07 March 2004

Washington's Tar Baby

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Those of us old enough to remember children's stories before Dr Seuss and J K Rowling, may remember Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus stories. One of them, the only one I remember, is about Brer Fox and the Tar Baby.

Brer Fox had been trying to catch Brer Rabbit for a long time and was ever being outfoxed (or perhaps out-rabbited) by the hip hopster. One day, Brer Fox had an idea. He made a doll out of tar and dressed it up like a girl, seating her by the roadside where Brer Rabbit was sure to pass.

Since Brer Rabbit could not mind his own business, Brer Fox was hopeful. He just sat and waited.
Along came Brer Rabbit. He saluted the lady by the roadside. She did not answer, nor did she answer when he continued his blandishments, and, like most bullies, he decided to teach her a lesson.

"I'm going to teach you how to talk to respectable folks," he said. If she didn't take off her hat and say howdy, he would bust her one.
She didn't take off the hat.
So, he busted her one.
And his fist stuck fast in the tar.
Brer Fox watched and waited.

"If you don't let me loose, I'll knock you again!"
And so said, so done.
So his other fist was now stuck in the tar.
Incandescent with rage, Brer Rabbit began to shout and scream imprecations and threats, and finally, exasperated, he butted the tar baby.
So his head was now stuck! Brer Rabbit was immobilised, securely trapped and helpless for Brer Fox - or some other predator - to come and make a leisurely meal of him. The story ends before the gory.

The Truth is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The laws of probability tell me that for sure, one of these days, the Bush White House will be detected speaking the absolute truth about something important. Few of us are holding our breaths for that day.

Since any criticism of US policy is now considered anti-Americanism, let me get two zingers off right away, so that the God squad can go consult with its enforcers without having to read the rest of the column.

Zinger #1: Almost nobody understands that today's chaos was made in Washington - deliberately, cynically and steadfastly. History will bear this out. In the meantime, political, social, and economic chaos will deepen, and Haiti's impoverished people will suffer.

Zinger #2: The US State Department, which is seeking to foster the lie that the president and his aides have clean hands, claims that Aristide asked to be taken to safety. Aristide says he was forced to go, by US operatives on the ground in Haiti. Considering the fact that the State Department's point man has a long history of defending Haitian dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, while attacking proponents of democracy and economic justice such as Aristide, reasonable people will be disinclined to believe the State Department.

If that isn't enough, here is Zinger #3: There are several tragedies in this surrealistic episode. The first is the apparent incapacity of the US Government to speak honestly about such matters as toppling governments. Instead, it brushes aside crucial questions: Did the US summarily deny military protection to Aristide.? Did the US supply weapons to the rebels.? Why did the US cynically abandon the call of European and Caribbean leaders for a political compromise, a compromise that Aristide had already accepted? Most importantly, did the US in fact bankroll a coup in Haiti, a scenario that seems likely based on present evidence?

The US Ambassador to Jamaica, Mrs Cobb, is disturbed by the tone of statements made by Caricom and its chair, P J Patterson. She thought that certain statements and innuendoes were unnecessary.

What on earth will she say about the three statements above? The first and the third are by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, a card-carrying capitalist; the second is from the editor of the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin in the heartland of America.

American efforts to wash off some of the sludge through which they walked have ranged from the simply incredible to the preposterous. President Bush, February 29: "President Aristide has resigned. He has left his country. The Constitution of Haiti is working. This Government believes it essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country's history."

The Tar Baby

Aristide is not the first Haitian leader to have been kidnapped by the US. In 1915, they arrested and exiled (to Jamaica) Dr Rosalvo Bobo, who was not only a noted physician but also the leader of the Haitian majority party, and was scheduled to be formally elected as president by the Haitian Parliament.

This was in 1915, when the Americans decided to take over Haiti in order to teach its hapless Negroes some discipline. People speak of this intervention as if it were the first US interference in Haiti's internal affairs.

As Mary Renda points out in her book, Taking Haiti (2001; University of North Carolina Press), before 1900, the US had already intervened nearly a dozen times, each time to cure some defect in the Haitian democracy and create an advantage for the United States.

For the first part of the 19th century, the slave-based society to the north wanted nothing to do with the free blacks to the south, until it became clear that Haiti would be a serious market for American goods. Later, when Haiti was in financial distress because it insisted on paying off the evil French levy of 25 million gold francs - reparations to the slave owners - US banks stepped in to 'help out' the Haitians and ended up taking over the joint, in the interest of fiduciary responsibility and all those other virtues so lacking in black, independent peoples. Shades of the IMF.

We won't even consider the atrocities committed by the marines, but we need to remember a few sociological facts. One is that in treating the 'high-yaller' Creoles as 'niggers' (their word) they drove a wedge between the Creoles and the Blacks which plagues Haiti to this day.

As we in the Anglophone Caribbean have seen, our masters have sedulously cultivated ethnic preferment as a means of social control. When Jagan rose to power in Guiana in 1948, one of the first things that Hindu did was to destroy the Hindu apparatus of separateness in order to politically integrate the subject populations. When the British took over five years later, their first move was to raise up the Blacks against the Indians, creating division and hatreds which have lasted to this day - 50 years later.

Similarly in Haiti, the US discrimination effectively split off the 'elite' forever from the Blacks, creating two Haitian communities, each claiming to represent Haiti. And last week, the US showed which side it preferred.

The Americans ruled for 15 years, for 14 of those by martial law. They instituted censorship, hitherto unknown, and intellectuals went to prison or into exile for criticising their masters. The Haitian Army was a microcosm of the US Marines - in blackface, an engine of the privilege for the domination of the ordinary people. And US commitment to that army continues to this day, although the army, as an army, no longer exists.

When the Americans drove the peasants from the land, they not only made sure that Haiti would have to import its food, they removed the one social class which could have become the basis for a real middle class, non-racial and entirely Haitian. They also ensured that long before Kingston and Port of Spain metastasised, Port-au-Prince was filled with unemployed dependent and increasingly unemployable people who had to be ruled by bribery, force or starvation.

The Americans changed the Haitian Constitution to allow foreigners to own land in Haiti. This resulted in what I call the economic strip-mining of Haiti, with stolen land planted in every imaginable tropical export crop organised into plantations - a system the Haitians had abolished a century before. The poverty of the landless urbanised peasants helped accelerate the destruction of those forests which were not being exported to make expensive coffins, speedboats and wall panelling for the houses of rich Americans.
When the trees came down, the land was washed away, the weather changed, floods devastated the land and the people got even poorer and hungrier.

Haiti is the world's most explicit example of what globalisation really means. It was the unwitting test bed for the current lunacies.

An Offer He Could Not Refuse

It's been a long time since I had any reason to be proud of my prime minister. He, and his Caricom colleagues began their Haitian adventure disastrously, but they have almost made up for their failure. I am really proud of them. So are lots of others in many places round the world.

Caricom failed to arrange a peaceful resolution in Haiti because it refused to understand that the real political dynamic was not with Blacks in Haiti, but with fundamentalists and honorary 'elites' in Washington. Mr Bush's record on things like the death penalty and affirmative action are widely known. Not so well known is the effect his tax cuts for the rich are having on the education of poor children, mostly black, and on the health and mortality of these poor people. I am not surprised that with his domestic record, Bush thought it was OK to starve Haiti into submission, hoping to provoke a revolt against Aristide.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs reports that after visiting Aristide in 2001 he was impressed by the man and by the support he had from his people.

"When I returned to Washington, I spoke to senior officials in the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and Organisation of American States. I expected to hear that these international organisations would be rushing to help Haiti.

"Instead, I was shocked to learn that they would all be suspending aid, under vague "instructions" from the US. Washington, it seemed, was unwilling to release aid to Haiti because of irregularities in the 2000 legislative elections, and was insisting that Aristide make peace with the political Opposition before releasing any aid.

"The US position was a travesty. Aristide had been elected president in an indisputable landslide. He was, without doubt, the popularly-elected leader of the country - a claim that President George W Bush cannot make about himself."

And when the starvation did not work, they brought back the Tonton Macoute and FRAPH. And when those couldn't take Port-au-Prince, the Marines took Aristide.

And then, they talk about a war on Terrorism! And the US press genuflects.


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