[Marxism] Chomsky on US-Haiti relations

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 9 09:17:41 MST 2004


US-Haiti
by Noam Chomsky
March 09, 2004

Those who have any concern for Haiti will naturally want to understand 
how its most recent tragedy has been unfolding. And for those who have 
had the privilege of any contact with the people of this tortured land, 
it is not just natural but inescapable. Nevertheless, we make a serious 
error if we focus too narrowly on the events of the recent past, or even 
on Haiti alone. The crucial issue for us is what we should be doing 
about what is taking place. That would be true even if our options and 
our responsibility were limited; far more so when they are immense and 
decisive, as in the case of Haiti. And even more so because the course 
of the terrible story was predictable years ago -- if we failed to act 
to prevent it. And fail we did. The lessons are clear, and so important 
that they would be the topic of daily front-page articles in a free press.

Reviewing what was taking place in Haiti shortly after Clinton "restored 
democracy" in 1994, I was compelled to conclude, unhappily, in Z 
Magazine that "It would not be very surprising, then, if the Haitian 
operations become another catastrophe," and if so, "It is not a 
difficult chore to trot out the familiar phrases that will explain the 
failure of our mission of benevolence in this failed society." The 
reasons were evident to anyone who chose to look. And the familiar 
phrases again resound, sadly and predictably.

There is much solemn discussion today explaining, correctly, that 
democracy means more than flipping a lever every few years. Functioning 
democracy has preconditions. One is that the population should have some 
way to learn what is happening in the world. The real world, not the 
self-serving portrait offered by the "establishment press," which is 
disfigured by its "subservience to state power" and "the usual hostility 
to popular movements" - the accurate words of Paul Farmer, whose work on 
Haiti is, in its own way, perhaps even as remarkable as what he has 
accomplished within the country. Farmer was writing in 1993, reviewing 
mainstream commentary and reporting on Haiti, a disgraceful record that 
goes back to the days of Wilson's vicious and destructive invasion in 
1915, and on to the present. The facts are extensively documented, 
appalling, and shameful. And they are deemed irrelevant for the usual 
reasons: they do not conform to the required self-image, and so are 
efficiently dispatched deep into the memory hole, though they can be 
unearthed by those who have some interest in the real world.

They will rarely be found, however, in the "establishment press." 
Keeping to the more liberal and knowledgeable end of the spectrum, the 
standard version is that in "failed states" like Haiti and Iraq the US 
must become engaged in benevolent "nation-building" to "enhance 
democracy," a "noble goal" but one that may be beyond our means because 
of the inadequacies of the objects of our solicitude. In Haiti, despite 
Washington's dedicated efforts from Wilson to FDR while the country was 
under Marine occupation, "the new dawn of Haitian democracy never came." 
And "not all America's good wishes, nor all its Marines, can achieve 
[democracy today] until the Haitians do it themselves" (H.D.S. Greenway, 
Boston Globe). As New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple recounted two 
centuries of history in 1994, reflecting on the prospects for Clinton's 
endeavor to "restore democracy" then underway, "Like the French in the 
19th century, like the Marines who occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the 
American forces who are trying to impose a new order will confront a 
complex and violent society with no history of democracy."

full: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=11&ItemID=5115
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