surprise. The Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, told the conference that the all-night negotiating sessions took him back to his days as a trade union leader negotiating with his bosses.

Ref: Guardian

COP 15: Better to have no deal at Copenhagen than one that spells catastrophe

The only offer on the table in Copenhagen would condemn the developing world to poverty and suffering in perpetuity

On the ninth day of the Copenhagen climate summit, Africa was sacrificed. The position of the G77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: a 2C increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3–3.5C increase in Africa. That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, “an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger”, and “water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people”.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it like this: “We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale … A global goal of about 2C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development.”

And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2C increase and offers developing countries just $10bn a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.

It’s hard to believe this is the same man who only three months ago was saying this: “We will use our numbers to delegitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position … If need be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent … What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above the minimum avoidable level.“And this: “We will participate in the upcoming negotiations not as supplicants pleading for our case but as negotiators defending our views and interests.”

We don’t yet know what Zenawi got in exchange for so radically changing his tune or how, exactly, you go from a position calling for $400bn a year in financing (the Africa group’s position) to a mere $10bn. Similarly, we do not know what happened when secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Philippine president Gloria Arroyo just weeks before the summit and all of a sudden the toughest Filipino negotiators were kicked off their delegation and the country, which had been demanding deep cuts from the rich world, suddenly fell in line.

We do know, from witnessing a series of these jarring about-faces, that the G8 powers are willing to do just about anything to get a deal in Copenhagen. The urgency does not flow from a burning desire to avert cataclysmic climate change, since the negotiators know full well that the paltry emissions cuts they are proposing are a guarantee that temperatures will rise a “Dantesque” 3.9C, as Bill McKibben puts it.

Matthew Stilwell of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development – one of the most influential advisers in these talks – says the negotiations are not really about averting climate change but are a pitched battle over a profoundly valuable resource: the right to the sky. There is a limited amount of carbon that can be emitted into the atmosphere. If the rich countries fail to radically cut their emissions, then they are actively gobbling up the already insufficient share available to the south. What is at stake, Stilwell argues, is nothing less than “the importance of sharing the sky”.

Europe, he says, fully understands how much money will be made from carbon trading, since it has been using the mechanism for years. Developing countries, on the other hand, have never dealt with carbon restrictions, so many governments don’t really grasp what they are losing. Contrasting the value of the carbon market – $1.2 trillion a year, according to leading British economist Nicholas Stern – with the paltry $10bn on the table for developing countries for the next three years, Stilwell says that rich countries are trying to exchange “beads and blankets for Manhattan”. He adds: “This is a colonial moment. That’s why no stone has been left unturned in getting heads of state here to sign off on this kind of deal … Then there’s no going back. You’ve carved up the last remaining unowned resource and allocated it to the wealthy.”

For months now NGOs have got behind a message that the goal of Copenhagen is to “seal the deal”. Everywhere we look in the Bella Centre, clocks are ticking. But any old deal isn’t good enough, especially because the only deal on offer won’t solve the climate crisis and might make things much worse, taking current inequalities between north and south and locking them in indefinitely.

Augustine Njamnshi of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance puts the 2C proposal in harsh terms: “You cannot say you are proposing a ‘solution’ to climate change if your solution will see millions of Africans die and if the poor not the polluters keep paying for climate change.”

Stilwell says that the wrong kind of deal would “lock in the wrong approach all the way to 2020” – well past the deadline for peak emissions. But he insists that it’s not too late to avert this worst-case scenario. “I’d rather wait six months or a year and get it right because the science is growing, the political will is growing, the understanding of civil society and affected communities is growing, and they’ll be ready to hold their leaders to account to the right kind of a deal.”

At the start of these negotiations the mere notion of delay was environmental heresy. But now many are seeing the value of slowing down and getting it right. Most significant, after describing what 2C would mean for Africa, Archbishop Tutu pronounced that it is “better to have no deal than to have a bad deal”. That may well be the best we can hope for in Copenhagen. It would be a political disaster for some heads of state – but it could be one last chance to avert the real disaster for everyone else.
Ref: guardian