Lenten Meditation 2009 (for Bloor Street United Church)

In February 2009 I was asked to contribute a short text to a collection of Lenten Meditations that members of the congregation of Bloor Street United Church in Toronto were bringing together. (The invitation came, I suppose, because in the preceding several months I had delivered three public lectures at the church, two of them in the Reel Activism series organized by Karin Brothers.) The terms were quite strict: meditations were to be less than four hundred words in length, were to incorporate reflections on one or more of three set scriptural passages (in my case, Jeremiah 26: 1-16, Romans 11: 1-12, and John 10: 19-42), and were to be followed by the author's name and a short prayer. The result was this rather elliptical text—which I supplemented, some months later, with an Afterword which unfolds some of its implications. The present version incorporates a small correction in the third paragraph, for which I'm grateful to Lia Tarachansky. The Afterword has not previously been published.


In late 2002, one of my students, knowing that I had been speaking out in public against the impending American invasion of Iraq, sent me, as encouragement, a quotation from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I found this moving. Perhaps because I knew my efforts to help expose the fraudulence of the coming war would likely be futile, I valued all the more this incitement to courage and stamina, with its reminder that what counts—what is obligatory—is our participation, now, in an unassuming practice of justice and mercy.

Though my student didn’t say so, this Talmudic text is a midrashic expansion of words ascribed to the early-second-century Rabbi Tarfon, in the Pirkei Avot (or Ethics of the Sages), 2:16. Tarfon is elsewhere said to have debated with Rabbi Akiba the question of which was greater, ma‘aseh (deeds or action), or learning. Tarfon said action, and Akiba said learning; they concluded that learning is greater, because it leads to action (Kiddushin 40b). The same ethical imperative seems again to be implied.

This may seem a peculiar way to enter a meditation on the texts proposed to me: Jeremiah 26: 1-16, Romans 11: 1-12, and John 10: 19-42. But I would note that all three passages represent, as action, an undaunted proclamation of a message that the speaker takes to be both true and obligatory. Jeremiah is threatened with death for prophesying (bar penitence) the destruction of Jerusalem; Paul, quoting Elijah, implies that his own life has been sought for proclaiming the fulfillment of prophecy; and John represents Jesus as threatened with stoning for his proclamation of divinity.

These texts cluster around experiences of historical catastrophe. Jeremiah anticipates (or his redacted texts remember) the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Paul—Saulus before his conversion—served the Temple authorities in repressing the messianism that culminated in the rising of C.E. 66-70 (and Romans 16: 11 suggests a link to the colonial elite, the Herodians). John, writing a generation or more after the cataclysmic siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple, is striving to revision events that preceded a war of genocidal intensity.

Rabbi Tarfon, one might add, lived through the final convulsion of the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome in C.E. 135-36.

Michael Keefer is a professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies of the University of Guelph; he lives in Toronto with the novelist and poet Janice Kulyk Keefer. The prayer he would suggest is from Act III, scene iv, lines 26-36 of Shakespeare’s King Lear. In this scene, the dispossessed Lear insists that his Fool enter ahead of him the hovel that his few loyal followers have found for him as shelter from the storm:

In boy; go first. You houseless poverty— 
Nay, get thee in. I’ll pray, and then I’ll sleep. 
[Exit Fool into the hovel.] 
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, 
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, 
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, 
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; 
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, 
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just.


An Afterword

Though there wasn’t space in Bloor Street United Church's Lenten booklet to say so, this is an unusual prayer. Instead of invoking some higher power, Lear addresses his words to the homeless, the abject, the defenseless. He reproaches himself for failing to attend to their needs when he had the means to do so. And he exhorts those who now have position and power to learn about the suffering of the wretched of the earth—by sharing it, as Lear himself is being forced to do—and then to transform what they have learned into action by another kind of sharing, a distribution to the needy of “the superflux,” what they possess beyond their own needs.

The last line is perhaps the most startling: Lear is telling us that our sense of the justice or injustice of the cosmos arises out of our own human enactments of justice or injustice. The idea feels modern, so we may be surprised to encounter it in a play written four centuries ago.

But perhaps Rabbi Tarfon (or his midrashic commentator) was on to something similar one and a half millennia earlier. You want to live in a world governed by justice and mercy? Do justly, now. Love mercy, now.

The words of King Lear suggest that to act upon these imperatives we must first learn experientially what it means to suffer injustice and oppression. Lear proposes no more than a modest sharing out of superfluities, but declares, realistically enough, that action of this kind needs to be impelled by an empathetic understanding of what people who are oppressed and impoverished have to endure.

Yet as Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba seem to have recognized when they debated the matter, another kind of learning is equally necessary as the basis for just action. What, for contemporary purposes, would this learning have to incorporate? Ethical principles, to be sure, but equally importantly, an understanding of what is actually going on around us.

Take the example of Haiti. Canadians would no doubt like to think that we are, collectively, behaving justly and with mercy towards Haiti: after all, on a per capita basis, Canada is by far the most significant donor to that tragically impoverished country.

Would it alter our perceptions to know that in 2004 the Canadian government organized, and Canadian troops participated in, the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected government and its replacement by a reign of terror? That Canadian, American and French troops occupied Haiti with an illegal Multinational Interim Force, one of whose first actions was to shut down Haiti’s only medical school and turn its buildings into a barracks? That the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) gave generous support to a corrupted human rights organization which fabricated atrocity charges against senior members of the overthrown government, and that CIDA paid the salary of the deputy minister responsible for the appalling prisons in which these and other political prisoners of the coup regime were confined? That the RCMP took responsibility for training the Haitian National Police, which over the next two years repeatedly sent out sniper teams to murder participants in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations? That Canada continues to support a Haitian electoral system which denies participation to the Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the poor that commands the support of an overwhelming majority of the Haitian electorate?1

How just and merciful, to take another prominent example, has been the collective engagement of Canadians with the people of Gaza? Would most Canadians be proud to know that since 2006, when the Palestinians democratically elected a government of which our government disapproves, Canada has participated in an aid embargo against Gaza, and has provided diplomatic support to an Israeli blockade that has destroyed the local economy and deprived an already desperate population of food, fuel, medical supplies, and the materials needed to repair collapsing water supply and sewage systems?

And what of the fact that during the Israeli assault on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009, which subjected defenceless people to a storm of bombs, missiles, artillery fire and white phosphorus, killing 1,400 and wounding many thousands more, leaving tens of thousands homeless and wrecking their life-sustaining civic infrastructure, the Canadian government gave loud and unequivocal support to the aggressors?2

One remembers that Rabbi Tarfon, after exhorting us to do justly and love mercy, invites us to “Walk humbly, now” as we set about the work that we are not free to abandon.




1  For documentation, see the materials collected in Press for Conversion, issues 60 (March 2007), 61 (September 2007), 62 (May 2008), and 63 (November 2008), available at http://coat.ncf.ca; see also http://www.haitianalysis.com, http://www.haitiaction.net/, http://canadahaitiaction.ca, http://pih.org/inforesources/reading.html#Haiti, and http://www.ijdh.org.

2  For evidence that the Israeli Operation Cast Lead was unambiguously an act of aggression, see Avi Shlaim, Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (London: Verso, 2010), pp. 311-17.   

Death Squads vs. Democracy: Tom Flanagan’s Joke

This essay was first published by the Centre for Research on Globalization (7 December 2010), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22302, and subsequently reproduced at fifteen other websites.

Tom Flanagan, University of Calgary political science professor, right-wing pundit, and mentor and former senior advisor to Prime Minister Harper, has earned himself more international media attention during the past week than even he may have an appetite for.

On November 30th, 2010, Flanagan spoke as one of the regular panelists on CBC Television’s national political analysis program, Power and Politics with Evan Solomon. Staring into the camera, while across the bottom of the television screen there appeared a banner reading “WIKILEAKS LATEST: New document mentions PM Stephen Harper,” Flanagan had this to say about Julian Assange, the founder and editor of Wikileaks:

“Well, I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something.”

Evan Solomon’s reaction was delayed—and when it finally came, thumpingly stupid. After letting Flanagan outline for nearly ten seconds his reasons for advocating political murder, he broke in at last, saying: “Tom, that’s pretty harsh stuff, just for the record, that’s pretty harsh stuff.”1

Flanagan responded to this interruption with what appears to have been a joke: “Well, I’m feeling very manly today.” But making it clear that his initial remarks were seriously intended, he wrapped up his contribution to the program with a parting shot: “I wouldn’t feel unhappy if Assange disappeared.” This sounds rather as though, after proposing a murder contract and a drone attack, he was offering Obama a third form of assassination: how about a death-squad “disappearance”? Solomon responded, echoing his earlier feebleness: “Well, I’ve gotta say, Tom Flanagan calling for that, that’s pretty strong stuff….”2

One of the most lucid comments to date on this disgusting episode has come from Calgary Herald journalist and University of Calgary alumnus Kris Kotarski, in a public letter calling on Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, the university’s President, “to condemn Dr. Flanagan in the harshest possible terms.” Kotarski writes:

Better than most, a professor of political science should understand that academic freedom is not possible without political freedom, and that political freedom cannot survive in a climate where journalists and opponents of a ruling regime hear public intellectuals advocate for their assassination on the nightly news.

If this were a Russian, Chinese or Iranian intellectual calling for the murder of a regime opponent, Canadians would be appalled. Considering Canada’s proud tradition of political freedom, it is all the more offensive to hear an active member of the University of Calgary faculty and the former chief of staff and campaign manager for the sitting Prime Minister do the same.3

As one would expect, there have been attempts both by Flanagan and by his supporters in the media to explain his remarks away as an ill-judged attempt at humour. For example, Sarah Petz has written in Macleans: “Joking about the assassination of a major public figure is terrible […]. However, considering it was obviously a bad joke and not a serious incitation to commit violence, maybe it’s time for everyone to move on.”4

Petz likens Flanagan’s comments in the video footage to “something your conservative uncle would say in a drunken argument over an awkward family dinner.”5 But while there may have been a note of brutal flippancy in his tone, Flanagan was stone-cold sober. The only jest in his statement was the inane Neo-Con in-joke about “feeling very manly today.” Some people of Flanagan’s political leanings—men like Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and George W. Bush—seem to find the quasi-erotic charge they get from making threats of violence invigorating, even amusing. Others might wonder how manly it is to find one’s pleasure in bullying and terrorizing people.

Flanagan’s feelings of manliness seem to be recurrent—and perhaps more seriously out of control than his supporters are aware. At much the same time as Sarah Petz described him in Macleans as “someone who should be an expert in what not to say,” a Ms. Janet Redmond of Toronto reproached Flanagan by email for his comments on Assange (“So you are in favour of assassinating people that you disagree with. Does the Reform Party have no ethical basis? Agree with us or get assassinated”?). She received a one-sentence response from Flanagan: “Better be careful, we know where you live.”6

It’s perhaps just as well that the video footage of this CBC program has gone global, together with explanations of Flanagan’s close links to our current Prime Minister. Julian Assange, let us remind ourselves, is not just the “major public figure” that Macleans calls him: he has for several years taken a leading role in what is arguably the most courageous and the most significant journalistic work currently ongoing anywhere in the world.

In an age in which the “memory hole” imagined by George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984 has become a literal reality, the work of Wikileaks is crucial. Assange has himself pointed out in public lectures and interviews that news reports are now routinely deleted by media corporations, both from their online archives and from their indexes, leaving behind nothing but a “document not found” message for search-engine inquiries; while in the UK some 300 news stories, including one about a deliberate chemical spill that injured over 100,000 people, are currently smothered by court orders that make it illegal even to mention the existence of a court order blocking publication of the facts.

Moreover, the US government has been moving steadily toward a situation in which its agencies possess something approaching what Admiral John Poindexter called “total intelligence awareness,” while citizens are increasingly confined to a corresponding state of ignorance on all matters of importance. Lawrence Davidson explains the strategy:

Democratic elites have learned that they do not need to rely on the brute force characteristic of dictatorships as long as they can sufficiently control the public media environment. You restrict meaningful free speech to the fringes of the media, to the ‘outliers’ along the information bell curve. You rely on the sociological fact that the vast majority of citizens will either pay no attention to that which they find irrelevant to their immediate lives, or else they will believe the official story line about places and happenings of which they are otherwise ignorant. Once you have identified the official story line with the official policy being pursued, loyalty to the policy comes to equate with patriotism. It is a shockingly simple formula and it usually works.7

While it is undoubtedly embarrassing for American elites (whom one hesitates to grace with the word “democratic”) to have the dirty linen of their diplomatic double-dealings exposed to the world, their most urgent concern seems to be to ensure that as little as possible of the Wikileaks material becomes known in any organized way to the American public. Hence the censorship being exercised by the New York Times (in contrast to the manner in which The Guardian and Der Spiegel are releasing the material that they all possess)—and hence also the vitriolic hatred expressed toward Julian Assange by Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Bill O’Reilly, and the death-threats issued against him by Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and William Kristol.

Noam Chomsky has remarked that “Perhaps the most dramatic revelation [of the leaked cables] is the bitter hatred of democracy that is revealed both by the U.S. government—Hillary Clinton, [and] others—and also by the diplomatic service.”8 The paroxysms of loathing now being directed at Julian Assange are another expression of that same hatred of democracy.

While most Canadians are already aware of our own government’s repeated demonstrations of contempt for democratic principles and practice, understanding the implications of Tom Flanagan’s behaviour remains important. Canada’s standards of public discourse have decayed to the point at which our national broadcaster is not ashamed to carry an open incitement to political murder made by the leading ideologue of the governing party, a former and for all we know continuing close associate of Prime Minister Harper. It is dismaying to recognize that our media system includes, at its centre, people for whom the open-eyed advocacy of lawless violence is something merely to shrug off, like an off-colour joke, as “pretty strong stuff.”

But acceptance of that kind of dismissal is only possible so long as Canadians continue to believe that our governing elites have always operated at a safe distance from such totalitarian tactics as those recommended by Tom Flanagan. Is that in fact the case, or is our belief perhaps conditioned by effective control of what Davidson calls the “public media environment”?

How many of us know about Canada’s central role in the overthrow of Haiti’s duly elected democratic government in February 2004, or about the role of Canada’s military in facilitating—or at the very least doing nothing to prevent—the campaigns of political terror, massacre and rape that followed the coup? Or about the fact that Canada exercised effective control over a post-coup prison system in Haiti that even the Organization of American States condemned as horrifying? (The Deputy Minister of Justice who ran that system was both appointed and paid by the Canadian International Development Agency.) Or about the role of the RCMP in providing training and tutelage for a reconstituted Haitian National Police that engaged in documented death-squad activities against civilians between 2004 and at least 2006, and is suspected of involvement in such crimes as the “disappearance” of human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine in August 2007? (Should we not feel some degree of responsibility for these crimes? Might it be in any way significant that Lovinsky was “disappeared” just three weeks after having annoyed Canadian authorities in Haiti by trying to organize a demonstration against Stephen Harper’s brief visit to the island in July?)9

The Wikileaks cables apparently include more than 1,800 documents emanating from Ottawa (whether from American diplomats posted there or from Canadian authorities communicating with the US is unclear). Their contents may be entirely confined to banal and routine matters. Or they may perhaps provide further substantiation of the fact that crimes of state terror of the kind Tom Flanagan thought it appropriate to recommend on CBC Television—far from being mere rhetoric, let alone a “joke”—touch Canadians more closely than most of us have been able to recognize.

Should the Wikileaks cables turn out to contain material of this kind, we might expect to hear angry denunciations of Julian Assange from Liberal as well as from Conservative quarters—for Canada’s participation in the Haitian coup of 2004 was decided and acted upon by the governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, whose policies the Harper Conservatives have in this respect merely continued.

One may hope that in such a case, Canadian public opinion would respond with a firm defence of our democratic right to know about and to control the doings of our elected representatives and public servants—and to ensure that their actions remain in conformity with domestic and international law.

As for the present, I note with interest that Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson has filed a complaint against Tom Flanagan with the Vancouver police and the RCMP.10 I’m happy to endorse a comment posted by ‘Delmazio’ in response to this news: “We need more people like Mr. Julian Assange who are willing to speak truth to power, and encourage the free flow of information which directly affects public policy decisions. If we value freedom of information, transparency, openness, and democracy, we ought to praise not to condemn such efforts.”11




1  The key sequence from the November 30, 2010 broadcast is available at “Tom Flanagan calls for assassination of Julian Assange,” Youtube (19 May 2012), www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3lejkuiOWs.

2  Ibid.

3  “Open letter to University of Calgary President Dr. Elizabeth Cannon regarding Dr. Tom Flanagan's remarks,” Censure Tom Flanagan (6 December 2010, updated 16 December 2010), www.censureflanagan.wordpress.com.

4  Sarah Petz, “Let Flanagan's remarks die: Ucalgary prof wasn't inciting violence, just making a really horrible joke,” Macleans.ca (4 December 2010), www.oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2010/12/04/let-flanagans-remarks-die/. Petz denies that Flanagan's words could have been “a serious incitation to commit violence.” “Incitation”? Does Petz mean “incitement”? Is she dimly recollecting the horse, Incitatus, that the emperor Caligula wanted to appoint to the Roman senate? Or have Macleans’ standards of political decency and writing both collapsed?

5  Petz, “Let Flanagan's remarks die.”

6  Bill Graveland, “Tom Flanagan threatened me over Wikileaks comment, Toronto woman says,” The Globe and Mail (7 December 2010), www.theglkobeandmail.com/news/politics/tom-flanagan-threatened-me-over-wikileaks-comment-toronto-woman-says/article1318686/. As Isobel Teotonio and Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star noted, Flanagan himself coined a term in his book Harper's Team (2007) for the kind of behaviour he indulged in on the CBC program and in his email: “bozo eruptions.” (See Teotonio and MacCharles, “Toronto woman gets apology from former Harper aide,” Toronto Star [8 December 2010], www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/904035--toronto-woman-gets-apology-from-former-harper-aide.)

7  Lawrence Davidson, “On the Historical Necessity of Wikileaks,” MWC News (4 December 2010), http://mcwnews.net/focus/editorial/7045-historical-necessity-of-wikileaks.html.

8  See http://chomsky.info/interviews/20101130.htm.

9  Information on these subjects can be found in my essay “Canada and the Dignity of Haitian Women,” Centre for Research on Globalization (12 December 2010), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=22301.

10  Charlie Smith, “Police complaint filed after Tom Flanagan calls for assassination of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, Straight.com [4 December 2010], http://www.straight.com/article-362941/vancouver/lawyer-files-criminal-flanagan-assassination-wikileaks-julian-assan.

11  Some may be concerned about the news that Sweden’s Public Prosecutor’s Office announced in August 2010 that it intended to arrest Assange on charges of rape, withdrew the arrest warrant on the same day, asserting that there was no evidence, and then resurrected the charges three months later. See the article by Melbourne barrister James D. Catlin, who acted for Assange in London in October: “When it comes to Assange rape case, the Swedes are making it up as they go along,” Crikey (2 December 2010), http://www.allvoices.com.   

Dignity of the Haitian Women (and Canada’s Shame)

First published in Investigating Canadian Identities: 10th Anniversary Contributions, ed. Anna Pia De Luca (Centre for Canadian Culture Studies. Udine: FORUM, Editrice Universitaria Udinese, 2010), pp. 111-25, this essay was subsequently published online at The Canadian Charger (8 December 2010), http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=706; and at the Centre for Research on Globalization (12 December 2010), http://www.globalresearch.ca/canada-and-the-dignity-of-haitian-women/22301. Since it is concerned for the most part with events that occurred between early 2004 and August 2007, this essay was not in any sense “news” when it was first published in 2010. Nonetheless, it might contribute to an understanding of Haiti’s vulnerability to disasters like the hurricanes of 2008 and 2012, and the catastrophic earthquake of 2010—which caused such appalling suffering in part because the overthrow of Haitian democracy in February 2004 by a coalition of foreign powers (including Canada) was also a deliberate attack upon the government infrastructures that made up Haiti’s very fragile ‘civil commons.’ After the coup, these social-service infrastructures were either dismantled or immobilized by de-funding and by purges of personnel who had supported the democratically elected Aristide government.


1. Harper’s 2007 ‘Tour of the Americas’

Attentive readers of the Toronto Globe and Mail may have noticed an element of dissonance in its coverage of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s brief visit to Haiti during his stint of diplomacy in late July 2007.

Despite spin from the Prime Minister’s Office’s about Harper’s gravitas and growing international weight, his “Tour of the Americas,” a journey to Colombia, Chile, Barbados and Haiti, was not an unmixed success. Its most memorable moment was Harper’s ringing endorsement of the entirely imaginary strides toward democracy being made by Colombia’s President Uribe, a man so tainted by his connections with death squads and the drug trade that even many Washington politicians recoil from the prospect of sharing a platform with him—let alone glibly offering him a free-trade agreement (Podur; Gordon).

In Chile, any good will garnered from Harper’s meeting with President Michelle Bachelet was promptly spoiled by the outrage of Toronto’s police force tasering and pepper-spraying members of Chile’s quarter-finalist soccer team, La Rojita, during Toronto’s hosting of the FIFA Under-Twenty championship (“Chile officials”). (Canadians should think about what it means to have, in our largest city, a police force so out of control as to be capable of shocking a nation that still retains vivid memories of its sufferings under Pinochet’s neofascist dictatorship.)

And Haiti’s President René Préval, who compared Harper’s six- or eight-hour whistle-stop stay in his country (Woods; Freeman) to a “doctor’s visit,” was quietly ironic at the prime minister’s expense. “You’ll have been able to notice, dear doctor, that the patient is not doing so badly,” he declared at a news conference in the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince. “Our country, Haiti, is in convalescence” (Freeman). The Globe and Mail mentioned Harper as having scheduled luncheon with Préval, an event that took all of fifteen minutes—or thirty-five minutes, if we add in the press conference (see Pierre). The PM preferred to spend his time pinning medals on Canadian police officers “for their participation in the peacekeeping mission,” and taking part in a pre-lunch photo-op (no doubt the source of Préval’s metaphors) at the Sainte Catherine Labouré Hospital in the slum of Cité Soleil, to which he was taken by “UN peacekeepers with automatic weapons at the ready” (Freeman).


2. Reading a photograph

It was this photo-op that provided readers of the Globe and Mail with an experience of dissonance. According to the text of the article, Harper was greeted at the hospital by two “adorable” four-year-old girls, whose mothers are HIV-positive, but who thanks to “a Canadian-financed drug treatment provided at the hospital” were both born HIV-negative “and are in excellent health.” Harper was soon “doing high-fives with the girls, who gave him a basket of fruit” (Freeman). The moment was captured in a photograph circulated by the Presse Canadienne (see Beltrane, “Harper démontre”).

And yet the Globe and Mail preferred to print another much stronger image from a subsequent phase of the photo-op. In this photograph, credited to Kena Betancur of Reuters, a smiling Harper is squatting, with forearms on his knees, in front of two strikingly beautiful Haitian women who are waiting with their small children in their laps at the Labouré Hospital’s oral polio vaccination clinic.1

Two features of the image are remarkable. The first is its obviously staged quality: Harper, whose posture puts his head lower than those of the two seated women, is with some show of humility taking credit for the rest of what we see—for the corrugated-iron-roofed building, with the logo of Médecins du Monde partially obscured by his shoulder, and for the treatments, financed by the Canadian and Québec governments, that Haitians are receiving there.

More remarkable still is the lack of human contact within the photograph. Harper’s smile seems oddly unfocussed: he is not quite looking at the camera, yet neither is he in contact with the women and their children. The child closest to him, a girl of about two in a frilly party dress and with a little Canadian flag in her right hand, is turning her head away from him; her mother, with downcast eyes and head gently tilted over her child, likewise ignores his presence. Mother and child both seem, in different ways, to be retreating from the event.

It might be objected that maternal solicitude is not a political position. And yet the expression of the other woman, who is seated closer to the camera, is unambiguous. She is not just refusing to participate: she is negating the photo-op by refusing even to acknowledge it. Her infant is asleep in her lap, head cradled by her hands. The camera is almost directly in front of her, at knee level, and Harper is likewise within her field of vision: he is close enough that he could, without rising from his crouch, touch her arm or the head of her child. But she holds herself erect, ignoring politician and photographer, and looks serenely and unsmilingly to her front.

This is no accidental gesture of abstention. For another photograph, taken moments earlier from almost the same angle, shows a prior phase of the photo-op. In that image Harper, who has not yet gone into his crouch, is standing in front of the first of the two mothers and leaning over the little girl in the frilly dress; the woman with the sleeping infant has turned her head toward this spectacle (see Beltrane, “Stephen Harper”). What we see in the Globe and Mail’s photograph is thus, quite explicitly, an act of refusal. She has understood the staged event, and with her steady gaze negates it and its intended meanings.

How are we to read the silent contestation of Harper’s smiling face by this young woman’s gaze?

The earlier photograph of Harper leaning over the little girl in the frilly dress was provided in the Presse Canadienne report with a caption tactfully informing us that his approach was a failure: the Prime Minister “a semblé mal à l’aise par moments en s’approchant des enfants haïtiens brandissant de petits drapeaux canadiens”—he “seemed awkward at times in approaching Haitian children brandishing little Canadian flags” (Beltrane, “Stephen Harper”; my translation). So what are we to make of his smile in the Globe and Mail photograph? It cannot reflect pleasure given or received—and yet Harper’s mouth is slightly open, as though he were on the point of speaking, or even laughing. Is he ruefully amused by the Haitian women’s rejection of his approach, or struggling to seem so? Is he responding to someone standing behind the photographer? Or have image consultants told him that a close-lipped smile may look smug, while a smile showing parted lips and teeth signifies the bonhommie that is so conspicuously not part of his character?

One might then say of Harper’s smile that it dismisses or forgets the immediate human situation—the minor reversal of a little girl turning away from him, and the larger affront of two beautiful young women refusing the role of props in a photo-op—while remembering his political purpose in being seen there, which was to reinforce what he would say to the press just minutes later: “Canadians can be proud of the impact that Canadian aid and support of the UN-backed peacekeeping mission are having on the country” (Freeman).

Images of Stephen Harper smiling disingenuous smiles are no rarity. It is quite clearly the other, unsmiling face—or, more distinctly, the dissonance between this woman’s expression and Harper’s—that makes this photograph memorable. Yet while the young mother’s posture of refusal is dignified and explicit, it is also wordless. It does not seem that any of the reporters in Harper’s entourage took the trouble of asking her what she may have meant by it.

What then are readers of the Globe and Mail to think? That one Haitian woman, at least, remains stolidly ungrateful to our country for all its manifold benefactions to hers—including her own infant’s vaccination against polio? Or is it possible she knows something about “Canadian aid and support of the UN-backed peacekeeping mission” that we don’t—and that our government and corporate media have been taking some trouble to conceal from us?


3. Helping Haiti ‘get back on its feet’: the official line

On July 20th, 2007, the day of Prime Minister Harper’s visit, the Globe and Mail devoted a full page to explaining Canada’s relations to this desperately impoverished country. The basic narrative was made clear by the title and subtitle of Marcus Gee’s lead article: “Canadian aid helping Haiti get back on its feet: Though the country still faces huge problems, efforts to stabilize and rebuild are yielding signs of progress.”

The problems Gee identified include a “prostrate economy,” “a ruined environment,” “a jobless rate near 70 per cent,” a daily income of less than $1 (US) for half of the population and of less than $2 for three-quarters of Haitians, and a standing of “154th out of 177 countries on the UN’s index of human development.” Demographic data listed on the same page helped to fill out the picture. The median age of Haiti’s 8,700,000 people is 18.4 years; nearly half of those aged 15 or over are illiterate; and the adult prevalence rate of HIV-AIDS is 5.6 per cent. The infant mortality rate is almost 64 deaths per 1,000 live births, and life expectancy at birth is 57 years (Cowan; figures rounded off).

Gee gives Canada credit as “one of the leaders of the international effort to stabilize and rebuild Haiti,” noting that Canada “has sent more than $700-million in aid since 1968 and has pledged another $520-million for 2006 to 2011,” giving to Haiti more than to “any country in the world except Afghanistan.” Some of Canada’s aid money, as Gee observes, went into financing a Canadian military presence in Haiti: “More than 500 Canadian troops served in the UN peace-keeping mission in Haiti until coming home in August 2004. Canadian officers led the UN police force, which still includes about 175 Canadian police officers, for two successive terms.” He neglects to say that the expense of an earlier military presence in Haiti in the mid-1990s (a full battalion of the Canadian army, and a contingent of police) would likewise have been counted as “aid.” (We will have something to say in a moment about the coups d’état of 1991 and 2004 associated with these interventions.)

As a whole, the Globe and Mail’s narrative seems puzzling. Alluding to the “three decades of terror and repression” suffered by the country “under François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude, known as Baby Doc, who ruled with the help of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes secret police,” Marcus Gee tells us that Haiti “was reduced to beggary by dictators, generals and drug lords.” The present situation, he says, “is a definite improvement from the time just three years ago [i.e. in 2004] when there were almost daily clashes among armed gangs, rogue policemen and UN peacekeepers.” He quotes the Brussels International Crisis Group’s opinion that Haiti “has an historic opportunity to design a democratic future and establish conditions conducive to economic development,” and adds that “the result of the 2006 presidential election, considered the most fair of five held in the past two decades, has been generally accepted, even if supporters of ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide still hold rallies calling for his return from exile” (Gee).

And yet Gee fears that “Haiti could easily tip into turmoil again.” He quotes Daniel Erikson of the group Inter-American Dialogue in Washington DC, according to whom “Haiti is a tough case. This is a country that has received millions and millions of dollars in aid and hasn’t shown much progress.” Despite external interventions consisting only, by this account, of generous aid programs, equally generous peacekeeping and policing assistance, and anxious expressions of concern, Haiti remains a basket case.

Is there something wrong then with Haitians, a kind of inborn gravitation towards squalor, violence and turmoil? Or is there, on the other hand, something missing from this story? Has it been given, by selective omissions, a meaning quite different from what one would derive from a more complete, a more adequate, a more honest narrative? Is it, in short, subtractively politicized?2


4. Who knocked Haiti off its feet?

Marcus Gee’s account of Canada’s relations with Haiti has a vaguely Good-Samaritan quality, but with this difference—that in Jesus’s parable, the man whom the Good Samaritan found bleeding by the roadside, and to whom he gave such generous aid, both medical and financial, was not suffering from self-inflicted wounds: he had fallen “among robbers who stripped and belaboured him and then went off leaving him half-dead” (Luke 10: 30, in Moffatt).

External interventions in Haiti have, as a matter of historical fact, been very much less beneficent than the Globe and Mail’s narrative, or many similarly structured ones published at intervals in the corporate media, would imply. Who then, are the robbers that have stripped and beaten this poor country and left it prostrate in the ditch? Are they perhaps, in fact, the same people who now pose as Haiti’s benefactors? The short answer is: Yes.

At different moments in its history, Haiti has challenged in a most extraordinary manner the imperial powers exercising hegemony in the Caribbean region. The country was born out of a slave revolt that began in 1791 and, at appalling cost, succeeded in defeating the forces of the planter aristocracy, armies sent by Spain and Britain, and finally, an expeditionary force dispatched in 1801 by Napoleon (James). Haiti’s achievement of formal independence in 1804 was profoundly disquieting to the European colonial powers and the slave-holding United States. Peter Hallward has written that “Of the three great revolutions that began in the final decades of the eighteenth century—American, French, and Haitian—only the third forced the unconditional application of the principle that inspired each one: affirmation of the natural, unalienable rights of all human beings. Only in Haiti was the declaration of human freedom universally consistent. Only in Haiti was this declaration sustained at all costs, in direct opposition to the social order and economic logic of the day” (Hallward 2007: 11).

Haiti has indeed paid a heavy price for this challenge to the ruling global order—in the form of a sustained history of predatory interventions by colonial powers, and of no less predatory externally-supported dictatorships.3 But in its presidential election of 1990, Haitians astonished the world once more—and the United States especially—by giving an overwhelming 66.7 per cent of their votes to a young priest and liberation theologian, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had become a focal point of resistance to the murderous violence of rule by military dictatorship and death squads (see Wilentz). Aristide made it clear that he was not willing to serve as a sock-puppet for elite and transnational interests, but actually intended to fulfill the program on which he had been elected. Its foundational principle, a steadfast assertion of radical human dignity and human equality—“tout moun se moun,” glossed by Peter Hallward as meaning that “every person is indeed a person, regardless of their race, background or class”—was to be actualized through a uniting and empowerment of the great mass of the poor in a process of democratic social transformation, of non-violent struggle against iniquitous class divisions (Hallward 2007: xxxiv, 21-24). After just seven months in office, Aristide was overthrown in September 1991 by a CIA-sponsored coup.

Re-elected in November 2000,4 this time with 92 per cent of the vote (and a voter turn-out of 62 per cent, even though US-backed candidates had tried to discredit the election by urging their supporters not to vote), Aristide was overthrown again on the night of February 28-29, 2004.

The 1991 coup was followed by a reign of terror in which 4,000 to 5,000 civilians were murdered (Flynn and Roth; Lemoine). Some 300,000 Haitians became internal refugees; “thousands more fled across the border to the Dominican Republic, and more than 60,000 took to the high seas” (Parks, quoted by Chossudovsky). A similar bloodbath followed the 2004 coup. Its scale is indicated by a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet which revealed that in the Port-au-Prince region alone some 8,000 murders and 35,000 sexual assaults were committed between the end of February 2004 and December 2005 under the rule of the coup regime, the Interim Government of Haiti; nearly 4,000 of these murders were clearly politically motivated and committed by security forces or partisans of the regime (Kolbe and Hudson). Sexual assault was one form of state terror: nearly one-quarter of the perpetrators were identified as members of the Haitian National Police or of anti-Aristide groups (Sanders, “The Coup-Installed Regime” 8; Buncombe; “Haiti—The Traditional Predators”).

One crucial difference between the two coups is that the former, though supported materially and diplomatically by the US, was carried out by the Haitian military, with the assistance of paramilitary formations and death squads controlled by Haiti’s economic elite; the latter was planned, organized, and executed—in what can appropriately be termed a state crime against democracy—by three foreign powers, the United States, France, and Canada.5

All three flew troops into Haiti, ostensibly to protect their interests at a time of crisis—the crisis being an invasion of northern Haiti from the Dominican Republic, beginning on February 5th, by detachments of US-armed paramilitaries who swiftly overwhelmed the lightly-armed police in a series of northern towns and small cities—but who, despite a vigorous propaganda campaign abetted by the US Secretary of State, had neither the capacity nor the intention of making a move on the capital, Port-au-Prince, and prior to the coup never got beyond Gonaïves, nearly one hundred kilometers to the north (see R. Robinson 86, 196, 204, 212).

The coup was well organized. It took place on the very day a shipload of small arms Aristide’s government had purchased from South Africa—weapons that would have enabled the Haitian police to fight back against the paramilitary invaders on equal terms—was due to arrive in Port-au-Prince (Hallward 2006). US troops abducted Aristide from the presidential palace and brought him to Port-au-Prince airport, which had been seized by the Canadian Joint Task Force 2 special forces; from there he was flown to the French-controlled Central African Republic. The three countries then formed a “Multilateral Interim Force,” which occupied the country, allowing the opposition forces the aggressors had sponsored and financed to purge the elected government and the Haitian police and take power.


5. Canada’s responsibility

Canada played an important part in the preparations for the 2004 coup. Beginning in 2000, Canada took the lead internationally in propagating new doctrines of “humanitarian intervention” and the “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which directly contradict the United Nations’ founding principles of national sovereignty and the outlawing of military interventions.6 The Canadian government’s official human rights organization, Rights & Democracy, responded to Aristide’s re-election by issuing a statement, together with five US-based groups, that questioned “his own and the [1996-2000] Préval government’s commitment to democracy” (“Joint Statement”). It made further contributions to a propaganda campaign delegitimizing Haiti’s government by accusing Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party of primary responsibility for gun violence in Haiti and describing the “Group 184” opposition movement led by sweatshop owner Andy Apaid as “grassroots” and a “promising civil society movement” (see “Justice”; Engler, “NGOs” and “Canada’s NED?”)—this at a time when most of the actual violence was being perpetrated by the paramilitaries, allied to Apaid, which in July 2001 had begun to conduct raids and terrorist operations from the Dominican Republic (Barry-Shaw).

On January 31-February 1, 2003, Denis Paradis, Canadian Secretary of State for Latin America and La Francophonie, convened a meeting in Ottawa of American, French, Canadian and Organization of American States (OAS) officials to discuss a coup against Aristide, the reconstituting of Haiti’s military, “and the option of imposing a Kosovo-like trusteeship on Haiti” (Barry-Shaw; Engler and Fenton 42-45). Canadian governing circles were well aware of the manner in which the International Republican Institute (IRI), the external arm of the US Republican Party, was financing and organizing the activities of Apaid’s movement and the attacks of the paramilitaries. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall was a member of the IRI’s Haiti International Assessment Committee, and appears to have provided liaison between the IRI and the Canadian government; and the then-current Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, met in Montréal with the political leader of the paramilitaries on February 5, 2004—the day they launched their full-scale attack on Haiti (Sanders, “Pettigrew”; R. Robinson 155; Fenton and O’Keefe). On February 11, Canadian Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Cook wrote a memo to the Privy Council Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade “which discusses specific plans for military intervention” (Fenton and Jay).

Canadian officials bear a heavy responsibility as well for the murderous repression that followed the coup. Three examples will give some sense of the scale of the problem. When Lt. Colonel Jim Davis, the commander of Canadian forces in the Multilateral Interim Force, was presented on July 29, 2004 with eyewitness testimony that dozens of civilians had been killed by international forces in an attack on a Port-au-Prince slum on March 12, and with evidence that at least 1,000 people had been buried in a mass grave in Port-au-Prince within a month of “restoring stability,” he responded austerely: “I do not deny that these things have happened” (Fenton). After the coup, the RCMP provided training for the Haitian National Police and exercised a function of tutelage: RCMP officers cannot have been ignorant of the HNP’s rape and death squad activities, and of the well-documented sniper teams it sent out to attack peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations (Pina). The coup regime’s Deputy Minister of Justice, who presided over a prison system that even the OAS condemned as horrifying, was both appointed and paid by the Canadian International Development Agency (see Griffin; Neatby, “The Politics”; Haiti: Failed Justice vi-vii, 67-71, 87-91).

What did Canadian soldiers and police officers think they were doing in Haiti? Military statements give some impression of a deliberately inculcated confusion. The Canadian army’s draft counter-insurgency field manual, made public in March 2007, says that Canadian troops have been “conducting COIN [counter-insurgency] operations against the criminally-based insurgency in Haiti since early 2004” (Elmer and Fenton). Of course, the only actual “criminally-based insurgency” of early 2004 (unless one counts the US-French-Canadian invasion) was the paramilitaries’ incursion from the Dominican Republic.

The Canadian Air Force’s account of its initial large-scale deployment to Haiti in March 2004 is equally muddled: the Air Force boasted of how, “Working with the army and navy within the UN Multinational Interim Force, Canada’s air force helped to restore peace and democracy in Haiti following that country’s democratic elections” (“Serving the World”). What phantom election was the writer imagining, and why would a foreign invasion have been required in its aftermath to “restore peace and democracy”?7


6. Conclusion

One can begin to understand Stephen Harper’s chilly welcome in 2007 by the young women at the Sainte Catherine Labouré Hospital—and also, according to the Vancouver Sun, by the residents of Cité Soleil, through whose streets he passed to get to his photo-op: “Armed Brazilian soldiers from the United Nations stabilization mission were on every street corner as his motorcade made its way through neighbourhoods filled with ramshackle homes and storefronts pock-marked by bullet holes […]. Residents stared at the passing Canadian vehicles with moody detachment. Few smiled or waved” (Foot).

In fact, a demonstration had been planned to protest Harper’s visit. One of its organizers was the prominent human rights activist, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, who had also courageously denounced the post-coup UN occupation of his country as a mission neither of stabilization nor of peacekeeping: “It is a mission that engages in operations of massacres, of assassinations, [and] of destabilization more so than activities of reconstruction and peacekeeping.” Pierre-Antoine’s demonstration never took place: it was preemptively disrupted by UN soldiers, who, starting at 6 a.m., arrested some forty would-be demonstrators, three-quarters of whom remained in prison a fortnight later (Neatby, “UN Arrested 40”).

Three weeks after Stephen Harper’s visit, on the night of August 12th, Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine was ‘disappeared’ by unknown assailants. It can be assumed that he was murdered, but his body has never been found. Canadian trade unionists who were being guided through Haiti by Pierre-Antoine went the next day to our embassy in Port-au-Prince to request that the embassy publicly condemn this kidnapping. The Canadian embassy’s refusal to issue any statement leaves one to assume that our diplomats—one of whom, I am informed, described Pierre-Antoine as a trouble-maker—believe he got what was coming to him.

Right-wing pundits from Conrad Black to David Frum have for decades been urging Canadians to drop our traditional humanitarian scruples and to join our American neighbours in treating international relations as a game of hardball, to be played by hard men.

Another name for the game is “crimes against humanity.”

Are we there yet?




1  The same photograph appeared in the Toronto Star with the print (but not the online) text of Woods.

2  ‘Subtractive politicizing’ involves distortion through omission: what is there to be interpreted is ‘politicized’ through a selective forgetting or deletion that critically alters the balance of the available evidence. For a detailed explanation of this term, see the chapter “Monster Zombies on Campus” in Keefer 1996: 67-95.

3  A salient feature of this history was France’s 1825 imposition on Haiti of a debt worth some $21-billion US in present-day money as reimbursement for losses suffered by French colonists, including the liberated Haitians’ market value as slaves. The ensuing debt-bondage choked off any chance of independent development (payments in the late 19th century swallowed up some 80 per cent of Haiti’s national budget). The final installment was paid only in 1947—to the US, which had held Haiti under military occupation between 1915 and 1934, killing up to 30,000 people in the process (Bellegarde-Smith 107). For accounts of this history, see Farmer 2006: 53-89; Hallward 2007: 12-13; Engler and Fenton 103-04; R. Robinson 20-22; and also Wilentz, Fatton, Dupuy, and Goff.

4  Since Haiti’s Constitution prevents a president from serving two consecutive terms, Aristide was not a candidate in the 1995 election—which was won by his former prime minister René Préval, with a landslide 88 percent of the vote.

5  One reason for this is that when Aristide was restored by the US in 1994 to serve out the end of his term as a lame-duck president, he disbanded the Haitian army, the primary instrument of dictatorship and tyranny. Since the 2004 coup, it has been reconstituted (and manned, need it be said, by reliably anti-democratic officers and troops).

6  In September 2000, the Canadian government founded the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), with its head office in Ottawa (and with funding from the Carnegie, MacArthur, and Rockefeller foundations); through this and other means, Canada has vigorously promoted “R2P” and “humanitarian intervention.” See Sanders “R2P” 11.


7  The 2004 coup inflicted much deeper structural damage upon Haitian society as well, corrupting its electoral machinery (Keefer 2006), and radically accelerating a process in which governmental functions have been usurped by foreign NGOs—with catastrophic consequences for the country’s capacity to provide basic supplies of water and food, basic health care and education, and, no less crucially, its capacity to respond to catastrophes like the hurricanes of 2008 and the appalling earthquake of 2010. (See Cooley-Prost, W. Robinson, Shamsie.) But these are matters for more extended study. 



Works Cited

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----. “Canada’s NED?” ZNet (16 September 2006), http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=10970&sectionID=1.

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----. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

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Fraud and Scandal in Haiti’s Presidential Election: Préval’s Victory and the UN’s Disgrace

First published at the Centre for Research on Globalization (3 March 2006), http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=KEE20060303&articleid=2061; also published online at ten other websites in 2006.



Nou lèd, Men Nou La!  
     (Haitian proverb: “Think we’re ugly? Tough: We’re Here!”)

Tout moun se moun
     (Lavalas slogan: “All people are people.”)


Haitian voters went to the polls on February 7, 2006 to elect a new president. The election was conducted under the tutelage of the United Nations, which for most of the past two years has been supporting and sustaining Haiti’s flagrantly illegal interim government with an occupation force of over 9,000 soldiers and police.

After a week of increasingly obvious fraud and chicanery in the counting of the vote culminated in the discovery of tens of thousands of ballots smoldering in a dump outside Port-au-Prince, the Provisional Electoral Council (Conseil Électoral Provisoire, CEP) announced on February 15 an arrangement by which René Garcia Préval could be awarded the presidency. The CEP’s decision appears to have been a reluctant one, but the alternative would have been to face increasingly large and vociferous demonstrations from an aroused electorate.

This result is a victory for the Haitian people: Préval, who received more than four times as many votes as the second-place candidate—and also, one must insist, won a clear majority of the votes cast—is quite obviously their choice for president.

But this outcome of an ‘arranged’ victory is also, it would seem, exactly what the anti-democratic forces in this situation were hoping they might achieve. (‘Anti-democratic forces’: this category includes not just the Haitian gangster elite that participated in the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide two years ago, but also, to their shame, the US State Department, the US National Endowment for Democracy and the NGOs it has corrupted, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations.) These agencies knew as well as everyone else that Préval was going to win by a landslide. Their goal appears to have been to secure an outcome that would make it possible for propagandists and pundits to argue, with their habitual dishonesty, that Préval’s victory was in some sense incomplete, or tainted, and that his administration therefore needs to include representation from the more significant defeated parties—who just happen to have been participants or collaborators in the violent overthrow of the Aristide government in February 2004.

But to make sense of these events we need to have some understanding of the country’s history.


1. A history of tyranny—and of resistance

Let’s be clear about two things. The people of Haiti, the vast majority of whom are descended from slaves brought to their island from Africa by the European powers, have an astonishing history of resistance to tyranny. And those European powers—together with their successors in the settler-colony nations of the United States and Canada, and their present-day instigators and abettors in the corporate world and in such corrupt and morally compromised organizations as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the World Bank, and even some NGOs purportedly devoted to human rights, have acted quite consistently to keep the Haitian population in a condition of abjection, hopeless poverty, and effective enslavement.

Strong words? Why don’t we think for a moment, then, about why Haiti has been for many decades incontestably the poorest nation in the western hemisphere?

Beginning in 1791, Haiti was the site of the hemisphere’s only successful slave rebellion. Under the inspired leadership of Toussaint l’Ouverture, Haitian ex-slaves humbled, in turn, the armies of Spain, Great Britain, and Napoleonic France (whose 35,000-strong expeditionary force was supported by the United States with a contribution of the then-immense sum of $400,000 [Engler and Fenton, 13]). But L’Ouverture was treacherously imprisoned during ‘peace negotiations’, and died in captivity; and although Haiti achieved formal independence in 1804, the country’s first leader, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was murdered by the Creole elite in a coup d’état—the first of many.

In 1825 France forced Haiti at cannon-point to acknowledge a debt of 150 million francs (a sum with a present-day purchasing power of some 21.7 billion US dollars)—as reimbursement, to former slave-owners in the homeland of Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité, for the Haitians’ own market value as slaves. According to Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton, the Haitian government was able to pay the first installment of 30 million francs only by closing down every school in the country; they note that in the late 19th century, payments on this literally extortionate debt “consumed as much as 80 percent of Haiti’s national budget.” The final payment was not made until 1947—and then, interestingly enough, to the United States, which in the course of its military occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 had ‘bought’ Haiti’s debt to France (Engler and Fenton, 103-04).

The fact that in the mid-twentieth century the world’s richest democracy took what amounted to slave-trade money from a desperately impoverished nation that had become a minor satrapy in its global empire is, to say the least, instructive. But Haiti had further decades of immiseration to endure between 1957 and 1986 under the brutal US-backed kleptocracy of François ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, whose Tonton Macoute death squads operated in full daylight to suppress any whisperings of dissent, and his grotesque son Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’, who inherited his father’s thieving propensities together with the murderous apparatus of his dictatorship.

When in 1986 a popular uprising led to the collapse of Baby Doc’s regime, the US Air Force flew him, together with his entourage, into a comfortable retirement in France (the Duvalier family’s stolen fortune was of course already in offshore banks). On February 8, 1986, the day after his departure, CBC Radio News reported that US military cargo planes were disgorging shipments of small arms and ammunition at the Port-au-Prince airport—the motive apparently being to ensure that successors to the Tontons Macoutes would be equipped to deal with any possible outbreak of democracy in a form unpalatable to the CIA or to Haitian recipients of its largesse. (I remember taking note of this report, and also of the fact that after a single appearance on the 8 a.m. news it was edited out of the news stream.)

Not surprisingly, given these preparations, the ensuing process of a post-Duvalier ‘transition to democracy’ went less smoothly than some of its non-CIA American choreographers might have hoped. Writing a new Constitution was one thing; enacting it was something else. Following an abortive election in November 1987 in which “the army and paramilitaries stopped the voting by firing at voting centers, killing at least 34 people,” Leslie François Manigat ascended to the presidency in 1988 (see Concannon, 14 Feb. 2006 for the discreditable details), but was overthrown four months later by a military coup.

In the renewed presidential election of 1990, the US backed a candidate, Marc Bazin, who as a former World Bank official seemed presentable as well as suitably domesticated. But in this election democracy indeed broke out, in a manner unanticipated by American planners. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a slender, soft-spoken priest whose life’s work had been in ministering to Haiti’s poor, and whose party of the poor was appropriately named Lavalas (meaning “flash flood,” from the French “avalanche”) won the presidency with an overwhelming 66.7 percent of the vote.

When it became clear that Aristide intended to fulfil the campaign promises on which he had been elected, he was overthrown in 1991, after only seven months in office, by a CIA-sponsored coup. However, the fascistic gangsters of the military and of the Front pour l’avancement et le progrès d’Haiti (FRAPH) who took power turned out to be an embarrassment to their American masters. They were openly involved in drug-trafficking, continuing the Duvalier régime’s work in CIA-protected cocaine transshipment between Colombia and Miami (see Chossudovsky). Moreover, they unleashed an appalling campaign of violence. Between 4,000 to 5,000 civilians were murdered, most of them Lavalas activists (see Flynn and Roth; Lemoine); and while “[s]ome 300,000 people became internal refugees, ‘thousands more fled across the border to the Dominican Republic, and more than 60,000 took to the high seas’” (Chossudovsky, quoting the statement of Dina Paul Parks, Executive Director, National Coalition for Haitian Rights, to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington DC, 1 October 2002). To the dismay of the Clinton administration, many of these ‘boat people’ reached the shores of the United States.

In 1994 President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 US troops to Haiti and reinstalled Aristide. However, Clinton was by no means reversing the policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Aristide was returned to office only after a prolonged campaign of vilification in the US media, and an equally extended period of bullying by American diplomats, who made it clear that he would be permitted to implement, not his own policies, but rather those of his defeated rival, Bazin. And the globalizing institutions of the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’ went to work in Haiti—among them the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (AID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and a host of US-funded NGOs and ‘civil society’ groups—their goal being, as Jane Regan wrote in Covert Action Quarterly in 1995, “to impose a neoliberal economic agenda, to undermine grassroots democracy, to create political stability conducive to a good business climate, and to bring Haiti into the new world order appendaged to the U.S. as a source of markets and cheap labor” (quoted by Engler and Fenton, 25).

At the same time, a U.S. promise to disarm the Haitian military and the CIA-funded FRAPH paramilitaries, who had been responsible for mass killings between 1991 and 1994, went unfulfilled. The US instead “confiscated 160,000 documents detailing activities of FRAPH and the military regime, confounding efforts to bring justice and closure to the Haitian people who endured its death squads for three years” (Engler and Fenton, 24; “U.S. Government”).

Having served only two years of his mandate—most of that time under tight US control—Aristide handed over the presidency in 1996 to his associate René Garcia Préval, who had won the 1995 election in another landslide, with 88 percent of the vote.


2. Destabilization and the coup of February 29, 2004

It is not my purpose here to analyze the viciously destructive programs of economic and political destabilization undertaken by the United States and by the international institutions of the Washington Consensus throughout the period of Aristide’s interrupted presidencies and Préval’s first term in office. However, a brief summary is necessary for us to understand what was at stake in the overthrown of Aristide by the US, Canada and France in February 2004, and what has been at stake as well in the 2006 election.

Michel Chossudovsky has documented the catastrophic consequences in Haiti of IMF-imposed “free-market reforms.” These included a 30 percent decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during the period of military rule in 1992-94; the bankrupting of Haiti’s rice farmers and the destruction of the rural peasant-farming economy by the late 1990s through the dumping of US agricultural surpluses of rice, sugar and corn; successive IMF-World Bank-imposed “reforms” of the civil service, which were quite evidently intended to frustrate and nullify Lavalas initiatives in the domain of social policy; and a ruinous increase in fuel prices imposed by the IMF in 2003, which produced a currency devaluation and a 40 percent increase in consumer prices (Chossudovsky).

One no doubt intended consequence of economic policies of this kind is to de-legitimize the elected government that is pushed into assenting to them. Unrelenting pressures to privatize state resources and public services, and to further reduce an already derisory statutory minimum wage, have the parallel function of paralyzing any attempts on the part of progressive politicians to counteract or palliate the miseries inflicted on the population by ‘Washington Consensus’ globalization.

Because both Aristide and Préval tried to resist the implementation of these policies, Haiti was punished by withdrawals of promised loans from international agencies, and the cancellation of aid packages promised by the US, Canada, France and the European Union. At the same time, vigorous steps were taken by organizations like the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to politically destabilize the government by pouring money into organizing and financing “civil society” groups of all kinds. The most prominent recipients of this largesse were opposition political parties and members of umbrella organizations like Group 184 (led by Lebanese-American ‘industrialist’ Andy Apaid, who is reported to have connections with paramilitary groups, and whose sweatshops, selling to the Canadian company Gildan Activewear, supply a large part of the North American T-shirt market—and also defy the statutory minimum wage of $1.50 per day, paying workers less than half that sum [Lemoine]). But other organizations as well, including media outlets, human rights groups, and trade unions, were co-opted into collaboration with the opposition by funding from these sources. (For details of the process, see Barry-Shaw, Chossudovsky, Engler, Sprague, Van Auken, and Engler and Fenton, 47-60; and for documentation of the application of this same destabilization strategy in Venezuela, see Golinger.)

After 2000, a US-imposed embargo on all aid and loans to Haiti was legitimized by claims on the part of the Organization of American States (OAS) that the legislative elections of May 2000, in which Fanmi Lavalas candidates won by large margins, were, as Joanne Mariner, the Deputy Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch put it, not just “profoundly flawed” but marked by a wholly innovative form of electoral fraud. Haitian law stipulates that the winner must receive 50 percent plus one vote; opposition parties and the OAS objected to the results in eight Senate races because the Electoral Council had used only the votes of the top four contenders (in one department, those of the top six contenders) to establish the 50 percent level.

The most commonly cited example was that of two Senate seats in a riding in the North-East department: “In this riding, to get the 50% plus one vote demanded by the OAS, 33,154 votes were needed, while the two FL [Fanmi Lavalas] candidates had won with 32,969 and 30,736 votes respectively, with their closest rival getting about 16,000 votes” (Barry-Shaw; see also Morrell, Mariner). By the Electoral Council’s method of calculation (which the OAS had apparently known of in advance of the elections, and had not objected to), the FL candidates were well over the 50 percent level. But by what seems to be the correct interpretation of Haitian law, they fell short by 185 and 2,418 votes respectively.

Most commentators would agree that even though the Fanmi Lavalas candidates would most probably have won a run-off election, the Electoral Council’s misinterpretation of the law amounted to an impropriety. Whether such a matter called for the extreme consequences of an international aid embargo is another question. (And with respect to the sanctimonious sermonizing about clean elections this episode prompted in the American media, it might be interesting to know how many of the US pundits who choked on this minnow were subsequently able to engorge without hesitation the thorny puffer-fish of George W. Bush’s ‘election’—by Florida fraud and a judicial coup d’état—in November of the same year.)

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected to the presidency of Haiti—unlike Bush, in a wholly unambiguous landslide—in November 2000. Following his inauguration, he persuaded seven of the eight contested senators to resign and proposed holding new elections for the disputed positions (Barry-Shaw).

But the opposition, organized by its American puppet-masters under the name Convergence Democratique, was not interested in compromise. And the US government, now controlled by the unelected Bush regime, used its veto powers on the Inter-American Development Bank to block loans to Haiti that, as Paul Farmer notes, were to have provided access to primary health care (40 percent of Haitians “have no access to any primary healthcare, while HIV and tuberculosis rates are by far the highest in Latin America”), and to drinking water (a 2002 British study which evaluated 147 countries according to a “water poverty index” found that “Haiti came last”).

US Congresswoman Barbara Lee judged this veto to be “particularly disturbing since the charter of the IDB specifically states that the bank shall not intervene in the politics of its member states. The Bush administration has decided to leverage political change in a member country by embargoing loans that the Bank has a contractual obligation to disburse” (quoted by Farmer). Still more outrageously, the IDB told Haitians in 2001 “that their government would be required to pay a 0.5% ‘credit commission’ on the entire balance of undisbursed funds, effective 12 months after the date the loans were approved. As of 31 March 2001, Haiti owed the IDB $185,239.75 in ‘commission fees’ for loans it never received” (Farmer). So that, my friends, will teach you to have some respect for legality.

Beginning in July 2001, US-organized and financed paramilitaries headed by former police officer and death-squad leader Guy Philippe conducted raids into Haiti from bases in the Dominican Republic; these included, on December 17, 2001, an attack on the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince; and on May 6, 2003, an attack on the hydroelectric dam at Peligre (Barry-Shaw).

Responsibility for providing diplomatic cover for a coup d’état appears to have been delegated to the Canadian government, whose Minister of La Francophonie, Denis Paradis, convened a meeting of American, French and Canadian officials in Ottawa from January 31 to February 1, 2003 which discussed “Aristide’s possible removal, the potential return of Haiti’s disbanded military, and the option of imposing a Kosovo-like trusteeship on Haiti” (Barry-Shaw; Engler and Fenton, 42-45).

The coup, when it came in February 2004, involved close collaboration among the US-equipped paramilitaries who invaded from the Dominican Republic, and—when it seemed in late February their attack on Port-au-Prince might be faltering—Canadian special forces (the Joint Task Force 2 unit) who occupied the Port-au-Prince airport on February 29, and the US Marines who abducted President Aristide and put him onto a plane bound for the Central African Republic (Barry-Shaw; Engler and Fenton, 17-20).

The appalling human consequences of the coup—among them the persecution, murder, and criminalization of large numbers of Lavalas activists and others who have continued to resist the overthrow of their democracy; and the systematic reversal of those progressive policies that Lavalas administrations had been able to implement (see Barry-Shaw; Engler and Fenton, 71-94; Fenton, 4 Aug. 2004, 21 Nov. 2004, 26 June 2005; Lindsay, 3 Feb. 2006; Maxwell, 19 Feb 2006; Pina, 17 May 2005, 1 Feb. 2006; San Francisco Labor Council).

Despite the unremitting hostility of the United States and its dependencies to democracy in Haiti, the Lavalas governments of Aristide and Préval made substantial gains for ordinary Haitians in education, health care, economic justice, social infrastructure, and justice and human rights (see Flynn and Roth). The people of Haiti have had a taste of democratic empowerment. As the descendants of L’Ouverture, Dessalines, and Charlemagne Peralte, one of the leaders of resistance to the US occupation that began in 1915, they are not willing to be trodden down again into abjection and despair. aiti have had a taste of what Haiti

We can take the fate of one institution as emblematic of the meaning to Haitians of their Lavalas governments, the 2004 coup, and the 2006 election. Laura Flynn and Robert Roth note that “President Aristide created a new medical school in Tabarre, which provided free medical education to 247 students from all parts of the country”; students in this school committed themselves to serving in their own communities after graduating.

After the coup, the US Marines closed the medical school and appropriated its building as a barracks. The Brazilian UN contingent has now installed itself in the building; the school remains closed.

Haitians, who rightly understand this as a gesture of contempt, would like to see their medical school re-opened.


3. Improprieties in the election of February 7, 2006

The most obvious impropriety of the 2006 election resides in the fact that it should, by law, have taken place long ago. As noted by Brian Concannon, Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, “Article 149 of the Constitution gives provisional governments 90 days to organize elections, and that period expired on June 1, 2004, without any attempt to hold elections.” During 2005, the Interim Government of Haiti installed by the US, Canada and France after the overthrow of President Aristide postponed elections four times, missing the deadline of February 7, 2006 for transferring power “that it had promised to meet for 21 months” (Concannon, 6 Dec. 2005).

Five days before this presidential election at last took place, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), an independent, non-partisan research organization which has been described on the floor of the United States Senate as “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers,” released a scathing report declaring that “Haiti’s February 7th election inevitably will occur in a climate of fear and violence, which can in part be blamed upon the failed UN mission to that country.”

In the aftermath, it is clear that the UN must also take a large share of the blame for the fact that the provisions made for the election were quite transparently designed to disenfranchise poor voters—and for the further fact that ballot security (a direct UN responsibility) and vote tabulation were both spectacularly corrupt.


(a) Suppression of parties opposed to the Interim Government of Haiti (IGH)

A number of reports in the corporate media noted, sometimes with surprise but seldom with any attempt at an explanation, that René Préval ran a very muted and low-key campaign.

Brian Concannon observes that one very simple reason for Preval’s near-invisibility was that Haiti’s Interim Government “engaged in a comprehensive program to suppress political activities of the Lavalas movement, where Mr. Préval drew most of his support, in the ten months before the elections.”

Many people were unable to participate in the election, either as candidates or activists, because they had been illegally imprisoned following the 2004 coup: “Political prisoners included Haiti’s last constitutional Prime Minister, a former member of the House of Deputies, the former Minister of the Interior, and dozens of local officials and grassroots activists” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006). Guy Philippe, on the other hand, the death squad leader who lead the coup against Aristide in 2004, was free to present himself as a presidential candidate: he won 1.69 percent of the vote (Keane).

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune began a liquids-only hunger strike in protest against his incarceration eight months before the election, and continued to refuse solid foods throughout the election campaign. Another prominent political prisoner, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, who enjoys a moral authority among the Haitian poor comparable to Aristide’s, and who has been repeatedly urged to run for the presidency, was given a “temporary release” and flown to the US just days before the election in order to receive emergency medical treatment for leukemia and pneumonia. It seems clear that the IGH responded to the international outcry over this case only because the celebrated epidemiologist Dr. Paul Farmer, who has run a now world-famous clinic and hospital at Cange in rural Haiti for more than twenty-five years, had examined Jean-Juste in prison and diagnosed his leukemia—and because fifty members of the US Congress had joined the campaign for his release (see Jean-Juste; Maxwell, 13 Feb. 2006).

The normally calm and restrained Council on Hemispheric Affairs had this to say about the prison in which Neptune, Jean-Juste, and other political prisoners have been held:

The UN, the OAS, France, Canada, and the U.S., have been unwilling to intervene in ongoing gross human rights violations affecting the country’s criminal justice system, where every day arbitrary arrests and detentions under the interim government’s villainous former Minister of Justice, Bernard Gousse, strain the human conscience. Only an estimated 2%, of the more than 1,000 detainees taken to the Czarist-like national penitentiary, whose foul conditions cannot be exaggerated, have been legitimately tried and convicted of a crime. Furthermore, the abysmal prison conditions are infamous for being horrendously unsanitary and dangerous for its detainees. Riots and summary executions routinely occur… (COHA).

Arbitrary arrests were supplemented by government-organized attacks on political assemblies during the period leading up to the election. Peaceful pro-Lavalas demonstrations were repeatedly fired upon by the Haitian National Police while UN forces stood by and watched. (Kevin Pina, an American journalist who witnessed one such event and photographed the police snipers, was rewarded with a death threat from the Brazilian officer in command of the UN detachment, who was taped telling him, “You are always making trouble for us. I have taken your picture and I am going to give it to the Haitian police. They will get you” [HIP, “U.N. covers”].)

Campaign events organized by Préval’s Espwa party (the Creole name comes from the French “espoir,” or “hope”) were similarly targeted, to the extent that government-instigated violence made campaigning impossible. Brian Concannon notes that “In January, a pro-government gang destroyed structures erected for a Préval campaign speech in the town of St. Marc, canceling the event. No arrests were made. Violence and threats of violence forced the cancellation of subsequent events, even the campaign’s grand finale the week before the election” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

What this adds up to is “the use of political terror as a campaign strategy. Over and over again over the past six months [i.e., since June 2005], Haitian police, and even troops from MINUSTAH, the UN mission in Haiti, have gone into neighborhoods known as strongholds of government opponents, killing, maiming and arresting people and destroying houses. In October, MINUSTAH’s top human rights official called the human rights situation in Haiti ‘catastrophic,’ citing summary executions, torture and illegal arrests. Keeping the poor neighborhoods under siege and imprisoning activists keeps government opponents from organizing and campaigning” (Concannon, 6 Dec. 2005).


(b) Vote suppression through the maladministration of voter registration by the IGH, the OAS and MINUSTAH

The Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN’s stabilization mission to Haiti (MINUSTAH) assumed joint responsibility for the election process. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs report, “Both organizations have been heavily criticized by Haiti’s Secretary-General of the Provisional Electoral Council, Rosemond Pradel, for failing to carry out their responsibilities.”

The voter registration process was transparently designed to disenfranchise the poor. While for the elections in 2000 René Préval’s administration set up more than 10,000 voter registration centers across the country, the IGH and its international overseers provided fewer than 500. As Brian Concannon writes, “The offices would have been too few and far between for many voters even if they had been evenly distributed. But placement was heavily weighted in favor of areas likely to support the IGH and its allies. Halfway through the registration period, for example, there were three offices in the upscale suburb of Petionville, and the same number in the large and largely roadless Central Plateau Department. In cities, the poor neighborhoods were the last to get registration centers, and Cité Soleil, the largest poor neighborhood of all, never got one” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

The undersupply and biased distribution of registration centers was compounded by what the COHA report generously calls an “ill-conceived strategy” to provide instructions about registration and voting by radio and television—a plan that collided “with the hard reality that the rural and urban poor systematically lack access to such relative luxuries.”

As a result of these provisions, only 3.5 million out of an estimated 4.2 million eligible voters were registered (COHA; Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006)—a decline of 500,000 from the more than four million voters who were registered in 2000 (Keane). But some of the voters who did manage to register were then no doubt disenfranchised by the late arrival of their voter cards, the distribution of which had not yet begun by December 25, 2005 (COHA).


(c) Vote suppression through the IGH’s and MINUSTAH’s undersupply of voting centers

A further suppression of the votes of poor people was achieved through a parallel undersupply of polling stations, and by delays in the supply to polling stations of necessary materials.

In the 2000 elections, the Préval administration provided more than 12,000 polling centers across the country; in 2006, the UN and the IGH set up only one-fifteenth of that number (see Keane; and “Haitian Political Rights Leader”). As Jonathan Keane noted, “Despite having millions more dollars to spend on this election than in 2000 […], officials claimed that security and fraud concerns were responsible for the reduction.”

On January 17, 2006, Reed Lindsay reported in the Washington Times that critics—some of them members of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)—were characterizing the CEP as “so plagued by partisanship and incompetence that it may not be capable of holding free and fair elections.” According to one member of the CEP, Patrick Féquière, “‘We could be in for a fiasco on Feb. 7.’ [….] Mr. Féquière and others point to problems with the 804 voting centers designated by the U.N. peacekeeping mission. They say that too many voters have been assigned to the wrong center and others must walk too far because there are not enough centers. A Dec. 27 report issued by the Washington-based IFES [International Foundation for Election Systems], which is observing the elections with USAID funds, said the accessibility issue ‘threatens to disenfranchise thousands of voters.’ The report says some people will have to walk as many as five hours to vote. But Gerardo Le Chevallier, chief of elections for the United Nations, said, ‘The most people will have to walk is six kilometers’—about 3.75 miles” (Lindsay, 17 Jan. 2006; quoted by Melançon). Unnamed UN officials were elsewhere quoted as saying, of the long walks made necessary by the reduced number of polling stations, “that Haiti’s rural poor are ‘used to it’” (Keane).

In Lindsay’s Washington Times report, we should note, the UN is acknowledged as having taken responsibility for the siting of the voting centers—though Brian Concannon’s account of the effects of vote suppression observable on February 7, which indicates that on election day a grand total of 807 centers were in place, makes the IGH primarily responsible for this feature of the election:

The IGH had limited the voting centers to 807, which would have been inadequate even if the elections had run smoothly (Los Angeles County, with a slightly larger population but only 37% of Haiti’s land area and infinitely better private and public transportation, had about 4,400 polling places in November 2005). But by 1 PM on election day, Reuters’ headline read: ‘Chaos, fraud claims mar Haiti election.’ Most election offices opened late and lacked ballots or other materials; many did not become fully functional until mid-afternoon. Voters arrived at the designated centers to find the center had been moved at the last minute. Many who found the center identified on their voting card waited in line for hours only to be told they could not vote because their names were not on the list. At some centers, tens of thousands were crammed into a single building, creating confusion, and in one case a deadly stampede (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

As with pre-election registration, so also in the allocation of polling stations Cité Soleil received the most egregious mistreatment. The entire community was served by only two voting stations—both, as Concannon notes, “located well outside the neighborhood.” He adds that “One of the two, the Carrefour Aviation site, was transferred at the last minute to a single building where 32,000 voters had to find the right line to wait in without posted instructions, lists of names or an information center” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

According to UN spokesman David Wimhurst, MINUSTAH was in no way to blame for any of this: its mission was simply “to verify that the voting centers [that] the electoral council had selected physically existed […] it has never been our job to determine the location of voting centers.” The Council on Hemispheric Affairs has denounced this statement as “a blatantly obvious attempt to exonerate MINUSTAH’s clear abdication of responsibility.”

No less blatant, one might add, is what seems a clear piece of obfuscation in a New York Times News Service report of February 14, which informed readers that there were 9,000 polling places in the February 7 election (see Thompson, 14 Feb. 2006).

Is it possible that each of the 807 voting centers contained, on average, eleven distinct precincts? This may have been the case, though I have found no evidence to this effect. (Such an arrangement would only have augmented voters’ confusion—and it would obviously be misleading to describe precincts situated under the same roof as distinct “polling places.”)

Or was the Times reporter, Ginger Thompson, perhaps confusing the number of voting centers with the round number of UN troops and policemen occupying the country?


(d) The story of a fraudulent vote count

The Haiti Information Project predicted on February 8, on the basis of “exit polls and initial results,” that René Garcia Préval would be declared winner “with a handy 63% of the vote,” and anticipated that his nearest rivals, Leslie Manigat and Charles Henri Baker, would receive 13 and 10 percent respectively (HIP, “HIP predicts Préval winner”). This early estimate of Manigat’s and Baker’s shares of the vote turned out to be fairly accurate. But Préval’s share dropped precipitously as the count proceeded.

On Thursday, February 9, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) announced that with 22 percent of the votes counted, Préval was leading with 62 percent of the vote, while Manigat and Baker trailed with 11 percent and 6 percent. By Saturday evening, however, Préval’s share of the vote was down to 49.61 percent (Concannon, 14 Feb. 2006).

On Sunday, February 12, Reuters reported that results posted that morning on the CEP’s website showed that Préval’s share of the votes counted had dropped to 49.1 percent, while Manigat was in second place with 11.7 percent (Delva, 12 Feb. 2006). On February 13, the New York Times reported these same figures, noting that by this point more than 75 percent of the ballots had been counted, and that Baker, in third place, had 8.2 percent of the tallied vote. The Times report added that “international observers, whose independent samplings of the votes had shown Préval winning well above 50 percent of the vote,” were “stunned” by these results (Thompson, 13 February 2006).

But the Times reporter chose to ignore several other details reported by Reuters.

One of these was a statement on February 12 by Jacques Bernard, the director of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), to the effect that while figures on the Council’s website showed Préval with 49.1 percent, he actually had “just under 49 percent.”

If one might guess from this that Bernard was interested in nudging Préval’s numbers downward, other statements in the same article indicate that he was engaged in wholesale vote tabulation fraud. The key evidence is the fact that “a graphic on the Web site generated by computer had Préval at 52 percent, above the majority needed to avoid a runoff”—and that the person in charge of the voting tabulation centre insisted that this, rather than the concurrently displayed figure of 49.1 percent, was the correct number.

According to Reuters journalist Joseph Guyler Delva, “Pierre Richard Duchemin and Patrick Féquière, two of the nine members of the elections council, said the vote tabulation was being manipulated and blamed Bernard. ‘The percent which is given by the graphic is done by the computer according to figures entered by a data operator and the computer can’t lie,’ said Duchemin, who was in charge of the voting tabulation center. He said he had been excluded from viewing data. ‘There is an unwholesome manipulation of the data. Nothing is transparent,’ he said” (Delva, 12 Feb. 2006).

On the same day, Duchemin was reported by the Associated Press as saying that “he needs access to the vote tallies to learn who is behind the alleged manipulation. He’s calling for an investigation” (see “Haitian Official”). Either at this point or subsequently, “The UN Peacekeeping mission was forced to remove the doors to the tabulation center to prevent Mr. Bernard and his advisors from acting secretly” (Concannon, 14 Feb. 2006).

The February 12 Reuters report also quoted Préval’s own gently acerbic comment on the vote tabulation controversy: “‘I went to school and the CEP has given two figures, 52 percent and 49 percent. Now there is a problem,’ said Préval, talking to reporters while sitting on a bench in the village square in his mountain hometown of Marmelade. “Forty-nine percent I don’t pass. Fifty percent I pass’” (Delva, 12 Feb. 2006).

At 7 a.m. on Monday, February 13, Port-au-Prince’s Radio Metropole carried the latest vote tally figures, according to which Préval’s share of the vote had slipped to 48.7 percent. (Some sources reported that the results posted on Monday on the CEP’s website gave Préval 48.76 percent of the vote [see Jacobs, 15 Feb. 2006; Williams, 16 Feb. 2006].) Whatever the exact figure, within a short time massive demonstrations had formed throughout the capital. Major thoroughfares were blocked, sometimes with barricades of burning tires, and a crowd 5,000 strong surged into the Hotel Montana, in the rich suburb of Petionville, where the voting tabulation was being done. Though the hotel was described in the American press as having been “stormed,” no damage was done to the building or its contents, and no-one was harmed: election officials had sensibly stayed away from work, and the tabulation center was locked and empty. Archbishop Desmond Tutu “was a guest at the hotel, saw what happened and said not one item was broken or stolen—pretty remarkable for a crowd of that size that had every reason to be very angry” (Lendman). Some demonstrators did, it seems, enjoy a celebratory swim in the Hotel Montana’s pool (see Thompson, 14 Feb. 2006; and Williams and Regnault).

The only serious violence of the day appears to have occurred in Tabarre, just north of the capital, where Jordanian UN troops, who on February 3 were reported to have fired upon the public hospital in Cité Soleil (see Lindsay, 3 Feb. 2006; quoted by Melançon), opened fire on demonstrators, killing one or perhaps two and wounding several others (see Williams and Regnault, and “Haiti ‘victor’”).

On Tuesday, February 14, René Préval publicly denounced the vote count, declaring that “We are convinced there was massive fraud and gross errors that affected the process,” and citing an independent tabulation by the US National Democratic Institute (the international arm of the Democratic Party), according to which he had won 54 percent of the vote (see “Haiti ‘victor’”).

The NDI’s prompt response that its count did not include blank votes (which by Haitian law must be included in the total when candidates’ percentages are being calculated) was reported by Reuters as though it invalidated Préval’s claim (see “Haiti marks time”).

But are we not supposed to understand elementary arithmetic? Even allowing a high figure of 4.7 percent of the total ballots being blank, it’s evident that the NDI count still gives Préval 51.5 percent of the total ballots.

According to the US government’s propaganda agency Voice of America (whose Port-au-Prince employee Amelia Shaw, in a clear instance of the effacement of whatever distinction once existed in the US media between news and propaganda, was also concurrently reporting for National Public Radio [see “US Propaganda”]), the UN’s spokesman David Wimhurst dismissed the allegations of Préval and other people as unhelpful and inflammatory: “I think they are stirring up trouble. People are making gratuitous claims that are unfounded, and of course the people who voted for the number one candidate are being agitated, organized to go on these demonstrations and put up these roadblocks, and it’s causing chaos in the city and preventing MINUSTAH (U.N. stabilization force) from doing its work and the electoral machine from operating properly.”

This Orwellian declaration was supported in Amelia Shaw’s article by the statement that “International election observers have not reported serious irregularities” (Shaw).

Unless we think of Wimhurst as rehearsing for a future career as a straight man in stand-up comedy, his timing was unfortunate. For within hours of Préval’s statement on February 14, a discovery that had been made by local residents on the previous day in a dump on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince was all over Haitian television: “Local Telemax TV news Tuesday night showed smashed white ballot boxes in a garbage dump, with wads of ballots strewn about. Ballot after ballot was marked for Préval” (Jacobs, 15 Feb. 2006). When Associated Press reporters visited the site, they saw “hundreds of empty ballot boxes, at least one vote tally sheet and several empty bags—numbered and signed by the heads of polling stations—strewn across the fly-infested dump five miles north of Port-au-Prince. ‘That’s extraordinary,’ U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said” (Selsky).

Reacting with measured anger, the electorate again brought Port-au-Prince “to a standstill” with demonstrations and roadblocks. On Wednesday, February 15, as Reuters reported, crowds poured out “from slums like Cite Soleil and Belair, where Préval has won the same passionate support among Haiti’s poor masses that formed the backbone of Aristide’s political power. Waving burned ballot papers and ballot boxes found in the dump, the protesters chanted, ‘Look what they did with our votes,’ as they marched past the U.S., Canadian and French embassies” (“Haiti marks time”).

Rosemond Pradel, the CEP’s Secretary-General, blamed the UN for this fiasco: “‘The CEP was not handling the ballots,’ Pradel said. He said securing the ballots after they had been cast was the responsibility of the 9,000-strong U.N. force …” (Delva, 14 Feb. 2006). The wretched David Wimhurst was reduced to indicating that “ballots were supposed to have been sealed in bags and placed in a container protected by U.N. troops. ‘It’s not normal to have these ballots there’” (Delva and Loney).

In his attempts to explain how thousands of ballots had ended up smoldering in a dump, Wimhurst revealed that the election had not gone quite as smoothly as the Voice of America might want us to believe: “U.N. spokesman David Wimhurst said the ballots could have come from any of nine polling stations across the country that were ransacked on election day, forcing officials to throw out up to 35,000 votes. At least one voting center was destroyed by people tired of waiting in line, others were destroyed by political factions, he said. Wimhurst said it was possible someone dumped the ransacked ballots to create an appearance of fraud” (Jacobs, 15 Feb. 2006).

But have we not already passed beyond mere appearance into the reality of fraud in an election in which fully one percent of the polling stations are wrecked by “political factions”—a coded reference to anti-democratic paramilitaries? Might one guess that the voting centers ransacked by these people were more likely to have been in pro-Lavalas or pro-Espwa districts than in upscale neighborhoods like Petionville? And what were UN forces doing while the ransacking went on? Standing by, perhaps, to issue death threats to any journalist who might think of recording the events?

And what of the international election observers, who had previously announced that “the vote was legitimate, with no evidence of fraud” (“Préval declared winner”)? If by this time they had gone so far as to take note of irregularities, they weren’t telling anyone: “An official with the European Union, which has election observers in Haiti, said the mission has refrained from commenting. A spokesperson said: ‘The situation is volatile and difficult, and we do not want to make any declaration.’ The Canadian observer group also refused to comment” (“Haiti orders review”).

Why should international observers behave in so remarkably discreet a manner? Mightn’t one expect that the job of being an election observer should entail actually looking at what’s there to be seen, and then telling the world about it?

Brian Concannon resolves the mystery with his characteristic lucidity: “Although there are international observers on the ground, they do not reassure Haitian voters. The observation delegations are organized and funded by the U.S., Canada and France, the three countries that led the overthrow of Haiti’s Constitutional government in February, 2004. With good reason, Haitians wonder whether countries that spent millions of dollars two years ago to remove the President they elected will make much effort to install their latest choice” (Concannon, 14 Feb. 2006).


(e) Details of the vote count

Brian Concannon also provides the best available account of what, in detail, went wrong with the vote count.

If the trashing of ballots by the truckload in a dump outside Port-au-Prince was the most dramatic expression of contempt for democratic proprieties in the February 7 election, a larger-scale and more flagrant form of fraud was the miscoding or the destruction of tally sheets from polling centers. Concannon writes that “254 sheets were destroyed, reportedly, by gangs from political parties opposed to Preval. 504 tally sheets reportedly lack the codes needed to enter them officially. The missing tally sheets probably represent about 190,000 votes—over 9% of the total votes cast—and according to the UN, disproportionately affect the poor areas that support Preval.” The difference between 48.7 percent of the vote and 50 percent is a matter of about 22,500 votes. As Concannon notes, “Mr. Préval would not have needed to win an overwhelming percentage of these 190,000 votes to increase his lead by the 22,500” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

A large number of ballots—“147,765 votes, over 7% of the total”—were discarded by electoral officials as “null,” that is to say as ballots which do not permit one, in the language of Article 185 of the Electoral Code, to “recognize the intention or political will of the elector.” Concannon identifies a number of factors that no doubt contributed to the casting of null votes: “Presidential ballots were complicated, with 33 candidates, each with a photo, an emblem and the names of the candidate and the party; voters were tired from walking and waiting; some voting was done in the dark by candlelight; and many voters are unused to filling out forms or writing.” But another factor may have been more important: “the decision to nullify was made by local officials handpicked by an Electoral Council that had no representation from Préval’s Lespwa party or Lavalas” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

Another group of ballots—“85,290, or 4.6% of the total valid votes”—were blank ballots. Concannon observes that “These votes were actually counted against Préval, because under the election law they are included in the total number of valid votes that provides the baseline for the 50% threshold.” The inclusion of blank ballots as valid is a provision designed to allow voters “to show their displeasure with all the candidates by voting for no one” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006). Some voters may have been confused enough by the ballots to leave theirs blank. But it is simply not plausible that large numbers of voters would have chosen to endure long walks in the tropical heat, and the indignity of much longer waits outside deliberately inadequate voting centers, for the dubious pleasure of casting a blank ballot. Given that the polling places were staffed by the adherents of parties in whose clear interest it was to dilute Préval’s vote with blank ballots, it seems likely that a high proportion of blank ballots were simply stuffed into the ballot boxes by party functionaries.

Other factors remain imponderable. When a report from the Agence Haïtienne de Presse informs us that an individual “was arrested last week at the Haitian-Dominican border with ballot boxes in his possession that were full of ballots already marked for a candidate of the former opposition to Aristide” (“Port-au-Prince), we have no way of knowing what the scale was of the intended crime—or, more importantly, how many other such individuals may have slipped through with cars or trucks full of ballots for Manigat, Baker, or the murderous Guy Philippe. Nor, failing an investigation of Jacques Bernard’s voting tabulation shenanigans, can we make any precise estimate of his impact on the official tallies.

But shall we try our hand, nonetheless, at estimating what the uncorrupted vote may have been before the election thieves went to work on it? Pierre Duchemin and Patrick Féquière of the CEP accused their Director, Jacques Bernard, of fiddling the vote tabulations—and the action of the UN in removing the doors behind which he had been working in secret lends substance to their accusation. Bernard claimed Préval had just under 49 percent of the vote, while Duchemin insisted that 52 percent was the correct figure. Let’s be Solomonic rather than scientific, and split the difference between Bernard’s 48.7 and Duchemin’s 52 percent. That would give Préval 50.35 percent—enough, by the way, to win the first-round election.

I think it fair to assume that Préval would have won three-quarters of the votes from Lavalas-Lespwa strongholds whose tally sheets were miscoded or destroyed: that would add another 6.75 percent to his share of the vote. And it’s probably not rash to think that 40 percent of the null votes were falsely invalidated Préval ballots: that brings his share to 59.9 percent of the vote. And what if half of the blank ballots were stuffed into the boxes by partisan election officials rather than voters? That would raise Préval’s vote share to within spitting distance of the Haiti Information Project’s February 8 prediction, based on early results and exit polls, that he would take 63 percent of the vote, or the CEP’s February 9 statement that with 22 percent of the votes counted, he had won 62 percent of the total. If, finally, we make the modest assumption that three-quarters of the 35,000 votes that Wimhurst said had to be discarded after voting centers were ransacked were Espwa votes, then Préval’s share of the vote is easily at the 63 percent level.

(Notice, by the way, that in the absence of clear information about the quantity and provenance of the ballots in the dump we haven’t included any speculation as to how they may have affected the count.)

Do these calculations seem fanciful? Then let’s think the issue through from another direction.

In an election in which we know that the interests of the parties associated with the IGH and favored by the occupation forces were furthered by chaotic administration of the deliberately insufficient facilities, and in which we also know that well-to-do communities were much better served on a per capita basis with voting centers than poor communities, it seems probable that the early returns would have tended to come from voting centers in wealthier neighbourhoods—whose clientele would have been less inclined than the electorate at large to support the candidate of the poor.

What then might the statistical odds be of Préval enjoying 62 percent of the first 22 percent of the ballots counted, but only 49.1 percent of the first 75 percent counted? Wouldn’t we expect that his share of the vote should have risen, rather than declined, as the later returns from predominantly poor communities came in?

To produce the result announced by the CEP, Préval’s vote share would have had to plunge, after the first 22 percent of the ballots were counted, by about 18 percent on average, and would have had to hover in the 44 to 45 percent range during the counting of the next 53 percent of the ballots. The likelihood of such a pattern occurring by chance is infinitesimally small. What possible explanation could there be for it, other than grossly fraudulent vote tabulation?


4. The victory ‘arrangement’

The arrangement accepted by the CEP involved dividing up the 85,000 blank ballots among the candidates in proportion to each one’s share of the vote. The solution, as Concannon writes, amounts to an assumption “that the blank votes resulted from confusion, and allocates the votes accordingly. The result is the same as if the CEP simply discarded the blank votes, and treated them the same as null votes” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006). Préval’s share of the vote rises to 51.15 percent, and there is no need for a second round election.

In accepting this deal, Préval also apparently gave up his right to a complete tabulation of the vote, and perhaps as well to any investigation of the election’s irregularities. It would have been instructive to see what proportion of the null ballots were improperly nullified; moreover, since all of the ballots were numbered, the provenance of the ballots found in the Cité Soleil dump could have been traced, and the sequence of ballot numbers among the blank ballots might well have provided evidence of ballot-box stuffing.

But Préval may have calculated, Concannon suggests, “that the international community, which had not complained about the inadequate registration and voting facilities, and only lightly complained about the IGH’s political prisoners, would show similar restraint when faced with tabulation irregularities. And he knew that if the first round could be stolen from him, the second round could as well” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006).

None of the old enemies have gone away. Condoleezza Rice was quick to say, on Thursday, February 16, that the US wants a stable Haiti, and “has a good record in trying to get Haiti out of the desperate circumstances in which they live” (Jacobs, 16 Feb. 2006). The New York Times, as Brian Concannon acerbically remarked, declared on February 17 that “the election deal ‘tarnishes the democratic legitimacy’ of Préval’s landslide. It recommends that Préval remove the tarnish by ‘reaching out to his opponents’ (e.g. pursuing policies that the voters rejected), and ‘reining in his violence-prone supporters.’ The editorial did not suggest that Mr. Préval’s opponents, many of whom were key players in the violent overthrow of Haiti’s democracy two years ago which led to thousands of deaths, rein in their supporters” (Concannon, 17 Feb. 2006). Stephen Lendman has commented incisively on a further chorus of fatuities and falsehoods that have disgraced the pages of the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, and The Nation, as well as the news reports of National Public Radio. What can one say? There’s a lot of shit piled up in the Augean stables.

The Haitian people, and René Garcia Préval, face an uphill struggle. How they fare in that struggle will be, in part, a measure of our own humanity.




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