The Attempted Character Assassination
by Ben Dupuy
from Censored 1999 (Project
Haiti, it is well known, is the only country
in world history which carried out a successful slave revolution.
It began in 1791, on the heels of the French Revolution. The man
who led the slave armies through most of our 13-year liberation
war was a former slave named Toussaint Louverture.
While much can be said about his military
genius, Toussaint was above all a master in the art of what we
might call "diplomatic guile." In other words, he sometimes
pretended to go along with his powerful adversaries-variously
the French, English, and Spanish-to get what he wanted, which
was the abolition of slavery (at least in its classical form).
One who has deeply studied and borrowed
from Toussaint's tactics is Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Just as Toussaint
attempted to advance his people's interests by sometimes fighting
against the French, then sometimes working with them, Aristide
has been locked into a similar dance with Haiti's principal adversary
in this century: the United States.
The debate about the viability or correctness
of using Toussaint's tactics in the 20th century can be left for
another time. But one thing is certain: President Aristide has
fallen in and out of favor with leading sectors of the U.S. ruling
class and government on several occasions, and this offers a very
revealing case study of how the mainstream corporate media has
alternately demonized and glorified him as a leader, not depending
on his support from or attachment to the masses, but according
to his professed attitude toward U.S. business interests and U.S.
Let us briefly review a little history.
First we must remember that Jean Bertrand
Aristide emerged in Haiti as a liberation theologian with an anti-imperialist
message. "Capitalism is a mortal sin" was one of the
refrains of the fiery sermons he would deliver at a church located
in the La Saline slum of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.
Although his prestige in Haiti was growing,
the U.S. corporate press made little mention of him, even though
the U.S. Embassy in Haiti was watching his rise very carefully.
Of course, the U.S. mainstream media could
no longer ignore him when he announced he was running for president
in October l990, thereby unleashing the euphoric uprising known
as the "Lavalas," or the flood.
The initial portrayal of Aristide by the
mainstream in that pre-election period can be summed up by the
description given by Howard French of The New York Times on November
12, 1990: Aristide was "a mix of [Iran's Ayatolla] Khomeini
and [Cuba's Fidel] Castro."
But of course, it was hard to frontally
attack a man who came to power not through a revolution, but through
elections which the U.S. government had sponsored and paid for.
All the mainstream press could do after
Aristide's overwhelming victory on December 16, 1990 was to attempt
to intimidate him. The New York Times in a December 13 editorial
warned Aristide that he had "acquired a duty to respect the
constitutional procedures that assured his victory" and "to
be patient, and to preach patience," cautioning that he "can
now become either the father of Haitian democracy, or just one
more of its many betrayers."
Well, we know who ended up betraying Haitian
democracy. The U.S. government, through its CIA, would work with
Duvalierism to overthrow Aristide after less than eight months
in power, with a bloody coup on September 30, 1991.
Rather than condemning the coup, the mainstream
press began attacking Aristide. "Returning President Aristide
to Haiti is going to be difficult for reasons to which he himself
has greatly contributed," stated a Washington Post editorial
on October 6, 1991. "The president is a hero to the desperate
people who live in the slums of Port-au-Prince .... He has organized
them into an instrument of real terror .... He has left the country
deeply polarized between his followers and the substantial numbers
of people who have reason to fear them." The next day, the
Post reported that Aristide had a "seeming disregard of legal
structures" and cited "independent observers and diplomats"
who charged that he "repeatedly has used explicit and implicit
threats of mob violence."
"Mob violence." If you look
through the mainstream press clippings for the period right after
the coup, you will see this refrain throughout. According to Katie
Orenstein of The Latin American Review, "during the two-week
period after the coup, The New York Times spent over three times
as many column inches discussing Aristide's alleged transgression
than it spent reporting on the ongoing military repression. Mass
murders, executions, and tortures that were later reported in
human rights publications earned less than 4 percent of the space
than The Times devoted to Haiti in those weeks."
Throughout the coup, the mainstream press
never stopped casting suspicion on Aristide. Negotiations with
the putschists began and Aristide was always portrayed as "intransigent"
and "inflexible," even though he was making all the
concessions and the putschists were scuttling every deal. But
Haitians in the diaspora maintained constant demonstrations in
support of Aristide and against the coup. The Democrats took advantage
of this movement to find support for Bill Clinton's 1992 election.
This is where there emerged a difference
between the two factions of the U.S. ruling class. President George
Bush and the Republicans were perfectly happy to leave Aristide
permanently in exile and work with their old allies, the Haitian
military and Duvalierists, in Haiti. But the Democrats, who are
supposed to be more "enlightened," calculated that the
generals would never provide real stability and would never have
legitimacy. So the Clinton Administration decided that they would
try to co-opt Aristide and force him to accept what is known in
Haiti as "the American plan." The essence of this plan
is to discard justice and reconcile with Duvalierist criminals,
and structurally adjust the Haitian economy: that is, privatize
profitable state enterprises, lower tariff walls, lay off state
employees, mainly from schools and hospitals, and slash social
subsidies and price-supports.
Of course, even if Aristide accepted the
deal, Washington felt he could not really be trusted, so U.S.
troops would have to militarily occupy the country as an insurance
That is how the Governors Island Accord
was constructed in the summer of 1993, whereby U.N. peacekeepers
would land in Haiti prior to Aristide's return on October 3O,
Well, the Republicans didn't like this
arrangement at all. Neither did the "invisible government"
in the U.S., that is the Pentagon and the CIA. Therefore, the
CIA began pumping up a death squad in Haiti known as the FRAPH,
which they called a "counterweight" to the Lavalas.
The FRAPH and CIA coordinated their strategies.
First, the FRAPH staged a demonstration with a few dozen thugs
at the Port-au-Prince wharf on October 11, 1993, so that the Pentagon
had an excuse to withdraw its troop carrier, the Harlan County,
which was to off-load 200 U.S. and Canadian soldiers. The following
week, Brian Latell, the CIA's chief Latin American analyst, launched
an offensive in the U.S. Congress and mainstream media to portray
Aristide as "mentally unstable" and a "murderer
and psychopath," while the coup's leader General Raoul Cedras
and his cohorts came from "the most promising group of Haitian
leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family." Henry Kissinger
went on TV to call Aristide "a psychopath." Right-wing
politician Patrick Buchanan called him "a bloodthirsty little
Some of the liberal dailies, like The
New York Times, made a half-hearted attempt to cast doubt on the
right-wing attack and the CIA's characterization of Aristide,
but most of the television networks faithfully regurgitated the
Despite the "invisible government's"
temporary victory in stopping Aristide's return in 1993, Haiti
kept coming back to haunt the U.S. Repression continued and refugees
kept flooding out of the country, eventually forcing the Clinton
Administration to re-examine how to return Aristide to Haiti under
U.S. supervision. This time the Clinton Administration opted for
a massive military invasion of 20,000 U.S. troops on September
When President Aristide agreed to this
intervention, along with the structural adjustment program, there
was a major shift in the portrayal of Aristide. He was warily
praised as a "statesman" who had "matured"
and become more "realistic." He was the prodigal son.
"I think the best thing that has
happened to Aristide and his administration-in-exile is that they
have had a crash course in democracy and capitalism, and come
to understand that too much revolution scares away investors.
Small countries can't afford too much social experimentation,"
said former Ambassador Robert E. White, a Carter Center agent,
shortly after the invasion in the Boston Globe.
Time magazine also spoke candidly about
Clinton Administration reasoning:
"For the next 17 months or so, the
U.S. must pin its hopes on Aristide. His 1990 election victory
gives him an aura of legitimacy no other Haitian figure can come
close to matching [one remark: 67.5 percent of the vote usually
gives legitimacy, not its aura]; the U.S. can hardly pretend to
be restoring Haitian democracy if it backs anyone else. If he
is a leftist and no admirer of the U.S., well, in a perverse way,
that makes American intervention easier to defend against possible
cries of Yanqui imperialism. Instead of overthrowing a populist
reformer to install a military dictatorship friendly to the U.S.,
Washington will be doing the exact opposite."
Two or three months after his return,
since there was no revolution, the corporate media was thinking
they had won him over. Listen to a December 1, 1994 Washington
Post article. As is the U.S. "objective" style, they
quote an official to give the spin: "'He is doing more than
we ever dreamed he would. He is doing everything right,' gushed
a senior U.S. official who had long privately expressed doubts
about Aristide. 'It's like a dream."'
But the dream didn't last for long. As
1995 progressed, friction between Aristide and the U.S. began
to surface. For example, on March 28, three days before President
Clinton was to visit Haiti, a putschist political figure, Mireille
Durocher Bertin was publicly assassinated. The hit was never solved
but its highly professional execution suggests it was a CIA operation
carried out to smear Aristide and embarrass Clinton.
In the U.S. mainstream press, Bertin was
lionized as an "opposition figure" and "an expert
in international law." Listen to the beginning of a March
31 Associated Press dispatch movingly titled, "Her Last Days"
by Michelle Faul: "She was setting up an opposition party
running her busy law office, redecorating her home, writing and
publishing a newsletter, and making time to educate her four children."
They never say that she defended the slaughter of over 5,000 people
by Haitian soldiers and FRAPH thugs during the coup. Indeed, she
sat on the leadership committee of the death squad FRAPH.
Soon the laments for Bertin became a full-fledged
trial of the Aristide government, which was accused of the murder.
U.S. government officials said that the killing was "masterminded"
by Haitian Interior Minister Mondesir Beaubrun, who vehemently
denied the charge.
Leading the attack were coup supporters
like reactionary columnist Robert Novak, who claims in an April
3, 1995 column to have unearthed an "enemies list compiled
by President Aristide's supporters." Novak went on to assert
that "it is common knowledge in Haiti that a shadow government
is headed by notorious former prime minister Rene Preval"
who oversees a "commando unit greatly feared by the political
opposition" as well as "the flow of weapons to the commando
units" through the coastal town of St. Marc. His insinuation
was that the supposed "commando unit" rubbed out Bertin.
One might dismiss Novak's accusations
of a 30-person "hit list" and other things as the mere
rantings of the conservative fringe. But the same day, the Associated
Press reported that Bertin "was among more than 100 people
on a hit list discovered by the U.S. government days before the
slaying." Other reports speak of a 96-person list. The simultaneous
discovery of supposed "hit lists" point to a typical
U.S. government/mainstream media coordinated campaign.
On April 4, the Washington Post launched
another missile. Writer Douglas Farah said he was not "suggesting
Aristide knew of or sanctioned the killing," but noted that
Aristide's "unwillingness to take steps against Beaubrun,
despite heavy U.S. pressure and the advice of some of his closest
advisers, has revived old questions about the president's willingness
to tolerate abuses among those who have shown loyalty to him."
The assumption here, of course, is that Beaubrun is guilty! No
trial, no evidence, just the accusation of the U.S. government
and its media.
Other conflicts began to develop as Aristide
disbanded the Army, resisted U.S. plans to double the size of
the police force, and dragged his feet on privatizing the state
enterprises. In October 1995, Aristide's pro-neoliberal Prime
Minister Smarck Michel quit in frustration. "Relations between
Mr. Aristide's government and the United Nations coalition that
brought him back to power have been fraying since Prime Minister
Smarck Michel stepped down," said The New York Times. "Mr.
Michel resigned and was replaced by Mrs. Werleigh after failing
to persuade Mr. Aristide to carry out an agreement signed with
Haiti's creditors to privatize nine state companies."
Then on November 7, Aristide's cousin,
Deputy Jean-Hubert Feuille, was assassinated. When Aristide ordered
Haitian authorities to arrest former Haitian dictator General
Prosper Avril for possible involvement in the murder, the U.S.
intervened to protect Avril. The U.S.'s meddling set the stage
for a dramatic speech Aristide gave at the Portau-Prince cathedral
on November 11.
Standing before U.S. and U.N. officials,
Aristide assailed their policies in Haiti. "The game of hypocrisy
is over," he said. He condemned the failure of the U.N. occupation
forces to help disarm anti-democratic forces, particularly the
rich and powerful in their big houses. "We say again that
peace must reign here, and for this peace to reign, there must
be no accomplices," Aristide said, referring to the U.S./U.N.
troops. "The big guns of the international community are
here to accompany the Haitian police to disarm all the criminals,
all the terrorists, all the extremists," Aristide said. "If
not, I'm going to tell them it's over... I'm saying now, whosoever
tries to block the legal operation of disarmament, if they're
Haitian, we'll arrest them, if they're not Haitian, we'll send
them back to their parents," he said in the mostly Creole
Well, you can imagine the U.S. government
and corporate press reaction. The November 19 The New York Times
reported on "Mr. Aristide's tirade," saying that "foreign
officials who have been working closely with the Aristide government
in efforts to build democracy here after nearly three decades
of dictatorship (dictatorships which the U.S. government supported
economically and militarily) described themselves as shocked and
even betrayed by the President's unexpected behavior."
The Times' editorial on November 26 entitled
"Mr. Aristide's Deadly Rhetoric" said that he had "alarmingly
reverted to the demagogic political style that scarred his Presidency
before the 1991 military coup that forced him into exile. That
earlier performance, which included incitements to mob violence,
planted reasonable doubts about his commitment to the rule of
law and fanned suggestions he was not fit to run the country.
Mr. Aristide's latest outburst . . . has already cost at least
10 lives and threatens to destroy Haiti's best chance ever at
democracy . . . With this episode of deliberately provoked terror,
Mr. Aristide has shaken the fragile tranquillity painstakingly
developed since Washington helped bring him back to Haiti 14 months
ago .... America's ally in Haiti is democracy, not any individual
politician. If Mr. Aristide means to prove his critics right and
destroy Haiti's chance for democracy, he should not have American
Democracy is threatened not because the
U.S. and U.N. occupying forces have shielded Tonton Macoutes (as
Duvalierist thugs are called) and putschist criminals from arrest
and prosecution, allowing them to hide and use their vast arsenals
of weapons to create the worst climate of violence and insecurity
which the country has ever seen. It is not because World Bank
and International Monetary Fund austerity policies have ruined
farmers, destroyed small businessmen, and impoverished a country
that was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. It is
because of "Mr. Aristide's tirade" and those unruly
In these same articles and editorials,
the mainstream press clamored in unison that Aristide and his
supporters might want him to recoup the three years he spent in
exile. "He may go back on his pledge to the United States
and try to extend his term past its scheduled end next February,"
warned The New York Times. The New York Daily News said that Aristide
was "becoming tiresome. The man who had to be prodded to
say thanks to the 20,000 Yanks who restored him to power now is
talking about ignoring his pledge-and the Haitian constitution-to
step down early next year. Coming on top of some inflammatory
rhetoric that helped spark a riot, the comments suggest that maybe
the CIA was right to fear that Aristide is unstable. Regardless,
he is flat out wrong."
Now who gives the U.S. government and
its hireling press the right to interpret the Haitian Constitution?
Where in the Constitution does it say that the clock is ticking
on a President's term when he is removed from power by a bloody
coup? The Constitution says nothing about what to do in case of
a coup, and if a determination is to be made, it should be by
the Haitian people, not Washington and its subservient media.
To make a long story short, the Lavalas
Political Organization (OPL), the party which was formed to support
the national democratic Lavalas agenda, made a deal with the U.S.,
betrayed Aristide, and ran Rene Preval for President. Aristide
finally acquiesced and turned over power to Preval on February
7, 1996, with the parting shot of establishing diplomatic relations
In the two years since that time, Aristide
[has] established the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which
has launched a credit union, a food cooperative, and a children's
radio station among other things. Many mass meetings take place
at the Foundation's large auditorium.
He also founded a new party, the Fanmi
Lavalas, which largely won legislative and municipal elections
held on April 6, 1997. The OPL has refused to accept the election
results and has launched what Aristide has called "a coup
d'etat which is revised, corrected, and improved." The result
is that the country has been without a Prime Minister since last
June and without even a caretaker government since last October.
The OPL has blocked in the Parliament every Prime Minister proposed
by President Preval.
But if you read the mainstream press,
who do they say is responsible for Haiti's deadlock? You guessed
it. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
For example, "Aristide: An Obstacle
to Haiti's Progress" was the title of a June 29, 1997 news/analysis
piece by the Miami Herald's Haiti correspondent Don Bohning. "The
one-time-priest-turned-politician... is simultaneously the country's
most popular figure and one of the biggest obstacles to its progress.
And there are those who see him as a threat to democracy itself."
Why is Aristide now seen as such an "obstacle"
when he is out of office? Because he has become an outspoken critic
of neoliberalism. In a bipartisan U.S. Congressional report from
June 1997, which The Herald and other mainstream media heavily
publicized, Aristide is taken to task.
The lack of a strong leader-particularly
given Aristide's renewed prominent role in economic and political
questions-poses a serious threat to U.S. interests in privatization
and economic reform in Haiti. Aristide's criticisms- which offer
no constructive suggestions as to how to reform Haiti's moribund
economy currently suffering between 70 and 80 percent unemployment-are
based on anti-U.S. and anti-international community slogans which
suggest a re-emerging nationalism.
And, for the U.S. government and mainstream
media, there is no greater sin than being a nationalist, well,
except being a bloodthirsty little socialist.
Meanwhile, President Preval, who has embraced
the neoliberal austerity package, has become the new darling.
Take this June 11, 1996 Herald report: "I think President
Preval has done a fantastic job. He has really taken the bull
by the horns and said 'either we are going to sit around and do
nothing, or we will move forward on economic reforms,"' and
official of a multilateral aid organization said. "You really
get a feeling that things are moving. It's not the usual lethargy."
Or here is Don Bohning's February 13, 1997 glowing portrait of
Preval in the Miami Herald: "Relaxed and informal, he responded
to questions candidly with an occasional flash of humor."
Other characterizations: "Low-key and unpretentious,"
or "Preval's modesty and low-key personality." In recent
months, as the crisis has dragged on, the press has criticized
Preval for not acting strongly enough on behalf of the "American
plan" and against Aristide.
When one follows the guidelines, one is
rewarded. Depart from them, and you will feel the whip. This is
why they now attack Aristide regularly for blocking everything
in Haiti because he no longer plays along. Take for example a
March 2O, 1998 Miami Herald article by Bohning entitled "Political
Impasse Puts Elections at Risk in Haiti." He claims that
Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas has "refused to go along" with
elections in Haiti.
This isn't only bad spin, it's just plain
false. The Fanmi Lavalas has been calling for elections to continue.
And how can it block elections? Aristide's party has no members
in the executive branch or in the Parliament. And it should have
members in the parliament because it won several seats in the
April 6 election, but the OPL has not allowed them to participate,
calling them illegal. They are legal according to the Provisional
Electoral Council that governs such matters. The mainstream press
doesn't castigate and vilify the OPL, even though this party has
blocked three different attempts to ratify a new Haitian Prime
Minister. If OPL were aligned with Aristide, you would see it
in the headlines and on your TV every day.
The sheer volume of misinformation is
so vast that it is difficult to show or repudiate anything more
than a small fraction. There are so many other lies and distortions
to denounce. But I will finish with the latest and most insidious
mainstream media campaign.
To show the insidious nature, I just want
to offer an anecdote. When we were coordinating President Aristide's
participation in this conference-airfares, hotels, and the like-we
encountered some financial obstacles. One of the conference organizers,
who will remain nameless, asked, "Why are we going through
all of this? Doesn't Aristide have money?" Here is a very
conscious, engaged, and progressive person helping to organize
a conference to combat the big media's lies, who has unconsciously
absorbed the media's lies. This shows you the power we are up
Their new campaign involves portraying
Aristide as a "millionaire," who is corrupt and manipulative
and living in a palace. Take the lead of this April 5, 1997 Reuters
piece: "Ensconced in a luxury villa behind pink walls, Haiti's
former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide still wears the mantle
of a champion of the poor as he snipes at the government of his
successor and one-time ally." The article goes on to cite
Aristide's "self-enrichment that past leaders indulged in"
and "a substantial house and swimming pool."
A May 14, 1998 article in the Los Angeles
Times is another good example of the smear job being attempted.
The article relies chiefly on two Aristide critics. "After
he came back in 1994, Aristide got the taste of power," said
Gerald Dalvius, an opposition politician who has announced his
presidential aspirations for 2000. "Now he only believes
in power. Maybe he looked for the money to get the power or maybe
to make more money."
"In every case, I believe power changes
people, but in the case of Aristide more than any other, power
aggravated the true personality," said Gerard Pierre-Charles,
leader of the OPL." Pierre-Charles also compared Aristide
to Duvalier, accused him of being "fascist," of smuggling
arms into Haiti, and then "blamed Aristide for the political
impasse that has paralyzed Haiti."
In short, Aristide is a devil in the eyes
of the U.S. government and the mainstream press because he criticizes
their plans for Haiti. He is the "obstacle," the great
manipulator, the "threat to democracy." Well, the real
manipulator, the real threat to democracy is the corporate media
and more generally the capitalist system of which it is a pillar.
In Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy professor Robert
W. McChesney tells us that "fewer than 10 colossal vertically
integrated media conglomerates now dominate U.S. media,"
companies like Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom,
I think most of the participants in this
conference are already pretty clear about the undemocratic, distorting,
and falsifying nature of the corporate mainstream media. But what
is to be done? How to fight back?
To our way of thinking, there is no way
to "reform" the mainstream media to make it more reliable
or truthful. It is not just a bad approach or policy. The mainstream
media, just like the state, functions to preserve and defend the
interests of monopoly capitalism, and can only function that way.
We might win some media battles, build
some media alternatives, denounce the lies, and raise consciousness
about the corporate media in various ways. We print Haati Progras
each week as some kind of antidote to and analysis of all the
lies they spread each week.
However, the only real solution is to
take control of the means of communication from the increasingly
tiny ruling class that also owns all the means of production.
A truly democratic media will only result from the revolutionary
change of capitalist society. Let us all use the media resources
in our reach to fight toward that end.
Ben Dupuy is the Former Ambassador-at-Large
of President of Haiti.
Global Secrets and Lies