I didn’t join Labour. I won’t, not in its current form and even if Corbyn kicks in the door and the radicals in the wilderness re-enter, I doubt I would.
My political position is quite simple. I used to be a social democrat who cleaved the political dynamics within Britain from the foreign policy of the state. I celebrated SureStart centres and new hospital wings and pushed the atrocities of Basra and Helmand to the back of my mind. Like I celebrated Atlee’s ‘New Jerusalem,’ and said nothing of chemical agents he was responsible for dropping on Malaya and the concentration camps set up in Kenya (the atrocities committed in which are sickening and belie any conception of an essential moral fortitude of the social democratic position). I stopped that division, realising it was founded on racism. I then began to see the inherent racism that operates in European social democracy, which – to put in a nutshell – shackles and beats the periphery for the good of the metropole.
Now Corbyn is undeniably different. His political stance on Iraq, Palestine, Mexico, Diego Garcia, Venezuela, etc. notable exceptions to the political mainstream which has kept the structures of colonialism in place, by hook or by crook.
Yet, despite the huge areas of positivity, let’s not get carried away. In his interview with Pink News Corbyn picked out Uganda as an area that requires more punitive foreign policy from Britain based on its treatment of LGBTQI communities (noting nothing of the colonial legacies that shaped said policy and the neo-colonialism of the Bush years). In a more revealing understanding of Corbyn’s international policy, he advocates in his BLINK interview with Middle East Eye that Britain become an ‘irritant’ in the global scene, pushing for human rights whenever and wherever and, in so doing, making the UK a bastion of human rights.
As lovely as this sounds, what does it mean? How does such a global outlook address the issues of colonialism and coloniality that structurally determine the humanitarian present?
I ask these questions because addressing the legacies of empire in Britain is fundamental to meaningful political progress. A racist division between us and them cannot re-emerge, nor can Britain acting as a global policeman before it has addressed its depraved inner-workings and the bestial legacies of its colonial past.
I’m all for this optimism, if we can lock it in the right direction. But the laziness in conceiving of the battle to be fought is irksome. Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are world’s apart, with Corbyn by far the more progressive voice. Nonetheless, comparisons can be made. If a reparations campaigner in Britain interrupted one of the mass rallies of Corbyn, how many white faces in that crowd would scowl and shout incensed by the very suggestion that Corbyn isn’t doing enough to address the legacies of empire?
Maximum unity and all that, but let’s not make such simple errors. For too long, social justice achieved in Britain came at the expense of those outside of it. A Corbyn led Britain still flies the butcher’s apron above its head, so let’s be humble, be critical and make sure that the needs of the liberal-left for hope do not drown out the need for fundamental, global change. If Corbyn’s Labour isn’t the end point in that struggle, keep thinking.
Moral indignation is in the air, and rightly so. At a time of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, when more migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean than any other time in recent history, the British government revoked funding for EU coastal ‘rescue’ services.Their reasoning – brutal in its intentionality – is that it encourages migrants to gamble their fates on the crossing. The UK government has decided that the greatest deterrent to migration is death itself. Lampedusa looms large over the hopes and prospects of the underdeveloped world. The dreams of a better life shall be crashed by the waves of the Med.
While this should morally outrage us, the situation is far more complex than it would first appear. With the unprecedented wave of migration that has hit the Italian coastline in the last year, a coastal service call ‘Mare Nostrum’ was formed. Mare Nostrum is an old Roman imperial and fascist term of Mussolini’s Italy, literally translated to ‘our sea.’ Funded through the European Commission, all European economies contribute to the service, accounting for around 90 percent of Mare Nostrum’s kitty. The rest, it seems, comes from Israel and Jordan. Mare Nostrum’s future seems uncertain with the EU’s FRONTEX agency taking more responsibility of policing the border.
Couched in the language of ‘search and rescue,’ the project polices the borders of Europe – already amongst the world’s most impenetrable. Throughout the EU and Israel, the position taken towards migrants is violent. Migrants represent an existential threat to the identities of the so-called ‘civilised world.’ Israel brazenly refers to African migrants seeking security in its territory as ‘infiltrators,’ threats to the purity of the settler-colonial state.
Migrants hoping for a better life across the sea find themselves on a perilous journey between Scylla and Charybdis. On the one hand, they face death at sea. On the other, they face the possibility of being picked up by border security services, detained indefinitely and in most cases deported back to their homeland. Those lucky enough to avoid capture or death enter into a world of uncertainty, where they are likely to work in unregulated labour, forming the under-class of Europe.
As European governments like the UK reduce their support for sea border control, the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) forms. MOAS is a recognized foundation based in Malta and led by Martin Xuereb, a Sandhurst graduate with 26 years of military service throughout the EU to boast. The commander on the seas – or Onboard Operations Manager in bureaucratic parlance – is Marco Cauchi, an anti-terror expert coming from 20 years of service in the Maltese Army. Ostensibly set-up for saving migrants after the Lampedusa disaster, this foundation is now filling the gap left by the states of Europe, who have left Italy overburdened by the growing migration crisis.
Watching MOAS at work is telling. Kitted-up as if they are dealing with a biohazard, the staff treat migrants as walking vessels of disease. They jetty the boat to the side of their rescue ship, take the migrants to the nearest coast and go back to port. What happens to the migrants next is not a consideration, for at least they ‘saved’ them from the perilous sea.
The spectacle of the overcrowded boat is not what it seems. To us, they seem to be a daredevil mission, so overcrowded it is as if they are just jumped upon. To those on them they are a gamble of the highest order. Whereas we would not be paid to take the risk, they often pay upwards of $1,000 to smugglers to get them a space on the criminally overcrowded vessels. So, to them, being picked up by the benevolent MOAS is not being saved, it is like dropping to the bottom of a pinball machine. Another chance lost, an even more risky gambit to attain their hopes and dreams if they have the will or ability to ante up again.
The migration crisis is not going anywhere. In our lifetimes, it is only going to get worse. The people who fill the boats do so in the hope of having the agency that life in the centres of capital provide. The underdevelopment of Africa, the protracted warfare in the Middle East and the effects of climate change are all causal factors for the crisis. And all of them have their roots in Europe and its settler colonies.
The short-term solution is bleak. The people who will risk everything to find a better life than what they’ve been born into will not be assuaged by the threat of death or detention and deportation. They remain trapped between Scylla and Charybdis. In the long-term, if Europe does not want to accommodate the masses of people who knock upon its door, it must start to address the underlying causes of migration. That entails making our governments break-away from the imposition of neo-liberal orthodoxy through international financial institutions, an active mobilization against our governments’ open and proxy warfare in the Middle East and a real attempt to limit the effects of climate change, vastly cutting our emissions. Any other solution is no solution at all.
We have an information gap regarding the beginning of the Libyan uprising. For a few days, the east of the country was destabilised. The eastern peoples and tribes believed that a new dawn had emerged and Gaddafi years were over. To many (whether the majority or not still remains unknown) this led to elation. However, this (mass) eruption was momentary, for Gaddafi’s crackdown looked to be ending all potentialities of change. Gaddafi seemed to be on course for a complete reclamation of power. The only thing standing in his way was the “International Community”. The imperial intervention is the only reason the armed conflict perpetuates. It is for this reason that the leaders of the rebels continue to reject the terms of ceasefire – for they know their only hope of power is shot from NATO planes.
The topic of discussion “Imperial Adventure or Humanitarian Intervention?” was inherently misleading, a false dichotomy and allowed the cancerous moral ambiguity to take hold of the room. Three of the panellists disagreed on the actions our government should have taken. Oliver advocated intervention, Ahmed supported it as the forces he is intimately connected with required intervention to continue to hope for change and Richard thought diplomatic routes could have been tried before intervention, which is never right.
Sukant Chandan took the position that needed to be taken; our problem is with the UK government, solely, and we must meet discuss, plan and act on how to stop their imperial aggression from the inside. As Andy Higginbottom, Ethesham Haque, myself and Fiona Edwards echoed from the floor – we must focus our attention on our governments and “get serious about British imperialism”. In case anyone missed it, the forum was the Equality Movement. A place where we collectively come to understand how we are living in the belly of imperialism and educate ourselves about our government’s machinations before we even begin to politicise about others. As this seemed to elude the majority of the room, one can only conclude that the equality movement, as it stands, is a forum for anti-imperialism at a time when the people it speaks to and with are not anti-imperialist. The moral supremacy of those who prescribe to the ideals of the West makes a straw man of the anti-imperialist position, so allow me to restate it.
Gaddafi is opposed on many levels and for many reasons. Libyan society has its own internal dynamics that only Libyans can truly know and overcome – it is not for us (i.e. those in the belly of the beast) to speak of their struggle to justify our own governments action, implicitly or explicitly. As most can see only too clearly – the pointing of the finger towards the third world is a diversion away from the brutality of our world, at this very moment in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq… Moreover and most importantly, the fingerprints of our intelligence services are all over the murder scene that is Libya. Let us unite in opposition against the perpetuators of these crimes.
While one may feel that Sukant Chandan, like Ortega, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Louis Farrakhan, Mumia Abu Jamal and many others have bent the stick too far in supporting Gaddafi, their general attempt to re-humanise the de-humanised is necessary. Anti-imperialist integrity demands relentless focus on the perpetrators of the current global order and the denial of their right to decide who is and is not human. One should never make other country’s leaders accountable to our government and our constructed and decrepit ethics of “human rights”, by proxy. Cries for “dignity”, “democracy” and “equality” sufficed to find consensus within the room on Friday. However, it was fundamentally problematic as it was predicated not on rational argument – but emotion. Areas of disagreement were contested with screams from the floor. Two of the panelists (Ahmed and then Richard) demanded that Sukant “shut up!”, while Oliver constantly harassed Lowkey to stop him from talking. With such a departure from reasoned discussion, a basic and always banal point was missed.
The CIA employs people in Langley whose sole function in life is to work out ways of maintaining power. The most obvious conclusion, therefore, is that empire’s interests were in both Gaddafi’s basket and the bitter tribes of eastern Libya. This is not to say that the governments determine the cause of history. Rather it is consistent and well known policy to build diplomatic dams to ensure that any radical sentiment can be contained with reforms that conserve the general order and/or make strategic gains. Effective strategies are contingent upon planning and a feasible transitional power structure, such conditions require years of meticulous planning and negotiations.
There is now a mountain of evidence that French, US and British intelligence services were in play from the very beginning. So, we must posit the hidden fist that precipitates the market’s hand. As I have argued elsewhere, morality is never the catalyst for military force and to even humour the possibility is to fall into the realms of ideology. Likewise, as Sukant argued from the platform, imperial intervention is not engaged upon on a whim. The decision to engage in Libya was taken by our government not on the basis of caprice, but strategy. If one refuses to accept this, then it is a legitimate question to ask “how do you consider yourself anti-imperialist?”
If one holds that our government invaded the sovereign territory of Libya on the basis of unverified and unsubstantiated claims of “massacres” to prevent a “greater massacre”, then one accepts that our government is at war for reasons that include morality, compassion and a form of internationalism. Advocates of such a position, are, as far as I am concerned, are liberal. The fundamental lesson of Iraq has not be learnt – don’t believe the words of leaders and embedded correspondents.
Holding such a position does not entail that the Libyan people are represented by those who seek to negotiate terms with imperialism. Never did Sukant or anyone undermine the legitimate grievances of the Libyan people, who are not all “contras”. The masses should not be forgotten, neglected or spoke past. The reason the anti-imperialist position is taken is not tokenist, foolish support for old leadership, it is because we must understand the liberation of the world’s people requires a true break with 500 years of imperial rule from the North European peoples and their settler colonies. We must also pay homage where it is due, for all Gaddafi’s faults (and, yes, there are many) he did fund, support and facilitate anti-imperialist struggles throughout the world. The Libyan crowd who attended the meeting and heckled Sukant non-stop exposed that they’ve little care for what Gaddafi does internationally, as they have such grievances with him domestically. Such a position is understandable, for a Libyan. Not supposed Internationalists.
The Libyan people stand in an intolerable situation. Once again, collective punishment is being administered by the forces of empire against the mass population for the power of their leadership. As I write this, the people are being bombed with depleted uranium infused rockets by a conglomerate of Western governments and their neo-colonial client states. Libya has tribal conflict grounds enough for civil war – and it is a battle of structural elites one ruled by a variable who the West hate (especially the tories), the others trusted figures who know how to do business. In between all of this are the Libyan masses – who lack proper representation and are stranded between a rock and a hard place.
The rebel’s leadership are strongly neo-liberal and represent sections of Libyan society, bitter at Gaddafi’s stifling of their interests, economic and otherwise. The “Interim Government” has been recognised by the French, Qatari, Italian and Portugese government and have begun a process of privatising the nationalised Central Bank and Oil industries. Just like in Iraq, the destabilisation of the regime is followed by the seizing of the countries assets through a scheme of privitisation. The language is more complex, the procedure more beauracratic, but the will remains colonial, and the architects remain Western.
There was nothing new in the build up to this war – anyone who is a serious about anti-imperialism did not fall into the trap of moral ambiguity. There is not a case of Western interventionism that was engaged in for compassionate reasons. The state cannot operate on such a level, to humour it is deeply naive. Seymour himself recognises this, as he sees the state as a structure composed of the interests of capital – neocons just call it realism. We call it empire and empire works to further its interests continuously.
However, empire’s time is coming to an end; it is freefalling and will have hit the ground before the end of our lifetimes. While hurtling towards the ground, austerity budget in hand, it is prone to lash out and attempt to reclaim its losses. We must not take our eyes off it and make sure the beast dies its long overdue death. The Libyan intervention is the containment of the Arab Spring, an attempt from empire to stifle third world momentum. It is an ill conceived plan to make strategic gains. It could be a disaster, let us hope it is and that the Libyan people unite to slice the fingers off the imperial forces. Though, one at the moment must admit, the West may have a dream come true if the world remains enchanted. As Gideon Rachman articulated in the Financial Times other day:
“policymakers in Washington…have a dream. In this, the governments of Syria and Iran are toppled and replaced by much more moderate regimes. The Israelis, reassured by the disappearance of their biggest foes, agree to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Egypt stabilises and becomes a prosperous democracy. Colonel Gaddafi is defeated and the grateful Libyans hail the west as heroes. A new and legitimate Yemeni government takes up the fight against al-Qaeda. The Saudi government embraces reforms that defuse its internal crisis, and keep the oil flowing.”
The invasion was got through on the basis of an information gap, filled by international media and a diasporic Libyan community. Diplomacy was not extended, just arms. Now the imperial airforce controls the skies of another Arab country, bombs its people at will and our radicals want to perpetuate the moral ambiguity that this thrived upon. It is just like Iraq in this respect. Think about the amount of people queueing up to assassinate Saddam, both literally and metaphorically. When the time came to invade, there were thousands of Iraqis ready to sing to the tune of empire to kill their foe. With Libya it is no different. With the destruction of Iraq witnessed by all, one would think the world would have learnt a lesson, especially the world’s self-professed radicals. Instead, they deliver talks substantiated with moral ambiguity. As far as I am concerned, it is not possible at this moment in history to be neutral between forces – it is clear what the terms of this conflict now are and those who take the side of the rebellion, side with the imperialists. This goes some way to explaining why Richard Seymour has “far more in common” with a neo-conservative follower of Irving Kristol than a third-worldist.
“It is no use painting the foot of the tree white, the strength of the bark cries out from beneath the paint” (Aime Cesaire).
After years in the doghouse, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is once again scratching at the door – begging for a return from exile. The line of obfuscation: “we were hijacked by neo-cons in the case of Iraq, really the doctrine stands for the type of morality exhibited in Sierra Leone or the Balkans”. The recent media contortions of unrest in Libya have not only opened the doghouse, but added a sense of immediacy to the need for debate of this issue and let the mongrel back in.
Having myself previously espoused the theory, believing it to be a continuation of the internationalism of the left, I critique it on the most fundamental issue with the doctrine – that it is a moral cloak. The doctrine is of no practical value – it is merely ideological. Platitudinous as it may be, it needs to be said: military aggression is never “humanitarian”, neither is starving third world countries through sanctions, installing puppet governments nor riding rough shot over historical and cultural traditions. Abstract morality, the supposed guiding principle, necessarily excludes historical analysis – as from a vacuum it is far easier to make blunt Manichean decisions where the West is good and all systems that are different are evil. Engaging in a genuine global political discussion of ethics entails fidelity to the truths of history – acknowledging that Western imperialism in all its forms and guises is not the solution, but the fundamental problem stifling true progress through imposing its will upon the world. Our global ethic seeks to break the chains of hegemony and unleash the forces, some good, some bad that have been excluded from the modern conception of statehood and stability.
Humanitarian language is spoken to drive up popular support for what would otherwise be seen as antithetical to the values of freedom, democracy and justice. The self-acknowledging imperialist does not care for internationalism and does not recognise the universality of their obligations. Their support is harnessed through statistics and analysis about the effect on Western markets – a cost/benefit analysis suffices to garner their support.
Fluffed up language about alienated and oppressed “others”, who require the liberal media to speak for them is used for a purpose. At times prefiguring imperial intervention it is worth comparing the business and mainstream news. The business is brazen in its intentionality – the mainstream news argues for the same conclusions, not through appealing to heads or wallets, but to hearts. It is of no coincidence that the manual for liberal intervention is dusted off when the cost of a barrel of oil has increased to as much as it was pre-Iraq. Liberal humanitarianism carries the “compassionate” along with the imperial without the vast majority being aware of this reality.
Although bereft of practical functionality, the doctrine evokes “morality” as if it is absolute and recognised by all. An analysis of our moral heart is instructive. Principles of exception run through all moral calculuses from Bentham to Rawls. Action based (deontological) and consequentialist (teleological) ethical systems have restricted scope that essentially break down to subjective choices on the part of the moral agent. When applied internationally a deeply Eurocentric and worrying political ethic manifests. The realpolitick, as most know only too well, restricts moral salience to nation-hood, cultural affinities or whiteness. The unseen foundation upon which abstract thought takes place is oppression.
Liberal internationalism is paternalistic and neo-colonialist at heart. The presupposition is that the Enlightenment provided the whole world with the tools and pathway for progress – in light of this, all that predated must be destroyed for the dawn of the new demands the disintegrating of the old. The march of “progress” and “civilisation” can only be described as barbarous. World history will judge the damage of our new ontologies – our whole way of being in the world is infected with a sense of mastery. Liberal internationalism is predicated upon the global hierarchy which places the thought, products, culture and lives of the West on high and all “others” upon low. Our moralising is nothing more than a shrill call for assimilation.
Human Rights may purport to be universal. In their abstract form, the declarations are universal in scope – but never in application. That many do not even reflect upon their inconsistent and contradictory ethics is enough to underwrite their claims. Universal morality is not an ideal that I wish to shatter, rather, like Aime Cesaire: “I have a different idea of a universal. It is of a universal rich with all that is particular, rich with all the particulars there are, the deepening of each particular, the coexistence of them all”. It is time we all realised we cannot attain this ideal without acknowledging the rotten core of Western morality and its vacuous and decrepit universality, and follow the consequences of this realisation through, no matter the cost. In the short term this entails removing the West’s global military and “diplomatic” presence, not extending it.
Almost everyone now accepts that the United Nations brought cholera to Haiti last month. The evidence is overwhelming and many experts (including the head of Harvard University’s microbiology department, cholera specialist John Mekalanos) made up their minds to that effect several weeks ago.
Poverty and a lack of rudimentary infrastructure compels much of Haiti’s population to drink untreated water, but there has been no cholera there for decades. Haitians have no experience with – and therefore little resistance to – the disease. All the bacterial samples taken from Haitian patients are identical and match a strain endemic in southern Asia. Cholera broke out in Nepal over the summer, and in mid-October a new detachment of Nepalese UN troops arrived at their Haitian base in Mirebalais, near the Artibonite river. A few days later Haitians living downstream of the base started to get sick and the disease spread rapidly throughout the region. On 27 October, journalists visited Mirebalais and found evidence that untreated waste from UN latrines was pouring directly into an Artibonite tributary.
By early November, Mekalanos couldn’t see “any way to avoid the conclusion that an unfortunate and presumably accidental introduction of the organism occurred” as a result of UN troops. Mekalanos and others also refute UN claims that identification of the source should be a low public health priority.
Probably as a result of UN negligence, more than 1,200 people are already dead and 20,000 infected, and the toll is set to rise rapidly over the coming weeks. So is the number and intensity of popular protests against this latest in a series of UN crimes and misadventures in Haiti in recent years, which include scores of killings and hundreds of alleged rapes.
Rather than examine its role in the epidemic, however, the UN mission has opted for disavowal and obfuscation. UN officials have refused to test Nepalese soldiers for the disease or to conduct a public investigation into the origins of the outbreak. Rather than address the concerns of an outraged population, the agency has preferred to characterise the fresh wave of protests as a “politically motivated” attempt to destabilise the country in the runup to presidential elections on 28 November. Protesters have been met with tear gas and bullets; so far at least three have been killed.
So far, in fact, so normal. The truth is that the whole UN mission in Haiti is based on a violent, bald-faced lie. It says it is in Haiti to support democracy and the rule of law, but its only real achievement has been to help transfer power from a sovereign people to an unaccountable army.
To understand this requires a little historical knowledge. The basic political problem in Haiti, from colonial through post-colonial to neo-colonial times, has always been much the same: how can a tiny and precarious ruling class secure its property and privileges in the face of mass destitution and resentment? The Haitian elite owes its privileges to exclusion, exploitation and violence, and only quasi-monopoly control of violent power allows it to retain them. This monopoly was amply guaranteed by the US-backed Duvalier dictatorships through to the mid 1980s, and then rather less amply by the military dictatorships that succeeded them (1986-90). But the Lavalas mobilisation for democracy, which began in the 1980s, threatened that monopoly and with it those privileges. In such a situation, only an army can be relied upon to guarantee the security of the status quo.
Haiti’s incompetent but vicious armed forces, established as a delegate of US power, dominated the country for most of the 20th century. After surviving a brutal military coup in 1991, Haiti’s first democratically elected government – led by president Jean-Bertrand Aristide – finally demobilised this hated army in 1995; the great majority of his compatriots celebrated the occasion. Lawyer Brian Concannon recalls it as “the most important step forward for human rights since emancipation from France”. In 2000, Aristide was re-elected, and his Fanmi Lavalas party won an overwhelming majority. This re-election raised the prospect, for the first time in modern Haitian history, of genuine political change in a situation in which there was no obvious extra-political mechanism – no army – to prevent it.
The tiny Haitian elite and their allies in the US, France and Canada were threatened by the prospect of popular empowerment, and took elaborate steps to undermine the Lavalas government.
In February 2004, Aristide’s second administration was overthrown in another disastrous coup, conducted by the US and its allies with support from ex-Haitian soldiers and rightwing leaders of the Haitian business community. A US puppet was imposed to replace Aristide, in the midst of savage reprisals against Lavalas supporters. Since no domestic army was available to guarantee “security”, a UN “stabilisation force” was sent in at the behest of both the US and France.
The UN has been providing this substitute army ever since. At the behest of the US and its allies, it arrived in Haiti in June 2004. Made up of troops and police drawn from countries all over the world, it operates at an annual cost that is close to twice the size of Aristide’s entire pre-coup budget. Its main mission, in effect, has been to pacify the Haitian people, and make them accept the coup and the end of their attempt to establish genuine democratic rule. Few Haitians are likely to forget what the UN has done to accomplish this. Between 2004 and 2006, it participated in a campaign of repression that killed more than a thousand Lavalas supporters. It laid siege to the destitute pro-Aristide neighbourhood of Cité Soleil in 2005 and 2006, and has subsequently contained or dispersed popular protests on issues ranging from political persecution and privatisation to wages and food prices. In the last few months the UN has also kept a lid on the growing pressure in the capital, Port-au-Prince, for improvement in the intolerable conditions still endured by about 1.3 million people left homeless after January’s earthquake.
Today, cholera or no cholera, the UN’s priority is to ensure that next week’s elections go ahead as planned. For Haiti’s elite and their international allies, these elections offer an unprecedented opportunity to bury the Lavalas project once and for all.
The political programme associated with Lavalas and Aristide remains overwhelming popular. After six years of repression and infighting, however, the political leadership of this popular movement is more divided and disorganised than ever. Fanmi Lavalas itself has simply been barred from participation in the election (with hardly a whisper of international protest), and from his involuntary exile in South Africa, Aristide has condemned the ballot as illegitimate. Many if not most of the party’s supporters are likely to back its vigorous call to boycott this latest masquerade, as they did in the spring of 2009, when turnout for senate elections was less than 10%. This time around, however, half a dozen politicians associated with Lavalas have chosen to run as candidates in their own name. They are likely to split the vote. Haiti’s people will be deprived of what has long been their most powerful political weapon – their ability to win genuine elections.
Since it is almost guaranteed to have no significant political impact, this is one election that might well achieve its intended result: to reinforce the “security” (and inequity) of the status quo, along with the many profitable opportunities that a suitably secured post-disaster Haiti continues to offer international investors and its business elite. “This will be an election for nothing,” says veteran activist Patrick Elie. Properly managed, it may even provide an opportunity for rightwing presidential candidates like Charles Baker to pursue the goal that has long been at the top of their agenda: restoration, with the usual “international supervision”, of Haiti’s own branch of the imperial army.
And if that comes to pass, then when the UN eventually leaves Haiti its departure may only serve as a transition from one occupying force to another, reversing decades of popular sacrifice and political effort. In the meantime, though, it looks as if the UN may soon have more opportunities than ever before to fulfil its mission in Haiti.
Mr. President Aristide, thank you for having me today. My first question is about the earthquake that took place in Haiti in January of 2010. Can you tell me how and when you learned about the tragedy?
It was morning here. I was at Witwatersrand University here in Johannesburg to work in the lab of the Faculty of Medicine for Linguistics and Neuroanatomy. I realized that it was a disaster in Haiti. It was not easy to believe what I was watching. We lost about 300,000 people, and in terms of the buildings, they said that about 39% of the buildings in Port-au-Prince were destroyed, including fifty hospitals and about 1,350 schools. Up until today they have cleared only about 2% of these 25 million cubic meters of rubble and debris. So this was a real disaster. We could not imagine that Haiti, already facing so many problems, would now face such a disaster. Unfortunately this is the reality. I was ready to go back to help my people, just as I am ready to leave right now if they allow me to be there to help. Close to 1.8 million victims are living in the street homeless. So this is a tragedy.
Your former colleague, the current President René Préval, was highly criticized after the earthquake for being absent. Overall, he was judged as not having shown enough leadership. Do you think that’s a fair criticism?
I believe that January 12, 2010 was a very bad time for the government and for the Haitian people. To have leadership, yes it was necessary, overall, to be present in a time of disaster like this one. But to criticize when you aren’t doing any better is cynical. Most of those who were criticizing him sent soldiers to protect their own geopolitical interests, not to protect the people. They seized the airport for their own interests, instead of protecting the victims – so for me there should be some balance.
Can you give us your thoughts on the recent cholera epidemic?
As for this recent incident of cholera, whether or not it was imported – as the evidence strongly suggests – it’s critical. First, those who organized the coup d’état/kidnapping of 2004, paving the way for the invaders now accused as having caused the recent outbreak of cholera, must also share the blame. Second, the root causes, and what facilitated the deadly spread of the disease are structural, embedded in Haiti’s historical impoverishment, marginalization and economic exploitation. The country’s once thriving rice industry – destroyed by the subsidized US rice industry in the 1980s – was in the Artibonite, the epicenter of the cholera outbreak. The near destruction of our rice industry coupled with the systematic and cruel elimination of the Haitian pigs rendered the region and the country poorer. Third, in 2003 our government had already paid the fees on an approved loan from the InterAmerican Development Bank to implement a water sanitization project in the Artibonite. As you can remember, that loan and four others were blocked as part of a calculated strategy by the so-called friends of Haiti to weaken our government and justify the coup d’état.
Many observers in Haiti and elsewhere keep asking me the same question, which is this: what are you doing here and what prevents you from coming back to your own country? The Haitian constitution does not allow political exile. You have not been convicted of anything, so what prevents you from going back? You are a Haitian citizen and should be allowed to move freely.
When I look at it from the South African perspective, I don’t find the real reasons. But if I try to understand it from the Haitian perspective, I think that I see the picture. The picture is that in Haiti, we have the same people who organized the invasion of 2004 after kidnapping me to put me in Africa. They are still there. That means there is a kind of neo-colonial occupation of 8,900 UN soldiers with 4,400 policemen spending, more or less, fifty-one million US dollars a month in a country where 70% of the population lives with less than a dollar a day. In other words it’s a paradise for the occupiers. First we had the colonization of Haiti and now we have a kind of neo-colonial occupation of Haiti. In my view, they don’t want me back because they still want to occupy Haiti.
So you see the elite in Haiti basically influencing those currently in power and pressuring them to prevent you from coming back? There is certainly a more friendly administration now in Washington. Are they still sending the same messages to South Africa regarding you?
No … (laughs)
I heard that you tried to go to Cuba for an urgent eye surgery and you were not allowed to go. Is this true?
Allow me to smile…(laughs) because when you look at this, you smile based on the contradiction that you observe in the picture. They pretend that they fear me when I am part of the solution, based on what the majority of the people in Haiti still continue to say. If they continue to ask for my return by demonstrating peacefully, that means you still have the problem. So if you want to solve the problem, open the door for my return.
Before the coup, I was calling for dialogue in such a way to have inclusion, not exclusion – to have cohesion, not an explosion of the social structure. The opposition, with foreign backers, decided to opt for a coup and the result is what I would say in a Hebrew saying: מן הפח אל הפחת , in English meaning, “things went from bad to worse.” So if you they are wise, they should be the first to do their best for the return because the return is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
You have said that you do not intend to become involved in politics, but rather return as a citizen. Is that your vision?
Yes, and I said it because this is what I was doing before being elected in 1990. I was teaching and now I have more to offer based on my research in linguistics and neurolinguistics, which is research on how the brain processes language. I have made a humble contribution in a country where once we had only 34 secondary schools when I was elected 1990, and before the coup of 2004 we had 138 public secondary schools. Unfortunately the earthquake destroyed most of them. Why are they so afraid? It’s irrational. Sometimes people who want to understand Haiti from a political perspective may be missing part of the picture. They also need to look at Haiti from a psychological perspective. Most of the elite suffer from psychogenic amnesia. That means it’s not organic amnesia, such as damage caused by brain injury. It’s just a matter of psychology. So this pathology, this fear, has to do with psychology, and as long as we don’t have that national dialogue where fear would disappear, they may continue to show fear where there is no reason to be afraid.
What has to be done for you to be able to return to Haiti? What do you intend to do to make that happen? It’s been six years now. It must be very tough for you not to be able to return with your family. You must feel very homesick.
There is a Swahili proverb which says: “Mapenzi ni kikohozi, hayawezi kufichika” – or “love is like cough that you cannot hide.”
I love my people and my country, and I cannot hide it, and because of that love, I am ready to leave right now. I cannot hide it. What is preventing me from leaving, as I said earlier, if I look from South Africa, I don’t know.
But when you ask the question to the people responsible here, they say they don’t know.
Well (pause) I am grateful to South Africa, and I will always be grateful to South Africa and Africa as our mother continent. But I think something could be done in addition to what has been done in order to move faster towards the return, and that is why, as far as I am concerned, I say, and continue to say that I am ready. I am not even asking for any kind of logistical help because friends could come here and help me reach my country in two days. So I did all that I could.
Do you think that the Haitian government is sending signals to the South African government that they are not ready? For instance, maybe they do not want you to return because they are concerned about security issues for you. The Haitian government may not be able to ensure your security. There are some individuals who, for ideological reasons, don’t support you and could go as far as to try to assassinate you. Is that part of the problem?
In Latin they say: “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” or “after this, therefore because of this.” It’s a logical fallacy. In 1994, when I returned home, they said the same: if he comes back the sky will fall. I was back during a very difficult time where I included members of the opposition in my government, moving our way through dialogue in order to heal the country. But unfortunately we did not have a justice system, which could provide justice to all the victims at once. However slowly, through the Commission of Truth and Justice, we were paving the way to have justice. Now I will not come back as a head of state, but as a citizen. If I am not afraid to be back in my country, how could those who wanted to kill me, who plotted to have the coup in 2004, be the first to care about my security? It’s a logical fallacy. (laughs) They are hiding, or try to hide themselves behind something that is too small…no no no no.
Are they afraid of your political influence – afraid that you can affect change?
Yes, and I will encourage those who want to be logical (laughs), not to fear the people, because when they say they fear me, basically it’s not me. It’s the people, in a sense that they fear the votes of the people. They fear the voice of the people and that fear is psychologically linked to a kind of social pathology. It’s an apartheid society, unfortunately, because racism can be behind these motivations.
I can fear you, not for good reasons, but because I hate you and I cannot say that I hate you. You see? So we need a society rooted in equality. We are all equal, rich and poor and we need a society where the people enjoy their rights. But once you speak this way, it becomes a good reason for you to be pushed out of the country or to be kidnapped as I was (laughs). But there is no way out without that dialogue and mutual respect. This is the way out.
In your view, what is the last element missing for you to go back? You said there was one more thing they could do for you do go back. Can you tell us that?
They just need to be reasonable. The minute they decide to be reasonable, the return will happen right away.
And that means one phone call into the US State Department ? One green light from one person? Technically, what does that mean?
Technically I would say that the Haitian government, by being reasonable, would stop violating the constitution and say clearly that the people voted for the return as well. The constitution wants us to respect the right of citizens, so we don’t accept exile. That would be the first step.
Now if other forces would oppose my return, they would come clear and oppose it but as long as we don’t start with a decision from the Haitian government, it makes things more difficult.
So the first gesture has to come from the Haitian government?
And they could make this happen by telling the US State Department you should be allowed to come back, and should come back.
They would not have to tell the State Department.
So it’s not a political decision in Washington? It’s between the Haitian government and the South African government?
As a matter of fact, I don’t have a passport because it is expired. I have the right to a diplomatic passport. By sending me a normal diplomatic passport there would be a clear signal of their will to respect the constitution.
But it’s the Haitian government that has to do that?
Or they could just renew your Haitian passport?
Ask you for a new photo of yourself and issue a new passport?
(laughs) You see why when I said earlier that we should not continue to play as a puppet government in the hands of those who pretend to be friends of Haiti. I am right because as long as we continue to play like that we are not moving from good to better or good to good, but from bad to worse.
There was a lot of noise lately in the US media about the candidacy of singer Wyclef Jean, who eventually was denied running by the CEP (Haiti’s Interim Electoral Commission). Any comment about the whole commotion around his candidature?
When we say democracy we have to mean what we say. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Haiti. They talk about democracy but they refuse to organize free and fair democratic elections. Is it because of a kind of neocolonial occupation? Is it because they still want exclusion and not inclusion that they refused to organize free and fair democratic elections?
Last year, we observed that they said they wanted to have elections, but in fact they had a selection and not an election. Today they are moving from the same to the same. They are not planning to have free and fair democratic elections. They are planning to have a selection. They excluded the Lavalas* party, which is the party of the majority. It is as if in the US they could organize an election without the Democrats. So from my point of view, Wyclef Jean came as an artist to be a candidate and it was good for those who refuse elections because they could have a “media circus” in order to hide the real issue, which is the inclusion of the majority. So this is my view of the reality.
Looking back at the dramatic events that lead to your overthrow in 2004, is there anything in hindsight that you wished you had not done? Anything tactically or strategically that you wish you had done differently and that could have prevented the coup?
If I could describe the reality from that day in 2004 to today, you would allow me to use the Hebrew phrase again (speaks in Hebrew) מן הפח אל הפחת, which means “from bad to worse”. That is how it has been from 2004 to today. When we look at that coup d’état, which was a kidnapping, I was calling for dialogue and they manipulated a small minority of Haitians to play the game of moving from coup d’état to coup d’état, instead of moving to free and fair democratic elections. The first time Haiti had free and fair democratic elections was 1990, when I was elected. Then we wanted to move from elections to elections. So in 2004, we were moving towards a real democracy and they said no. The minority in Haiti – the political and economic elite – is afraid of free and fair elections, and their foreign allies don’t want an election in Haiti. That is why they excluded Famni Lavalas. As long as they refuse to respect the right of every citizen to participate in free and fair democratic elections, they will not fix the problem.
That is an interesting answer, but I was more thinking of strategic mistakes you made such as asking France to pay reparation in 2003. In doing that, you lost a natural ally that could have stood with you before the coup and within the United Nations Security Council to protect your government. In fact, France stood with the US and did not come to your rescue this time, probably because they were very upset by your demand for restitution.
I don’t think this is the case. The first time I met with French President Jacques Chirac, I was in Mexico. At that time he was with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. I invited them to join us to celebrate freedom as a universal value. So that was an opportunity for France to realize that yes, Haiti and France can stand up together to celebrate freedom as a universal value.
In 1789, when France had their revolution, they declared “liberty, equality, fraternity” for all people, but in the back of their minds slaves were not human beings. To them neither Haitian nor African slaves were human. We fought hard and we got our independence; it was not a gift. It was the blood of our forefathers that was shed to gain our freedom. Despite that, we did not want to celebrate our 200 years of independence with any kind of spirit of vengeance, nor a spirit of glory to remind France of what they had done. It wasn’t that. It was an invitation to celebrate freedom as a universal value. So that would give a wonderful opportunity for France if they wanted to do it together. That would not exclude the truth because the truth is they obliged Haiti to pay 90 million francs, which for us today, is more than 21 billion USD. This is restitution, not reparation.
In 2001, here in Durban South Africa, the UN gave the Haitians and French an opportunity to address this issue of reparation. The French refused, but we respectfully asked them to let us have an opportunity to address this issue in a mutually respectful way. In one word – if today I were the President of Haiti, as I was in 2004, I would ask France to join Haiti to celebrate freedom, but also to address this issue of 21 billion USD. As a matter of fact, a head of state elected by his people must respect the will of the people. When President Sarkozy went to Haiti after the earthquake, Haitians were not begging for cents, they were asking for the 21 billion USD because it is a question of dignity. Either we have dignity or we don’t, and Haitians have dignity. That means we respect your dignity, so you should also respect our dignity. We will not beg for cents. Cents will never solve the problems of Haiti. After 200 years of independence, we are still living in abject poverty. We still have what we had 200 years ago in terms of misery. It is not fair. So if we want to move from misery to poverty with dignity, France must address this issue with Haitians and see what kind of agreement will come out from this important issue.
But don’t you think now, with hindsight, that this may have cost you your presidency?
It could be part of the picture but I don’t think it was the main reason.
If France had asked the UN Security Council to send UN peacekeepers to maintain your government, do you think you would not have been pushed out of power?
Sometimes you know there are diplomatic words to cover something else. I think at the time, the burning issue was Iraq.
France opposed the US on this issue and that was a golden opportunity for them to sacrifice Haiti in terms of leading and participating in a coup or in the kidnapping of a president.
But the real reason underneath was that France did not want you to annoy them anymore with this request. 2003 was the first time, at least publicly and officially, that a Haitian President made such a request.
I smile because former colonists defend their interests, not their friends. Even if they call themselves friends of Haiti, they will always continue to defend their own interests.
We could compare what is going on right now today, post-earthquake, to what was going on in 2004, in order to find out if France is really helping Haiti and if they would change their policy or not. From my point of view, they would not change their policy because they have enough in front of them, in terms of the disaster, to address the issue of 21 billion USD now. But they still don’t want to, meaning that if they don’t want to address it today after what happened in Haiti in January 2010. I don’t think they would have changed their policy in 2004.
That is my way to read it. But maybe one day the French government will take up the issue because men can change if they want to change. I wish they would change their policy to respectfully address the issue with Haiti, because it’s a must.
As a matter of fact, as soon as Gérard Latortue was placed as Prime Minister after your removal, the Haitian government dropped the issue right away.
But that did not kill the issue (laughs). If we look at the history of Haiti before 2004, no one dared to address the issue, but we were moving from misery to poverty with dignity. Then when we addressed the issue they did not want to answer – but that does not kill the issue. It means that it will remain a reality as long as they refuse to address it. My wish is that, one day, they will realize that they have to do it. What happened with Italy and Libya? Italy addressed the issue of reparation and that was good for both countries. The same way that we must address with France the issue of restitution.
I remember a recent article from Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald where an historian was quoted as saying:
“Lavalas was never a party. It was a movement, which is now in deep crisis and divided among distinct factions led by some of its old barons” …They all want the Lavalas vote without appealing to Aristide. So, yes, Lavalas as we knew it is dying a slow death.”
He was commenting on the current debate around the future elections in Haiti. What do you think of what he said?
Some people pretend they are experts on Haiti but they often act like people suffering from social amnesia. When you take a group of mice and you put them in a lab, if these mice don’t have the capacity of producing oxytocin in the brain, they are not able to recognize other mice. That is how it is, it is a fact. These people suffer from social amnesia. They are unable to recognize Haitians as human beings because of our color, our poverty and misery. The majority of the Haitian people declared “Lavalas is our political party.” That is what the majority said and they have their constitution, so how can someone pretend that it’s not? These people, from my humble point of view, act as if they were mental slaves, meaning they have their masters giving them financial resources to say this, and they can cover themselves under a “scientific” umbrella, when in fact they are mental slaves.
So there is this amnesia because most commentators admit that Préval won in 2006 thanks to the Lavalas base. Many in Haiti want to use Lavalas as well to win, but nobody wants the Lavalas party to win or mention your name in the process. How do you feel about this contradiction?
Unfortunately, what South Africa had before 1994 is what Haiti still has as a reality today. The structure of apartheid is still rooted in the Haitian society. When you have apartheid, you don’t see those behind the walls. That is the reality of Haiti. The people exist, but they don’t see the people and they don’t want to see them. That is why they don’t count them. They want to use them, but they don’t want to respect their will.
When they talk about Lavalas and the Haitian people, they fear them because if there is a fair election the people will defeat them. So they have to exclude the Lavalas party or the majority, in order to make sure that they will select what they want to select. So this is the kind of apartheid that they have in Haiti. If you say that, they will hate you and they may try to kill you. It is because they don’t want you to see the reality. Why do I say this? It’s because I love my country. If you have a cancer and refuse to call it a cancer, it will kill you. You better accept it and find a way to prevent death. That is what I want for my country.
But there has been some opportunism lately. We saw people like your former friend and later foe Evans Paul asking for your return. They are using you to get support from the Lavalas base. Or many want to appeal to Lavalas but are scared to mention you. What is your thought on this current reality in Haiti?
The day I would think that I can use the Haitian people, the Haitian people would start to distance themselves from me and deny me. They would be right to do that, because no one, as a politician, should pretend the people are dumb enough to be used for votes, for instance. I did my best to respect the Haitian people and I will continue to do my best to show respect for them and for their wishes. In 1990, when I was elected president, people were working in sweatshops for nine cents an hour. When I managed to raise the minimum wage it was enough to have a coup. And it happened in Honduras last year because part of the game was this: don’t raise the minimum wage, so people must work as slaves.
Today, the Haitian people remember what together we were trying to do. We were not just using them for votes. They are not dumb: we were moving together through democratic principles for a better life. If now they continue to ask for my return six years after my kidnapping that means they are very bright. They may be illiterate, but they are not dumb. They remember what together we were trying to do. So I wish that the politicians would not focus on me, but rather on the people and not the people for elections but for their rights – the right to eat, the right to go to school, the right for healthcare, and the right to participate in a government. Unfortunately, in 2006 they elected someone who betrayed them, so they realize that now. Wow. They say: Who else will come? Will that person betray us after getting our votes? They are hesitating, and I understand them because they are not dumb.
Now here is a practical question. How do you want to deal with the Lavalas party in Haiti? You are still the national leader of Lavalas. Don’t you think that it would be a better idea to transfer the leadership to someone in Haiti? Would that not be a better long-term strategy, rather than hanging on to the title of party leader? After all, that’s one of the pretexts used to not allow Lavalas to participate in the past elections and the future of Haiti as well?
If we respect the will of the people, then we must pay attention to what they are saying. I am here, but they are making the decisions. If today they decide they have to go that way, then you have to respect their will. That means I am not the one preventing them from moving on with a congress and having another leader and so on. As a matter of fact I am not acting as national leader outside of Haiti, not at all. I don’t pretend to be able to do that and I don’t want to do that. I know it would not be good for the people to do something like that.
They have said that it is a question of principle. First, they want my return, and then they can organize a congress to elect a new leader and move ahead. I respect that. If today they want to change it, I will their will. That is democracy.
What is behind the national picture is a logical fallacy. It’s a logical fallacy when, for instance, they pretend they have to exclude Lavalas to solve the problem. To not have Lavalas in an election, because it’s a selection, it’s a logical fallacy.
Before I said “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” or “after this, therefore because of this” and now I can say “Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc,” – “With this therefore because of this.” It’s a logical fallacy as well. They would not solve the problem without the majority of the people. They have to include them in a free and fair democratic election with my return or before my return or after my return. The inclusion of the people is indispensable to be logical and to move towards a better Haiti. That’s the solution.
So practically, if you were to say today that you would endorse Maryse Narcisse as the national leader they would accept Lavalas candidates?
Last year I received a letter from the Provisional Electoral Council, by the way, a council that was selected by the president, which is why they do what he wants. Excluding Lavalas was the implementation of the will of the government of Haiti.
I received a letter from them inviting me to a meeting and I said to myself, “Oh that is good. I am ready. I will go.” Then they said in the letter, “If you cannot come, will you send someone on your behalf?” So I said okay and I replied in a letter (1), which became public, asking Dr. Maryse Narcisse to represent Lavalas and to present the candidates of Lavalas based on the letter I received from the CEP. But they denied it because the game was to send the letter to me and assume that I would not answer. Then they could tell the Haitian people, “Look he does not want to participate in the election.” So they were using a pretext to pretend that they are intelligent, but in reality to hide the truth.
Did they not claim it was false at some point, or that it was not your signature?
They claimed that the mandate from me should have been validated by the Haitian consulate in South Africa, when they know that there is no representative of the Haitian government in South Africa, you see.
No embassy at all?
No. When I was President, I had named an Ambassador to South Africa, but that ended with the coup. After our independence, we had to wait until 1990 to have free democratic elections. We cannot change the economic reality in one day, in one year, but at least we should continue to respect the right of Haitians to vote. So today, why play with the right to vote? It’s cynical. You cannot improve their economic life and you deny them their right to vote. It’s cynical. South Africa did something which could be good for many countries, including Haiti. In 1994, when South Africans could vote, they voted. They are trying to move from free and fair elections while trying to improve their economic life. This is the right way to go. Not denying the right for poor people to vote while you cannot even improve their life.
The night of the coup. You spoke about it already and at the time you said to me that you were writing a book about it. Is that still in the works?
The book has been finished since 2004.
Ready to be published?
It was ready to be published and it would be published if I were allowed to do that.
Do you still remember the night of the coup – and I am sure you do because nobody is used to being awakened in the middle of the night and sent on a plane surrounded by armed people. Do you wish you had said no to Mr. Moreno, “I am not signing this letter of resignation” or “I won’t get on that plane. I will deal with the security issues in Haiti with my government”?
As I just said, if I were allowed to publish the book, the book would have been published in 2004. So in the book, you have the answers to your important questions and that is why now I will not elaborate on it, based on what I just said. In one word, I would do exactly what I did and I would say exactly why I said because it was right what I said and what I did. They were wrong, and they are still wrong.
What is known is the letter (2) in Kreyol that you signed and was according to you mistranslated.
Of course it was mistranslated.
Right, but you also you clearly stated that you were forced at gunpoint and that’s public knowledge.
It is, but if I don’t elaborate, it’s not because I want to give an evasive answer. It’s just based on what I said to you before.
What if the book never gets published?
Maybe it’s the same reason why I am still here (laughs). I wish they let me leave as well as let the book get published (laughs).
There have been these accusations (3) of corruption against you starting with filmmaker Raoul Peck and then taken over by Ms. Lucy Komisar and Ms. Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal about your personal involvement in a Teleco/IDT deal back in 2003.
Can you put these accusations to rest?
First, they are lying. Second, what can we expect from a mental slave? (laughs) He will lie for his masters. He is paid to lie for his masters, so I am not surprised by these nonsensical allegations. As I said, they are lying.
They are lying. But it’s possible that maybe under you at some level in your government there was some corruption involving Teleco and IDT?
I never heard about things like that when I was there and I never knew about it. If I had known, of course we would have done our best to stop it or to prevent it or to legally punish those who could have been involved in such a thing.
Why have you not declared this publicly because these things happen all the time? I am sure there is corruption at every level in the South African government as there is under the Obama Administration. Things happen and we don’t need to examine Haiti only to find it. You could say that you were the head of state but not the head of Teleco. Things happen.
As I said, there are more people receiving money to lie than people receiving money to tell the truth. I don’t know how many times I have answered this question, but sometimes the journalist may have the answer but is not allowed to make it public. (laughs).
Would you be in favor of creating a Haitian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to what South Africa did, that would allow some of the people who have been exiled under Duvalier and Cedras and your two presidencies to come back and be called to appear in that commission – and ask for forgiveness and amnesty if needed?
What I will say now, is not because I am now outside Haiti wanting to go back that I will say it. No, I already said it and I will just repeat it: There is no way to move forward in Haiti without dialogue. Dialogue among Haitians. Once we had an army of 7,000 soldiers controlling 40% of the national budget, but moving from coup d’état to coup d’état. I said no. Let’s disband the army, let’s have a police force to protect the right of every citizen, let’s have dialogue to address our differences. There is no democracy without opposition.
We have to understand one another when we oppose each other. We are not enemies, so we have to address our differences in a democratic way and only then can we move ahead. I have said it so many times already. We still have people calling themselves friends of Haiti coming to exploit the resources. They don’t want national dialogue. They don’t want Haitians to live peacefully with Haitians. South Africa did it when they had The Commission of Truth and Reconciliation. People came and realized that they had made mistakes. Everybody can make mistakes. You must acknowledge that you made mistakes, and the society will welcome you. If you cannot do that through tribunals because of the numbers, then find a way to address it. We cannot pretend that Haiti will have a better future without that dialogue. We must have it.
In 1994, when I went back to Haiti from exile, we established a Commission for Truth and Justice and Reconciliation. I passed the documents to the next government, and I never heard about it again. Haitians never heard about it because the government wanted to move fast towards privatization of state enterprises instead of that path which was recommended.
Would that mean allowing all the political exiles to come back no matter how bad they were, including people like Raoul Cedras and Jean-Claude Duvalier.
I will not move forward with conclusions outside of that framework of justice. The Commission addressed the case of these criminals and paved the way for justice and dialogue. You see, so I said it and will continue to say it: We need to continue to address this issue of dialogue, truth and justice. Otherwise, we will continue to play either like a puppet government or be mental slaves in the hands of those who still want to exploit our resources and they will not decide to change it for Haitians. Haitians must start to say no. Let’s change it – not against foreigners, not against true friends, with them if they want, but they will not do it for us unless we start to do it.
Do you hold a grudge today against president René Préval for not being more forceful in trying to facilitate your return to Haiti? He owes his election thanks to the Lavalas base.
If I pay attention to what the people are saying, they describe President Préval as someone who betrayed me and it’s true. They voted for him. I did not vote, I was here, but those who elected him now realize he has failed them. He betrayed them.
He is playing in the hands of those who are against the interests of the people – that is what they said.
Do you feel personally betrayed? I am sure you realize the difficulties of the situation he was in.
Personally, I say let’s put the interests of the people first. Not my interests. If I can do something for him, or if I have to, I will do it. It’s a matter of principle an in his case he did not have to do anything for me. He just had to respect the constitution. The constitution does not allow exile. He should not violate the constitution. That is it. But as he did, history takes note and history will recognize that he failed, unfortunately.
I remember a famous progressive journalist in Geneva reviewing my film (4) and one of the critics he had was that I did not speak about voodoo and how it affects Haiti’s politics.
What do you think of this tendency among many western journalists who try to explain Voodoo as one main reason for Haiti’s problems?
I enjoy drawing parallels between voodoo and politics. Why? Because in the west when they want to address political issues, they may, as you suggested or indicated, mix it with voodoo as a way to avoid going straight to the truth. The truth could be, for instance, historical.
Fourteen years after Christopher Columbus arrived in Haiti, in 1492, they had already killed three million indigenous people. Do they speak about it today? Do they know about it? I don’t know. At that time, one could be 14 years old and would have to pay a quarter of gold to Christopher Columbus or they would cut your arm or feet or ears. Do they talk about it? If you do, it’s like “oh really or maybe.” They have problems exposing the truth, acknowledging what was going on at that time. And if you look at the reality of today, it is almost the same thing. Last week there was some trouble because of storms and earthquakes and Haiti lost about ten people, some say five some say more than ten. In any case, even if it were one person, it would already mean a lot for us because a human being is human being. Instead of focusing on what is the reality of misery, abject poverty, occupation, colonization, some prefer to find a scapegoat through voodoo. The UN itself had to expel 114 soldiers for rape and child abuse. So we see people invading a country, pretending to help, while they are actually involved in rape, child abuse and so on. And it is not an issue for people who like to talk about voodoo as if voodoo by itself could cover this reality. The same way they don’t want to face our historical drama linked to colonization.
Is it a racist distraction?
It is, it is. I respect religion and will respect any religion. Africans had their religion here. They went to Haiti and continued their practice and I have to respect that. In addition, the Haitian constitution, respects freedom of religion. So let’s address the drama, misery, poverty, exploitation, occupation, and people without the right to vote or eat. People want to be free. They don’t have self-determination. Let’s focus on people who have no resources and are dying. We had such a wonderful solidarity after January 12 in the world, where citizens worldwide were building solidarity with Haitians. That was great to see Whites and Blacks crossing barriers of color to express their solidarity with the victims of the deadly earthquake.
And on behalf of the Haitian people, if I may, I will say thank you to all those true friends who did it while others who call themselves true friends of Haiti preferred to send soldiers with weapons to protect their own interests instead of protecting human beings who were really suffering. Amputations – we had them by the thousands without anesthesia. They were cutting hands and feet of victims and it’s not an issue for some people who prefer to talk about voodoo as if voodoo could be the cause of what is going on in Haiti. No, what is going on in Haiti is rooted in colonialism, neo-colonialism in that neoliberal policy applied and imposed upon Haiti, not in religious issues like voodoo. For me, as long as they don’t try to face the reality as it is, they may continue to use issues like voodoo to hide facts, any attempt to replace truth by racist distractions will fail.
Anything that you would like to add that you have at heart and have not been able to tell?
Well … if you ask a Zulu* person the way to reach somewhere while you are on the right path, that person will tell you (in Zulu): “Ugonde ngqo ngalo mgwago” which means go straight on your way.
That is why the Haitian people who are moving from misery to poverty with dignity should continue to move straight towards that goal. If we lose our dignity we lose everything. We are poor – worse than poor because we are living in abject poverty and misery. But based on that collective dignity rooted in our forefathers, I do believe we have to continue fighting in a peaceful way for our self-determination, and if we do that, history will pay tribute to our generation, because we are on the right path.
Mr. President, thank you for your time.
[*] Lavalas is a Creole word meaning ‘flood’, ‘avalanche’, a ‘mass of people’ or ‘everyone together’. Fanmi means ‘family’.
[*] Zoulou is the name of the largest ethnic group in South Africa and the most widely spoken home language as well
. 1) Letter of President Aristide – november 2009 – authorizing Dr. Maryse Narcisse to register Lavalas candidates to vote. http://www.hayti.net/tribune/index.php?mod=articles&ac=commentaires&id=725
2) Letter of resignation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide – the original Kreyol translation by professor Bryant Freeman http://www.nathanielturner.com/aristidedidnotresign.htm The other official translation provided by the US embassy and used most widely in mainstream medias: http://articles.cnn.com/2004-03-01/world/aristide.letter_1_constitution-jean-bertrand-aristide-haitian-president-jean-bertrand-aristide?_s=PM:WORLD
3) “Aristide’s American Profiteers”, an article by Mary Anastasia O’Grady http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121720095066688387.html
4) “Aristide and the Endless Revolution”, a documentary by Nicolas Rossier , http://www.aristidethefilm.com
Nicolas Rossier is an award winning independent filmmaker and reporter who lives in Brooklyn New-York. This is the first in a series of interviews with former heads of state.
By Adam Hudson
During the Nuremberg Trials, the chief American prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson, famously stated[i]: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” America has a long history of war and its accumulated evils. It began as thirteen small colonies that sat along the Atlantic coast. In over a century, the United States expanded all the way to the Pacific Ocean – from sea to shining sea. The process was not pretty. It involved the genocide of the native Americans and the enslavement of millions of black Africans whose free labor was needed to fuel the American capitalist economy. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States began to colonize other lands, such as Hawaii, the Philippines and Cuba. Since then, it has occupied and intervened with military force in all regions of the globe[ii], such as Latin America, Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. This is not to mention the democratically-elected leaders America overthrew in places like Chile and Iran. The United States currently occupies two countries – Iraq and Afghanistan – and has a network of over 700 military bases globally[iii]. As such, the United States is a de facto empire[iv].
One key element of American imperial history is its use of torture, which can be traced back to America’s treatment of African slaves. Such an analysis of torture, especially in the post-9/11 era, is very uncommon in mainstream political discourse. As such, before I proceed, it is important to dispel the current myths about torture propagated in the mainstream media.
As is well known, the United States has tortured hundreds of detainees suspected of being involved in terrorism. It is hard not to notice when the former Vice President brags about personally authorizing the use of torture on national television[v]. These acts included water-boarding, physical beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and, in some cases, murder[vi].
The primary justification is that torture is a necessary tool to extract information from people who might know about impending threats of terrorism. Politicians (both Republican and Democrat), intellectuals, pundits and other leaders argue that America faces a new kind of threat. America is up against extremist, religious fanatics who hate the United States and wish to kill innocent Americans. Current domestic and international laws and law enforcement tactics are not sufficient to subdue this threat. As Alberto Gonzalez said to former President George W. Bush, the Geneva Conventions are “obsolete” in this new war against terrorism.[vii]
As a result, the United States must be willing to torture terrorist suspects in order to extract vital information that could prevent the next terrorist attack. This apocalyptic mindset has impacted the current American psyche and post-9/11 American foreign policy. Since the war is against a nebulous enemy, the war against terrorism is essentially a permanent war.
Despite the compelling arguments used to justify torture, adopting an objective view of the facts rips them asunder. First, there is little to no evidence to prove that torture is a useful interrogation technique. In fact, the evidence that does exist proves the opposite – that torture is ineffective because the suspect will say anything, whether it’s true or not, in order to make the torture stop. Ali Soufan, an intelligence official who interrogated Guantanamo terror suspect Abu Zubaydah, stated[viii] that conventional interrogation techniques compelled Zubaydah to provide actionable intelligence. It was only after Zubaydah was waterboarded several times that he could not provide useful intelligence.
Second, most of the people detained, usually indefinitely, in places like Guantanamo Bay and CIA-owned black sites are not diehard terrorists. The vast majority of them are innocent. Even President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other high government officials may have been aware of this[ix]. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Cheney “had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent…If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.” The apocalyptic mindset of the broader War on Terror justified this tragedy.
Third, torture and cruel or inhumane treatment is a violation of U.S. domestic law and international law. The Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment and the Torture Act prohibits the use of torture[x]. There are several international treaties that prohibit the use of torture. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions[xi], the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[xii], the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture explicitly prohibit torture and cruel or inhuman treatment[xiii]. The Convention Against Torture even states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
Sending a person to a country where it is known they will be tortured – a practice known as extraordinary rendition – is also illegal under international law. However, the current Obama administration continues this practice. Torturing an individual violates that person’s fundamental human rights and their inherent dignity as a human being. Not only is torture illegal, it is also immoral and one of the many accumulated evils of war.
Given the transparency of official justifications for torture, one question remains. Why does the United States continue to torture people, even though it is ineffective, illegal and immoral? Torture has historically been used by governments for four main reasons.[xiv] One reason is to extract a confession and establish guilt. Torture is commonly used in countries where the presumption of innocence does not exist in the legal system. The second reason is for power. Powerful rulers would torture people in order to instill fear in their citizenry and remind them of who has authority. The third reason is to curb political dissent. While all three of these reasons may be applicable to the United States, the fourth reason gets to the heart of why America tortures. The fourth historical reason for utilizing torture is to subjugate a group of people considered to be sub-human.
An apt comparison to the American use of torture would be the French use of torture during the Algerian War of Independence.[xv] The French colonization of Algeria was based on the racist ideology of the French civilizing mission. In the eyes of the French colonial power, their culture was superior and more advanced than the cultures of racially-inferior “others”, in this case, the Algerians. The French saw it was their duty to “civilize” people who they viewed as primitive through colonialism. As such, the French annexed Algeria and established colonial settlements on Algerian land. When Algerian nationalists engaged in guerrilla warfare to oust the French, France felt it was up against a new kind of enemy – Maoist-inspired guerrillas. In order to defeat this enemy, the French believed it was necessary to engage in exceptional and unconventional means of warfare. This included denial of prisoner-of-war protections for captured combatants, trials in military tribunals, torture and execution. The French counter-insurgency strategy is very similar to American foreign policy post-9/11. It was motivated, in large part, by a belief in Algerian sub-humanity; in other words, racism.
Racism is not just an individual problem of prejudice or hate. It is an ideology used to justify systems of hegemony and oppression. It creates a binary between the Self and the Other. The Self is ascribed all positive aspects of humanity, such as rationality, intelligence, high culture, and credit for creating the benefits of modern civilization. The Other is ascribed all negative aspects of humanity, such as irrationality, primitivity, criminality, and barbarity. By categorizing certain groups as inferior “others”, hegemonic powers rob those people of their humanity, thus, making it easier to commit acts of brutality against them for imperial interests.
Racism, under the banner of “manifest destiny”, was used to justify the genocide committed against the Native Americans that made room for American territorial expansion. Racism was used to justify the enslavement of millions of black Africans whose free labor was exploited to work on plantations and build the American economy.
Despite the advancements made during the civil rights movement, racism still exists in many areas of American life, such as the disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos in prison, de facto housing segregation, inequality in the education system, and police brutality committed against people of color. Some of the most recent cases of police brutality were the deaths of 22-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland[xvi] and 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in Detroit[xvii] – both of whom were African-American.
America’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq serve to maintain American global hegemony and access to key resources such as oil. The racist dehumanization of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians is committed to justify America’s wars and acts of torture primarily against people from countries whose populations are predominantly Muslim and black and brown-skinned, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. It is not difficult to witness the manifestations of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in American society. It exists within the media and underlies the sophistry of politicians and leading intellectuals. Muslims, Arabs and South Asians are always suspected of being terrorists, similar to how black and Latino people are suspected of being drug-dealers, gang members and criminals. Racism is the fundamental ideological motivation behind America’s wars and use of torture.
The key task now is to end America’s use of torture and, more broadly, eliminate racism and imperialism; a daunting task but a necessary one, nevertheless.
That’s what you’ll conclude if you read Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s War. (You can read excerpts of it here, here and here.) You thought you voted for change when you cast a ballot for Barack Obama? Um, not when it comes to America occupying countries that don’t begin with a “U” and an “S.”
In fact, after you read Woodward’s book, you’ll split a gut every time you hear a politician or a government teacher talk about “civilian control over the military.” The only people really making the decisions about America’s wars are across the river from Washington in the Pentagon. They wear uniforms. They have lots of weapons they bought from the corporations they will work for when they retire.
For everyone who supported Obama in 2008, it’s reassuring to find out he understands we have to get out of Afghanistan. But for everyone who’s worried about Obama in 2010, it’s scary to find out that what he thinks should be done may not actually matter. And that’s because he’s not willing to stand up to the people who actually run this country.
And here’s the part I don’t even want to write — and none of you really want to consider:
It matters not whom we elect. The Pentagon and the military contractors call the shots. The title “Commander in Chief” is ceremonial, like “Employee of the Month” at your local Burger King.
Everything you need to know can be found in just two paragraphs from Obama’s War. Here’s the scene: Obama is meeting with his National Security Council staff on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. He’s getting ready to give a big speech announcing his new strategy for Afghanistan. Except…the strategy isn’t set yet. The military has presented him with just one option: escalation. But at the last minute, Obama tells everyone, hold up — the door to a plan for withdrawal isn’t closed.
The brass isn’t having it:
“Mr. President,” [Army Col. John Tien] said, “I don’t see how you can defy your military chain here. We kind of are where we are. Because if you tell General McChrystal, ‘I got your assessment, got your resource constructs, but I’ve chosen to do something else,’ you’re going to probably have to replace him. You can’t tell him, ‘Just do it my way, thanks for your hard work.’ And then where does that stop?”
The colonel did not have to elaborate. His implication was that not only McChrystal but the entire military high command might go in an unprecedented toppling — Gates; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command. Perhaps no president could weather that, especially a 48-year-old with four years in the U.S. Senate and 10 months as commander in chief.
But here’s the question Woodward doesn’t answer: Why, exactly, can’t a president weather ending a war, even if he has to fire all his generals to do it? It’s right there in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution: The President’s in charge of the military. And so is Congress: the army can’t just march over to the Treasury Department and steal the money for wars. Article I, Section 9 says Congress has to appropriate it.
In the real world, though, the Constitution’s just a piece of paper. In the real world, a President who fired his top military in order to stop a war would be ruined before you could say “bloodless coup.” The Washington Post (filled with ads from Boeing and Northrop Grumman) would scream about how he was the reincarnation of Neville Chamberlain. Fox and CNN (filled with “experts” who work for think tanks funded by Raytheon and General Dynamics) would say he was a girly-man who had to be impeached. And Congress (which experienced its own escalation in lobbying from defense contractors just as the Afghanistan escalation was being decided) might well do it. (By the way, if you want to listen to Lyndon Johnson talk in 1964 about how he might be impeached if he didn’t follow the military-industrial complex’s orders and escalate the war in Vietnam, just go here.)
I’d like to add some reflections on the notion of “state racism” to our meeting’s agenda. These reflections run against a widespread interpretation of measures that our government has recently taken, from the law on the veil to the expulsions of the Roma. This interpretation detects an opportunism that is exploiting racism and xenophobia for electoral gain. This supposed critique reinforces the assumption that racism is a popular passion, the frightened and irrational reaction of retrograde layers of the population, who can’t adapt to the new mobile and cosmopolitan world. The state is accused of failing in its duty by showing indifference towards these populations. But this accusation only reinforces the state’s position representing itself as the face of rationality vis-à-vis popular irrationality.
This conceit, adopted by the “Leftist”critique, is exactly the one that the Right has used over the past two decades to implement a number of racist laws and decrees. All these measures have been taken under the same argument: there are problems of delinquency and various nuisances caused by immigrants and the undocumented that may provoke racism if we fail to enforce good order. So it must submit these delinquencies and nuisances to the universality of law so they do not create racist disturbances.
It’s a game that has been played, on the Left and the Right, since the Pasqua-Méhaignerie laws of 1993. It consists in opposing the universal logic of the rational state to popular passions, in order to give the state’s racist policies a certificate of anti-racism. It is time to turn this argument around and mark the bond between the state “rationality” that controls these measures and its convenient other — its adversary accessory — represented as a foil, the popular passion. In fact, it is not the government that acts under the pressure of popular racism and in reaction to the so-called “popular” passions of the extreme-right. The state’s aim [raison d’Etat] is to maintain this other to whom it entrusts the imaginary determination of what it actually legislates.
I proposed, 15 years ago, the term cold racism to designate this process. The racism that we have in today’s case is a cold racism, an intellectual construction. It is primarily a creation of the state. We have discussed the relationship between the state of law and the police state. But it is the very nature of the state that it is a police state, an institution that fixes and controls identities, spaces, and movements, an institution in permanent struggle against any surplus over its account of identities, that is to say it also struggles against that excess to the logic of identity that constitutes the action of political subjects. This work is rendered more insistent by the world economic order. Our states are less and less able to thwart the destructive effects of the free circulation of capital on the communities under their care — all the less so because they have no desire to do so. They then fall back on what is in their power, the circulation of people. They seize upon the control of this other circulation as their specific object and the national security that these immigrants threaten as their objective — to say more precisely, the production and management of insecurity. This work is increasingly becoming their purpose and their means of legitimation.
This use of the law satisfies two essential functions: an ideological function that provides a subjective figure who is a constant threat to security; and a practical function that continually rearranges the frontier between inside and outside, constantly creating floating identities, making those who are inside susceptible to falling outside. The legislation on immigration was initially intended to create a sub-category of French people, making floating immigrants who were born on French soil or to French parents fall into this category. The legislation on illegal immigration is intended to make legal “immigrants” fall into the undocumented category. It is the same logic that has allowed the recent use of the notion of “French of foreign origin.” And it is that same logic that is today aimed at the Roma, creating, against the principle of free circulation in the European space, a category of Europeans who are not truly Europeans, just as there are French who are not truly French. In creating these suspended identities the state isn’t embarrassed by the contradictions, like those we have seen in the measure concerning “immigrants.” On one hand, it creates discriminatory laws and forms of stigmatization based on the idea of universal citizenship and equality before the law. This then punishes and/or stigmatizes those whose practices run against the equality and universality of citizenship. But on the other hand, it creates within this citizenship discriminations for all, like that distinguishing the French “of foreign origin.” So, on one hand, all French are the same, and beware of those who are not; on the other, all are not the same, and beware of those who forget this!
Today’s racism is thus primarily a logic of the state and not a popular passion. And this state logic is primarily supported not by who knows what backward social groups but by a substantial part of the intellectual elite. The last racist campaign wasn’t at all organized by the so-called “populist” extreme-right. It was directed by an intelligentsia that claims to be Leftist, republican, and secular. Discrimination is no longer based on arguments about superior and inferior races. They argue in the name of the struggle against “communitarianism,” universality of the law and the equality of all citizens before the law, and the equality of the sexes. There again, they are not embarrassed by so many contradictions; these arguments are made by people who otherwise make very little of equality and feminism. In fact, the argument mostly creates an amalgam necessary to identify the undesirable: thus the amalgam of migrant, immigrant, backward, Islamist, male chauvinist, and terrorist. The invocation of universality in fact advances its opposite: the establishment of a discretionary state power that decides who belongs and who doesn’t belong to the class of those who have the right to be here; the power, in short, to confer and remove identities. That power has its correlate: the power to oblige individuals to be identifiable at all times, to keep themselves in a space of full visibility before the state. It is worth, from this point of view, revisiting the solution that the government found to the juridical problem posed by the banning of the burqa. It was, as we have seen, difficult to make a law specifically aimed at a few hundred people of a particular religion. The government found a solution: a law carrying a general ban on covering one’s face in public spaces, a law which at the same time was aimed at a woman wearing the full veil and a protestor wearing a mask or scarf. The scarf thus becomes a common symbol of the backward Muslim and the terrorist agitator. This solution — adopted, like many measures on immigration, with the benevolent abstention of the “Left” — is the formula given by “republican” thought. Let us remember those furious diatribes of November 2005 against those masked and hooded youths who took action night after night. Let us also remember the beginning of the Redeker affair, the philosophy professor menaced by an Islamic “fatwa.” The starting point of Robert Redeker’s furious anti-Muslim diatribe was . . . a ban on the thong at the Paris-Plage. In that ban, enacted by the mayor of Paris, he detected a measure of complaisance toward Islamism, towards a religion whose potential for hatred and violence was already manifest in the ban on public nudity. The beautiful discourse on republican secularism and universality is finally reduced to the principle that we should be entirely visible in public places, whether in the street or on the beach.
I conclude: a lot of energy has been spent against a certain figure of racism — embodied in the Front National — and a certain idea that this racism is the expression of “white trash” (“petits blancs“) and represents the backward layers of society. A substantial part of that energy has been recuperated to build the legitimacy of a new form of racism: state racism and “Leftist” intellectual racism. It is perhaps time to reorient our thinking and struggle against a theory and practice of stigmatization, precarization, and exclusion which today constitutes a racism from above: a logic of the state and a passion of the intelligentsia.