2011: Exchange Between Michael Deibert and Joe Emersberger Regarding Haiti

Below is an exchange I had with Michael Deibert in the comments section under an article Deibert wrote for Truthdig in 2011. To see what others commented as well, go to the Truthdig article. My remarks are in red.
EMERSBERGER: Michael Deibert has been one of the most persistent apologists for the 2004 coup that deposed Haiti’s democratically elected government under Jean Bertrand Aristide. Under a US/UN backed dictatorship at least 4000 Arsitide supporters were murdered between 2004-2006. I’ve cited three of the most damning reports below – one them published by the Lancet Medical Journal. The murders were mostly carried out by the police and armed attaches with cover usually provided by UN troops. A person’s mind must be thoroughly warped by imperial assumptions to suggest – as Deibert does – that Haitians should be grateful to MINUSTAH for anything.
1) Athena R. Kolbe and Royce A. Hutson, “Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households,” The Lancet, Vol. 368, No. 9538, September 2, 2006
2) Thomas M. Griffin, University of Miami School of Law: Haiti Human Rights Investigation: November 11-21, 2004

3) Harvard Law School; “Keeping the Peace in Haiti?”;March 2005

on the UK Guardian’s website, Deibert and I had an exchange in the comments section to a Mark Weisbrot article that may be of interest:
Wesibrot also did a fine piece recently on why MINUSTAH should go

DEIBERT: Though no one would dispute that Haiti was plagued by violence during the 2004-2006 era, the reports cited are highly problematic.
The Lancet report was extraordinarily controversial after it was exposed by the UK’s progressive Haiti Support Group (active at a grassroots level in Haiti since 1992) that researcher Athena Kolbe was in fact a pro-Aristide journalist and former Aristide employee who had previously used the name Lyn Duff, a fact that she had hidden when publishing the report. This can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/3zeljv9. The subsequent review done was highly cursory and the fact that the Lancet did not order the whole study to be re-done by genuinely impartial investigators after such revelations is quite a blot on the publication’s reputation.
In a 2006 article which can be read along with secondary links here http://tinyurl.com/3zuplf3, I wrote the following:
“Though the Lancet report chronicles no rapes or murders committed by Fanmi Lavalas partisans, something that flies in the face of the on-the-ground reporting of journalists who have worked in Haiti for the last two years, it may be instructive to recall that, over the last two years, defectors from Mr. Aristide’s party have charged publicly that former president was orchestrating a large part of Haiti’s violence from exile with the connivance of former officials of his government. Citing the July 2005 murder of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche, a May 2005 attack on a Port-au-Prince marketplace that killed seven people and saw a large part of the market, which served the capital’s poor, burned to ashes and what they charged was a campaign of rape by gangs supportive of the exiled president in the capital’s slums, last year four of Haiti’s most politically progressive organizations – the Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR), the Plateforme haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA), Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes (SOFA) and Centre National et International de Documentation et d’Information de la Femme en Haïti (EnfoFanm) – all signed a petition calling for Aristide to be judged for his crimes against the Haitian people.”
The U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) that Emersberger links to is and always has been a creation of Mr. Aristide’s Miami lawyer, Ira Kurzban, who is listed as one of the IJDH’s founders and chairman of its board of directors, a man whose law firm, according to U.S. Department of Justice filings, earned nearly $5 million for its lobbying work alone representing the Aristide government. With the IJDH’s 2005 annual report listing Mr. Kurzban’s law firm in the category reserved for those having contributed more than $5000 to the organization, the group’s 2006 report (the last one made public) lists the firm under “Donations of Time and Talent,” and the American Immigration Lawyers Association South Florida Chapter (for which Mr. Kurzban served as past national president and former general council) in a section reserved for those having donated $10,000 or more. The IJDH is the creature of a man who has a financial stake in rehabilitating the former president. Their work in Haiti should be seen in this context. Some links regarding this can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/4xw2nsq
Haiti’s Commission Episcopale Nationale Justice et Paix – a genuinely non-partisan body – released a report in 2006 where it stated the following:
“Many political and even economic sectors are involved with violence and weapons. It is important to remember that fact. This is not about making accusations, but we must be conscious that arms do not resolve anything. Those who commit acts of violence, who are responsible for such acts must face that truth and accept their responsibility. The State must also face its responsibility and fight violence and impunity.”
The Commission counted 2506 dead victims of violence during the 47 months it has been operating.
The 2000 Haiti elections that Joe Emersberger calls “democratic” included but were not limited to the following (http://tinyurl.com/4s5elxk):
1. The March 2000 murder by a mob of Legitime Athis, the Petite Goave campaign coordinator for the Mouvement Partiotique pour le Sauvetage National party of Hubert Deronceray, along with his wife.
2. The disruption of the 8 April 2000 funeral of murdered Radio Haiti Inter director Jean Dominique (the investigation into whose killing the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide undermined at every turn), by a crowd of young men began shouting “Viv Aristide,” charging out of the stadium and burning down the headquarters of Evans Paul’s Komite inite Demokratik political party. That same day Radio Vision 2000 was pelted with rocks and bottles by a crowd shouting pro-Aristide slogans and calling for the murder of journalists there, and a stone-throwing mob surrounded the house of mayoral candidate Micha Gaillard, forcing his wife and sons to flee over a back wall to a neighbor’s house
3. The 12 April 2000 murder of Merilus Deus, a Mouvement Chrétien pour une Nouvelle Haiti (MOCHRENA) candidate for the rural assembly in Savanette, who was shot and then hacked to death by a mob of attackers who also slashed his daughter for good measure.
4. The 18 April 2000 murder, also by machete, of 70 year-old Ducertain Armand, an advisor to the Parti Democratique Chretien Haitien of Marie-Denise Claude (whose on father, Pastor Sylvio Claude, an Aristide rival, was also killed by a mob in September 1991) in his Thomazeau home.
5. The 24 May 2000 murder by a mob of Lavalas partisans of mayoral candidate Jean-Michel Olophene, his skull cracked open by a hurled rock. This ghastly murder was actually captured on videotape, which I have seen, the assailants chanting pro-Aristide slogans. Incidentally, it was Cite Soleil gang leader Robinson “Labanye” Thomas’ support of this candidate against the official Lavalas slate that resulted in his being jailed for a few months before being released after he agreed to work for the Aristide government. He did so until the October 2003 murder of hsi friend Rodson “Kolobri” Lemaire. Labanye himself, of course, was also then slain in March 2005.
6. The quite notorious November 2000 attack on a meeting of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) in Hinche, led by Lavalas mayors Wilo Joseph (Maissade) and Dongo Joseph (Hinche), during which the Recif Night Club, where several hundred MPP activists were gathered, was first pelted with stones and then raked with automatic weapons fire. Dieugrand Jean-Baptiste, brother of MPP leader Chavennes Jean-Baptiste, was shot in the chest and nearly died, another MPP member was shot in the neck, a mechanic working nearby the scene was shot in the ankle and a merchant pushing a cart was shot in the back. A detailed account of the attack, gathered from those who were present, can be found in my 2005 book, Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti.
These incidents were all in addition to such moves as the arrests of such Organisation du peuple en lutte politicians Paul Denis, Vasco Thernelan and Mellius Hyppolite, and the claims on Haitian radio by Yvon Neptune and Rene Civil before the vote tally was even announced (in violation of electoral law) that Fanmi Lavalas had won a landslide, give on a flavour of what voting in Haiti was like at the time. In addition to all of this, or course, there was the corruption of the vote tabulating process itself, which is well outlined in a letter by Orlando Marville, the chief of mission OAS Electoral Mission in Haiti at the time.
That’s some democracy, indeed.
At any rate, as another poster here notes, both Mr. Aristide and Mr. Duvalier are now relics of the past, and it is time to move on with the discussion of what kind of Haiti we foreigners can help Haitians construct in the future, with or without a UN presence.
EMERSBERGER: Michael Deibert’s comments below follow the same general recipe as his book – throw out bunch of allegations and rumours against the Aristide government (no matter how thoroughly debunked), mix in some half truths and stir well. Hope that readers mistake garrulousness for logic and accuracy.
The Lancet study provoked a fierce response from coup apologists because it was scientific survey that passed peer review in a highly respected journal. The Lancet stood behind it after investigating the ad hominem attacks against one of the authors. More importantly, the US and allies never commissioned a scientific survey of their own – something they had ample resources to do – to refute the findings.
As Peter Hallward documented in his book “Damming the Flood” the US government spent $70 million over several years before the 2004 coup in a deliberate effort to bolster Aristide’s very unpopular opponents. For much of that period, the US and its allies also blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in aid Aristide’s government. As Deibert well knows, the flow of aid money resumed after the slaughter of Aristide’s’ supporters ramped into high gear with the installation of the Latortue dictatorship.
Deibert mentions violence (and alleged violence) by Aristide partisans after 2000. What Deibert predictably leaves out is a relentless paramilitary (“rebel”) campaign against the Aristide government that went on for years and killed scores of Haitians. Aristide partisans (very justifiably) accused the private media and Aristide’s elite opponents of facilitating that violence and, in a few cases, sought to respond in kind. Its worth noting that, after the coup, the paramilitary leaders thanked the private media for its help. I wrote about that paramilitary campaign in this article.
The paramilitary campaign was greatly assisted by henchmen of the Cedras military dictatorship who were inserted into Aristide’s security forces after 1994 at the insistence of the Clinton administration. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know how the US closely supervised the insertion of paramilitary criminals into the police force after the 2004 coup. The US has ensured that Haiti’s security forces will be an important hedge against the rise of meaningful democracy.
Thanks to Wikileaks, we also know that US Ambassador Foley commented (privately of course) that as of September of 2004 “Aristide was still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.” In other words, the US knowingly deposed a government in 2004 that was not only democratically elected, but that (despite years of vilification and harsh economic sanctions against it) could still defeat US backed opponents in elections. Hence the need for a coup – and for determined apologists for it like Michael Deibert.
DEIBERT: This conversation sheds little light on the current role of the UN mission in Haiti, what should replace it, and other pressing issues facing Haiti and its people (reinvigorating the country’s peasant agriculture, decentralizing the economic and political structure from Port-au-Prince) yet, in the interest of clarity, I will explain a few points.
I can understand why it would be simpler to believe that Haitian history began with the overthrow of the Aristide government on 29 February 2004, but if there was no popular movement in the wake of its rather grotesque excesses, how does one explain pictures such as this one, taken at a 26 December 2003 demonstration (by no means the largest). For links associated with this and other points raised below, please see http://tinyurl.com/4s5elxk
The serious armed challenge to the Aristide government began with a group – the Cannibal Army in Gonaives – that was heavily armed WHILE they were working for Mr. Aristide, and that they only turned against the president following the murder of their leader, Amiot “Cubain” Metayer, on what they believed were Aristide’s orders.
The absolute breaking point for the Aristide government was the savage 5 December 2003 attack on protesting university students in Port-au-Prince, an attack during which rector Pierre Marie Paquiot was beaten with iron bars (leaving him permanently incapacitated), at least six people were shot, and a dozen more stabbed and beaten. The siege which was witnessed by those at the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL) nearby, who wrote the following of it (http://tinyurl.com/3wknowd):
“On December 5, 2003,…we were witness to, and at certain times lived, the terror and horror of that day…We saw groups of pro-governmental militia, called chimere or OP (Popular organization), regroup in front of our building, visibly preparing to attack the student demonstration scheduled for that day. We saw their arms displayed, ranging from fire arms, wooden and iron sticks, rocks and other objects capable of hurting and killing. We saw their chiefs, men and women, also armed, equipped with walkie-talkies and cellular phones, organize and give orders to the commandos that were to attack the students. We saw the police, not neutral as has been reported, but acting as accomplices to the militia. On several occasions, during that day of horror and shame, the police opened the way for the chimere’s attack and also covered their backs. We saw children aged between twelve and fifteen, some in school uniforms, used by the lavalas militia to throw rocks and attack the students with fire arms.”
Actual footage of the attack, as well as of the 2003/2004 demonstrations, can be seen in Haitian director Arnold Antonin’s very interesting film GNB Kont Atilla, which someone (not me) has uploaded to You Tube in several sections.
After the attack, Minister of Education Marie-Carmel Paul Austin, Minister of the Environment Webster Pierre, Minister of Tourism Martine Deverson, Secretary of State for Public Health Pierre-Emile Charles and Haiti’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic Guy Alexandre all resigned from the government in protest.
Given all of this, when former soldiers made their lunge across the Dominican border in early 2004, it’s not surprising Mr. Aristide’s pleas for help fell on deaf ears.
For a more realistic and authoritative picture of late 2004/early 2005 era of Haiti, I point readers to Jane Regan’s excellent article “Haiti: In Bondage to History?” published by NACLA in Jan/Feb2005 and available here: http://www.janevregan.org/pages/NACLA.htm
Haitians need all the real help, ideas and solidarity that they can get. They will soon be bidding adieu to MINUSTAH, and it is up to us in the international community to decided which side – peasants, women’s groups, urban poor,  impoverished scholars vs. the rancid classe politique and their well-paid foreign advocates – that we are going to be on.
EMERSBERGER: Allegations abound against Aristide and his government. The US didn’t waste the $70 million it gave to his opponents. It provided, among other things, a megaphone to make allegations. However, after the coup, when the allegations were tested in courts stacked against the accused (well known Aristide partisans such a Yvon Neptune, So Ann, Rene Civil and many others) they were shown to be baseless.
One of the many lies in Jane Regan’s report that Michael Deibert points to is that
“And when armed ‘rebels’ – disgruntled former Haitian police and former Haitian soldiers—regularly attacked Haitian targets from the neighboring Dominnican Republic over the course of a year”
No – it was over the course of four years. As early as 2001 the rebels were bold enough to attack the National Palace and almost succeeded in carrying off a coup. Their deadly attacks generated a tremendous amount of fear (very understandable considering the horrific consequences of the first coup that ousted Aristide in 1991), spread Aristide’s (already compromised) security forces thin, and provoked some reprisals against Aristide’s opponents who had facilitated the violence in numerous ways. For example, after the 2001 coup attempt, Arstide’s most prominent opponents insisted it had merely been staged to excuse a “crackdown ” on dissent.
Another major deception in Regan’s article was that the paramilitaries who launched these attacks for years were “mostly cheered, not resisted” when they marched into Port-au-Prince. The clear insinuation was that the rebels had popular support.
Guy Philippe, the face of the Rebels, received less than 2% of the vote in the 2006 presidential election. Another prominent supporter of the coup that Regan depicted as a popular uprising -Charles Baker – also failed to get more than single digit support in 2006. Somehow those pictures of opposition organized demonstrations that so impress MIchael Deibert did not represent popular support. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know US officials were well aware of this crucial fact.
What’s also revealing is that the 2006 elections were basically rigged in favor of people like Charles Baker. The winner of the presidential election in 2006, Rene Preval, played no part in the coup, and was closely associated by the Haitian public with Aristide. If what Deibert and Regan reported had been accurate, then Preval should have been the one to receive single digit support in 2006 – not Guy Philippe or Charles Baker.
Deibert’s claim that the truth about the 2004 coup is not relevant to Haiti’s future is – of course – laughable. The same coalition of sweatshop owners – with ample help from their allies in Washington – will certainly attempt to violently defeat any serious attempt to redistribute wealth and power in Haiti.
DEIBERT: Unfortunately I believe Joe Emersberger and his like simply have no new ideas to offer Haiti, and will be metaphorically chasing their own tails for years to come, fetishizing an era they did not witness in a country that is not their own. Haiti is and always has been a peasant majority country, and the greatest battles are fought in the countryside and not in the capital. Emersberger’s reference to “sweatshops” makes him seem unaware that in fact a coherent agrarian and rural development policy is the country’s most pressing issue.
Joe Emersberger’s ugly attempt at defaming the fine journalist Jane Regan aside, it’s interesting that he brings up the 17 December 2001 attack on Haiti’s National Palace. I was actually in front of the National Palace that morning just after it was attacked, and watched thousands of armed young men – Aristide government partisans – run riot through the capital, as did many other journalists and observers who were in town at the time.
By the end of the day the mobs would by the end of the day reduce the offices of the OPL and KONAKOM opposition parties to ashes, also burning down the neighboring home of the man who had rented them to the politicians. Then they moved on to the headquarters of Evans Paul’s KID party, destroying it with fire for the third time in ten years. Four carloads of armed, masked men arrived at KONAKOM leader Victor Benoit’s house and set it on fire, room by room. The Petionville home of OPL leader Gérard Pierre-Charles and his wife Suzy Castor was also attacked, with some fifteen men, arriving in trucks owned by the government-owned National Center for Equipment and, in one case, a police vehicle, first throwing stones and then shooting at the house. Pierre-Charles was at a conference in Miami, and Castor and her servants fled in terror. In her absence,  the mob burned the couple’s home and Pierre-Charles would later write, they incinerated “a whole collection of classics about Marxism, my books about Cuba, about 500, that had helped me write ‘Genèse de la Révolution Cubain,’ whose manuscript in French disappeared into the flames as well as some of my books, leaving me without a single copy.” The irreplaceable library of Latin American and Carribean political thought, including many original manuscripts dealing with Haiti’s early history at Castor’s CRESFED center, a frequent source of study for grassroots groups and impoverished students, was looted and burned. The headquarters for Reynold Georges’s ALAH party on Avenue Jean Paul II was also burned.
This was also the day that, in Gonaives, members of the pro-Aristide Cannibal Army street gang (who would later turn against the president) attacked the home of Pastor Luc Mesadieu, head of the MOCHRENA party. When Mesadieu’s assistant, Ramy Daran, tried to intervene, he was seized and, refusing to reveal the location where Mesadieu was hiding, he was doused with gasoline (distributed from the gas station owned by the city’s Lavalas mayor) and burned alive. The gang also torched twenty other houses in the city before they were through.
Many of the gang leaders who organized the pillage later recounted in great detail to myself and other journalists government collusion in the violence that day.
By Feb 2004, Guy Philippe and the rebels were indeed cheered as they took over town after town across north and central Haiti, something it may be hard for Joe Emersberger – who as always sat behind his computer at the time time rather than actually being in Haiti – to believe, but that was the unfortunate and to some still-unbelievable outcome to Mr. Aristide’s second mandate.
I am glad though, from his comments, that Emersberger now accepts the validity of René Préval’s magnificent 2006 presidential victory, which did indeed show Haitians turning their back on militarism and extremism as they almost always do given a free and fair election.
EMERSBERGR: Michael Deibert wrote
“I am glad though, from his comments, that Emersberger now accepts the validity of René Préval’s magnificent 2006 presidential victory”
Now accepts? All my articles about Haiti are available online. Please provide a quote where I ever disputed that Preval won the election in 2006. You won’t be able to, because no such quote exists. That’s representative of the accuracy of your work.