25 January 2004

Missing in Action - The Press

Common Sense
John Maxwell

One of the great unsolved mysteries of life in the United States of America is the question - "Why do THEY [foreigners] hate us so much?"

It is a question which the US Press finds impossible to answer for the very good reason that the answer to the question has a great deal to do with the US Press itself.

In one of its periodic raids on Michael Jackson's reputation, last week, CNN ran a short clip of Jackson's Man In The Mirror - none too subtly suggesting that Jackson was guilty as charged, of child molestation. As far as CNN and most of the US Press is concerned, Jackson's essential weirdness is sufficient evidence to find him guilty, no doubt, of practically anything of which he may be accused.

In a CNN news clip about Jackson's (misguided?) supporters, one of them shouted that if Jackson, with all his wealth and power and celebrity can't get justice in America, how could any black person?

Ersatz Gentility

But blacks are not the only victims of the US Press. Anyone who is perceived to be out of the mainstream is denied justice. Presidential contender Howard Dean proved last week that he was human, letting off steam after the Iowa primary with an unmannerly yell, which immediately caused commentators and news anchors to ponderously question whether the man was sufficiently balanced to be president of the United States. They have never questioned however, Mr Bush's alleged cocaine abuse or his alcoholism or his reported arrest for drunken driving. No, an utterly ersatz gentility prevents them from pursuing these.

They don't question whether Mr Bush is, as Paul O'Neill says, so disengaged from his job as to be practically absent from important deliberations going on around him, or whether he laid out an agenda for invading Iraq just days after his inauguration. They don't question his reference to "weapons of mass destruction programme activities" in this year's State of the Union speech, though last year they cheered him on when he alleged he had incontrovertible evidence of actual WMD (not "programme activities") on the ground in Iraq. They do not question whether it was his adviser, Karl Rove, who committed the criminal offence of 'outing' a deep undercover CIA operative in revenge for her husband's exposing false White House claims.

The US Press has not seriously considered how it came to be that more than one half of all Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 atrocity.

That fact is the world's greatest monument to the effect of propaganda, originated by the Bush administration and fed to the American people by a supine and corrupt press.

In a country, supposedly served by the world's most vigorous, irrepressible and irreverent Press, how is it possible that a lie of such magnitude can become established fact, persisting to this day?

According to the accounts of the media themselves, they did not believe Saddam was involved in 9/11. The only people who did were apparatchiks attached to the administration, notably Dick Cheney. In fact, even Bush himself was forced to deny that there was any such connection, but the misapprehension persists.


During the Presidential election disaster in Florida three years ago, the US Press was conspicuous by its failure to speak up about the pre- and post-election skulduggery. And when a consortium of media investigated the truth after the event, the results were, like a doctor's mistakes, buried. Most Americans are unaware that Al Gore would have won a majority of the votes in Florida as he did in the United States as a whole.

And, of course, a few years before that, semen stains on Monica Lewinsky's dress were immeasurably more important than the Pope's visit to Cuba.

Functions of the Press

According to everything I have learned in 52 years of journalism, the Press exercises a self-ordained public trust. It is the business of the Press to be truthful, to expose the truth, to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Our responsibility is to the millions without access to the corridors of power.

We are delegates of the people. We are - as I like to put it - the sensory organs of the body politic as well as an important component of the body politic's immune system, listening, watching, tasting, warning, heralding, detecting malignant intrusions and fighting them down. In the circulatory system of the body politic, we are the white corpuscles and the T-cells.

If we don't function correctly, the body politic is endangered by infections, contagions and malignancies and preventable mishaps.

Since we are self-appointed agents, the body politic has few means to restrain us, unless we break the law, by libelling someone, by scandalising the courts or parliament. Apart from that, the Press is just another capitalist institution, responsible only to itself and its shareholders, forgetting that there is a wider constituency of stakeholders whose very lives, welfare and hope of posterity depend on us.

Journalists of the kind I consider myself to be cannot slough off their citizenship at the newsroom door. We are engaged by our humanity, committed to our communities, and ideally, dedicated to the public interest as against any partisan interest or sectoral seductions.

No journalist I have ever met is a eunuch, although a goodly number pretend to be. We cannot simply be spectators, because the very act of observing engages us and changes the thing observed. It will, at least, no longer be secret or private property. The reporter's presence means that the public is present.

Therefore, if we detect lies, misfeasance or malfeasance, it is our duty to bring it to public notice, so that the people, from whom all wealth is derived, can make up their minds what to do to protect their common interest, to work for their survival and their happiness.

This principle means that while journalists may be impartial or non-partisan in support of the public interest, we can never really be disinterested or uninvolved. No-one can lay claim to such godlike qualities. The question is not whether one is committed or to what, but whether one is willing to admit one's bias and one's commitment.

Clearly, as the son of a Baptist parson, I am likely to hold certain positions, even if I am no longer a Baptist or even a Christian. Clearly, as a Jamaican, as a black person, as a journalist, as an old boy of Calabar and Jamaica College, traces of those influences must persist. I did not arise from the head of some goddess, immaculate; I was shaped by my environment and my culture, just like everybody else, every other person, every other journalist, everywhere.

Plastic world, plastic principles

In a world built on plastic, and on the petroleum which is its feedstock, it is tempting to look at facts as fungible; to believe that one fact can easily and acceptably be replaced by another, that the world is a construct of half-truths and that one half-truth is just as good as any other. The problem with half-truths is that they are also half-lies, and just as one cannot be half pregnant or half-free, we need to ensure that our facts are not fungible but that they are stripped of everything that we suspect may be false.

People are at this moment dying in Iraq and other places because of half-truths and outright lies. How can my conscience square with my failure to warn you that you are walking into a trap, that you are putting yourself in mortal peril if you pursue a certain course of action which I KNOW to be dangerous?
Yet, for years between the two Gulf Wars, the US Press knew that eminent capitalists were stealing money from their shareholders and diverting public funds for their own private delectation. For years, that same Press continued to delude the world into believing that the UN sanctions on Iraq permitted the US and Britain to bomb and murder innocent people. And, for most of the last two years, this Press has allied itself to a campaign of untruths and to the actual subversion of the Constitution of the United States in order to assure its own profitability.

For decades, the US Press has carefully avoided telling its constituencies about the real behaviour of their government in Latin America, in the Middle East and in other places. Americans have no real idea of the damage done to their country's reputation by entities such as the United Fruit Company, the Special Forces or those US proconsuls who take it on themselves to ally themselves to the rapacious ruling classes of places like Jamaica, Haiti, Venezuela and Cuba, or The Philippines or Vietnam, or Iraq and Iran.

I don't believe that the majority of world opinion hates the United States or Americans in general. To be in that bag would be to be crazy. But, as thousands demonstrated in Mumbai over the last days, there are many who detest the actions of the US and the malign results on people abroad.

Now, in the US itself, the capitalist revolution has begun to eat its own children, wiping out jobs, degrading pride of workmanship, destroying the community of feeling which existed between craftsmen and their employers.

It is this development which upsets people like Howard Dean and the thousands of 'un-clubbable' people who will vote for him. The American Press, like those it serves so slavishly, needs to cast the beam out of its own eyes before it begins attending to the motes in others.

18 January 2004

The New Inquisition

Common Sense
John Maxwell

THE Jamaican government is buying wholeheartedly into the United States' War on Terror.

The latest announcement that the Americans will be funding a new $135-million system to track foreign visitors is probably necessary because of the incompetence of our constabulary; the new Anti-Terrorism Act is not. The Anti-Terrorism Act is designed to cure democracy and Freedom, both, hitherto considered incurable.

On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that the US government intended to make sweeping changes to mobilise the country for what appeared to be an unending War on Terror. According to Cheney, the US faced in al-Qaeda, an enemy "unlike any other that we have ever faced.[who are] plotting to kill on an ever larger scale including here in the United States."

This will justify a 21st century version of the Inquisition, in which all of us will have to undergo rigorous examinations into our faith in capitalism, Cheney/Bush style.

Cheney said weapons of mass destruction were a major priority, because "instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives as the result of a single attack, or a set of co-ordinated attacks". This no doubt explains the war on Iraq and the fact that the United States has all but abandoned its crusade against al-Qaeda in its home-base, Afghanistan.

The former US Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, however, puts a somewhat different slant on things. He says that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the number one priority of the new Bush Administration from Day One. O'Neill, quoted in a book, The Price of Loyalty, paints the Bush administration as a cynical cabal, obsessed with political power and ideolog to the exclusion of almost everything else. O'Neill paints Dick Cheney, his former friend and associate in two earlier Republican administrations, as a calculating manipulator of the president, part of a Praetorian Guard who protect Bush from serious engagement with the public interest.

Ignorance and Freedom

According to the old saying, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The problem is that in much of the world, and particularly in the United States, the designated watchmen of the public interest are asleep at their posts.

The current campaign to find a Democratic Party candidate to oppose President Bush in November is a case in point. Until very recently, most of the Democratic candidates were afraid to criticise President Bush on almost any subject. It is only since it became clear that such criticism resonated with ordinary people that some candidates have found the guts to attack him on any of his multiple vulnerabilities. The reason is simple: they risked being labelled and libelled as unpatriotic. Only Governor Howard Dean and congressman Dennis Kucinich had the courage or temerity to beard the lion in his den. As a result, the climate is changing, but slowly.

It is obvious from the television networks that Bush and his advisers and supporters fear Howard Dean more than any other possible Democratic presidential candidate. The result is a carefully executed strategy to keep his message from reaching the people. Dean is criticised for being hot-headed, for being leftist and for all kinds of characteristics which would seem to disqualify him for the presidency were they true. His attitude is the issue, not his message.

It was instructive to watch Paula Zahn on CNN a few days ago, refusing to deal with what Howard Dean had actually said, preferring to quote a partial excerpt from a speech to make him seem an irresponsible gossip monger. It was also instructive, a day or so later, to watch as she prevented a lawyer friend of Michael Jackson's from speaking about the absolute worthlessness of the case against the entertainer, preferring to concentrate on whether Jackson was not damaging his case by responding publicly to his army of well-wishers, especially in view of his injured shoulder.

The whole point of the mainstream press in the US these days is to avoid the substance and to deal, in detail, with the shadow and its reflections. And Michael Jackson and other peripheral stories provide perfect cover for Bush/Cheney.

Duplicity and Deceit

It was revealed a few days ago, that Vice-President Cheney had gone on a hunting trip with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. No details of their discussions were made public, of course, but it is to be presumed that they carefully considered the proper way to skin an elk and the right sauces to serve with venison.

Meanwhile, the vice-president is deeply imbroiled in several cases before the Supreme Court, not the least of which is an attempt to get him to disgorge records of his Energy Task Force which he set up shortly after the Inauguration. It seems to me that a good guess as to why these documents are so secret is that they will reveal that the task force's answer to the American energy problem was a simple one: Take Iraq.
As O'Neill testifies, that was item number one on the Bush agenda. The question was how to find an excuse to embark on it. September 11 provided the fortuitous answer.

Cheney is involved in other legal matters, among them a criminal investigation by a French judge into bribery and corruption in a oil deal in Nigeria when the VP was head of Halliburton. And, of course, Halliburton is under criminal investigation for its sweet deal in Iraq, in which the company charged the US Army twice as much as another Pentagon agency paid for oil brought into Iraq by the same means used by Halliburton's suppliers.

As some of us were vainly protesting last year, there should be no blood shed for Iraqi oil. Next week in Britain, the report of the Hutton enquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly will probably shed some light on what really happened. We do know, however, that the British intelligence agency, MI6, was for years before the war, engaged in a public relations campaign to portray Iraq as a dangerous state, threatening world peace with its weapons of mass destruction.

This Way to The Egress!

It would appear that the Bush White House, unlike any other in history, is ruled by what used to be called, a "Press Agent". Before the invention of Public Relations, people who wanted to sell snake oil and other universal remedies employed press agents to get their names ballyhooed about. These press agents would invent all kinds of stunts and use all sorts of gimmicks to attract public attention so that the 'medicine man' had an attentive audience for his pitch. One lovely example of fairly harmless press agentry was PT Barnum's labelling the exit to his freak show, "This way to the Egress", to get his less literate customers out of his tent as fast as possible, so that he could pack more suckers in. It was Barnum who said "There's a sucker born every minute" and he appears to have some ardent acolytes in the Bush White House. Perhaps there are Weapons of Mass Destruction on Mars, which might explain the latest Bush initiative.

The United States has not only frightened the wits out of its own populace who are suffering from terror-alert-fatigue. It has frightened a number of foreign countries as well. Under the PATRIOT Act, the US has managed to curb an impressive array of civil liberties. And President Bush demonstrated this week, how determined he is to restrain others, when he went over the heads of Congress to appoint a racist, former KKK advocate as a Justice of a Federal Court of Appeals.

This continues the relentless campaign of the administration to ideologically skew the justice system in the United States as part of the campaign to undo and reverse a century of democratically ordained US public policy. Al Gore, the man who got more votes than Bush in the last Presidential election puts it this way:

"In almost every policy area, the Administration's consistent goal has been to eliminate any constraints on their exercise of raw power, whether by law, regulation, alliance or treaty - and in the process, they have in each case caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as showing disdain for the international community.

"In each case they devise their policies with as much secrecy as possible and in close co-operation with the most powerful special interests that have a monetary stake in what happens. In each case the public interest is not only ignored but actively undermined. In each case they devote considerable attention to a clever strategy of deception that appears designed to prevent the American people from discerning what it is they are actually doing. Indeed, they often use Orwellian language to disguise their true purposes."

It seems that this tendency is what environmentalists, might call "cross-border pollution." Armed sky marshals are to be put on planes all over the world, databases will track all travellers and we will all end up in the electronic filing cabinets of some right-wing ideologue in some underground bunker somewhere.

TIME magazine's latest issue contains a wrenching story by one of its own reporter-interns. "Time reporter Aatish Taseer, a British citizen raised in India, experienced the new procedure for visitors to the US who require visas when he returned to New York City last week from a vacation in India and Pakistan."

In his account, Taseer reflects on the multiple characteristics he shares with other people - terrorists - which could be misinterpreted, his colour, his citizenship, his birthplace.

"It's unnerving to think that basic facts about my life - facts that belong to me - could, in others' hands have the power to land me in trouble."

Other journalists have landed in trouble for no other reason than they were journalists because, as watchmen of the public interest, they cannot be trusted by the US government to report its version of the facts. Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a Pakistani who has worked for a number of American media, has vanished in Pakistan and it is suspected that he is being tortured somewhere.

As I've previously reported in this column, I got into trouble with the Americans a long time ago. In 1966, on my way to Germany on a trade union fellowship, I was separated from all the other Lufthansa passengers in Miami and put in a waiting room by myself. In 1991 exactly 25 years later, the US Embassy here told me that they had orders from Washington to deny me a visitor's visa on political grounds which they could not specify. This was while Gorbachev and Trevor Monroe were making regular visits to the US.

Because of these apprehensions, I have decided that I will not voluntarily travel again to the United States. Despite my age (70 next birthday) and the fact that my only sister is seriously ill in New York, I cannot take such a chance with my life or my liberty.

Incidentally, this is my 400th column for the Observer.

11 January 2004

Empire of Fear

Common Sense
John Maxwell

ONE does not have to be Scaramouche to have a sense that the world is mad - most of us have known for quite a long time that we are governed by lunatics in both the public and the private spheres.

How else can we explain the IMF and the World Bank telling Jamaica that its economic direction is unsustainable, when we have been the most diligent of their students for more than 20 years?

How else to explain that Royal Dutch/Shell, one of the world's largest and most important entities, has confessed that one-fifth of its golden eggs did not exist - that one-fifth of the assets it claimed to have in oil reserves were either imaginary or otherwise non-existent?

How else can we explain the American initiative to democratise Haiti, when democracy at home is in serious need of repair and resuscitation?

How do you explain that in the latest capitalist scandal, this time in Italy, the head of the country's largest food company and a host of its transnational subsidiaries, turns out to be a telephone operator?
The news that the empires presided over by Mr Patterson and Mr Seaga are both bankrupt should come as no surprise.

And it should be no surprise that Mr Patterson's government is taking steps to make it as difficult as possible for the rest of us to mount any kind of challenge to him or to any other of the powers that be - or that imagine themselves to be, pace Shell!

'The Blind leading the Deaf'

A few months ago, many of us were slightly bemused to learn from President George W Bush himself that he did not read newspapers or listen to TV news. His news, he vouchsafed, was filtered, delivered word of mouth by his closest and most trusted advisers. 'That explains it!' some of us thought, prematurely.

It now turns out, according to the former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, that Mr Bush is even less connected to reality than we thought. According to O'Neill, a former CEO of ALCOA, even in cabinet meetings, where the fate of the world is decided each week, the president was "so disengaged" that he was "like a blind man in a room of deaf people."

According to Mr O'Neill, the administration's decision-making process was so flawed, that often, top officials had no real sense of what the president wanted them to do, forcing them to act on "little more than hunches about what the president might think".

Reacting to O'Neill's criticism, Mr Bush's mouthpiece, Scott McClellan said on Friday, "I think it's well known the way the president approaches governing and setting priorities. The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

The problem is that Mr Bush's priorities soon turn out to be our priorities and the priorities of billions of people round the world. For instance, we have all been forced to bow down to the president's ruling, which abrogates the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. We say nothing to challenge the vigilante behaviour of the Government of the United States - now holding more than 600 people from more than 40 countries under what one of the most eminent jurists in the world calls, conditions "of utter lawlessness."

Lord Steyn, the third highest in Britain's legal hierarchy, is a judge whose opinions are respected round the world. Steyn said in November he hoped the British Government would denounce "and make plain publicly and unambiguously our condemnation of the utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay". In a memorial lecture to law students at the Inns of Court in November, Lord Steyn warned Americans that the denial of justice to foreigners would lead to the gradual erosion of fundamental civil rights of US citizens.

Steyn described the Guantanamo Bay detentions as a "monstrous failure of justice" leading to "Kangaroo Courts - a pre-ordained arbitrary rush to judgment by an irregular tribunal which makes a mockery of justice".

"The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was, and is, to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors".

Lord Steyn also chided judges who he said, were often too deferential to the executive, even in peacetime. It was "a monstrous failure of justice" that, so far, the US courts had decided they could not even consider credible medical evidence that a detainee had been or was being tortured. Prisoners had been left without any rights. Trials would be held in secret, with none of the basic guarantees for a fair trial.

The jurisdiction of the US courts was excluded. The military controlled everything, subject to decisions of the president even on guilt or innocence in individual cases, as well as sentences. President Bush had already described the prisoners as "killers".

"The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials," Lord Steyn continued. "The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding 'NO'."

The object of Lord Steyn's contempt is primarily the American Attorney general, author of the PATRIOT Act, and a man of such refined sensibility that he needs to put clothes on statues. It is he, and the lawyers he leads who are now the exemplars of the world and Jamaica, as we rush to enact into law, an anti-terrorism Act to comply with the paranoia of the US authorities.

'If it ain't Broke. . .'

We Jamaicans have been here before. During the First and Second World Wars, the British passed laws which restricted civil rights, most importantly, freedom of expression, in the cause of winning the war. The Germans did the same. One side had to lose. The side that lost was that one most efficient in preventing freedom of expression.

The Defense of the Realm Act in the second World War got a few Jamaicans into trouble. George Scotter, an Englishman who was a sub-editor at the Gleaner was one. Others included PNP stalwarts such as the Four H's, Samuel Marquis and, of course, Alexander Bustamante, or Alexander Clarke as he then was. Later, the laws of sedition caught up with one of my predecessors at Public Opinion, Roger Mais, who spent nine months in prison for being rude to Sir Winston Churchill and the Empire. His managing editor, O T Fairclough narrowly missed the same fate, as did I 20 years later - in the sixties, when parliament solemnly debated whether I had been excessively and offensively critical of Sir Alexander Bustamante - agitator turned imperialist.

The basic thrust of our nascent anti-terrorism act is, from what I can gather, to repeat prohibitions already contained in other laws and to add a few more, just to make us realise that we are living in the new world constructed by Kafka, Orwell and Bush.

Oddly enough, if we take the new act seriously, it will, it seems to me, be able to catch and identify as terrorists, some very large corporations for reasons I will not explain today. It will probably also snare journalists like me and protesters like those who demonstrated last year against the Iraq war.

What most of us don't realise is that Jamaican law is already oppressive and able to take care of whole swaths of people who could even marginally be described as terrorists. In 1974 we passed the Gun Court Act and the Suppression of Crimes Act. The latter was repealed because it allowed the police too much power, in addition to the abusive imperium they already enjoyed. We don't need a new act, all we need is some sharper prosecutors.

'. . .Don't Fix It'

Which, of course, brings me to the process of justice itself. Lots of people will argue that I am (God Save Us!) a diehard conservative because I am against the Caribbean Court of Justice as presently envisioned. My reason is simple. We have no Lord Steyns here.

An article in the West Indian Law Journal a few years ago by Zanifa McDowell, a Master of Laws of Cambridge, and at the time a temporary lecturer in Law at the UWI, asks some very serious questions about the quality of the Court - the essential question in my mind.

Unfortunately I do not know whether Zanifa McDowell is a man or a woman, so I hope I will be excused for not identifying her/him by the correct title. In the introduction to an examination of the quality of our judges, McDowell says that while the political and other questions tend to be the main concerns, the real concern should be whether the court would be competent and capable of effecting justice between parties. "Judging from the relative volume of cases referred to the Privy Council, and judging from the number of over-turned decisions, arguably, the issue concerning intellectual maturity, analytical ability and sound judgment of our local judges falls squarely into question."

After examining a number of appeals from the Caribbean to the Privy Council it becomes clear that sometimes judges, including whole courts, make serious mistakes, even at an elementary level.

And like me, McDowell would plead for time to ensure that something" positive and constructive is done to improve the competence and abilities of those whom we entrust with the highest honour - that of dispensing justice and upholding the rule of law."

For me, the law has two brand new heroes: Steyn and McDowell. We, whose necks are on the block, salute them.

04 January 2004

Imagine! Niggers Speaking French!!!

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Just eleven months ago, in his celebrated oration documenting the awesome details of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, made sure that he would not address the UN General Assembly against the background of Picasso's Guernica. Guernica is Picasso's celebrated protest in paint against superpower terrorism. The mural was hidden from sight on General Powell's orders, as he documented the compelling reasons for a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, to keep the world safe from terrorism.

Guernica memorializes the attack by Fascist German and Italian dive-bombers against the Spanish town of Guernica, an assault on the civilian population which helped doom the legitimate, socialist government of Spain and introduce nearly half a century of dictatorship.

The world considered the dive-bombing of Guernica an atrocity. Unfortunately for us, the world did not know of another Guernica, in Haiti, nearly 20 years earlier, when American dive bombers obliterated peasants, men and women armed with machetes fighting for the freedom of their country.

The Haitians are celebrating two centuries of freedom, two centuries since their slave ancestors rose in revolt to throw the French colonisers out of Haiti. They had to do it twice, when Napoleon newly installed in France, tried to recapture the richest colony in the world for France. The Haitians threw out a British army too, but neither of these extraordinary and heroic feats is reflected in our history books.

The unprecedented achievement of Toussaint,Christophe, Dessalines and the others has been devalued by historians who have seized on the extravagances of Christophe particularly to smear a glorious revolution. Since the revolution the history of Haiti like the history of most of the Americas, has been a history of war, violence, and exploitation financed and directed by foreigners, mainly Americans.

It is hardly known here that at the height of the US expansionist 'Manifest Destiny' period an attempt was made on Jamaica, after the 1907 earthquake. The Americans at that time, used all sorts of pretexts to intervene humanitarian reasons or to quell disorder or to restore financial stability or whatever.. In the case of Jamaica the then governor, Alexander Swettenham, ordered the express withdrawal of an American warship and its marines who had landed in Kingston, so they said, to restore order.

Swettenham lost his job, but those Jamaicans who were looking for an American godfather had to wait another 90 years.

If We Must Die

In an editorial a few days ago, the Jamaica Observer said, inter alia that CARICOM should have made it clear to the Haitian opposition that the bicentenary celebrations of the achievement of black slaves was of monumental importance to black people across the world and transcended the immediate domestic politics. Mr Mbeki of South Africa understood this. Unfortunately, Mr Patterson didn't.

The artificial instabilities of the 19th century in Latin America had their real genesis in the Monroe Doctrine, which decreed that countries in the Americas, except those controlled by the European powers were subject to US hegemony. George Canning, then Britain's Foreign Secretary, chortled:"I have called a New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old."

France, the old colonial landlord of Haiti, had been so scared by the success of the Haitian revolution that it sold off for a pittance, the Louisiana territories to the United Sates, more than doubling the size of that country. But after Napoleon, France had second thoughts and finally managed, during another period of Haitian instability, to extort an agreement that condemned Haiti pay a substantial annual indemnity to France for the success of the revolution. This criminal burden was faithfully respected by the Haitians, though it caused them no end of grief With much of their revenue exported to France there was little left to develop Haiti. The Americans lent money to help them repay the French. Finally, just like today, the accumulated debt became impossible to pay and the American marines stepped in.

The first US marine general, Caperton, was a diplomat. He was able to set up a puppet regime of collaborators and secured a legal basis for the occupation in the Haitian-American Treaty of 1915. His successor, general Littleton Waller was different: "These people are niggers in spite of the thin varnish of education and refinement, Down in their hearts they are just the same happy, idle, irresponsible people we know of."

Not surprisingly, Waller's regime provoked resistance, mainly led by a man called Charlemagne Peralte. The puppet government had been forced to agree to changing the constitution to allow foreigners to own land and American capital poured in, destroying forests to plant coffee and citrus. The US next introduced forced labour, under an old Haitian law which commanded the people to give an occasional free day to build the country. In the American regime, the corveé was transformed into something indistinguishable from slavery.

Charlemagne Peralte was murdered by American troops in what would now be called a Targeted assassination. His people were bombed and otherwise massacred.

Haiti was safe for American democracy. One of those who made it so was American Marine General Smedley Butler, who, after he retired had second thoughts: "I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street." The record of racketeering is long.

General Butler said: "I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical in the military service. Butler compared himself unfavourably to Al Capone. He said his official racketeering made Capone look like an amateur.

Floating barracoons in Kingston Harbour

The utter futility of the present government of Jamaica was never better expressed than 1994, when the cabinet, stooging for the Americans, allowed the mooring of American floating barracoons in Kingston harbour. On these ships Haitians fleeing the successors to Duvalier were processed most of them sent back to the country in which they were in danger of having their faces chopped off according to no less than President Clinton.

This unprincipled and barbarous betrayal of fellow human beings, our brothers, made me want to vomit. It still does. Because that stooging prepared the way for what now happens in Haiti, where forces antagonistic to every principle of the original revolution are determined, at long last, to make Haiti submit, to tie her down for eternal rape to use General Butler's word.

People will tell you that Haitians are the authors of their own misery. As other people say, people who dont remember their history are doomed to repeat it.

The dismemberment and strip mining of Haiti's economy, social, politician and intellectual life was under regimes tolerated or sponsored by the United States. To this day the United States protects some of the face-choppers, people who formed the US sponsored FRAPH, supposedly a force to rebuild Haiti according to democratic free-market principles.

Today elements of the same forces provide the opposition to President Aristide, defecating on their own history with a little help from their friends.

The Haiti Democracy Project was officially launched Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. The inaugural brought together over 120 guests and participants from the Haitian-American community along with members of the US academic and foreign-policy communities. This according to the Haiti Democracy project (HDP) website.

Even the assistant secretary general of the OAS, Luigi Einaudi was there 'Einaudi opened the talks with dire predictions that Haiti was fast approaching a point where diplomatic means would no longer contribute to solve the crisis. According to Einaudi, those concerned about Haiti should at this time be gathering for a wake."' (Source HDP)

For an OAS official to take part in such a ceremony and say what he said, seems to me to be grossly improper, at the very least.

In June the HDP exhorted the OAS to disbar Haiti from membership and to intervene to remove President Aristide from office.

HDP and others blame Aristide for everything that is wrong with Haiti. After his re-election less than four years ago the multilateral agencies, at the urging of the United States, withheld all aid from Haiti until they were satisfied that Haiti had made itself into a democracy recognisable as such by Americans. The pivot of this blackmail was the fact that there were irregularities in the elections of a few Senators, a fact of much slighter significance than the irregularities in the election of President Bush. In Haiti, there was no abnsolutely question of the people's choice.

In the case of Haiti these irregularities now assume transcendental importance, and are cause for the world to condemn Haiti to starve in obscene misery. Without the money, Haiti's debt, incurred mainly by the Duvaliers cannot be serviced if the people of Haiti are to eat or go to school. Without the money, thousands perish every year from HIV/AIDS and starvation.

William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of State to US President Woodrow Wilson, eighty years ago expressed the contempt in which the Haitians are held by the Anglo-Saxon power structure: "Imagine!" Bryan said, "Niggers speaking French!!!"

Perhaps it would be to our mutual advantage if Mr Patterson might learn either French or Creole, like the Haitian revolutionary hero, Boukman, who was a Jamaican.