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Email on Haiti to Pete Clifton, Editor BBC News Online

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Joined: 19 Jan 2004
Posts: 114
Location: Berlin

Post Post subject: Email on Haiti to Pete Clifton, Editor BBC News Online Reply with quote

March 6th, 2004

Dear Mr. Clifton,

Yesterday, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide issued his first written statement from African exile. It includes a compelling description of his abduction, which begins with the following words:

“I have always denounced the coming of this coup d'etat, but until the 27th of February, the day before, I didn't see that the crime was going to be accompanied by kidnapping as well.”

The full text can be found on the website of the Pacific News Service:

Today, I have looked in vain on the BBC homepage for even the slightest mention of these shocking claims, which have been corroborated by several witnesses. Yet although President Aristide’s version of events is apparently no longer of any interest or relevance, you have managed to find space for a lengthy and highly tendentious article by Marco S. Vicenzino, Deputy Executive Director of the US Office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Mr. Vicenzino’s account is entitled “Haiti's new hopes and challenges”, and it strikes me as a transparently cynical piece of propaganda. He writes:

There is also hope if ordinary Haitians assume responsibility for real change and end the vicious cycle of political violence and endemic corruption that has plagued Haiti since its independence from France in 1804.”

Need I point out that “ordinary Haitians” had already tried to “assume responsibility for real change” by electing Mr. Aristide with an overwhelming popular mandate? (Naturally, the name “Duvalier” is to be found nowhere in Mr. Vicenzino’s account, nor does he even mention the United States’ role in Haiti’s sorry history.)

The BBC has a mandate to provide balanced coverage of world affairs. Why, then, have you not even reported President Aristide’s latest statement? Why has the unseating of Haiti’s first-ever democratically-elected leader disappeared so quickly and so completely off the BBC’s radar? Would the BBC be quite so nonchalant if any Western European head of state were to claim he had been ousted from office and kidnapped by US military personnel?

Yours sincerely,

Sat Mar 06, 2004 11:34 pm
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Joined: 19 Jan 2004
Posts: 114
Location: Berlin

Post Post subject: Email to Paul Reynolds & Richard Sambrook, March 9th 200 Reply with quote

[A follow-up to Philip Challinor's excellent series of letters to Paul Reynolds]:

March 9th, 2004

Dear Mr. Reynolds,

As Haiti disappears off the media’s radar, I’ve been looking at what
remains of the BBC’s coverage of the crisis there. I was struck by the fact that there are only two articles on the BBC website offering any kind of background information: your own short historical piece (“Uncle Sam’s backyard: a troubled history”) and Mr. Marco Vicenzino’s transparently cynical and disingenuous piece of US government propaganda (“Haiti's new hopes and challenges”).

I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I was particularly
nonplussed by your closing lines:

“El Salvador in due course made peace with itself. It ceased to be a
problem. And very little has been heard of it since”

If you’ll excuse me putting it this way: El Salvador is not a character
played by Meryl Streep. It did not “make peace with itself” (for a nation state is, in the nature of things, quite incapable of performing such a task): it had a dubious “peace” imposed on it by the winning side. And what happened there did not merely “look like a civil war”: it was one, in which the US played a decisive and very active role.

Moreover, if “very little has been heard of it since”, then that is surely
because journalists have chosen not to report on it, or because editors have chosen not to publish what they reported. Your use of the passive voice conceals a multitude of actual decisions taken by specific representatives of the mass media. And only because of these decisions did El Salvador (and Nicaragua) gradually cease to be news – in a manner very similar to Haiti today.

You also write:

“But at other times, the reason for American action is not so obvious to
outside observers.”

I’m afraid the reasons for American action are painfully obvious to any
outside observer who takes the trouble to investigate them, or to open a history book. An endless series of US governments have intervened in the Caribbean and Latin American states solely in order to maintain, consolidate or restore their power there. It’s not “anti-American” to say this, because it is a simple matter of historical record. Moreover, the American politicians responsible have stated as much themselves, in writing, on innumerable occasions. (See, for example, the complete works of Henry Kissinger.)

I find it astounding that the only examples of American intervention you
mention in any detail are either allegedly benevolent or purportedly mysterious. For the governments of the United States have always done exactly what all large regional powers do: They have intervened in the affairs of their smaller and weaker neighbours in order to further their own interests, and any rare benefits to the local inhabitants have been purely incidental. Indeed, the consequences of America’s interventions in the Caribbean and elsewhere have almost invariably been cruelly disadvantageous to the peoples of the countries involved.

President Aristide was Haiti’s first-ever democratically leader. Whatever
his faults, he undoubtedly enjoyed overwhelming popular support. He had a far clearer democratic mandate than George W. Bush, for example. Surely,
therefore, he deserves a little better from the BBC? And surely a historical article on the occasion of this coup, however brief, should at least have mentioned the United States’ sorry role in the country’s dreadful history? (To anticipate a possible response: a brief quote from Jeffrey Sachs, “balanced” by the words of two US government spokesmen, is of little use to most readers unless you indicate quite clearly the merits of their respective assessments.)

If the Prime Minister of Malta were alleging he had been ousted from office
and kidnapped by French military personnel, I somehow suspect that the BBC
would be investigating the veracity of those claims a little more vigorously (and rigorously).

But Haiti’s only Haiti, of course; a permanent, inexplicable mess.


I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Tue Mar 09, 2004 9:10 pm
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