Joe Emersberger's Letters to the Editor

En Camino User Joe Emersberger is a diligent writer of letters-to-the-editor. His letters are well-researched and documented and put the journalists (who rarely answer him at all and when they do, answer wholly inadequately) he debates to shame. Because his letters are so frequent and so well done, we collect them here, as he writes them. We hope the letters, and the frequently outrageous responses from the journalists, are instructive. Here is an exchange on Haiti.

Feb 28, 2004, to the Globe and Mail:

It has often been mentioned that the US restored Aristide to power in 1994 after a coup in 1991 deposed him, but US involvement in the coup has not be explored nor have the conditions laid down by the US for Aristide's return: among them that he finish off only the last part of his term even though he was in exile for most of it, and that he grant amnesty to major human rights violators. Another glaring omission has been the case of Emmanuel Constant. There is no mention of his case in the Globe & Mail in recent weeks despite its obvious relevance. Human Rights Watch mentioned his case in a recent statement on Haiti.[1]

Constant is the founder of FRAPH, a group that murdered thousands of Haitians after the 1991 coup that ousted Aristide. Former FRAPH members are now leading the bid to drive Aristide out of Haiti. The US has refused to deport Constant for years (though his victims were promptly deported) and has returned documents relevant to his case to Haiti only after they have been censored. Human Rights Watch bluntly told the US government in 1997 that censorship is for the "purpose of covering up U.S. complicity in political murder and other abuses, particularly the relationship between U.S. intelligence assets and the military government and FRAPH."[2]

Bear these facts in mind as the US and its cowardly allies ask Aristide to
step down for the good of the Haitian people.

[1] See Chomsky; for Feb 27 HRW statement on see Haiti
[2] HRW

February 26, 2004, to the Globe and Mail's Paul Knox (pknox@globeandmail.ca)

Mr. Knox:

In your recent report ("Aristide's fate must not be left to the thugs and cynics") you finally state the obvious about the elite opposition whom international reporters have been catering to.

Stated earlier, by you and the rest of the international media, and this ridiculous situation in which an opposition with insignificant popular support is allowed to hold up millions of dollars of aid as well as protection for the Haitian people would have ended weeks, if not years, ago.

You call for immediate international assistance for Haiti and for allowing Aristide to finish out his term. That's great, but you weaken your position by not putting Aristide's failings in context and by inexcusably casting doubt on his presidential election win in 2000. Without elaboration you wrote "The election in 2000 that brought him to a second term as President was hardly a thorough sounding of the popular will." Such a vague criticism could apply to many elections in Canada or the US. It could easily mislead people into thinking that Aristide won by fraud..

Why do you not get into the specifics of the flaws in the 2000 elections? Why don't you discuss the US role in the coup that deposed Aristide in 1991, Republican party funding of the "cynical" opposition or US/IMF pressure on Aristide to implement disastrous economic policies?

Shouldn't people be aware that following the US government's lead is not wise if we're serious about helping Haitians?

February 19, 2004, to Paul Knox of the Globe and Mail (pknox@globeandmail.ca)

I've read all your reports from Haiti since Febraury 11, 2004.

They have provided good public relations for the groups that are moving Haiti back towards dictatorship.

Your reports directly quoted Aristide's opponents 14 times. You quoted his supporters only 5 times (excluding quotes from Aristide himself) [1]. More importantly, you failed to seriously question the motives of the groups you described as "democratic" and "peaceful" or the intentions of the US government.

It is impossible to learn from your reports that the "peaceful" opposition you quote extensively have prevented internationally supervised elections from taking place. They have refused to accept their designated seats on the Provisional Elections Council, which is an essential first step for any balloting to occur. The opposition has therefore sustained the pretext that the US and EU have used to withhold desperately needed aid. This information would help your readers understand why opposition marches draw hostility. Blocking elections (and therefore aid) also plays into the hands of the armed opposition whose links to the defunct Duvalier dictatoship are becoming harder to deny with each passing day. Nowhere do you confront the opposition with these facts.[2]

You completely evade the crucial questioin of how much popular support Aristide and the opposition have. From your reports one could easily conclude that Aristide owes his position exclusively to fraud and intimidation while the opposition is popular.

You wrote that Aristide is "widely accused of encouraging rampant corruption and ruling through alliances with well-organized gangs" and that his "behaviour is characterized by respect for naked power". Aristide supporters, those rare times they are mentioned in your reports, are linked to violence. You wrote "Amos, a 50-year-old mechanic, who was one of several hundred Lavalas supporters who turned out on Thursday to thwart the opposition protest." On February 11 you wrote that Aristide "was elected again in 2000 to a six-year term, but international observers said the vote was deeply flawed and most international aid was cut off." That's false. There was no dispute about Aristide winning the presidency. The accord drawn up by the OAS calls on the opposition to accept the election of Aristide. You have also exaggerated the scale and significance of the "flaws" in the 2000 elections.[3]

In May 2000, the OAS disiputed that Lavalas (Aristide's party) cadidates won several seats in the Senate during the first round. The Economist, no fan of Aristide, reported at the time that ""Last month's vote suggests that Lavalas enjoys huge support even without resorting to fraud. A second round in the Senate could well give it a majority anyway." The opposition botcotted the presidential election. The Economist suggested that problems with the legislative elections gave the opposition "an excuse to boycott the presidential ballot—a welcome way for them to save face, since none would have come close to defeating the far more popular Mr Aristide and his well-organised party." [4]

Has public opinion changed radically since 2000? The opposition doesn't seem to think so or they wouldn't continue to block elections The success of armed groups financed by wealthy Haitians (and Americans) linked to Duvaliers regime is no evidence of popular support.

You do not subject the motives of the Bush administration to any scrutiny even though there are many reasons for doing so: as a candidate George Bush said he opposed the reinstatement of Aristide in 1994; the Bush administration applauded the coup which temporarily ousted the democratically elected government in Venezuela; both the Bush and Clinton have blocked the extradiction death squad leader Emmanual Constant to Haiti; for decades one US administration after another eagerly back Duvalier's brutal dictatorship; the NYT quoted a "senior State Department Official" that the US would support a deal in which Aristide is made to resign as the opposition demands.[5]

If Haiti ends this year under a brutal dictatorship led by formaer members of Duvalier's regime and Haiti's weathly elite you will have contributed to that boody outcome.

[1] Toronto Globe and Mail: Paul Knox reports from Haiti February 11-19
[2] Council on Hemispheric Affairs
[3] Toronto Globe and Mail: February 16; "Rebels plot Aristide's overthrow"; February 14; "Why peaceful protests fail to stir Aristide"; February 11,"Haiti's 'peaceful people' erupt in violence"; Paul Knox; for the OAS accord
[4] Economist; "Counted Out": June 22, 2000; "The inevitable president"; Nov 16, 2000
[5] NYT; "U.S. Officials Hint at Support for Haitian Leader's Ouster"; Feb 12, 2004; For information on Emmanual Constant see Human Rights Watch websire

Knox Responds February 20, 2004 (look especially at the third paragraph)

I sought and conducted an interview with President Aristide, and quoted him as saying that the opposition leaders who fail to denounce violence are effectively the same as those who are in armed rebellion. I've reported on the divisions within the opposition and suggested that their failure to carry off their march last Sunday was a serious setback. I cannot see how that constitutes "failing to seriously question" the motives of these people.

It is disingenuous, to say the least, to cite that NYT story from Feb. 12 without acknowledging that it has been emphatically superseded by statements of support for Aristide remaining in office.

Congratulations on being able to count to 5, 14 or whatever. But may I just ask you this: Have you ever been here?

Thanks for your interest.

Emersberger responds to Knox February 21, 2004

Mr. Knox:

Thanks for responding.

You say "I've reported on the divisions within the opposition and suggested that their failure to carry off their march last Sunday was a serious setback. I cannot see how that constitutes "failing to seriously question" the motives of these people."

Your reports hold thuggish Aristide supporters responsible for the inability of what you call the "peaceful" opposition to carry off marches. In fact, the word "failure" is not appropraite given the way you've reported. They have suceeded in depicting themselves as frustrated democrats despite the fact that they have prevented internationally supervised elections from taking place. One of your reports is entitled: "Why peaceful protests fail to stir Aristide". If you had seriously questioned the opposition's motives you might have written at least one article entiled "Why Aristide's enemies block elections" and honestly explored the reasons.

Where do you explore the backgrounds of the elites who make up the "peaceful" oppoisition, specifically what they did while Haiti was under dictatorial rule? Isn't this a rather obvious question to ask given Haiti's history? Duvalier (and others that followed him) ruled Haiti brutally on behalf of the elites who despise Aristide, millionaires like Andre Apaid whom US Congresswowan Maxine Waters interviewd while she was in Haiti. Waters publicly called Apaid a "Duvalier supporter" . The Council of Hemispheric affairs claims that Apaid has condoned the armed opposition by saying that "because insurrection can be justified in the struggle against repression". Neither Maxine Waters nor COHA is mentioned in your reports (or in the Globe & Mail at all in recent weeks). Your reports leave the impression that only Aritide himself and his thuggish supporters agree with his views of the opposition.

You note that you conducted an interview with Aristide as if that means you have been balanced in your coverage. The key question is who do most Haitians support.You never address this question. Allowing Aristide himself to assert that he isn't the thug you make him out to be tells us nothing about what most Haitians think.

You say "It is disingenuous, to say the least, to cite that NYT story from Feb. 12 without acknowledging that it has been emphatically superseded by statements of support for Aristide remaining in office."

Which statement best reflects Washingtons true intentions? That is the question you evade.

The contradictory statement I cited is only one reason to doubt that the Bush administration is truly interested in democracy for Haitians. I cited many others in my letter to you. You have failed to address them in your reply to me. Much more importantly, you have failed to address them in your reports.

I could also have added the billions of dollars in arms sales each year approved by the US government to undemocratic regimes like Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Pakistan, etc... The funding of Israel's occupation of the Palestinaina lands. The dishonesty and contempt for democracy revealed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, etc...

Focussing on Haiti you might have noted that conditions that were laid down by the US before it would allow him to return to power in 1994. These also cast considerable doubt on Washington's interest in democracy. The US insisted that Aristide adopt a very unpopular economic program, literally the opposite of what he was elected to implement, and on far reaching amnesty for perpetrators of serious abuses after the coup. Is that the "restoration of democracy" or the restoration of elite rule with a democractic fascade? You should have asked. People's lives depend on it.

You write "Congratulations on being able to count to 5, 14 or whatever. But may I just ask you this: Have you ever been here?"

No I've never been to Haiti. Where have I based my arguments on personal experience? If I had then your question would be relevant.

I've never been to Natzi Germany either, never lived under Saddam Hussein or Duvalier, but I can make intelligent conclusions about them nonetheless. The invention of writing allows people to learn a great deal about places they've never been. That is why people read newspapers. That is why people read your reports. Unfortunately, the most readily available soureces of information people have to find out about places they've never been are newspapers like the Globe and Mail. That is why Haiti's "peaceful" opposition are so eager use the international media. Haitians face a very dangerous future thanks to the way media have allowed themselves to be used.

Knox Responds Again, February 21, 2004

Your consistent mischaracterization of what I've written leaves little room for serious discussion. You also demonstrate scant interest in actually getting at the truth -- simply a desire to see your preconceived notions reflected via your own selected interlocutors. If that is what writing was invented for, perhaps we should go back to the drawing board.

Emersberger replies, February 21, 2004

People's lives including their prospects for survival are significantly impacted by how you report. Haiti is a small impoverished nation who fate depends largely on international public opinion. Shouldn't that prompt you to respond to detailed criticism with something more substancial than an assertion that I have mischaracterized your reports?

I have posed many questioins to you in my letters. You've answered none. I realize that you're busy, so let me just ask the following.

The facts I have cited bear out that Aristide remains far more popular than the opposition. Do you disagree?. If not, then please tell me where this fact appears in your reports. The OAS did not dispute Aristide's election. You wrote that "He was elected again in 2000 to a six-year term, but international observers said the vote was deeply flawed and most international aid was cut off".

Do you maintain that this statement is true? If not, do you concede that this missinformation, which never corrected, would be much appreciated by the opposition?

I've cited plenty of reasons to doubt that the US is interested in promoting deomcracy in Haiti. Why don't you mention any in your reports? Given they key role the US will play, shouldn't this be something you focus on significantly, say at least one article? The US governmnet's continued refusal to deport FRAPH leader Emmanual Constant deserces considerable attention don't you think?

Human Rights Watch, in a letter directed to Secretary Albright in 1997, sated that "The U.S. continues to insist that the documents will be returned only after the names of U.S. citizens have been excised, apparently for the illegitimate purpose of covering up U.S. complicity in political murder and other abuses, particularly the relationship between U.S. intelligence assets and the military government and FRAPH. Ambassador William Swing has stated that the U.S. government already removed information identifying U.S. citizens from 113 pages of the materials."

Doesn't this quote put your readers in a better position to judge US intentions?

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