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Exchange with BBC on Haiti

 
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Philip Challinor



Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 218
Location: London, UK

Post Post subject: Exchange with BBC on Haiti Reply with quote

To Richard Sambrook, BBC news editor
01/03/04:

Dear Mr Sambrook

Given the United States' long involvement in the history of Haiti, always to the detriment of the latter's welfare, I'm puzzled to note the total absence of this fact from the BBC's coverage of the present crisis.

According to your "Country profile: Haiti", the nation appears to have had no significant history before the 1980s, when the prospect of being a tourist hot spot was killed off. This is a misconception.

You do mention the Duvalier regime, but you do not mention the fact that it was backed by the United States. You do not mention the US-backed dictatorships that preceded the Duvalier regime, nor the US invasion and occupation which began in 1915 - all of them just about the same as far as human rights were concerned.

Under the heading "Haiti: an economic basket case" you purport to analyse the reasons for the country's troubles. Strangely, you do not mention US economic interests in Haiti. In light of the fact that Haiti is a positive haven of sweatshops for US corporations, surely it is no great leap of the mind to deduce a connection between American corporate interests and the overthrow of a populist reformer like Aristide. Your omission of highly relevant facts in this context is both deceptive and deeply irresponsible.

Yours sincerely

Philip Challinor

Received 03/03/04:

Dear Mr. Challinor,

Thank you for your recent email regarding coverage of Haiti on BBC News
online.

The country profile is designed to be a brief snapshot not a
comprehensive history. It compresses in the first paragraph the origins
of the state as the world's first black-led republic and the first
Caribbean state to achieve independence, and refers to decades of
poverty, environmental degradation, violence, instability and
dictatorship which have left Haiti as the poorest country in the
Americas. We refer to the long history of US involvement in Haiti in the
associated timeline:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/country_profiles/1202857.stm

On the latest events, we have reflected concerns over the US role and
actions - from the region, from other commentators and in international
press comment:
Analysis: Unease over Aristide fall
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3523191.stm
Papers criticise Haiti 'hypocrisy'
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3525913.stm

You may also be interested to know that we are currently preparing an
analysis piece looking in more detail at America's role in recent events
in Haiti, and the history of relations.

I hope this answers your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Sambrook
Director BBC News

Reply:

Dear Mr Sambrook

Thank you for taking the time to respond. Your country profile certainly mentions Haiti's sorry situation, but the role the US has played in it is ignored. Although the brutality of the Duvalier dictatorship is noted, the words "US-supported" appear nowhere. The fact that the Duvaliers received enthusiastic support from the US is not mentioned in the country profile or in the timeline. Although the US invasion and occupation are mentioned in the timeline, the brutality of these events (results estimated at c. 15,000 deaths) is not. Indeed, as far as your timeline is concerned, "mounting popular discontent" appears to have begun no earlier than the mid-1980s.

Despite the need for concision in these "snapshots" of Haiti, your timeline does find room for a mention of the sanctions imposed by the US and OAS after the 1991 coup. Since the sanctions were largely disregarded and generally ineffectual (the US failed even to freeze the American assets of participants in the coup or their backers), it's hard to see why they merit attention while the highly effectual US backing of the Duvaliers does not.

In this context, the comments of other countries' newspapers on western policy make little or no sense. The comment of the African editorial that

Quote:
the big nations are only able to act where their interests lie


is surely a truism; but your information on Haiti omits to mention America's role in the country's problems and the timeline twice implies (entries on 1991, 1994) that the US has been nothing less than a force for peace and democracy.

I look forward to seeing the analysis piece that you have in preparation.

Regards

Philip Challinor


Last edited by Philip Challinor on Sun Mar 07, 2004 5:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
Thu Mar 04, 2004 7:25 pm
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Philip Challinor



Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 218
Location: London, UK

Post Post subject: And, on the "analysis"... Reply with quote

Uncle Sam's backyard: a troubled history: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3529661.stm

Sent to Richard Sambrook, 05/03/04
Copied to Paul Reynolds (author of "Uncle Sam's backyard")

Dear Mr Sambrook

I've read the BBC Online analysis piece "Uncle Sam's backyard: A troubled history". You quote, without comment, the claim of US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher that

Quote:
during President Aristide's time, he created a lot of division within the society - the polarisation grew, the violence grew.


It seems rather strange that no attempt is made to corroborate this claim. Was the violence and polarisation under Aristide really so much worse than under the Duvaliers, who received wholehearted American support? Were Aristide's supporters so much worse than the Tonton Macoute that Boucher's statement can be left to stand?

It is true that you go on to quote Jeffrey Sachs' criticism of the Bush administration's policy towards Haiti; but in the absence of any attempt to provide a factual context, no judgement is possible on which side of the debate, if any, is supported by the facts.

Similarly, the report notes the numerous US invasions and extensive interference in the region, but the only visible fact in this section (headed "US security needs", much as an analysis of Soviet invasions might be headed "Soviet security needs") is that "sometimes, the interventions are welcomed by locals". There is no mention of the US-supported, and uniformly disgusting, regimes of Trujillo, Somoza, Duarte or Noriega. Presumably, given the massive and bloody repressions which these people found necesssary to maintain their power, "the locals" were not so enthusiastic in many cases.

The last paragraph of the piece states that

Quote:
El Salvador in due course made peace with itself. It ceased to be a problem.


In the absence of any factual context, once more, this makes little sense. Is the implication meant to be that Haiti, thanks to the good offices of George W Bush, may one day "make peace with itself"? Or is it that we are to believe that when the media lose interest in Haiti (much as "very little has been heard of [El Salvador] since"), it will be because Haiti has "ceased to be a problem"?

Yours sincerely

Philip Challinor

Received 06/03/04:

Dear Philip

Here we go again!..

1. It is not up to me to justify what the State Department spokesman says.

2. I should have thought that it was quite obvious what the point was. Once a country had gone quiet, it ceased to be a problem to the US How much more simple does one have to make it?

As with our earlier correspondence, you must understand that it is impossible to write a dissertation everytime one writes an article. One has to select, edit and choose in the process of trying to keep it tight enough so that people in general will actually read it. Believe me, it is a hard enough ask to get them to do that! Not everyone will therefore be satisfied.

With regards

Paul Reynolds

To Paul Reynolds, 06/03/04 (copied to Richard Sambrook):

Dear Mr Reynolds

Thanks for your response; I hope you didn't have to take too many deep breaths.

I'm well aware that a process of selection and choosing has to take place in writing these articles. It's just that the choice of what is left out and what is put in sometimes strikes me as rather bizarre. For example, as I wrote to Richard Sambrook, the BBC Online timeline and country profile for Haiti make absolutely no mention of the fact that the country's long history of violent repression is almost entirely the responsibility of the United States and its clients. There is mention of repression, and mention of the USA, but the two are never connected. So I don't mean to single you out, although your analysis does exemplify the problem - e.g. you mention US intervention in a whole string of countries, but the only case in which you provide any detail is Grenada. In every single one of the other countries on your list - Cuba, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and Haiti itself - US invasion, intervention or sponsorship has been uniformly catastrophic for the people. Why, then, pick Grenada as though it were a representative example of US action in the region?

As to the points in your email: I don't expect you to justify what anyone says. Unfortunately, as I pointed out to Richard Sambrook, Boucher's statement is misleading. It mentions growing polarisation and violence under Aristide, but the polarisation and violence which preceded (and are all too likely to succeed) Aristide were surely much greater. Therefore Aristide was an improvement on what went before him, e.g. the Duvaliers, whom the US supported. Surely a non-biased news outlet ought to make this fact clear - or at least try to balance misleading statements to the contrary by representatives of the very power which has overthrown Aristide.

As to the case of El Salvador, I perhaps expressed myself badly. The problem I had was with the idea of "going quiet". An invalid can go quiet because he has recovered, or because someone has put a pillow over his face and suffocated him. Surely the difference is rather significant. Given the history of US involvement in Latin America, and the way the BBC has represented it, I was uncertain which alternative you thought more likely in this case.

Regards

Philip Challinor


Last edited by Philip Challinor on Tue Mar 09, 2004 8:11 pm; edited 1 time in total
Sat Mar 06, 2004 7:46 pm
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Philip Challinor



Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 218
Location: London, UK

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Received 07/03/04:

You have completely ignored the point of my personal reference to El Salvador and again I do not know why you want things spelled out in basic terms. It was quite obvious what I thought of El Salvador! Of course I did not offer Grenada as the only example and it is wilful misreading to say that I did.

Reply (copied to Richard Sambrook):

Dear Mr Reynolds

I thought the point of your reference to El Salvador was as an illustration of the point made at the end of the preceding section, that sometimes "the reason for American action is not so obvious to outside observers" and that the Reaganites' fears of a Communist land invasion of Texas were unfounded. If I was incorrect in that, I apologise. My point was that, far from "making peace with itself", El Salvador, courtesy of the US government, suffered repression so severe that it "went quiet" rather in the fashion of a murder victim.

Further, such repression is typical of US intervention throughout the region, and has taken place in Cuba, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and Haiti itself - characteristically and repeatedly, decade after decade. You list all these countries in the section titled "The Monroe Doctrine", but the only example explored in any detail is the US Marines' Boy Scout jamboree in Grenada (paragraph beginning "Sometimes, the interventions are welcomed by the locals"). If this is a misreading, I apologise again and I assure you it is not wilful.

It seems to me, though, that you offer two basic pictures of US intervention - benign (Grenada) and incomprehensible (El Salvador). What I find difficult to understand is the total lack of reference to a third possibility - that the US government is in fact fighting colonial wars against the people of these countries. Surely the record offers ample evidence for such an idea, not least in Haiti. I don't see how mention of this would count as "spelling things out in basic terms", since as far as I'm aware the possibility has not even been hinted at - and this despite the fact of a democratically elected leader having been removed by military force and, according to him, kidnapped by the very power which claims to be liberating Haiti.

Regards

Philip Challinor
Sun Mar 07, 2004 5:18 pm
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Philip Challinor



Joined: 09 Jan 2004
Posts: 218
Location: London, UK

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

Received 08/03/04:

No. Benign and malign. Please read the text.

Reply (copied to Richard Sambrook):

Dear Mr Reynolds

Very well. According to the text, it appears, Aristide's own departure "might have been a bit of both" - part coup/kidnapping, part voluntary flight. The only US motivation mentioned is morally neutral and homely - "Uncle Sam still wants to keep things quiet in his backyard".

There follow the sections "US attitudes change" and "Brazen manipulation", which quote Richard Boucher and Jeffrey Sachs with no attempt to show whether either of them might have any facts on his side.

Under "The Monroe Doctrine", you state that "American attitudes can change ... quickly" because of the US's "uneasy relationship" with the Caribbean states. As a matter of fact, American attitudes have remained remarkably consistent through the century and a half that America has been a major power: the Caribbean and Latin states are there to serve the needs of US elites, and woe betide them if their people think otherwise. You mention interventions in several countries, but in this section provide no analysis of whether the consequences were benign, malign or indifferent.

The next section is headed "US security needs" and notes, without comment, the claim of another US government functionary, Robert Pastor, that "US security needs help set the pattern for the US approach". The question of what unendurable security risks the US might be taking by leaving its smaller neighbours alone is not explored. At the end of this section comes the example of "benign intervention", Grenada.

Finally, your personal note about El Salvador: The final sentence of the preceding section says that "the reason for American action is not so obvious to outside observers". The obviousness of benign intentions (perhaps mixed with "security needs"?) in Grenada is thus taken for granted. The first paragraphs of the El Salvador section provide the background of the Reagan Administration's rhetoric about Central America being the Cold War's front line. The murdered men you mention are described as "more like casualties of a civil war" than of the Cold War. In other words, Salvadoreans who were victims of other Salvadoreans.

There is no mention of US support for the Salvadorean government and its death squads. Instead, there is a note that the Reaganites thought the rebels were in league with Moscow, a hint that the murderers used government-issue weapons, and the strange assertion "El Salvador in due course made peace with itself", as though the fighting of a civil war were somehow analogous to a course of psychotherapy.

I'm sorry, but you're not getting away with that. If you'd felt like talking about malign US influence, you could have mentioned (for instance) the horrors perpetrated under the Duvaliers and US support for them; the factories owned by US corporations where Haitians manufacture Disney consumer goods at starvation wages; or even the 1915 invasion and occupation which cost perhaps fifteen thousand lives.

Yours sincerely

Philip Challinor

Received 09/03/04:

I think I'll leave the last word with you.
Tue Mar 09, 2004 8:07 pm
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CelticMist



Joined: 14 May 2004
Posts: 25
Location: Canary Islands

Post Post subject: Reply with quote

And the last word never came?
Sat May 15, 2004 2:38 am
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