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The Significance of Baby Doc’s Return to Haiti

January 18, 2011

(This article was written and submitted by Joe Spaulding.)

In 2004, the Bush Administration committed an egregious act against Democracy that was so well hidden and efficiently executed that when Eric Alterman and Mark Green wrote The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America, their 400 page, thoroughly well-researched, and extremely accurate hit job highlighting the negative consequences of policies championed and enacted by Bush and his cabinet members during his presidency, they completely overlooked it. Respected scholar and law professor Ilan Peleg also failed to mention it in his critique of Bush’s foreign policy The Legacy of George W. Bush’s Foreign Policy: Moving Beyond Neoconservatism.

These were books written by skilled researchers that were looking ferociously for information to paint George W. Bush in a negative light. On February 29, 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected president of Haiti was kidnapped at gunpoint by U.S. agents, forced onto a U.S. jet, and flown to the Central African Republic. During the flight the lives of his family and the people of Haiti were threatened if he did not sign a slip of paper claiming he willfully abdicated his office. On the plane he used a smuggled cell phone to call Rep. Maxine Waters and Randall Robinson (a man who struggled to get the U.S. to enact sanctions against South Africa during Apparthied) and inform them that he was overthown by a U.S. backed coup. He has not been allowed to return to Haiti since, and his Lavalas Party is banned from elections.

Jean-Claude “Baby-Doc” Duvalier was the president of Haiti from 1971-1986, when he was overthrown by a popular uprising. He was a drug-running thug who used fear, torture, rape, and assasinations to maintain order in Haiti. The Tonton Macoute, his father’s death squad/secret police answered to his every call and executed people he percieved as threats. His presidency was tolerated and even supported by the Reagan and Nixon Administrations because he vocally denounced Communism. The aid the U.S. sent to Duvalier to help the Haitian people not starve to death was stolen by Baby Doc and used to let him live comfortably in Paris when he was exiled after 1986. On January 16, 2011, Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti without being arrested.

The media coverage of Baby Doc’s return has been abysmal, and this potentially has serious consequences for Haiti. Mac McCelland at Mother Jones has writen a short article that makes no mention of Aristide, and only has a brief mention of Baby Doc’s human rights abuses, which implies Haitians are welcoming Duvalier back with open arms. An AP article at NPR.org makes brief mention of the Tonton Macoute’s human rights abuses but also ignores Aristide completely.

The BBC World Service tried to construct Baby Doc as harmless and also failed to mention the Aristide or the Lavalas Party. Jacqueline Charles at the Miami Harald mentioned neither Duvalier’s crimes nor Aristide’s kidnapping, but she did make it sound like Haitians were very receptive to Baby Doc’s return. Clarens Renois at the Sydney Morning Herald actually writes the word “Aristide” once, but overlooks his specific story to simply point out he was another exiled president.

On the ground in Haiti, the people are mostly interested in the return of Baby Doc in as much as it takes away the government’s ability to justify the continued exile of Aristide. This is not a narrative that entities interested in the spread of neoliberal structural adjustment policies want the world to hear, because it brings into question the idea that opening up free markets in developing countries is the only way to lead them to democracy.

Duvalier has more than demonstrated his willingness to siphon aid funds from the U.S. and IMF while imposing policies on Haitians that allowed their exploitation by American and European corporations. The U.S. has demonstrated it’s bipartisan willingness to extend aid to regimes that will not try to raise the minimum wage, provide access to education and health care for all citizens, or nationalize industries like Aristide did.

The same corporate interests that control the majority of the mainstream media (and in the near future all of the media if we do not get some real net neutrality protections soon) and influence our politicians have a lot to lose if Aristide is allowed to return to Haiti. They will be trying their hardest to convince the global public that Haitians do not want him back.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick Manes permalink
    January 19, 2011 4:09 pm

    Have to ask about something? I read the MJ story that you linked to and you said McLelland makes no mention of Duvalier’s human rights abuses. That is not true. She refers to him as “the raping, murdering, plundering leader”. While little to no context is provided for why she uses that language, and I wish she had. However to say that no mention is made of his abuses is false.

  2. Jeff Smith permalink*
    January 19, 2011 4:14 pm

    Thanks for picking up on that Nick. I will let Joe know and make the change to the article.

  3. Joe Spaulding permalink
    January 19, 2011 9:05 pm

    Sorry about that Nick, you’re completely correct. I intended (and failed) to indicate the Mother Jones article mentioned no specific human rights abuses (specific instances beyond the general categories like “rape” and “murder,” preferably with the context you talked about). When writing that specific sentence, it came out a little weird and I messed up the content in editing it out. I a’m responsible for the words I write, and I will continue trying to be as accurate as possible in the future; I just want to communicate that I wasn’t intentionality trying to misrepresent the MJ article (which I don’t think you indicated was the case at all). Thanks for helping me get that fixed in the article.

  4. Nick Manes permalink
    January 19, 2011 9:38 pm

    Thanks Joe

  5. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 20, 2011 5:20 am

    Joe, I thought this was a very informative and well-written piece. Thanks for writing it.

  6. Joe Spaulding permalink
    January 20, 2011 11:51 am

    Thank you Kate, I’m kind of tired of the media treating Haiti like it started existing after the recent earthquake.

  7. Kate Wheeler permalink
    January 20, 2011 4:01 pm

    I’m in total agreement. And the U.S.’s negligence in aiding Haiti over the years is reprehensible.

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