Amy Wilentz and her Twitter Tantrum Regarding the 2004 coup in Haiti

by Joe Emersberger

On Twitter, Amy Wilentz angrily demanded that Justin Podur retweet a statement in which she emphatically denies ever supporting the 2004 coup that ousted Aristide:

I never ever supported the coup gainst Aristide. Ever. Retweet that!

Wilentz made this demand in response to a tweet somebody had sent Podur.

I assume Wilentz is correct. I don’t believe she ever supported (as in publicly applauded) the 2004 coup or called on Aristide to resign.  Unless she stooped to that level, it is not accurate to say she “supported the coup” without elaborating more on what exactly is meant by “support”. What Wilentz did do is spread lies about Aristide’s second term in government that helped make the coup possible and that help sustain the impunity of the perpetrators, especially former members of her own government. As Peter Hallward explained in a response to a piece Wilentz wrote for the Nation in 2012:

In what were to be Aristide’s last months in office, Wilentz probably did more than any other American journalist to help make murky attributions of assassination and human rights violations as plausible as possible. In particular, at a pivotal moment in the run-up to the February 2004 coup, she helped spread rumours, carefully cultivated by some of his other foes, that Aristide might have approved the assassination of his veteran supporter Amiot Métayer, in Gonaïves, in September 2003 (see esp. Kevin Pina, ‘The Ambulance Chasers’, The Black Commentator, 6 November 2003). Immediate attribution of responsibility for this gruesome killing to Aristide was one of the key moves in the elaborate international campaign to discredit him, the campaign that led directly to the coup and the thousands of further killings it entailed in due course.

Wilentz would concede to Hallward that she had essentially been duped regarding the murder of Metayer:

When I asked Wilentz about this particular attribution a few years ago, however, she was reluctant to provide further details, though she did give permission to quote an admission that when she wrote about “possible Aristide involvement in the killing of Amiot Métayer I wrote from a great distance (geographical as well as time spent out of the country), and I think now that I may have been played by certain anti-Aristide elements” (letter from Wilentz, 25 February 2007, cited in Damming the Flood, chapter 9, note 10).

Despite this admission, Wilentz learned very little after having supposedly been “played”.

Recall that in 2003 Wilentz wrote in the LA Times – just months before the 2004 coup  – that Aristide “has numerous secret armed militias working on his behalf and spreading terror among the opposition.”

After the coup, conditions in Haiti were made incredibly favorable to Aristide’s accusers.  The US government (physically) removed Aristide from office, sent him off into exile, and easily blocked any formal investigation into its actions. Aristide’s opponents were placed in power. His personal property was ransacked. Many of his top allies were illegally imprisoned and the judiciary stacked with people willing to bless all the aforementioned criminality and more. In short, if ever a head of state was vulnerable to having every one of his crimes and misdemeanors fully exposed in a court of law – however loosely we use the words “court of law” – it was Aristide.  In spite of all that, the Latortue dictatorship and its patrons in Washington (and Ottawa and Paris) failed miserably to substantiate their claims despite all their illegally acquired leverage over Aristide and despite having every incentive to do so.  They were much more successful at having Aristide supporters murdered and imprisoned by the thousands.

What did Wilentz learn from all this?

Next to nothing as we can tell by the piece she wrote for the Nation in 2012. She claimed “Aristide’s enemies have, sometimes plausibly, attributed a series of assassinations and human rights violations to Aristide supporters or to his party or to his administration or even to the former president himself.” The language is more restrained than in 2003, but that is all. The fully debunked characterization of Aristide is still trotted out in order for Wilentz to ludicrously allege that Aristide’s “impunity” now contributes to the impunity enjoyed by Jean Claude Duvalier.

Will Aristide partisans will ever be able to subject US heads of state to the kind of “impunity” Aristide and his allies have “enjoyed”?

Imagine Aristide loyalists kidnapping US officials, stealing relevant documents from US government archives, and then subjecting them to “trials” in Haiti before judges appointed by Aristide loyalists. Whatever we call that treatment, I doubt it would be “granting impunity” if the people on the receiving end were officials from any rich country.