March 15, 2016
Guy Taillefer writes in Le devoir that Canada could play a more positive role in Haiti than assuming the job of the lead nation of MINUSTAH. (“Aide ou occupation?” Le devoir, 11 March 2016) He argues that a better option for Canada would be to humanize the working conditions in the sweatshops in which Montreal-based Gildan Activewear subcontracts its production. He incorrectly writes that those factories are run by the Apaid family that he correctly identifies as duvalierist. (Gildan subcontracts to the Allard family.) Taillefer did not write that in 2004 when it would have mattered. In fact, at the time, he denigrated the critical Montreal journal Haïti Progrès for so informing its readers. Taillefer takes exception to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim that Canada erred in supporting the overthrow of Aristide in 2004. He argues that Haiti’s current problems are the result of events after 2004. He would have to argue that in order to exonerate Le devoir and himself who misinformed Quebec readers from 2000 to 2004 about Haitian politics and the crisis of democracy. This essay is an overview of the newspaper’s coverage of the crisis of 2004 and afterwards. It was written in the course of my research for the Commentary section of the book, but does not appear in Rocks in the Water, Rocks in the Sun. It was left on the cutting-room floor, along with hundreds of other pages, to keep the book a manageable length. It has not been edited for publication, but readers may find it helpful to understand the media in Quebec. In my experience, the portrait of Haiti that comes through these pages represents the received view here in Quebec. Sad.
This essay would be more valuable when read alongside the Commentary section of Rocks in the Water, Rocks in the Sun:
The French-speaking media devoted much more space to the issue of Haiti than their English counterparts. However, francophone readers were not, as a result, privileged with more information or deeper analysis. On the contrary, the effect was to crush the reader under the weight of the consensus of the French-speaking Haitian ruling class and their allies. When Jean-Claude Duvalier was forced out of the country in 1986, Haitian exiles in Montreal rejoiced. All Haitians who had escaped the Duvalier regime celebrated. Expatriate French-speaking intellectuals who had found positions in Quebec universities could join with Creole Haitians, who drove taxi cabs and filled entry-level jobs, to bid good riddance to Baby Doc. Francophone and anglophone media could all report the good news. Later, when crowds of Haitian-Canadians protested in favour of Aristide’s return to power after the coup of 1991, the media could still report large rallies in Montreal. However, as lavalas supporters continued to struggle in Haiti, the voice of Creole Haitians disappeared from the public discourse in Quebec. The most nationalist and separatist wing of the Quebec media, Le devoir, took the strongest stance. Journalists deferred to the French-speaking Haitian elite in both Quebec and Haiti. That privileged class framed the story of Haiti for Quebecois. Poor Haitians, driven out of their country by poverty and exclusion, found themselves in a Quebec where their voice, literally, could not be understood. Racial tensions intensified in Montreal as Creole Haitians fought against their class oppressors in Haiti. These two processes were connected through the class dynamics of transnational global capitalism. The poor lost in both countries.
Journalists who sought “expert” advice on Haiti called Haitian professors at universities in Montreal. Sometimes, Le devoir published op-eds from professors at the state university of Haiti. The newspaper was also influenced by France, whose entire ruling class – and perhaps all French people proud of the myth of their historic mission as the purveyors of civilization in the world – had fused against Aristide and his government’s reclamation of twenty-one billion dollars.i For Quebec nationalists, the goal of separation from Canada would require friends in high places. And Le devoir was keen to keep on good terms with the ruling classes of the United States and France. There was a clear sympathy for the French-speaking elite of Haiti, as opposed to their Creole subordinates. Creole Haitians had little power in Haiti where they were a majority and even less in Quebec where they were a minority. How could they help the project of Quebec nationalism that sought to create a new competitor within the capitalist core? Le devoir aligned itself staunchly with the powerful.
A steady stream of reports in the pages of Le devoir planted the seeds of contempt towards Fanmi Lavalas as it proved itself to be an unstoppable political force in 2000. The bitter harvest came in early 2004, when the great countries declared an unofficial war against Aristide and Lavalas. Until then, journalists wrote of the purported rising tide of opposition to Aristide in the Haitian government and civil society.ii Aristide supporters were consistently described as armed and dangerous as opposed to government protesters who marched peacefully.iii In the Canadian House of Commons, the Bloc Quebecois – Quebec’s separatist federal party – chastised the Canadian government for its inaction in the face of armed partisans of Aristide on peacefully protesting students.iv
On 20 December 2003, Le devoir reprinted an article from the French newspaper, Le monde, in which Jean-Michel Caroit wrote that a vast coalition of students, feminists, Vodouists, entrepreneurs, and unionists had risen to relieve the political opposition suffering under the state repression of Aristide. The formulation is important, for it suggests that the political class had shouldered the burden of opposition to Aristide up until this point. We will need to keep a critical eye on how Le devoir distinguishes between the political class and the population. What is their relationship? We will see that “the political class” is an elite responsible for governing the country. Creole Haitians, through the eyes of the French-speaking ruling class, are the governed. They would have no voice in Le devoir. According to Caroit, the United States dumped the problem of Haiti on CARICOM after coming to Aristide’s rescue in 1994. This theme would also be repeated in the coverage in Le devoir. Far from interfering in Haitian affairs through its secret services, international institutions, and alliances with the Haitian oligarchy, Washington, along with Ottawa and Paris, would be chastised for not doing enough to help poor Haitians who, again, do not speak for themselves on these pages. Caroit claims that Haiti under Aristide looks like the final months of Duvalier in 1985 and 1986 when pressure from below forced him to flee the country. It is curious that Caroit is preparing the ground for what will actually happen. Le devoir is explaining to Quebecois how they are to understand the “flight” of Aristide when he does leave the country a couple of months later.v
Le devoir introduced its readers to the issue of the Haitian government’s plan to open discussions with France over the restitution of the debt by reproducing an article from Libération, a French journal. The French had launched a campaign at all levels to staunch the demand. The article, however, begins by telling Quebecois that the claim for restitution of twenty-one billion dollars is Aristide’s latest “whim.” In fact, no claim had yet been made. As usual, Libération found Haitian intellectuals to attack Aristide on behalf of French interests. The Haitian elite identified with the French over their Creole compatriots. They had been educated at French universities. Their careers were dependent on their contacts among the transnational ruling class. The Haitian economist Jean-Marie Carmelle dismissed the issue of the debt by arguing that Haitians had mismanaged their own country and were now trying to lay the blame on France. This argument was popular among liberal intellectuals from the core countries.vi It would not matter if France paid the twenty-one billion dollars if Haitians were too incompetent to channel it into a real development plan. The poverty of Creole Haitians, in this argument, was being used as a weapon against them. It was a sign of their incompetence. Who would give money to an irresponsible child? By the time the reader arrived at that question, Libération was waiting with the answer. An investor whose identity remains anonymous, we are told, proposed a development project worth tens of millions of dollars to Aristide. Aristide replied that he would require twenty percent deposited directly in his account. Consequently, the project never went ahead. But was Haiti serious about the demand? Historian Lyonel Trouillot assured Libération that Aristide was using the issue of the debt to distract people from the political crisis that he had caused. The debt, Trouillot said, was far from a priority to the majority of Haitians. In fact, every Haitian knew of the issue. It had become a point of honour, a redressing of a great historical humiliation. France would invade Haiti with the other core countries before the issue went too far. Still, it remains to be asked by critical analysts: who was trying to distract whom? Was France using the invented narrative of a dictatorial Aristide to distract the world from the issue of the restitution of the odious debt before the official claim? Why was Le devoir reporting France’s side of the issue? Would it not occur to readers that the government of France might have a bias? Was that the value of using the Haitian intellectual class, that identifies with France, as a tool against their own country?vii
The Catholic Church entered the fray as Aristide’s most severe critic. For a number of Catholic Quebecois, that voice was authoritative. The Vatican had been the first state to recognize the murderous Cédras regime in 1991. Pope John Paul II had initially played a part in the Ti Legliz movement when, in 1982, he visited Haiti to declare that “things must change here.” The crowds roared. But then, when priests like Aristide actually tried to change things in Haiti, the Vatican turned its back on them. From Haiti, journalist Catherine Hours reported for Le devoir that priests blamed Aristide for the deep divisions in the Catholic Church. Although those priests were speaking of a divided Church, it was left to the reader to notice that the journalist presented only one side of the division. Father Max Dominique claims that Aristide used religion for political ends, presenting himself as the Messiah. The priests Hours cites all want the Church to get out of politics. The division is so deep that the priests cannot imagine it healing. The fact that the Vatican recognized the regime of Raoul Cédras is not mentioned as a possible reason for the Church’s problems among the people whose voice Le devoir does not report.viii The following week, Dominique Levanti reported from Haiti that Mgr Pierre André Dumas encouraged his flock – from the pulpit – to not give up hope. He told them that they would be victorious. But if Aristide is reviled because of his involvement in politics, what are we to make of Mgr Dumas? Political activism on behalf of the oligarchy is, for the bishop and Le devoir, literally unremarkable. The class divisions, and accompanying hypocrisy, inside the Church may have been apparent to the discerning reader of Le devoir. But the reader was also reminded that Aristide was responsible for the crisis as a result of his theft of the May 2000 elections. Did the readers know that Aristide was not in government at the time and that his party Fanmi Lavalas did not even have a representative on the Electoral Council that oversaw the elections? By now, Le devoir, like the media in English Canada, refers to the stolen elections as a fact beyond question. The source of that invented “fact” was Washington.ix
Journalist Jean-Fred Bourquin reported on 9 January 2004 that the Lavalas regime was supported by only a handful of faithful and corrupt politicians enriching themselves. But the exhausted people would have the final word. Using an analogy that readers should be accustomed to by now, he writes that the people who overturned Duvalier in 1986 would not fail to depose Aristide. What could have been the result of this fabricated reportage? The Quebecois were being asked to support Creole Haitians in something the latter did not want, in an objective that was contrary to their actual goals. The article claims that Aristide and the “Lavalas power” terrorize and starve the people, but they cannot force them to be quiet. Everyone is saying “No to the intolerable!” In the city, students are calling, “Down with Aristide.” The people of Gonaives did not want Aristide to visit to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of independence. A couple of Haitian intellectuals, Laennec Hurbon and Camille Chalmers, say that the only hope is for a real democracy built upon national unity. They then offer a possible platform that is, in fact, not at odds with Lavalas: agrarian reform, the redistribution of revenue, and elevating Creole to the level of an official national language. What they mean by “national unity” is not explained. How would they propose to unify the oligarchy behind the redistribution of revenue? Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas had been attempting just that policy in the face of their intense opposition.x
Journalist Jean-Pierre Legault reported the analysis of the Haitian-born sociologist from the University of Quebec in Montreal, Franklin Midy.xi Midy explains that, since the last election, Aristide has tried to monopolize all of the power, to control the media. On the positive side, he says that the Group of 184 brings together a wide range of opponents in an attempt to find a way out of the crisis. Readers of Le devoir are introduced to an issue that will be hammered home in subsequent articles. The paramilitaries fighting in the north of Haiti are not in league with the Democratic Convergence, now called the Democratic Platform, fighting in Port-au-Prince. Midy argues that Aristide, since his return in 1994, has simply wanted power for power’s sake. Unfortunately, Midy says, there is no alternative thanks to Aristide’s success in sapping the democratic life out of the country. The journalist adds that the Group of 184 has no political platform, which would suggest that they too want power for power’s sake. But what is most disturbing about this article is that a professor who has lived in Montreal since the 1970s is being asked, by a journalist, to do the work of a journalist. Professor Midy accepts the honour and describes what is happening in a world that he left decades earlier. How does he know this? What are his sources? When was he last in Haiti? In what capacity? Why is the journalist deferring to a sociologist? As long as Jean-Pierre Legault has decided to write about Haiti from Montreal, why would he not interview a cab driver for his thoughts on his homeland? Or, if he prefers to remain in academia, why does the analysis of Haitian Marxist economist Fred Doura never appear? By this point, anyone can get an article published that follows the narrative of Aristide the dictator who must be removed from power before he spills any more blood.xii
Journalist Guy Taillefer would be assigned to cover the Haitian crisis. He would rely entirely on the ruling classes in Port-au-Prince, Ottawa, and Washington – and their intellectual apologists – to inform the readers of Le devoir.xiii Before long, Taillefer was able to fit his stories within the preferred narrative and add a touch of indignation of his own. Two weeks before Aristide’s removal from power, Taillefer reported that both Washington and Ottawa were saying that Haitians must solve their problems for themselves. Meanwhile, Andy Apaid and the Group of 184 were distancing themselves from the factions that would resort to violence, despite the intimidation by Lavalas supporters. So, Taillefer paints a picture of long-suffering, pacifist opponents of the dictator Aristide, courageously refusing to be silenced.xiv From Haiti, members of the Democratic Convergence explain that Aristide has created a power structure parallel to the state. He has turned the Organisations Populaires into armed gangs. But what would readers have done with the knowledge that the Democratic Convergence actually had created a parallel government in 2001, before Aristide’s inauguration, and that the CIA had infiltrated the Haitian National Police?xv
Le devoir readers learned on 17 February 2004 that, in Montreal, ten NGOs had come together to form Concertation pour Haiti to advocate for the removal of Aristide from power. Marthe Lapierre of Democracy and Peace was the spokesperson. She says that Canada should use its influence at the United Nations to force Aristide, the anti-democratic violator of human rights, to step down. She also claims that Aristide’s “chimères” are the equivalent of Duvalier’s tontons macoutes. Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham responds that Aristide should “restrain his activities.” But this tepid response only upsets Concertation pour Haiti. They want action. Marthe Lapierre claims that the chimères are recruiting children. UNICEF corroborates the accusation. Lapierre has managed to turn the fact that the gangs support Aristide against Aristide. They do support him, as we have seen, as members of Haiti’s poorest class, not as criminals. If Lapierre cannot understand this, her work in Cite Soleil is doomed. So UNICEF and Lapierre seem to have constructed an air-tight argument for the removal of Aristide, who is responsible for the gangs of Cite Soleil. Ironically, the only politician who ever tried to help the street kids – and to whom they would remain loyal – is held responsible for their situation. In the same way, one could argue that Martin Luther King was responsible for racism in the United States. But Marthe Lapierre is introducing us to the only role left once Canada turns its back on the Creole poor of Haiti. Since we will not allow structural changes, we must eternally help the poor. And the ten NGOs who want Aristide removed will be in business for a long time to come. Lapierre talks about the vulnerability of the children victimized by Aristide, shaming those who would not come to their aid. The “health, security, and well-being” of 1.2 million children is at stake, according to UNICEF. This issue is the key to the other arm of the foreign policy of the core countries. When the earthquake strikes, the NGOs will take centre stage. But they were always in the wings, playing a critical part in maintaining the structure that perpetuates poverty.xvi
From the state university in Port-au-Prince came help for Le devoir readers who might have been confused. Professor Guy-Robert Saint-Cyr offered an overview that Le devoir would subsequently develop. This is how Quebecois were encouraged to see Haiti. What follows is a counter-narrative to the understanding of Haiti developed in this book [Rocks in the Water, Rocks in the Sun]. But this book represents a counter-narrative to the official story. Here is the official story: One must not confuse what is happening in the capital with rural Haiti. In Gonaives, the fighting is the result of the gangsterism at the heart of Aristide’s government. To impose the silence of the dead on the opposition during the May and November elections in 2000, Aristide massively distributed firearms to all his supporters. [See Rocks in the Water, Rocks in the Sun Commentary section, for an analysis on the 2000 election crisis, completely constructed by Washington and the Haitian oligarchy.] That explains how his supporters have raped women wantonly, burned the homes of Lavalas opponents, hunted down journalists, kidnapped businessmen for ransom, and killed with impunity. The worst came on December 17, 2001 as a result of an attempted coup d’etat. To defend the government, a bunch of heavily armed hooligans burned homes and blindly massacred anyone they felt like. As a result of the Himalaya of bodies that resulted, the OAS sent an independent mission of experts to shed light on the event. They clearly showed that the Aristide government was behind the planning and execution of the massacres. Not able to ignore the OAS, Aristide imprisoned Amiot Metayer, the leader of a gang called the Cannibal Army. However, his gang resented that their leader was sent to prison simply for co-operating with the government. So his gang sprung him from prison. Then, on September 22, 2003, Metayer was mysteriously assassinated after talking to a government employee. (That is a not-too-subtle hint that Metayer, supposedly like countless others, was killed by Aristide.) The Cannibal Army was outraged. And so they, along with the other criminal gangs once aligned with Aristide, turned against him. They accepted facing judgment for their crimes as long as Aristide was also in the dock. Now, those gangs have turned into a national liberation army. They could succeed because, thanks to Aristide, they are better armed than the National Police. The actual political opposition, on the other hand, has always been pacifist and respectful of the law. They have nothing to do with the violence that is ravaging the country. They are a group of political parties that came together after Aristide stole the elections of 2000. They fight for justice with very little means against a dictator who holds all the power. Their struggle has at least prompted the international financial institutions to postpone support for Aristide’s government. This Democratic Convergence decided to join the plethora of groups – women, students, peasants, workers – protesting the dictatorship of Aristide. Since December 2003, this broad coalition called the Democratic Platform has been protesting every day for the end of the regime. In the Haiti of Aristide, to be a student is to be a criminal. Saint-Cyr finishes philosophically by arguing that “aristidism” is the ultimate expression of duvalierism. The professor is writing this cry for help to the outside world because there is still time to avert a second Rwanda. That concludes the official narrative that Le devoir promoted. I cannot read it without my mind’s eye conjuring up a number of professors at the state university of Haiti conspiring to fit together “facts” that could be sold to people who otherwise have no clue about Haiti. Readers who do understand Haiti (and transnational capitalism) will know it is a farce, but will say nothing in order to further their interests, to align themselves with the powerful, or because they are poor Creole Haitians, without access to media, whose lives are of no consequence to the professors.xvii
Taillefer reported on 18 February 2004 that Paris was pushing for a military intervention. Washington and Ottawa, however, preferred to let CARICOM continue to work towards a negotiated settlement. Ottawa, under much pressure from the Montreal NGOs to act, says it might consider sending a hundred police officers. Aristide says that his job is to avoid a bloodbath. Taillefer writes that “specialists” say that it will take something out of the ordinary for an intervention to take place, such as a repetition of boat people arriving en masse in Florida in 1994. At that time, Clinton took the “initiative” to return Aristide to power. The “specialists” speak for the ruling classes of the three core countries that have been coordinating their plans to remove Aristide for some time.xviii
Journalist Guy Taillefer tells his readers of Haïti Progrès, a left journal that “denigrates” the businessman Andy Apaid who, Taillefer writes, has coordinated the opposition of three hundred different groups from every corner of Haitian society. Despite that effort, Haïti Progrès accuses him of being affiliated with the insurgents. Taillefer cites Haïti Progrès in the manner that I am citing Taillefer: as the counter-narrative to what he claims is the truth. And so we use quotation marks in contradictory ways. Taillefer puts quotes around the claims that Apaid is a “putschist” with “affinities” to the rebels in Gonaives. In contrast, I prefer to use quotation marks around the claim that Haïti Progrès “denigrates” Apaid. I think that Haïti Progrès was simply reporting the facts. In the Haitian community of Montreal North, it was as easy to find a copy of Haïti Progrès as Le devoir. That community would periodically experience violent confrontations with the same Quebec police who would soon be sent to train the Haitian National Police, whose job was to restore an order that served the “democrat” Andy Apaid. Those are my quotation marks; Taillefer would remove them.
After presenting the counter-narrative from Haïti Progrès in, literally, one sentence, Taillefer turns to sources that refute it. The possibility that Aristide was representing the majority of Haitians and was under attack by the oligarchy will not appear again in his work until 2006. Suzanne Loiselle of the NGO Entraide missionnaire in Montreal, whom Taillefer clearly relies on, assures him that the only thing that connects the rebels in the north with the Democratic Convergence is the intention to force Aristide out of office. Other “experts” confirm that opinion. How do they know? Is Taillefer simply prostrating himself before the powerful? Has Le devoir thrown him into the sea knowing that he will have to cling to whatever life rafts are thrown his way?xix
What about the Haitian National Police that was, according to the official narrative, fighting Aristide’s well-armed gangs? Le devoir published an op-ed article by Roland Boutin, a Quebec police officer who had worked as a consultant to the Haitian National Police from 1999 to 2001. He describes for readers of Le devoir the nature of the police state in Haiti, from the perspective of someone familiar with the country. He claims that Aristide began his second term as president by firing the entire staff of the National Police to replace them with his friends. Whereas I interpret that action as necessary and courageous, given that Washington had infiltrated and taken control of the Police as it had the Army before it, Boutin apparently saw Aristide’s actions as those of a dictator. Did he not know that the dismissed staff had been planning the assassination of Préval, Aristide, and key Fanmi Lavalas personalities? Boutin clearly has a different understanding than do I of the role that the United States and its secret services play in the world. He claims that things had deteriorated so badly that, at the Haitian National Police Academy, the only recruitment criteria became loyalty to the party in power. But Boutin’s interpretation of what he was witnessing is naive. If there was an active covert undertaking to place recruits loyal to Washington in the National Police, then loyalty to the state of Haiti would appear to him as loyalty to Aristide and Lavalas. Why? Because Aristide was, at the end of Boutin’s term in Haiti, the head of government. That is how many Haitians may have understood the choice. Boutin argues that the only answer is to place Haiti under a military trusteeship until another generation of Haitians can be educated to the point where they can take control of their own country.xx
Minister for the Francophonie Denis Coderre reassured readers that Canada would not allow there to be a void in the government of Haiti. Conseil national des citoyens d’origines haitiennes president Keder Hyppolite advised that the country needs to be secured before any talk of politics proceed. He wanted people to be disarmed in Haiti. He hoped that in the future people would not vote for a messiah but for an actual political program. Of course, Aristide had an actual program and that was the problem. It was the wrong program. The Democratic Convergence had tabled no program, and the great countries had supported them to rid the world of Aristide. Keder Hyppolite’s advice would continue to be sought by the Canadian Parliament in relation to Haiti and Haitian-Canadians.xxi
In the end, Aristide did leave behind a void. And the country would never be secure. The day after Aristide was spirited out of Haiti by the core countries, Taillefer wrote that poor Creole Haitians had believed in him when he spoke to them of liberation theology in their own language. Who would have imagined he would become a dictator like Duvalier? As a result of Aristide, there is practically nothing left of the economy. The only sector that is thriving is the drug trade. Many people maintain, he says, that Aristide had taken control of that trade to enrich himself. Taillefer reports that a man he claims is a principle political leader, Evans Paul, says it is a great relief to be rid of Aristide. (Paul’s party KID, was at the centre of much criminality. He would run for president in the elections that followed to receive 2.5% of the vote.) He quotes Franz Voltaire of CIDIHCA, funded by the government of Canada, as saying that some of the opponents are “as doubtful as Aristide.” Voltaire claimed the chimères and the rebels needed to be disarmed to assure the security of the country. Thus, he managed to validate the claims of the Democratic Convergence. Voltaire told Taillefer that the danger is that the international community repeat the mistake it made in 1994 when Washington re-installed Aristide as president. According to Voltaire, Aristide had been left to himself. The outside world had paid no attention to him, turning its back on Haiti. This time, he hopes that the great countries take control of Haiti for the next decade. They need to engage in some real nation-building, he claims. And so, Taillefer entitles his article, “the need to protect.” This is the call of humanitarian intervention, a cover for imperialism throughout the world whose first “success” was in Yugoslavia.xxii
Journalist Guy Taillefer returned to Haiti to report on the elections that brought Préval to power in 2006. As we know, Préval won on the basis of his previous close association with Aristide and his claims that he would not stand in the way of Aristide’s return to Haiti. So, the results of those elections should have elicited a humble mea culpa from Taillefer and Le devoir. But no. Instead, Taillefer looked up his old experts and accepted the latest spin on what had just proven to be the assault by “the great countries” on Haitian democracy. Claude Moise, after affirming once again the evidence-free mantra that Aristide had led the country into authoritarianism, admits to Taillefer that the irony that escaped nobody is that the people elected Préval based on his promise to allow Aristide to return to Haiti. Will the oligarchy – called the Haitian “elite” here – accept to share power this time? Moise hopes so.xxiii Charles Henry Baker, who had been at the head of the oligarchy that expelled Aristide two years earlier, is already calling Préval a criminal and claiming that the election was fraudulent. He says that Préval has the support of the gangs. Préval speaks of negotiating with them. A travesty. Moise says that, despite the fact that Aristide betrayed the people who voted for him, the opposition was not able to establish an alternative in which the people saw themselves represented.xxiv
So, how did Taillefer come to terms with this for his readers? He sought out his “experts,” intellectuals who might have theories to explain away the obvious: that the people had always supported Aristide, who had been kidnapped in a coup d’etat. Laennec Hurbon claimed that the international community caved in to the mob in naming Préval the victor. He said that Haitians could have taken the opportunity to learn that it was through democratic methods that politics operated. But, instead, they rose up in anger and the international community, that should have insisted on a second vote, gave in and called Préval the victor. The crowd won. Hurbon is a researcher at CNRS, Centre national de recherche scientifique, a French institute. Taillefer subtly introduced a remarkable concept in his analysis, asking Hurbon whether Préval would honour his campaign promises of cooperation and reach out to the “political class.” Hurbon feared that Haiti was on the verge of another “popular dictatorship” similar to that of Aristide. Préval had never believed in collaboration, Hurbon cautions. He had manipulated “the masses” when he was president, using the armed gangs of Cite Soleil just like Aristide.xxv
Taillefer and Hurbon propose that there exists a “political class” that has the right to govern. There is also the population whose job is to be governed. According to Taillefer and Hurbon, Préval should not be accountable to the Haitian people but to the political class. How does one become a member of this political class? That is left to the reader to determine. But Hurbon confuses things beyond recuperation when he then claims that the international community should never have declared Préval the winner, just to avoid a confrontation with the masses. They should have proceeded to the second round of elections. Hurbon suggests that Préval might have lost if all the opponents rallied against him. But the international community had, in principle, nothing to do with the elections beyond oversight. The elections were the constitutional responsibility of the Electoral Council. When Hurbon and Taillefer speak openly about what they thought the international community should have done, they signal that they know where the real power lays. Hurbon knows the Electoral Council was being manipulated by forces outside of Haiti. But that is precisely what Creole Haitians know as well. Hurbon likes it. They will not allow it. Hurbon’s contempt for the poor could not be clearer. But his conclusion is that the elections were a failure because the people intimidated the international community into conceding victory to their candidate. Hurbon does not question the obvious fact that the international community was indeed answering to the masses and their threats. No wonder. They had used nothing but intimidation and aggression on Creole Haitians since the beginning of time. Those poor Haitians and Laennec Hurbon all understood the situation perfectly well. What about Taillefer?xxvi
In order to test the journalistic competence of Taillefer and Le devoir, we need a little historical background. After the coup d’etat that removed Aristide, the putschists needed to eliminate those public figures who had worked with him towards the same democratic goals and who, like him, identified with the poor. They needed to be neutralized so that they could not participate in elections in any way – either as candidates or analysts. For instance, the interim government of Latortue imprisoned Father Jean-Juste on a charge of complicity in the murder of an anti-Fanmi Lavalas journalist. The career of Father Jean-Juste paralleled that of Aristide. He had fought against the Duvalier regime and worked hand in hand with the poor. He was highly respected and loved. Creole Haitians trusted him. And so, the best place for him until the election was over was prison. He was released one month before the election in 2006, when it was no longer possible for him to participate.xxvii
But perhaps the most outrageous of the political imprisonments was Yvon Neptune, who had served as prime minister to Aristide since 2001 and was replaced by the coup government immediately upon the expulsion of the president. Several weeks earlier, in early February 2004, fighting between armed gangs in Gonaives led to several deaths. On 9 February 2004, Prime Minister Neptune travelled to Gonaives to encourage the police to continue to defend the city against the paramilitary forces led by Guy Philippe and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, descending from the north of Haiti on their way to Port-au-Prince. Two days later, the pro-government forces entered the neighbourhood of La Scierie, where they clashed with the gang now opposing the government. At least three people were killed and many wounded. In acts of retaliation, several people were deliberately burned to death in their homes. While this violence took place in the context of the government coup, the struggle for power was, at the same time, national and local. In isolated areas all over Haiti, local power struggles could be resolved under the umbrella of a coup d’etat.
The fact that people fought on various sides of local struggles for power in the context of the invasion of Haiti by paramilitaries backed by the core countries does not imply that they were pro-Aristide or pro-Lavalas. They may have been simply jostling for power or settling scores in local power politics. The idea that the Haitian National Police were divided along two lines – loyalty to either Lavalas or to the oligarchy – is a construct imposed from outside. From outside of Haiti, analysts needed to frame their analysis of the crisis within a dialectic of pro-Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas on one side and pro-oligarchy on the other. However, around the country, Haitians were fighting local struggles. It does not follow that those who carried out the coup are not responsible for the violence that was unleashed. It does mean that we should not make assumptions about the relationship between local, national, and international power struggles.
The incident in La Scierie was indeed manipulated by the backers of the coup. Within days, the National Coalition for Haitian Rights-Haiti claimed that government forces killed more than fifty people in what they referred to as the “La Scierie Massacre.” Soon, it was upgraded for the international audience as a “genocide,” perpetrated by, once again, the wanton savagery of Fanmi Lavalas. After Aristide’s removal from Haiti, Prime Minister Neptune was charged with having planned the “genocide.” By July 2004, in order to remove Yvon Neptune from the public stage, the interim government had him arrested and jailed. He was never formally charged, for the obvious reason that there had never been a massacre, much less a genocide, and that Neptune had actually been fulfilling his duties as prime minister with much restraint in the face of a criminal invasion of Haiti. In 2005, Neptune, still imprisoned, went on a hunger strike that brought him close to death in order to bring attention to the travesty of justice that resulted from the coup. He would be released in 2006.
From February 2004, Le devoir misinformed its readers by reporting uncritically the groundless accusation that 1) there had been a massacre at La Scierie and 2) Aristide and Neptune were behind it. When would readers discover what actually had not happened at La Scierie? Never. In 2005, we learn that Neptune and Jocelerme Privert, the minister of the interior under the Fanmi Lavalas government, are staging a hunger strike and are incriminated in “the massacre.”xxviii Even after the collaborators in the coup denounced the “human rights” group that had accused Neptune of the “massacre,” Le devoir continued to report that he had been implicated in the massacre of fifty opponents of Aristide.xxix In May 2006, Le devoir reported that Neptune would appear before a judge to hear charges against him for the massacre. The paper is still reporting that a massacre occurred, for which there has never been any proof. But the paper does not remark on the reasons that the prime minister has been imprisoned for two years without trial.xxx The most remarkable report in Le devoir came when Neptune was finally released without charge in July 2006, more than two years after his imprisonment. The paper, nevertheless, once again reminds readers that he was implicated in the massacre of over fifty opponents of Aristide. An invented massacre that Le devoir continues to report as though it were real.xxxi
A young girl of an elite family innocently revealed to anthropologist Timothy Schwartz the intersection of class and race in Haiti when she related to him her biology lesson from the day’s work. The teacher had explained to the class that the best way to understand parasites was to think of the poor of Haiti. Those “parasites” are at the core of all the fortunes that the Haitian elite has extracted from Haiti. And they never appear in the pages of Le devoir. Guy Taillefer unfailingly deferred to those elites for his reportage and never confused his narrative by talking with the “parasites” who struggled and sometimes died in a bid to elect their own government. Now, in 2016, he wants to help those people who never had a voice in his reportage or analysis when it mattered.
i I wonder whether a longer process, in which a Lavalas government attempted to rally support from across the Global South in a real jubilee campaign might have elicited a less violent response from the great countries. At the same time, it might have saved the great countries from the crisis brought by financial capital. Aristide would have established himself as a leader of the global south, and not simply Haiti. He would have been at least less isolated.
ii Claude Lévesque, “Tous contre Aristide: Jour après jour, les forces d’opposition réclament le départ du président haïtien”, Le devoir, 7 décembre 2002, p. B1.
iii Dominique Levanti , “Tension accrue en Haïti: Les manifestations anti-Aristide se poursuivent”, Le devoir, 13 décembre 2003, p. A1.
iv “Crise en Haïti: Le Bloc demande à Ottawa de prendre position”, Le devoir, 18 décembre 2003, p. A4.
v Jean-Michel Caroit, Le Monde, “Les Haïtiens réclament le départ de leur président: La peur semble avoir changé de camp, comme avant le départ de Duvalier” Le devoir, 20 décembre 2003, p. B2.
vi Philippe Girard, Haiti, the Tumultuous History.
vii Libération, “La France est appelée à rembourser le prix de l’indépendance haïtienne, payé il y a 200 ans: Les 90 millions de francs-or du temps de Charles X vaudraient plus de 21 milliards,” Le devoir, 31 décembre 2003, p. A4
viii Catherine Hours, “Le retour sur la scène haïtienne d’une Église affaiblie: La hiérarchie catholique propose un compromis pour tenter de lever le blocage politique lié à la radicalisation du conflit entre Jean Bertrand Aristide et son opposition,” Le devoir, 5 janvier 2004, p. B6.
ix Dominique Levanti, “Haïti sans Parlement,” Le Devoir, 13 janvier 2004, p. A5.
x Jean-Fred Bourquin, “Non à l’intolérable: Depuis son indépendance, le pays semble tourner en rond et s’enfoncer dans un appauvrissement toujours plus grand,” Le devoir, 9 janvier 2004, p. A9.
xi As a refugee from Duvalier’s Haiti in the 1970s, Midy wrote anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist denunciations in the Jesuit Montreal weekly, Relations.
xii Jean-Pierre Legault, “Aristide se cramponne: La fracture haïtienne,” Le devoir, 14 février 2004, p. B1.
xiii Guy Taillefer, “Trouble Titid: Des partisans désabusés font le procès d’un homme méfiant, passé de prêtre rouge à dictateur,” Le devoir,21 février 2004. As pressure mounts on Aristide in Haiti, Taillefer asks several Haitian immigrants working at Montreal universities about him. Aristide had spent three years in Montreal, from 1882 to 1985, completing a Master’s degree at the Université de Montréal. Despite the fact that they had either never met him or had seen him a couple of times during that period, they were able to diagnose Aristide as psychologically troubled, erratic, and troubled. The article is based no more than gossip and Taillefer concludes that Aristide is a dictator.
xiv Guy Taillefer, “Haïti: Washington et Ottawa plaident la négociation Nouvel appel à l’insurrection,” Le devoir, 14 février 2004, p. A1.
xv “«Nous ne serions que cinq, nous serions des héros»: Une manifestation lourde de sens à Port-au-Prince” Le devoir, 16 février 2004, p. A1.
xvi Louise-Maude Rioux Soucy, “Haïti: le Canada doit bouger, disent des ONG: Le ministère des Affaires étrangères se défend de faire preuve de mollesse,” Le devoir, 17 février 2004, p. A1.
xvii Guy-Robert Saint-Cyr, “Lettre de Port-au-Prince: Les deux fronts distincts d’opposition au président haïtien,” Le devoir, 17 février 2004, p. A7.
xviii Guy Taillefer, “Haiti: Paris propose l’envoie d’une “force de paix” Ottawa et Washington montrent peu d’intérêt, Le devoir, 18 February 2004, p. A1.
xix Guy Taillefer, “Haïti, une opposition à têtes multiples,” Le devoir, 27 February 2004, p. A5.
xx Roland Boutin, “L’État policier d’Aristide: Les Nations unis doivent porter le plus grand fardeau de la crise,” Le devoir 28 February 2004, p. B5.
xxi Geneviève Otis-Dionne, “Aristide a pris la bonne décision, selon Denis Coderre,” Le devoir, 1 March 2004. After the quake, Keder Hyppolite testified to parliament in regards to Canada’s response as the director of Help Services for Newcomers and Immigrants Incorporated.
xxii Guy Taillefer, “Le devoir de secours,” Le devoir, 1 March 2004. The responsibility to protect had become the centrepiece of Canadian foreign policy, proposed by General Rick Hillier and enthusiastically embraced by Prime Minister Martin. The legitimacy of the “responsibility to protect” as a justification for interventions in the sovereign affairs of nations was hotly debated at the United Nations.
xxiii Claude Moise, a right-wing scholar of Haitian constitutional history.
xxiv Guy Taillefer, “La revanche d’Aristide?” Le devoir, 11 February 2006, p. B1.
xxv Laennec Hurbon had written extensively on Haitian vodou.
xxvi Guy Taillefer, “L’Entourloupette,” Le devoir, 18 February 2006, p. B1.
xxvii Hallward, 296-7.
xxviii “Neptune et Privert font la grève,” Le devoir 4 March 2005, p. A5.
xxix En bref: Yvon Neptune transféré, Le devoir, 2 May 2005, p. B5.
xxx “Haïti : Latortue devant le juge,” Le devoir, 12 May 2006, p. B9.
xxxi “Le Canada se réjouit de la libération de Neptune,” Le devoir, 29 July 2006, p. A5.
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