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An increasing barrage of negative propaganda in the US media appears to be softening the ground for a violent takeover by the Washington-backed opposition in Haiti, the Democratic Convergence. In a series of press releases and articles over the past three months, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and journalists have bombarded the press to justify one common theme, violent regime change is acceptable, if not inevitable, in Haiti. The main themes of this media spin, cycling through the press today, should be more than familiar to those who follow Haiti in the news: politicization of the Haitian police force, Lavalas grassroots organizations cast as armed gangs and government corruption.
NCHR and the Media Cannibals
The latest press barrage began on September 2 with the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) release of a story equating elements in Haiti’s police force with Duvalier’s Ton Ton Macoutes and the former death squads, known as attachés, under the Cedras dictatorship that overthrew President Aristide in 1991. Peppered with the purported actual names and ranks of members of the Haitian police, the article sought to convince the public that Aristide is just another dictator using time-honored tactics of repression to stay in power. NCHR drove this point home with its charge that, “The impunity that attachés enjoy and the collusion between members of the special brigades and officers of the Haitian National Police provide incontestable proof that the phenomenon is part of a governmental strategy.”
NCHR asserted in the same piece, “Specialized units called Special Brigades (BS), composed of armed civilians dressed in black t-shirts with the yellow inscription 'BS' on the back, are being integrated into the police stations, at first in the metropolitan zone and now increasingly on a national level.” In an effort to add drama and weight to their assertions, NCHR included several photos of gun-toting partygoers individually posing with weapons and beer bottles. The photos were reportedly linked to Rene Civil, the leader of Youth Political Power or JPP movement, allied with President Aristide’s Lavalas party. Civil, whose protestant student movement is a vocal critic of US foreign policy and Haiti’s wealthy elite, remains a favorite target of campaigns by the right to discredit his reputation, and by extension, Lavalas. The easiest photos to prove their claim of the existence of this “phenomenon” – namely “armed civilians dressed in black t-shirts with the yellow inscription "BS" on the back” – were conspicuously absent from the exposé. The remaining “proof” could not be corroborated as authentic despite a calculated effort to give the appearance it originated from someone with access to internal Haitian police records.
Per usual in such media attacks, the US press took the allegations at face value while largely ignoring the Haitian government’s denial of the charges and demands that NCHR provide “verifiable evidence” to back up their claims. As one highly placed police official lamented in private, “This is another example of a serious attempt to destroy the morale and undermine the authority of the police who are already underpaid and understaffed. By tarnishing all the hard working men and women in our force with this, it makes our jobs even harder. The opposition has been emboldened because now when we arrest them, for violence or having weapons, they claim we are repressing them while we are just doing our duty. The truth is we are trying to be fair in applying the law and they will not help us; we need resources, instead they tie our hands by forcing us to prove our fairness by allowing the opposition to act with impunity. This is very dangerous.” Others close to the police were less kind and readily criticized NCHR for taking up the cause of the opposition. They counter that NCHR completely ignores acts of violence against members and officials of Lavalas while exaggerating claims of political persecution by the Democratic Convergence and the so-called civil society organizations of the business community in Haiti known as the “184.” They noted that NCHR has never called upon the Dominican government to stop using its territories as a base for regular armed killing sprees into Haiti committed by former members of the disbanded military and the dreaded Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), created by the CIA in the last days of the Cedras dictatorship.
Old-timers in the Haitian police have also stated that NCHR, which was deeply engaged in Haiti at the time, never complained when it was revealed in February 1999 that the police-training program, offered by the US Justice Department’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), was being used by the CIA to secretly recruit from within the ranks of the Haitian police. In an article published in the respected Washington journal Legal Times and entitled “Separating Cops, Spies”, author Sam Skolnik exposed the CIA’s hidden agenda in Haiti’s new police training program. The article takes us a long way towards explaining the less than enthusiastic response of the Haitian government towards continuing the program. Since then, Haiti’s cops have had to go it on their own to build a credible force capable of maintaining law and order while under constant attack from organizations such as NCHR.
Another of NCHR’s favorite anvils, for hammering out the purported links between the Haitian government and Lavalas attachés, was Amiot Metayer and the so-called “Cannibal Army” in Gonaives. Never mind that the name “Cannibal Army” was originally that of a local gang Metayer had battled with in the past. Instead the constant beat of the local and international press cast everyone in the Raboteau neighborhood of Gonaives, including Metayer, as a “Cannibal.” Friends tell of how he never stood a chance in trying to convince the press of their error and finally gave up in exasperation. Three weeks later, cannibal or no cannibal, NCHR’s accusations of government reliance upon attachés would serve to pre-contextualize Metayer’s assassination.
On the night of September 21 Amiot Metayer, one of the popular heroes of the resistance against both the Duvalier and Cedras dictatorships, was pumped full of bullets and thrown in a ditch. His murder apparently served the interests of those who would benefit from edging Haiti closer to the brink of outright civil war. The murder further destabilized Haiti as the opposition began spreading the rumor that Aristide was behind the killing. Infiltrated, confused and demoralized, the population of Gonaives was initially manipulated into turning against the very movement they had sacrificed so much blood and so many lives to build. As President Aristide pointed out, to a near deaf international press predisposed to print and repeat the rumor as a foregone conclusion, by any objective standard there was nothing for the government to gain from this killing. One Lavalas observer on the ground concluded, “This is part of what has always been the strategy of the CIA and the opposition, to separate the base of Lavalas from its leadership. This was the real reason behind the killing. The US wants Aristide out and a subservient government in place before we celebrate our bicentennial on January 1, 2004. They believe this plan is the best way to achieve that objective. They cannot win elections so they have decided to create conditions for a civil war.”
Foxes Guarding the Chicken Coop
Following Metayer’s assassination and on the heels of NCHR’s revelations, came yet another attempt to destroy the Haitian government’s credibility. This time the information would originate from an international corruption watchdog organization known as Transparency International (TI) who would label Haiti the third most corrupt nation in the world.
TI has been described by several British organizations on the left as “a tool to destabilize Governments for corporate interests under the guise of exposing corruption.” They point to the fact that TI’s Chairman and Founder, Peter Eigen, is a trustee of Crown Agents Foundation which is currently involved in “reconstruction and rehabilitation” in Iraq. The London-based Independent reported on March 31: "Crown Agents, a privatized development assistance firm, has become the first British company to win a contract in the American programme to rebuild Iraq. It will be a subcontractor to International Resources Group (IRG), a US professional services firm providing technical assistance for planning and management of the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in Iraq." According to British activists writing about a recent protest against Crown Agents' role in Iraq, “Privatised in March 1997, Crown Agents lurks in that murky area between state and business that has become so central in the new age of corporate government. Its board boasts some notable links to the world of big business and banking – and these are just the ones actually declared on its own website! Its holding entity is The Crown Agents Foundation, whose membership includes token 'worthy' organisations such as Christian Aid and British Overseas NGOs for Development. But the vast majority of names of both permanent and elected members hail, once again, from the world of business.”
The pieces of the puzzle really begin to fall into place when Eigen also lists in his resume, “Under Ford Foundation sponsorship, he provided legal and technical assistance to the governments of Botswana and Namibia.” In an December 15, 2001 article entitled, The Ford Foundation and the CIA: A documented case of philanthropic collaboration with the Secret Police, James Petras of the respected online journal Rebelión wrote, “A U.S. Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA (Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders, Granta Books, 1999, pp. 134-135). The CIA considers foundations such as Ford "The best and most plausible kind of funding cover" (Ibid, p. 135). The collaboration of respectable and prestigious foundations, according to one former CIA operative, allowed the Agency to fund "a seemingly limitless range of covert action programs affecting youth groups, labor unions, universities, publishing houses and other private institutions" (p. 135). The latter included "human rights" groups beginning in the 1950s to the present. One of the most important "private foundations" collaborating with the CIA over a significant span of time in major projects in the cultural Cold War is the Ford Foundation.”
So where is the Haiti connection in all this aside from Aristide being labeled leader of the third most corrupt nation in the world by Peter Eigen’s organization? If one goes to the website of another organization named the Haitian Resource Development Foundation, you will find they work with a Belgium firm named Altech to build a purified water system known as Hydopur in Haiti’s Artibonite valley. Altech’s list of international projects is impressive and includes countries such as Iraq, Nicaragua, South Africa, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Vietnam. Among Altech’s references is that they act as a non-exclusive representative of Crown Agents sponsored projects. This is the same Crown Agents that is involved in dividing up the spoils in Iraq and where Peter Eigen of Transparency International acts as a trustee. And who is listed as a legal consultant for Altech? None other than Gerard Gourgue, the appointed provisional president of the Washington-backed opposition, the Democratic Convergence in Haiti! To recap in shorthand, Peter Eigen, the founder and chairman of Transparency International, is a trustee of Crown Agents, who is represented by Altech, whose legal consultant, Gerard Gourgue, is the provisional president of the Democratic Convergence in Haiti.
While not a direct link, for they rarely are in such matters, this connection is more than enough to call into question the objectivity of Transparency International’s so-called Corruption Index when it comes to Haiti. As if that weren’t enough, Bolaji Abdullah of the Jamaican journal This Day Online filed this report last July 24 from Kingston: “A founding member of Transparency International, and Secretary-General Jamaica, Ms Beth Aub, has resigned her membership of the global anti-corruption body with effect from January 31, alleging corrupt practices, among others.”
In a letter dated January 11, and addressed to Chairman of the Board, Peter Eigen, Ms Aub said she was resigning in protest against some "policies and practices being pursued by the governing body of Transparency International" and which she does not wish to be associated with. “
Next Week PART 2:
The Ambulance Chasers – Or, How Many Journalists and Associated Press Photographers Can Dance on the Head of a Pin?
Immediately after TI took its turn trying to beat the Haitian government’s credibility senseless, the so-called independent voices of the press in the US stepped in to deliver a few more uncritical yet fatal blows…
Kevin Pina is a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist who has been working and living in Haiti for the past three years. He has been covering events in Haiti for the past decade and produced a documentary film entitled "Haiti: Harvest of Hope". Mr. Pina is also the Haiti Special Correspondent for the Flashpoints radio program on the Pacifica Network's flagship station KPFA in Berkeley CA.