- Sign Up
JFP 7/16: Mark Weisbrot on South of the Border; U.S. Wounded, Suicides Breaking Records
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 16 July 2010 - 6:44pm
Just Foreign Policy News
July 16, 2010
FAIR/CounterSpin: Mark Weisbrot on South of the Border
Oliver Stone's film South of the Border looks at the leftward shift in Latin America. The film attempts to correct for what it argues is a skewed presentation in the U.S. media of these developments. So what kind of reaction has the film received so far? CounterSpin talks to Mark Weisbrot, president of Just Foreign Policy and a co-writer of the film.
54% Want Afghan Exit, but Petraeus Could Nix Peace Talks with Terror Naming
54% of Americans want the U.S. to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS reports. But if General Petraeus has his way, the State Department will designate part of the Afghan Taliban a terrorist organization. That would undermine peace moves, the New York Times reports - peace moves the Administration says it supports. Petraeus' move would undermine not only a timetable for withdrawal, but the "serious drawdown" in July 2011 that Vice President Biden told Newsweek we can "bet on" and Speaker Pelosi told the Huffington Post she expects.
Vote: Dumbest Mistake in a "South of the Border" Review!
A host of reviews of "South of the Border" get countries and presidents mixed up with each other, confuse democratic elections with coups d'etat, and other errors. What do you think is the dumbest mistake in a "Border" review so far? Vote in the poll!
South of the Border, scheduled screenings:
Support the Work of Just Foreign Policy
Your financial support allows us to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and to create opportunities for Americans to advocate for U.S. policies that are more just.
1) Much of the Western media response to the documentary "South of the Border" confirms the argument of the film that major media misrepresent Latin America, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. A number of reviews had trouble getting the presidents and countries straight. The film presents key evidence of US involvement in the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew the democratically elected government in Venezuela. Some of this evidence has never appeared in major media - and major media reviews of the film, by ignoring this aspect of the film, continued the pattern.
2) The number of American service members wounded in Afghanistan this year already has approached the number wounded for all of 2009, ABC News reports. 2,000 Americans have been wounded in Afghanistan through July 3. That is almost as many as the 2,139 that were wounded in 2009. The 2009 wounded figures were themselves a three-fold increase over the previous year.
3) Civil society groups hailed Senate passage of a financial reform act that includes a key anti-corruption provision requiring energy and mining companies to publicly disclose payments they make to governments around the world, Inter Press Service reports. The resource transparency provision will require companies registered with the SEC to publicly report how much they pay the U.S. and foreign governments for access to their oil, gas, and minerals. A"conflict minerals" provision will require companies whose products contain cassiterite, coltan, wolframite or gold to disclose whether the minerals originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo or its neighbors and, if so, what measures were taken to ensure that they were not obtained from armed groups.
4) Most governments that promised money to a special fund to help rebuild Haiti have not delivered the cash, CNN reports. The US pledged $1.15 billion to the commission. It has paid nothing, with the money tied up in the congressional appropriations process.
5) More U.S. soldiers killed themselves in June than in Army history since Vietnam, CNN reports.
6) A former Bush Justice Department official who approved brutal interrogation methods by the C.I.A. has told Congress he never authorized several other rough tactics reportedly inflicted on terrorism suspects - including prolonged shackling to a ceiling and repeated beatings, the New York Times reports. Jay Bybee said the CIA never sought approval for some practices detainees later said had been used on them, including dousing them with cold water to keep them awake and forcing them to wear diapers or soil themselves. The question of which interrogation techniques were approved by the Justice Department and which were not is at the core of a criminal investigation of the C.I.A.'s interrogation program.
7) Several features of the story of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri's defection suggest that Amiri may have been acting on Iranian government orders to defect temporarily in order to embarrass the U.S. government, argues Gareth Porter, writing for Inter Press Service. A report by the Washington Post's David Ignatius suggests that Amiri originally contacted the CIA through the Internet - normally a danger signal for a "defector" who is still a government agent. Amiri's decision to leave his family in Iran should have been another danger sign for the CIA. A former intelligence official says US claims that Amiri was a longtime U.S. intelligence agent wouldn't have been leaked to the media unless the CIA believed Amiri was working for the other side. "This is the pattern of a double agent," said the former official. "Nothing else makes any sense."
8) Jundullah claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks Iran has seen in years: a double suicide bombing outside a mosque that killed 26 people and wounded 300, the New York Times reports. A Revolutionary Guards Corps official was quoted as saying the attack "points to the involvement of terrorist groups under the auspices of the United States, Israel and some Western countries." Secretary of State Clinton condemned the bombings. "This attack, along with the recent attacks in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Algeria, underscores the global community's need to work together to combat terrorist organizations that threaten the lives of innocent civilians all around the world," she said.
9) The Israeli human rights group Gisha says there has been a moderate rise in the volume of trucks entering Gaza and an increase in imports of consumer goods, but this volume still falls way below pre-embargo days, and isn't sufficient to meet the daily needs of Gaza's 1.5 million civilians, Inter Press Service reports. There appears to be "no change in the policy of inflicting economic warfare or by preventing entry of goods necessary for production," says a Gisha report. "Textiles, industrial-sized buckets of margarine, glucose, packaging boxes and other raw materials are still banned." The ability to export and the ability to rebuild houses have still not been addressed.
10) An announcement that France would pay Haiti $22 billion to make up for forcing the former French colony to pay an equivalent sum in exchange for its independence in the nineteenth century was revealed as an elaborate hoax, the New York Times reports. The hoax might have been inspired by a real attempt to get France to repay the debt Haiti was forced to pay to reimburse the owners of French plantations whose property was seized in the successful slave revolt that earned Haiti its independence in 1803, Robert Mackey writes. In 2003, President Aristide's government asked France to right this historical wrong. [Some have suggested that French government anger over Aristide's raising of this issue was a significant factor in French support for the coup that overthrew Aristide in February 2004; see the reference from Paul Farmer appended below - JFP.]
1) South of the Border: reviewing the reviewers
Media coverage of the new Oliver Stone film displays just the kind of ignorance of US/Latin American relations it decries
Mark Weisbrot, The Guardian, Friday 16 July 2010 14.02 BST
It's nice when you make a documentary about how the major media outlets misrepresent reality, and the media response to the film proves your point. In fact, the media's response to Oliver Stone's South of the Border, which I wrote with Tariq Ali, really completes a number of the film's arguments.
The first has to do with the sloppiness and lack of knowledge that characterise the debate over US-Latin American relations, problems to which the major media regularly contribute. A number of reviews had trouble getting the presidents and countries straight. Perhaps the most poignant example was in the Washington Post, which ran a picture of Sacha Llorenti, Bolivia's minister of government, but identifying him as Evo Morales, the country's president. Llorenti is unknown in the US, but appears in the film translating for Morales. Someone at the Post must have seen them both in the film, and figured that the whiter guy speaking English must be the president.
Larry Rohter's frontal assault on the film took up most of the front page of the New York Times's Arts section, stating that the film is "plagued by … issues of accuracy". However, he failed to find any factual errors in the film - despite some rather desperate attempts. In one such foray he used data on oil imports from 2004-2010 to try to refute an oil industry analyst who appears in a TV clip in the film, in April 2002. The whole five-second soundbite had no relevance to the film in any case, but Rohter still got it wrong.
The errors in the reviews are far too numerous to list here, but you can vote for your favourite mistake at Daily Kos.
Many reviewers also reinforced the film's critique of the media by viewing the whole story in ideological terms, and missing most or all of substantive points in the film. For example, the film provides five pieces of evidence of Washington's involvement in the 2002 coup that overthrew Venezuela's elected president, Hugo Chávez. These include such items as a US state department document acknowledging "that NED [the National Endowment for Democracy], department of defence [DoD], and other US assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organisations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government".
This, together with other documentary evidence in the film - some of which has never made it into the major media - makes a compelling case that Washington was involved in the coup. This conclusion is also backed up by the Washington Post's Scott Wilson, who was foreign editor at the time that we interviewed him, and who reported from Caracas during the coup.
Eduardo Porter, of the New York Times's editorial board, also appears in the film and refers to the Bush administration's support for the coup: "[This] particular incident was the worst possible decision the United States could have taken. It not only locked in eternal enmity from the Chávez administration but it made it very difficult for anybody else in Latin America to like the United States."
Yet we have had thousands of articles and broadcast reports about relations between the US and Venezuela in the past eight years, and almost nothing on the actual US role in the coup. At most it is mentioned as an "allegation" by none other than Chávez - a demonised source - or brushed off as some kind of "tacit support". Most of the journalists who reviewed South of the Border also seem to see this issue and the evidence presented as irrelevant.
Of the reviews that did notice the film's criticism of the media, the problem was seen as Fox or other television news. But the film emphasises that it is all of the major media - not just Fox or even the TV news - that have given Americans such a distorted impression of the historic changes that have taken place over the last decade in Latin America. It was the New York Times's editorial board that openly endorsed the overthrow of a democratically elected government during the 2002 coup - a major point in the film. This also went unnoticed, despite the fact that it is something that the US's most prominent newspaper had not done in probably 30 or 40 years.
Not surprisingly, the film attracted a lot of the same hostility from the media that characterises reporting on the same subject matter (although there were also favourable reviews). The LA Times's review of the film, which contained several major mistakes, criticised it for not having enough substance. But it seems that the substance of the film was too much for most of the media to handle.
2) Afghanistan War: U.S. Wounded Toll in 2010 Nearly Matches All of 2009
4 Times as Many Wounded as First Half of 2009; 2010 Also on Track to Be Deadliest Year
Luis Martinez, ABC News, July 15, 2010
Already on track to be the deadliest year ever for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001, 2010 also will be the worst year ever for numbers of Americans wounded in the war.
In fact, the number of American service members wounded this year already has approached the number wounded for all of 2009.
Pentagon figures reflect the growing violence in Afghanistan this year as more troops arrive and the Taliban increases the number of its attacks against coalition forces pushing into areas they long controlled.
According to numbers compiled by the Defense Manpower Data Center, 2,000 Americans have been wounded in Afghanistan through July 3. That is almost as many as the 2,139 that were wounded in 2009. The 2009 wounded figures were themselves a three-fold increase over the previous year.
In another alarming statistic, four times as many American service members have been wounded in the first six months of 2010 as were wounded in the same time frame a year ago.
Through the end of June, 1,922 American service members have been wounded in Afghanistan. That compares to 485 wounded through the same time period last year.
June not only was the deadliest month ever for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as 60 service members died in the conflict, but it also was the month that saw the highest number of American wounded.
In June, 517 Americans were wounded, continuing a trend from May, when 406 were wounded.
For comparison, the previous record high since the start of the war in Afghanistan was the 416 wounded in August 2009.
3) Civil Society Hails New Oil and Mining Transparency Standards
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, July 15, 2010
Washington - National and international civil society groups Thursday hailed the U.S. Senate's passage of a major financial reform act that includes a key anti-corruption provision requiring energy and mining companies to publicly disclose payments they make to governments around the world.
"This historic measure gives citizens in resource-rich countries information they need to combat corruption in the oil and mineral sector and to demand government accountability for responsible resource use," said Isabel Munilla, director of the U.S. chapter of Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a coalition of some 600 faith, human rights and development groups active in 55 countries.
"This legislation sheds light on billions (of dollars) in payments from oil and mineral companies to governments. Citizens now have a powerful tool they can use to scrutinise the levels of public spending on economic development, environmental protection, and health and human services," she added.
A second, so-called "conflict minerals" provision in the bill will require companies whose products contain cassiterite, coltan, wolframite or gold to disclose whether the minerals originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or its neighbours and, if so, what measures were taken to ensure that they were not obtained from armed groups active in the region.
The resource transparency provision, which was co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, will require companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the regulatory agency that oversees U.S. capital markets, to publicly report how much they pay the U.S. and foreign governments for access to their oil, gas, and minerals.
Twenty-nine of the world's largest internationally operating oil and gas companies and eight of the world's 10 largest mining companies are currently registered with the SEC, according to the PWYP coalition, which includes such groups as ActionAid, Amnesty International, Earthrights International, Global Witness, the Open Society Policy Center, and Oxfam America.
Billions of dollars paid by energy and mining companies to local, regional, and national governments are lost to corruption or gross mismanagement each year, resulting too often in astonishingly high rates of poverty in resource- rich countries, of which Nigeria, the DRC, and Equatorial Guinea, among others, are often cited as prime examples.
By requiring the public reporting of those payments, the PWYP members hope that local and international groups will find it easier to assess how governments are using - or misusing - them.
4) Most countries fail to deliver on Haiti aid pledges
Joe Johns and MaryAnne Fox, CNN, July 15, 2010
Six months after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, most governments that promised money to a special fund to help rebuild the country have not delivered the cash, a CNN investigation has found. Donors promised $5.3 billion at an aid conference in March, about two months after the earthquake - but less than 2 percent of that money has been handed over so far to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.
Only four countries have paid anything at all to the commission: Brazil, Norway, Estonia and Australia. The United States pledged $1.15 billion to the commission. It has paid nothing, with the money tied up in the congressional appropriations process.
Many governments and aid agencies have, of course, given money to Haiti through means other than the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. For example, the U.S. State Department said it has given about $675 million through the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Altogether, about $506 million has been disbursed to Haiti since the donors' conference in March, said Jehane Sedky of the U.N. Development Program. That's about 9 percent of the money that was pledged for 2010-11, about $200 million of which has been committed or disbursed to the government of Haiti to help it get back on its feet, Sedky said.
5) June was worst month for Army suicides, statistics show
CNN, July 16th, 2010
More U.S. soldiers killed themselves last month than in recent Army history, according to Army statistics released Thursday, confounding officials trying to reverse the grim trend.
The statistics show that 32 soldiers killed themselves in June, the highest number in a single month since the Vietnam era. Twenty-one of them were on active duty while 11 were in the National Guard or Army Reserve in an inactive status. Seven of those soldiers killed themselves while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Army numbers.
6) Bush Aide Says Some C.I.A. Methods Unauthorized
Charlie Savage and Scott Shane, New York Times, July 15, 2010
Washington - A former Bush Justice Department official who approved brutal interrogation methods by the C.I.A. has told Congress that he never authorized several other rough tactics reportedly inflicted on terrorism suspects - including prolonged shackling to a ceiling and repeated beatings.
In closed-door testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on May 26, the former official, Judge Jay S. Bybee, said the Central Intelligence Agency never sought approval for some practices detainees later said had been used on them, including dousing them with cold water to keep them awake and forcing them to wear diapers or soil themselves. "Those techniques were not authorized," he said, according to a transcript released Thursday by the committee.
The question of which interrogation techniques were approved by the Justice Department and which were not is at the core of a criminal investigation of the C.I.A.'s interrogation program.
In August 2009, when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the inquiry, he said the Justice Department would not prosecute anyone for following the legal guidance given by the department's Office of Legal Counsel, as a C.I.A. spokesman, George Little, pointed out.
Judge Bybee ran the Office of Legal Counsel from late 2001 to 2003 - a time when it provided crucial advice about the treatment of detainees taken in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Much of that advice was written by a deputy, John Yoo, but Judge Bybee signed off on it.
7) Clues Suggest Amiri Defection Was an Iranian Plant
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, July 15, 2010
Washington - U.S. officials are explaining Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri's return to Iran as the result of a defector having a change of heart because of his concern about Iranian government threats to his family. Iran and Amiri himself have insisted that it is a simple case of a victim of abduction escaping his captors.
But several features of the story of Amiri's defection suggest that Amiri may have been acting on Iranian government orders to defect temporarily in order to embarrass the U.S. government.
One indication that intelligence officials are now considering the real possibility that Amiri's defection was not really genuine is that questions are being raised about how the contact was made with Amiri in the first place.
ABC news had reported Mar. 31 that the CIA had approached Amiri through an intermediary and offered resettlement to the United States. But the Washington Post's David Ignatius, who is extraordinarily well connected with CIA officials, suggested in a column Wednesday that Amiri had contacted the agency first and "may have been a virtual walk-in".
That means Amiri contacted the agency through the Internet - normally a danger signal for a "defector" who is still a government agent.
Ignatius also notes another "mystery" about the Iranian scientist now apparently now being discussed in intelligence circles: "why he decided to defect without his young wife and child, leaving them - and himself - vulnerable to Iranian pressure".
The normal practice would be for the agency to arrange for the entire family of a defector to accompany the asset. But Ignatius notes that Amiri chose to leave the family in Tehran, which should have been another danger sign for the CIA.
Yet another indicator that U.S. intelligence officials suspected that Amiri's defection was a deception is how far they have gone to portray him as a longtime U.S. intelligence agent.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that a U.S. official had claimed Amiri was paid five million dollars for valuable intelligence on Iran's nuclear programme. A Jun. 28 ABC news story went much further, quoting U.S. intelligence officials as claiming that Amiri had been a spy for the CIA on the Iranian nuclear programme for several years. The sources claimed the CIA had urged him to flee Iran last year "out of fear that his disclosures might expose him to Tehran as a spy".
In the arcane world of spying, those claims wouldn't have been leaked to the media unless the CIA believed Amiri was working for the other side, according to a former intelligence official. "This is the pattern of a double agent," said the former official. "Nothing else makes any sense."
8) Toll Rises From Twin Suicide Bombing at Iranian Mosque
William Yong and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, July 16, 2010
Tehran - A Sunni militant group that has been carrying out attacks in southeastern Iran for years claimed responsibility on Friday for one of the deadliest terrorist attacks Iran has seen in years: a double suicide bombing outside a mosque that killed 26 people and wounded 300.
The bombing underscored the continuing threat of religious and ethnic violence in Iran, which is unrelated to the political upheavals of the past year. The victims included members of the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, officials said, which the militant group, Jundallah, has singled out repeatedly in the past.
The group claims to be fighting on behalf of Sunni Muslim members of the Baluch ethnic group in Iran and Pakistan and has been a thorn in the side of Iran's security services for years, repeatedly bombing Zahedan and other southeastern cities. It claimed responsibility for an attack in October 2009 that killed 40 people, including 15 members of the Revolutionary Guards.
Iranian officials have repeatedly accused the United States, Britain and Israel of supporting Jundallah, whose name means Soldiers of God in Arabic. Those accusations surfaced again on Friday when Yadollah Javani, a high-ranking Revolutionary Guards Corps official, was quoted as saying the attack "points to the involvement of terrorist groups under the auspices of the United States, Israel and some Western countries" seeking to foment sectarian strife.
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the bombings. "This attack, along with the recent attacks in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Algeria, underscores the global community's need to work together to combat terrorist organizations that threaten the lives of innocent civilians all around the world," she said in a statement.
9) Israel Chokes Gaza Despite Announced Easing
Mel Frykberg, Inter Press Service, July 15, 2010
Ramallah, - Israel has received international praise for its decision to ease its crippling blockade on Gaza following the country's deadly assault on a humanitarian flotilla trying to bring desperately needed humanitarian aid to the coastal territory. But according to the UN and human rights organisations, the easing of the blockade is insufficient in meeting Gaza's needs.
"Even if the blockade is eased it remains illegal under international law as it is a collective form of punishment on a civilian population," Chris Gunness from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) told IPS.
"Eighty percent of Gaza's population is aid-dependent. Allowing more aid in is perpetuating this dependency and not addressing the issue of self- sufficiency or the root causes of the crisis," added Gunness.
Towards the end of June the government of Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu issued a six-point plan to facilitate increased access for civilian goods entering Gaza and to expand economic activity, reports the Israeli human rights organisation Gisha.
The plan stated that all commercial products - other than a list of banned dual-purpose goods - would be permitted entry to the strip; 250 daily truckloads of goods would enter; the entrance of construction materials would be better facilitated; and the movement of humanitarian cases and international NGOs would be streamlined.
Gisha reports that there has been a moderate rise in the volume of trucks entering Gaza and an increase in imports of consumer goods, but that this volume still falls way below pre-embargo days, and isn't sufficient to meet the daily needs of Gaza's 1.5 million civilians.
During the week after Jun. 20, 695 trucks of goods entered Gaza. This compares with 2,400 per week prior to the closure, and meets only 30 percent of Palestinian needs. Over the past three years 2,328 trucks entered Gaza on a monthly basis compared with 10,400 trucks monthly prior to the blockade.
Additionally, items which could be used for industry and manufacturing and which present no security threat are still being restricted. There appears to be "no change in the policy of inflicting economic warfare or by preventing entry of goods necessary for production," says the Gisha report. "Textiles, industrial-sized buckets of margarine, glucose, packaging boxes and other raw materials are still banned."
"Permitting mayonnaise and potato chips into Gaza is really irrelevant in dealing with the underlying issues," says Maxwell Gaylard, UN Deputy Special and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Middle East. "What we need to see is an improvement in Gaza's water, sanitation, power grid, educational and health sectors. Gaza's economy is shot to pieces and its infrastructure is extremely fragile," Gaylard told IPS.
"What have not been addressed by the easing of the closure are the issues of exports as well as the limited number of crossings open to facilitate the flow of goods," said Gunness.
A major step towards helping to rehabilitate Gaza's economy would be permitting exports on which Gaza's economy is heavily reliant. A 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 2005, agreed to 400 daily truckloads of exports. In the last three years 295 export trucks have exited Gaza.
Gisha reports that "critical manufacturing sectors such as furniture, clothing and textile, and food production are dependent upon revenues acquired by selling their goods outside the strip."
The near collapse of these industries has been aggravated by restrictions on Gaza's banking ties with the outside world, making the legal transfer of money almost impossible. These industries have been further decimated by the ban on the entrance of raw materials and spare parts.
"Operation Cast Lead destroyed at least 60,000 homes and structures which need to be urgently repaired and rebuilt. The easing of the blockade is not addressing this adequately," Gunness told IPS.
10) France Will Not Repay Haiti Reparations
Robert Mackey, New York Times, July 15, 2010
Some Haitians suspected the announcement was too good to be true: that France would pay their nation $22 billion to make up for forcing the former French colony to pay an equivalent sum in exchange for its independence in the nineteenth century. Well, those who were suspicious were proved right Thursday when an elaborate hoax was revealed.
The French government confirmed on Thursday that the statement, in the form of video and text posted a day earlier on a Web site that was a near replica of its official foreign ministry site, was a prank, Agence France-Presse reported.
The fake site, diplomatiegov.fr - which looks similar to the official site, diplomatie.gouv.fr - includes a video in which someone posing as a ministry spokesperson announced that France had decided to repay "the historic debt of 90 million gold francs Haiti paid to France following the former's independence at the dawn of the 19th century." The actor impersonating a French official added, "the 90 million gold francs, which Haiti paid France from 1825 until 1947, will be reimbursed in a yearly budget over the course of 50 years. Economic advisors working with the Ministry have calculated that the total sum amounts to €17 billion including adjustments for inflation and a minimal interest rate of 5 percent per annum."
Whoever is responsible for the hoax might have been inspired by a real attempt to get France to repay the debt Haiti was forced to pay to reimburse the owners of French plantations whose property was seized in the successful slave revolt that earned Haiti its independence in 1803. Seven years ago, during the nation's bicentennial celebrations, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government asked France to right this historical wrong.
As The Los Angeles Times reported from Port-au-Prince in 2003:
France owes this country exactly $21,685,135,571.48, the government figures - not counting interest, penalties or consideration of the suffering and indignity inflicted by slavery and colonization.
Paris swiftly rejected the demand for restitution when Haiti raised the issue in April, on the 200th anniversary of the death of Toussaint Louverture. A revered figure here, Louverture led fellow slaves in throwing off their French colonial oppressors.
Haiti is making a bicentennial spectacle of refusing to take no for an answer. In one of the most colorful campaigns to galvanize citizens in years, the country is awash in banners, bumper stickers, television ads and radio broadcasts demanding payback.
[Note: Some have charged that the anger of French officials over Aristide's raising of this issue played a role in France's support for the coup that ousted Aristide in February 2004. Paul Farmer wrote in the London Review of Books in April 2004:
"That the US and France undermined Aristide is not a fringe opinion. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union have called for a formal investigation into his removal. 'Most people around the world believe that Aristide's departure was at best facilitated, at worst coerced by the US and France,' Gayle Smith, a member of the National Security Council staff under Clinton, recently said.
Why such animus towards Haiti's leader? Taking up the question of the historic French debt, Aristide declared that France 'extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, primary healthcare, water systems and roads.' He did the maths, adding in interest and adjusting for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48 and counting. This figure was scoffed at by some of the French, who saw the whole affair as a farce mounted by their disgruntled former subjects; others, it's increasingly clear, were insulted or angered when the point was pressed in diplomatic and legal circles.
Still, Aristide kept up the pressure. The figure of $21 billion was repeated again and again. The number 21 appeared all over the place in Haiti, along with the word 'restitution'. On 1 January this year, during the bicentennial celebrations, Aristide announced he would replace a 21-gun salute with a list of the 21 things that had been done in spite of the embargo and that would be done when restitution was made. The crowd went wild. The French press by and large dismissed his comments as silly, despite the legal merits of his case. Many Haitians saw Aristide as a modern Toussaint l'Ouverture, a comparison that Aristide did not discourage. 'Toussaint was undone by foreign powers,' Madison Smartt Bell wrote in Harper's in January, 'and Aristide also had suffered plenty of vexation from outside interference.'"
-"Who removed Aristide?" Paul Farmer, London Review of Books, April 2004, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n08/paul-farmer/who-removed-aristide - JFP.]
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.