Can you hear our silence on Haiti?

Silence from the media is expected. But what of the silence from the 'left', while massacres are going on?

Anthony Fenton
March 15, 2004

One thing we didn’t have during the 1991-94 *original* Aristide coup years was the World Wide Web. Back then, leftists could [maybe] be forgiven for their ignorance toward Haitian realities. This time around, there is no excuse. Where between 91-94 there was a relative dearth of insight and analysis into the actualities of the coup and its aftermath, in the lead up to and following the recent coup, we have seen a boon of such articles. In general, alternative, independent media ought to be commended for this.

The left in general, however, remains woefully [and wilfully] ignorant toward Haiti to the extent that they are sitting on their asses refusing to mobilize in solidarity with Haiti’s right to self-determination. How it is that hundreds of thousands of Americans and Canadians can march on Washington, New York, Vancouver or Montreal to oppose the illegal wars and occupations carried out in their names while not so much as lifting a finger to oppose an illegal coup d’etat and genocide of the Haitian people, is a mystery that is not too difficult to solve.

Take the case of the Canadian left, whose main poster boys and girls can be found touring the country warning the public about – of all things – the coming “deep integration” of Canadian policies with the US.[1] That the Canadian government is already “deeply integrated” with the US as evidenced by their plotting [one year ago in Ottawa][2] and carrying out this recent overthrow of President Aristide, passes without any mention. I wonder who the wise person was who said “Silence is the voice of complicity”?

The event I attended was eight days after President Aristide was overthrown. At this point, Haiti was still warranting prominent [however distorted] mainstream coverage. Not a single mention of Haiti was made in the context of the event, which was titled “Canada: Country or Colony?” This right here is telling. The implication being that by integrating with the US, Canada is in danger of *becoming* assimilated, and that it is in danger of *ceding* its sovereignty to the US. I wondered as I mulled this title over how difficult it would have been to change the title to ‘Canada: Country, Colony, or *Colonizer*?

The suggestion that Canada has not long since been assimilated or that it still has a semblance of sovereignty, whatever the hell this term means in the never-ending era of hegemony and empire, is lost on me. What is sovereignty if it comes at the expense of peoples like Haitians, or Iraqis, Kurds, Afghanis, or Palestinians? It’s certainly not something I care to be associated with.

It could be the case that the ‘progressive left’ is aware of these things and are choosing not to disclose them in light of their intended audiences, as if - by stating that the question of whether or not Canada is or isn’t a ‘country’ is redundant given that we are *already* effectively ‘integrated’ - the audience will be frightened into a state of utter despair and disempowerment. In turn, the fear is that they will completely disengage themselves from the political arena and will no longer shell out for membership fees to these prominent ‘civil society’ NGOs. In any case, the assumption here would be that the audience is not mature enough to handle the concrete truth of prevailing realities, so its better that we water the truth down so as to make it more palatable.

During the question period I raised these issues. First, I alerted the audience to two historical precedents that recently been reached: one, the 200-year anniversary of Haiti’s independence from colonial rule. Two, Canada’s direct involvement in a coup d’etat that overthrew a democratically elected leader, effectively guaranteeing conditions of colonial rule to be aggressively reintroduced in Haiti.

I also noted how the issue of Canada’s active participation in this coup was a clear example of the issues being raised by the panel that evening. My questions were simple: where has the response been on the part of the left to this crisis? What kinds of strategies can social justice advocates pursue in the future to concretely respond to such crisis situations?

Due to the nature of the ‘Q and A’ session, where all questioners made their questions/comments in a procession, when this was done only certain questions were addressed. Mine wasn’t. It was met in an increasingly familiar fashion: silently.

Many weeks ago, when I was considering the likelihood that a successful coup in Haiti would see a return of the murderous military, I held out hope that by then the left in Canada [and, for that matter, the US] would have gotten their act together enough to prevent this from actually happening. I had sincerely hoped to see a mobilization build that would pose a serious challenge to Bush doctrine and all of its adherents.

In terms of movement building, it was only a year ago that record numbers of people took to the streets to mobilize against the indiscriminate destruction of Iraq. Apparently, this Saturday, March 20th, is supposed to be building on this opposition to illegal war and occupation, meanwhile another illegal occupation is taking place right in the Western Hemisphere, albeit under the radar of the left, due to [wilful] ignorance, and the broader public, due to unrelenting propaganda disinformation efforts by the corporate owned media. Something doesn’t add up here.

War and occupation are things to be opposed in and of themselves. We do not selectively oppose certain imperial activities and ignore others if we are at the same time claiming to be building a viable movement. Any confusion that exists as toward whether or not Aristide should or should not have been overthrown is the direct result of government lies, media omission and disinformation, neoliberalism, and a well [US-] funded “opposition” to Aristide.[3]

There is a commonplace rhetoric which states that we should “choose our battles”, implying that there is at heart some sort of guiding principle which will lead us to the proper “choice”. This position is to be distinguished from the simple function of acting productively as activists. When bombs are about to be dropped on Iraq, we don’t “choose” to oppose the dropping of these bombs. We oppose them because it is the *sane* thing to do. Similarly, when we see a crisis unfolding before our eyes, when the writing is on the wall plain as day, there is no choice but the most productive action. Certain issues choose *us* as activists, they summon us to their cause. Evidently, others, such as Haiti, do not.

Accordingly, silence on Haiti can be equated to playing into the hands of the very structures that are allegedly being challenged. Rather than appreciate the realities of what is going on in Haiti - something that from a material standpoint has never been easier – the silence that is crossing left-right boundaries on these vital issues is tantamount to accepting the denials of Bush, Powell, Paul Martin and Bill Graham.

Following this logic, it is also acceptable that Canadian, US, and French forces will be the targets of violent acts that are directed against its ‘legitimate’ occupation. Prior to the war on Afghanistan, Noam Chomsky pointed to predictions that suggested rather than stem the tide of terrorist activities, an illegal war in the region will only fuel terrorist plots to retaliate against the barbarous Americans and their allies. Fortunately, the Bush contingency plan in this case finds reinstitution of the criminal Haitian army currently stem the tide of potential terror as it seeks out and slaughters would-be terrorists, otherwise known as Aristide loyalists [also known as voting citizens in a would-be democracy].

Meanwhile, along the Haiti-Dominican border, the armies will be assisting each other in keeping Haitian refugees out of the Dominican and in the newly built sweatshops that are being increasingly amassed along the border. The land that will accommodate some 40 textile facilities is being leased by the Dominican’s Grupo M, a multibillion-dollar dirty corporation that is wedded to the US textile material providers and corporations such as Levi’s, the GAP, Canada’s Gildan Activewear, and many others. The textile mills are “built to order” with 100% of the profits from the construction going to Grupo M. Since the overthrow of Aristide, the few workers rights that had been established in these mills have been violated with worse to come.[3]

Haitians have been deprived of their human right to self-govern, to subsist, to decide what is done with their land. The prospects for their future are grim, as tens of thousands of people who have no choice but to seek work - any work - will be forced into a new form of slavery that is enforced by a trigger-happy military that is all too happy to carry out US orders by crushing any popular resistance that should rear its head. That the more prominent social justice movement[s] in the hemisphere have thus far ‘chosen’ not to mobilize in massive broad-based solidarity with the Haitian people is indicative of where this social justice movement currently stands in relation to power. As always, this does not have to be the case, and this does not suggest that much good work is not being done in many other important areas. However, Haiti’s misery will only compound as we deliberate [or not] over these issues. Therefore, if these problems are to be honestly and seriously addressed, it is imperative that this is done so with a sense of urgency that exemplifies what social justice, solidarity, and movement building are all about.

Anthony Fenton is an En Camino contributor and a member of the Vancouver-based Mobilization Against War and Occupation

[1] See http://www.canadians.org

[2] See Michel Vastel’s article in L’Actualite, March 15, 2003, also discussed here. Canada’s government opposition MP, Svend Robinson, demanded that the Canadian government table the minutes of this “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” during a recent House of Commons debate on Haiti.

[3] For an excellent analysis along these lines, please see: “Debunking the Media's Lies about President Aristide”. See also: “The Destabilization of Haiti by Michel Chossudovsky”:

[4]On Maquiladora-style free Trade Zones, Grupo M, Levis and others