Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Greetings. My name is Michael Deibert and I am a journalist who has been visiting Haiti since 1997 and served as Reuters correspondent there from 2001 until 2003. In addition, I have written extensively about the country over the last decade for publications such as Newsday,
The Miami Herald and the Economist Intelligence Unit.
In its most timely and necessary release following the murder of Jean-Rémy Badio, Amnesty International condemns murder of journalist, Amnesty International states the following when chronicling the murders of journalists in Haiti over the last seven years:
Jean Léopold Dominique along with Jean Claude Louissaint, murdered in Port-au-Prince on 3 April 2000;
Brignol Lindor, found dead in Acul (near Petite Goâve) on 3 December 2003;
Abdias Jean, allegedly extrajudicially executed by police officers on 7 January 2005;
Jacques Roche, found dead on 15 July 2005.
I think I am not alone in worrying that, while Jean Léopold Dominique Jean Claude Louissaint and Abdias Jean are quite correctly listed as having been "murdered" and "allegedly extrajudicially executed by police officers," respectively, the journalists Brignol Lindor and Jacques Roche are simply listed as having been "found dead," with no further elaboration as to the circumstances of their murders.
Around this time five years ago, in my capacity as the Reuters correspondent in Port-au-Prince, I reported on the murder of Brignol Lindor by a gang named Domi Nan Bwa (Sleeping in the Woods), who were loyal to then-Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
On December 3, 2001, Lindor, the news director of Radio Echo 2000 in the provincial town of Petit Goave was macheted and beaten to death by Domi Nan Bwa members following a similar though non-lethal attack against Domi Nan Bwa member Joseph Céus Duverger (in which Lindor had no involvement). Lindor's radio program "Dialogue," which often featured speakers strongly denouncing the Aristide government and local officials, had drawn the ire of Petit Goave's mayor, Dume Bony, a member of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas political party, who had held a press conference immediately preceding the killing and, seated next to Domi Nan Bwa's leader Raymond Jean Fleury, called for the application of "zero tolerance" to be directed at Lindor. I recall that, shortly after the killing, in his capacity as the secretary-general of the Association of Haitian Journalists, Reuters' current correspondent in Haiti, Joseph Guyler Delva, spoke to the leaders of Domi Nan Bwa, who freely admitted their role in the murder.
Thus there is no mystery whatsoever as to how, when, where, why and by whom Brignol Lindor was murdered.
Likewise in the case of Jacques Roche, there is no dispute as to what befell him, be there as it may dispute over the culprits. An editor at the newspaper Le Matin who had worked extensively to protest the brutal treatment of Haiti's peasants on the country's Maribahoux plain and hosted a television program where members of political parties and civil society groups -- frequently including members of a civil coalition that helped drive Aristide from power in 2004 - would discuss the issues of the day, Roche was kidnapped in July 2005 and his body then found on a road in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince, his wrists handcuffed, his arms broken and the coup de grace having been administered with a bullet to the head .
Amidst the violence that is still afflicting Haiti today, putting these crimes in the proper context, I would argue, is a very important contribution to the world's larger understanding of how to help end them. It is not a mere matter of semantics, but rather a decision to provide the full information for concerned citizens abroad who seek to genuinely help Haiti in its hour of need, irrespective of political parties and ever-mindful of the worth of every life lost and the need for a full accounting by those in power for their roles, in any, in taking those lives.
I am sure that you share these concerns.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Fortuné, it may be recalled, while serving in Haiti‘s Chamber of Deputies, survived an attack that killed deputy Jean-Hubert Feuillé in 1995, and was jailed without trial by the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide for two weeks during the latter's second term in office in 2001, Last month, he charged that the former president and sectors of his Fanmi Lavalas party were behind much of Haiti’s plague of kidnappings,
The BRH, readers will remember, is the Haitian state financial institution that was left in a shambles following Mr. Aristide’s 2001-2004 turn as Haiti’s president, with the nation’s public deficit measuring 3% of the country’s GDP and the government having defaulted on two separate contracts designed to provide the Haiti with electricity, totaling $12m.
As Haiti is at such a sensitive place right now, with president René Préval looking to conclude his first full year in office (in May) with some tangible benefit to be shown to Haiti’s long-suffering people, the accusations of corruption are particularly worrisome. One hopes a full, thorough and transparent investigation into the matter will soon follow.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Thursday, January 25, 2007
It's been a long time that I've been waiting to write those words and Haiti's football team has finally made it possible. Haiti won the Caribbean Cup this week after defeating hometown favorites Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 in the final, which goes down as Haiti's best result in the tournament's 18-year history. Haitian media reports that thousands of deliriously happy fans swarmed the team as they landed at Haiti's Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince yesterday evening.
Haiti, which has beset by so much trauma and which only last week witnessed the senseless murder of photojournalist Jean-Rémy Badio for simply doing his job, needed a reason to celebrate something, anything. The Haitian national football team has given them one.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Rushdie, Bhandare writes, “even though he held a British passport, was married to a Brit, lived in London and had a family that was based in Pakistan, (he) claimed to be determinedly Indian." Perhaps Rushdie’s best regarded novel, 1980's Midnight’s Children, features the city of Bombay extensively, and during that time “Rushdie pleased us by finding virtues in India. He raved about the Baroda School of Painting, praised our democracy (as distinct from Pakistan’s record of military rule) and even said the right things about Indira Gandhi (he didn’t like her, a sentiment shared by the urban middle-class).”
By contrast, V.S. Naipual, author of one of my favorite novels of all time, A Bend in the River, “missed no opportunity to tell us how much he hated us. He may have hated his birthplace (Trinidad) even more but the land of his ancestors was — in his view — a complete failure. It was, in the Sixties, an area of darkness. And by the Seventies, it had become a wounded civilization.”
Of course, that was over twenty years ago, when both writers were regarded in the prime. Midnight's Children was in that era, The Satanic Verses (which earned Rushdie a fatwa death sentence from the ossified, Koran-thumping theocracy in Iran) arrived some eight years later. Mr., Naipaul’s first book of renown, A House for Mr. Biswas, went even further back, to 1961, the interesting if often unpleasant In a Free State to 1971, and A Bend in the River itself to 1979.
A decade ago, Rushdie was the speaker at my graduation from Bard College in upstate New York, and he spoke about his time in seclusion, and at the demands for adherence to this or that hierarchy that had been made of him throughout his life. It was an address whose words have stayed with me ever since.
"It is men and women who have made the world, and they have made it in spite of their gods," he said that day. "The message of the myths is not the one the gods would have us learn - that we should behave ourselves and know our place - but its exact opposite. It is that we must be guided by our natures.""Do not bow your heads. Do not know your place. Defy the gods. You will be astonished how many of them turn out to have feet of clay. Be guided, if possible, by your better natures."
For his part, Naipaul's A Bend in the River remains one of the great portraits of post-colonial Africa and the alternating absurdities and horrors of a quasi-fascist cult-of-personality state, but Naipaul himself was the subject of a rather distasteful campaign, although one with far less mortal implications, when former friend and vastly inferior writer Paul Theroux lambasted him in a rather ill-considered memoir some years back.
In today’s Hindustan Times article, however, Bhandare notes that, through a strange confluence of events, the lives of Rushdie and Naipual have become in some ways mirror images of one another. Bhandare cites as examples that both authors are now better known for their non-fiction and their political views than for their novels (a conclusion I take issue with), that “both men have hit the social circuit thanks to glamorous and ambitious wives from the subcontinent” (something I couldn’t care less about), that they both continually revisit the subcontinent as a mine for material for their fiction (an astute observation), that they both cast a very skeptical eye over Islamic extremism and that, in Bhandare’s estimation, their respective levels of arrogance are meeting on some high misty plane of self-regard these days.
Bhandare finally speculates about “what is it about being an Indian writer abroad (to the extent that Trinidadians and Pakistanis are part of a greater India) that turns both men into clones of each other? Could it be that they have lived too far away from home for too long? And that they now occupy an imaginary homeland?”
Imaginary homelands? Now there's a sobering and intriguing thought for any expatriate.
Othwerwise, in very sad and decidedly non-literary news from Haiti, it was revealed today that freelance photographer Jean-Rémy Badio was murdered in the southern Port-au-Prince district of Martissant Friday by some of the same gangsters who have been terrorizing that neighborhood since this past July. Badio’s apparent crime? He had photographed the gunmen a few days before. Far from being imaginary, the violence in Haiti continues to be all too real.
Monday, January 22, 2007
These are the people that, in the words of the Times of India group's rather asinine estimation, "are the leash," keeping the country from reaching its development potential. Last evening, they certainly did not appear to have the power to restrain anyone but rather that, as with the 700,000 citizens of the Dharavi slum, they were in fact the ones who had been roundly failed by successive governments here in India and that now, sixty years after independence, some in the country wished nothing more than they would go away so as not to detract from the pockets of affluence here, in New Delhi or in Bangalore (where riots erupted this weekend). I think not.
The day before, I received in the mail a copy of , Asia Society Associate Fellow Mira Kamdar’s upcoming book Planet India: How the Fastest Growing Democracy is Changing America and The World (Scribner). Along with some books by Amartya Sen, Suketu Mehta and Humra Quraishi, among others, it should make an interesting literary companion on my travels.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I mostly liked the book with one or two reservations, and I particularly enjoyed the skill with which Bell countered the misconception that the leaders of Haiti's revolt were ''a gang of supposedly ignorant, illiterate and generally uncivilized blacks,'' Bell brilliantly evokes the bitter eloquence of the writing of Haiti's revolutionary leadership, as is evidenced in a passage from a July 1792 letter signed by the rebel generals Jean-Francois and Biassou (as well as, curiously, Louverture's 14-year-old nephew Belair) to the representatives of the French government:
Under the blows of your barbarous whip we have accumulated for you the treasures you enjoy in this colony; the human race has suffered to see what barbarity you have treated men like yourself -- yes, men -- over whom you have no right except that you are stronger and more barbaric than we are. For too long we have borne your chains without thinking of shaking them off, but any authority which is not founded on virtue and humanity, and which only tends to subject one's fellowman to slavery, must come to an end, and that end is yours.
Guha's talk centered on the eastern adivasis, centered on the states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, as opposed to their northern counterparts, and on the relationship these groups have with both the Indian state and the Naxalite Maoist insurgency here that is presently thought to contain some 10,000 regular fighters and several hundred thousand supporters in 13 of India's 28 states. Violence from conflict between the Maoists and the Indian government - both of whom stand accused of arming young adivasi men and boys to fight - claimed over 700 lives - including dozens of adivasi villagers slain by the rebels this past spring -in the last year alone.
Among Guha's most poignant observations were that "adivasis have gained least and lost most in six decades of Indian independence "as a result of exploitation and dispossession at the hands of successive Indian governments. Likewise, he said, the Naxalites offer "no long-term solution" to the plight of the tribes.
An important subject and one I will revisit in the future.
On another note, there is a highly interesting article by Bill Berkeley on Persian blogging in the Spring edition of the World Policy Journal.
Friday, January 19, 2007
In November 2005, shortly after the publication of my book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press), to the general public, I received the following email (unsolicited) from Sprague (whom I had never met or corresponded with) along with a graphic picture of the bullet-riddled, blood-soaked bodies of a Haitian mother and her children (bad punctuation in the original):
From Jeb Sprague email@example.com
Date Nov 22, 2005 4:26 AM
Subject Haiti - read your book
Wow. Just finished reading your book. I got it at a library so I would not have to pay for
I thought it was horribly written with numerous factual errors. A very biased and elite look at the situation in Haiti. It looks like the World Bank funded Inter-American dialogue will provide a good place for you to promote this smear campaign of the elected government of Haiti.
Maybe USAID or the NED could take some of its yearly $3 million "democracy enhancement" program in Haiti away from the GROUP 184 grantees to promote your book tour??
But well I guess since the embargo has been lifted, since we have a pro-u.s. dictatorship now in Haiti things are great for you.
HEre is a photo of the suffering you cover up in this slanted propaganda. Thousands of dead in Haiti while Michael Diebert profits off the misery.
The Photos can't be covered up. You can't stop the truth...
Graduate Student, Long Beach CA
I was left shrugging that perhaps Sprague suffered from some sort of mental illness, as he viewed the dead mother and her toddlers appropriate material for the smiley--face emoticon he placed in his message, easy game for the cheap joke. Writing for various fringe publications, Sprague later went on to attack, in chronological order:
-Batay Ouvriye, one of Haiti's most militant and effective labor unions, for receiving funds from the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center after the departure of the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. In truth, my attitude has always been, with things as dire as they are in Haiti, any Haitian governments should accept help from anywhere they can get it, whether it be Brussels, Caracas, Havana or Washington. Batay Ouvriye has consistently sided with the Haitian working class, whereas siding with the nouveaux riche class politique that Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party came to typify would have paid them much better (it certainly paid well for the government's lobbyists in the United States, who made millions over the years from a desperately poor country).
-The press solidarity group Reporters sans frontières (RSF), for supposedly receiving money from the International Republican Institute (IRI). When Sprague was unable to produce proof of this claim, RSF News Editor Jean-François Julliard, responded succinctly "We do not receive any funding from the International Republican Institute. This is a pure figment of the authors' imagination. Your readers can check our certified accounts on our website, rsf.org. "
-The Haiti Support Group, a London-based solidarity organization that has been working at a grassroots level in Haiti since 1992. In an article co-authored with one Joe Emersberger and which appeared in the magazine Counterpunch, Sprague by all accounts falsely and libelously claimed that Haiti Support Group head Charles Arthur (who I have often been at odds with) encouraged people to harass an apparently bogus "researcher," who published a highly questionable human rights study in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Arthur later wrote that "The statements about me in the Counterpunch piece are pure fiction. "
Of course, Sprague like his cohorts like Emersberger and Diana Barahona, residing comfortably in North America, would seem rather ill-suited to lecture groups of impoverished peasants and factory workers on where they are and are not allowed to accept aid from. At the same time, in the face of such campaigns, grassroots organizations like Batay Ouvirye, the Plateforme haïtienne de plaidoyer pour un développement alternatif (PAPDA) and Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen (SOFA), with little money on hand and few tools to defend themselves (not to mention, often, a shaky grasp of English), are left to deflect time from their work on behalf of Haiti's poor majority in to respond against a small, bitter, delusional, virulent elite, one that has shown repeatedly that it has precious little original thought to occupy its time, so it must instead rely on attacking the work of others. There is, sad to say, an amount of professional jealousy here which should inspire only pity, no doubt, when they look with envy at the work of someone like Jane Regan who, in addition to proving her mettle as a correspondent (especially a female correspondent) over many years and in many harrowing situations in Haiti, wrote In Bondage to History? an article which I and many others think is probably the single best piece written on the inferno of violence that consumed Haiti following September 30, 2004, for the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) .
In conclusion, to say that this small group are liars would mean that one was convinced that they indeed still had the ability to discern between reality and the ever more-multilayered fantasy world they have constructed for themselves and I, for my part, am not at all convinced that is the case. But what has always been a characteristic of weak and feeble minds, whose arguments are so fragile that they can barely support their own weight let alone that of an informed dissenting voice, is the desire to not only to make sure that their own voices are heard (fine with me), but to silence the voices they disagree with. Unfortunately with this current of thought from mostly well-off, white progressives, Haitians are interesting only insofar as they can either be lauded as heroes or damned as villains, with no acknowledgement for any of the grey areas in between, and with no appreciation that, particularly in a society as impoverished, and wracked by violence as Haiti, human beings are creatures of complex motivation, not easily summed up by the empty sloganeering this current is reduced to for lack of any real understanding of the country.
The Haiti I know and love is full of people who, in their everyday struggles, display twenty times the heroism that any politician I have seen in the country ever has: A man working late hours at his media support group despite the danger of being kidnapped if he is late returning home; a father, out of work for three years, who dutifully gets up to pound the pavement every day in order to search for a job to support his family and restore his sense of dignity, and his wife, who braves strikes, demonstrations and the daily threat of violence to go teach school at a facility often lacking the basic instruments for education such as books, pens and paper; the woman fleeing a gang war sheltering in the parking lot of a Baptist mission who has nothing in mind more than keeping her children safe from the struggle for miserable power. These are the real heroes of Haiti, not the politicians.
Of course, there are people engaging in those everyday struggles all around the world, and I, for one, have to go out and report on them today.
L'Union fait la force.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Sunday, January 14, 2007
As if to underscore the man’s moral turpitude, recordings have recently surfaced where Hussein discusses the Al-Anfal Campaign in great detail with subordinates, dispensing, among other pearls of wisdom, that "Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful," in reference to plans to have Soviet-built aircraft carry containers packed with 50 napalm bombs each to the be rolled out of the cargo decks and dropped on Kurdish towns. Later in the same set of tapes, Hussein praises the merits of chemical weapons - such as those that decimated the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988 - while speaking with his vice-president, the fugitive Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
If any regrets may be voiced about Hussein’s exit, as with that of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet earlier that same month, it is that the deed was done before Hussein was made to answer for the full measure of his crimes and the manner of his death - as a Sunni taunted by partisans of the Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's "Mahdi Army”militia while on the gallows - will only serve to further inflame the scorching ethnic violence that is currently making Iraq such a hellish place for its citizens. In the final analysis, it is also appalling that Hussein was executed for the killing of 148 Shia Muslims in the town of Dujail and then, post mortem, charges against him stemming from the Al-Anfal Campaign were dropped and those from the 1991 campaign against the Shia shunted aside. Hussein should have been on trail for the rest of his life for his crimes against the Iraqi people and now, for all of those victims, there will probably never be a full accounting of the state machinations that lead to such ghastly excess. As my friend Sutton Stokes observed, “The saddest thing about his execution is the way the amateurs running it allowed him the final victory of seeming like the only civilized person in the room, when in fact…”
Amidst all of this, my country’s president - who hopefully one day will have to face a trial or two of his own - has announced his plan to send 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq, including five brigades deployed to Baghdad. While completely distrustful of Bush’s motives and not at all convinced that he has learned the lessons of a presidency that has thus far been a tragedy for America as it has been for the world, it does seem that it would be the height of irresponsibility and callous self-interest, having unleashed the poltergeists of ethnic cleansing on a civilian population, for the U.S. to leave Iraq before we have done something to try and halt the violence there.
On this issue, where it seems like the only choices are bad and worse, I must say that I largely agree with The Economist’s 7 December observation that “What will not help is scuttling from Iraq before exhausting every possible effort to put the country back together.”
“The Baker-Hamilton group is right to say that America should neither leave precipitously nor stay forever.,” the editorial goes on. “Leaning harder on Iraq's politicians is an excellent idea. But setting an arbitrary deadline of early 2008 for most of the soldiers to depart risks weakening America's bargaining power, intensifying instead of dampening the fighting and projecting an image of weakness that will embolden enemies everywhere.”
Bhenchod, this isn’t over yet.
As for me, following a great dinner with author Dilip D'Souza and his charming family and an even better Bandra party, I again spent the day today in Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, home to some 700,000 souls, intervieiwng people who make their living by breaking apart plastics and recylcing bags which are then melted down and sold as raw material. For their effort they make 60 rupees a day (about $1.20). I am still feeling the effects of inhaling all that pollution this evening.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
As we sped by, hot wind blasting through the cars, leaving the Fort’s Victorian-via-Bollywood buildings in various stages of decrepitude and bazaars behind, the poverty on display from the railcar, even by Haitian standards, even following my visit to the Dharavi slum (Asia’s largest) in my first hours in Mumbai, was staggering. Amidst the engine of India’s economic success story were lean-to shacks with tin roofs built right up to the edge of the train tracks which shuttered as we rode by, vast ponds of fetid, mosquito-breeding still water amidst hundreds of fragile human dwellings and the overwhelming smell of raw shit that flooded the car at regular intervals despite the speed at which we were traveling.
And everywhere: people, people, people. One can only really appreciate the idea of a city of 20 million people when you realize that one can never venture into the street without their eyes immediately taking in 500 other souls going about their lives.
But still amidst the want, as has been characteristic since my arrival in India, color burst forth from all sides: Advertisements for Indian soap operas, multi-colored washing hung from windows, garlands of flowers hung out of the windows of trains passing in the opposite direction by Hindu religious pilgrims. And, such a change from much of Latin America, peacefulness. Despite the crush of people, despite the poverty, there is a strange calm that pervades things. Going back to the train station in Badra last night, through the twilight streets, on an auto-rickshaw, or walking home through the Fort Area, despite the night and the inequity, there was no charge of menace, no feel of impending potential violence such as I have felt in certain sections of Port-au-Prince or Rio de Janeiro at various moments. Of course, I am writing this here in Bombay the same week that separatist militants from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) killed at least 71 Hindi-speaking migrants in attacks across Assam state in India's north, and the conflict in Kashmir continued to grind onwards. And of course my driver to Dharavi - a supporter of the xenophobic Shiv Sena political party - treated me to a long discourse in fractured English about how Bangladeshis, Muslims and “southerners” (those from South India) were to blame for the poverty that I was witnessing. But, nonetheless, in terms of examples of urban tolerance, Bombay thus far seems to be an interesting example.
A word on etymology: Bombay was in fact first called Bom Baia by early Portuguese explorers. In recent years, the Indian author Suketa Mehta wrote in his very interesting book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, that the re-naming of the city “Mumbai” was “not just a process of decolonializaion but of de-Islamicization. The idea is to go back not just to a past but to an idealized past, in all cases, a Hindu past…Bombay was created by the Portuguese from a cluster of malarial islands, and to them should go the baptismal rights. The Gujaritis and Maharastrians always called it Mumbai, when speaking Gujarati or Marathi, and Bombay when speaking English. There was no need to chose. In 1995, the Sena demanded that we chose, in all our languages, Mumbai.”
In deference to the extraordinary tapestry I have encountered here in the last week - long-bearded kufi-chapeaued Muslims, Kashmiris with their wares spread out before them on the streets of the Fort, serious and industrious Paris still practicing the Zoroastrian religion of the forbearers - I will refer to the city as Bombay in conversation and on this blog but, in a nod to an unfortunate political reality, as Mumbai in my articles.