Reed Irvine - Editor
|August A, 1993|
UNCLE SAM, MEET "PERE LEBRUN"
Are American soldiers about to be drawn into the seemingly incessant violence in Haiti as protectors of an ousted president who advocates the barbaric form of lynching known as "necklacing?" With minimal notice in the media, the Clinton Administration said on July 21 that it intends to dispatch an estimated 350 military "police trainers and engineers" to Haiti to help restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
President Clinton said that Aristide's return holds "major potential for a victory for democracy," and that he will "help foster a better role for the Haitian people." According to the White House, the U.S. troops will be part of a United Nations contingent charged with helping train the Haitian military and police, and assisting in such engineering projects as digging wells and repairing highways. His action bears a chilling parallel to a U.S. presence in Haiti which began in 1915 under President Woodrow Wilson and lasted until the 1930s.
Although our media were silent on the point, Clinton's decision also means that American troops risk being drawn into violent civil war in support of a president whose nine-month reign was marked by unmitigated terror, including the "necklacing" of political opponents and the use of street mobs to intimidate the Haitian parliament and courts. None of the Big 3 TV networks mentioned Clinton's troops order, which could prove to be one of the more calamitous foreign policy initiatives of his presidency. The New York Times and Washington Post ran the story on inside pages, Thomas Lippman of the Post charitably calling Aristide a "populist priest."
This is typical of the misrepresentation that has marked our media's coverage of Aristide. As the first elected successor president to the brutal Duvalier family, Aristide enjoyed media favor as a "reformer" who would transform a nation of 6.1 million persons, 85% of whom "live in absolute poverty," according to the CIA's World Book of Facts, with a per capita income of $380, and a 50% unemployment rate.
Neither Clinton nor the media mentioned the violent excesses that led the Haitian military to move against Aristide in September 1991. He was given the choice of resigning or being brought to trial on charges of repeatedly violating the Haitian constitution. The military cited nine specific charges, ranging from theft of public funds to illegal appointments, packing of the supreme court and incitement to murder. In the presence of ambassadors from several countries, Aristide chose to resign and leave Haiti.
Media mythology since has depicted Aristide as a reformer who fell victim to a jackbooted military. In a June 29 article on the agreement that arranged Aristide's return to power, USA Today offered this explanation for his 1991 flight: "A Roman Catholic priest popular among Haiti's poor, he and his populism are loathed by the army and wealthy elite."
There is more, much more, to the story, but this is the carefully-crafted image that Aristide and supporters have cultivated in the American media. One of the manipulators was radical publicist David Fenton, who has made a career of being a press agent for leftist despots and zany domestic causes. We detailed Fenton's profitable career in 1989, when he engineered the Alar hoax into a major media event which terrified American mothers and caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damages to apple growers. [See AR Oct-B-89, "Confessions of a Radical Disinformer"]
One whopper which our media swallowed was that Aristide was the "first democratically-elected" president ever to rule Haiti. That is not true. What reporters overlook is that Dr. Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier began his reign in 1957 through the polls. Soon thereafter Duvalier declared himself "president for life" and suspended the constitution, a precedent followed by his son, "Baby Doc" Duvalier. What scared Haitians about Aristide was that he was about to follow in the Duvaliers' footsteps, with mobs of his lavalas movement (Creole for "the flood") acting as his version of the Tontons Macoute who terrorized Haiti under the Duvaliers.
Aristide's lust for violence was vividly illustrated in a color painting he kept on the wall in his presidential office. Aristide smiles down on a crowd brandishing auto tires; to the side is another pile of tires, a bottle of gasoline and book of matches. A poster in the background, in Creole, explains, "If our power is threatened Ti Tid [Little Aristide] if you have a problem, command us to march and solve them with 'Pa' Lebrun."
"Pere Lebrun," or Papa Lebrun, is Aristide's euphemism for necklacing, a savage act that became infamous with Nelson Mandela's African National Congress in South Africa. Pere Lebrun is a major auto tire dealer in Haiti whose television ads show him popping his head through one of his tires.
We have grisly photographs showing how Aristide and his street mobs let "Pere Lebrnn" deal with political opponents. The body shown is that of Sylvio Claude, a Baptist minister and head of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party who had the temerity to oppose the "populist priest." In September 1991, the same night that the army moved against Aristide, a mob of the president's supporters set upon Claude and beat him senseless. Claude died an agonizing death. According to eyewitness accounts, an Aristide henchman then severed the penis from Claude's corpse, put it in his mouth, and danced derisively around his body. Next, an automobile tire filled with gasoline was draped around his neck and set ablaze. Confident that Aristide had survived the military's move against him, the henchman had a photographer record this moment of triumph.
That the mob chose to murder Claude by necklacing is no accident. On at least two occasions during his presidency, Aristide publicly exhorted mobs to "necklace" opponents he felt challenged his power.
One instance involved the July 1991 trial of a man named Roger Lafontant, a leader of the Duvaliers' Tontons Macoute. Soon after Aristide's election, Lafontant launched an unsuccessful coup and was put on trial in a 22-hour marathon session. A mob surrounded the courthouse, some persons carrying tires and containers of gasoline, demanding that Lafontant be given a life sentence, even though Haitian law allows a maximum of only 15 years for plotting against the state. The intimidated judges imposed a life sentence.
A few weeks later, on August 4, 1991, in a fiery talk to a youth group Aristide approved of the mob's action. Radio Metropole broadcast the speech, which was circulated the next day by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Aristide said, "When they spoke of 15 years inside the courthouse, according to the law, outside the people began to clamor for Pere Lebrun, because the anger of the people began to rise a little. That's why the verdict came out as a life sentence." Aristide then began a shouted exchange with the friendly students; his words are in boldface. those of the students in regular type.
"Was there Pere Lebrun inside the courthouse?" "No". "Was there Pere Lebrun outside the courthouse?" "Yes." "Did the people use Pere Lebrun?" "No." "Did the people have the right to forget it?" "No." "Don't say it's me who said it. Pere Lebrun or a good firm bed, which is nicer?" "Pere Lebrun." "For 24 hours in front of the courthouse, Pere Lebrun became a good firm bed. The people slept on it. Its springs bounced back....The people have their own pillows. They have their little matches in their hand, they have their little gasoline not too far away....does the constitution tell the people they have a right to forget little Pere Lebrun?" "No."
In this photo Aristide is presented with a photo of the painting glorifying "necklacing" that hung on his office wall in Haiti. Grinning, he said it was his favorite picture.
On September 27, just two days before he resigned his office, Aristide once again spoke admiringly of Pere Lebrun. As reported by the Port-au-Prince newspaper Haiti Observateur, Aristide demanded that the poor rise up against the rich and "give them what they deserve."
He declaimed, "What a beautiful tool! What a beautiful instrument! What a beautiful appliance! It's beautiful...it's pretty, it looks sharp! It's fashionable, it smells good and wherever you go you want to smell it...." This is the man whose return to power will be given a boost by the United States military.
Orphaned at an early age, Aristide grew up as a ward of the church and entered the priesthood as a young man. The church brought Aristide to political prominence. According to Haitians who followed his career, Aristide first came to public notice as a "radio priest" who broadcast his sermons in fiery Creole, rather than in the French spoken by foreign priests who dominated the church in Haiti. With an illiteracy rate of 90% to 95% Haiti is a nation which relies heavily upon radio for political communication. Aristide's demagogic style made him popular among Haiti's illiterate masses.
Aristide preached scary stuff. A devotee of "liberation theology," which grafts Marxism onto basic Christian teachings, he sometimes brandished a machete from his pulpit [see Lee Hockstader in The Washington Post on December 14, 1990] and demanded violent revolution to physically eliminate the country's elite. Violence, he argued, was the only way to reform Haiti economically and socially. "Revolution, not elections," he would chant with followers.
Although the U.S. media reflexively refer to Aristide as a Catholic priest--often with the worshipful prefix "populist"--he was suspended from the Silesian Order in 1988. According to The Catholic Standard, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Washington, Aristide was accused of "incitement to hatred and violence" and emphasizing "class struggle" in his sermons. Aristide stopped wearing clerical garb at that time, but took it up again when he got into presidential politics.
Aristide carries flaws other than his violent political philosophy. A neurosurgeon and former dean at a Haitian medical school had Aristide as a student of neuro-psychology during the school year 1978-79. Aristide was also a seminarian. According to a statement circulating among Haitian dissidents, the physician declared, "I was especially attracted by the tremendous instability of personality of my student." After talking with theologians and other medical persons, he concluded that Aristide was undergoing a religious search which French Catholic clergy called nuit de l'esprit, or "the night of the mind."
The statement continued, "My ultimate diagnosis took the direction of the bipolar disease called 'psychotic manic depressives' and I prescribed for Jean-Bertrand carbonate of lithium, which stabilized him completely."
Aristide continued the lithium regimen as a student in Canada and was still on it when he returned to Haiti in 1979. The doctor stated that Aristide "could function very well if the condition was monitored and treated regularly." Haitian exiles say that some of Artistide's worst excesses come when he is not taking his lithium.
The military moved against Aristide after his September speech cited above in which he exhorted the poor to arise against the rich. Lt. General Raoul Cedras, the chief of the armed forces, and other generals demanded that Aristide face trial on numerous specific violations of Haitian law, including the following:
Aristide fled to Venezuela, whose president, Carlos Andres Perez, along with French President Francois Mitterand and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney launched a campaign to restore Aristide to office. (Haitian exiles note that Andres Perez and Mitterand are prominent in the international socialist movement.) In Haiti, meanwhile, the parliament, in accordance with the constitution, elected Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette as provisional president and set elections for January 1992. General Cedras remained the de facto head of government, however.
But President Bush bowed to international pressures and refused to accept what the Haitians had done. He declared an economic embargo of Haiti and joined in an effort by the Organization of American States to force the Haitians to accept Aristide's return. The scheme essentially starved the Haitians into submission. The Haitian military-- specifically General Cedras--in late June agreed to permit Aristide to resume the presidency on October 30. He must appoint a new prime minister who is subject to confirmation by the Haitian parliament. It was in this context that Clinton agreed to send 350 American soldiers to Haiti.
So what can the world expect in October? Reporter Mike McQueen of the Miami Herald interviewed Cedras in July and concluded that he is more moderate than generally recognized--"a person who is considered reasonable in a military with a bad reputation," as one person told McQueen. Nonetheless, the bulk of our media tend to cast Aristide as a hero versus a strongman general.
The threat of bloody strife is omnipresent. Haitian sources tell us that Creole-language radio stations in the United States bristle with threats of violence from Aristide supporters who intend to return to the Caribbean island and wreak revenge on persons supportive of the interim government. One of these persons, a Haitian who has spent much of the last 20 years in exile, sat in the AIM office recently and said that the Aristide forces have a rough rule-of-thumb for identifying enemies: anyone wearing a business suit or necktie is marked for violence. "If I went onto the street," this man said, "I would be killed--maybe by 'Pere Lebrun.'"
Aristide's excesses call into question what has been a premise of U.S. foreign policy throughout this century-- that is, whether electoral democracy is a workable form of government in all countries. Three remarkable articles in The New York Times in less than a week recently suggest that Latins themselves are having doubts about whether their lives are better in democracies, and are looking with new interest towards military governments.
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ON AUGUST 3, THE NEW YORK TIMES CARRIED A LENGTHY STORY ABOUT THE REV. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the subject of this AIM Report. It bears out the point that we make about the reluctance of our media to tell the truth about this man, who is being returned to Haiti as its savior. The Times didn't get around to mentioning Aristide's support of the barbaric practice of lynching by "necklacing" until the 38th paragraph of its 44-paragraph story. It said, "The main criticism lodged against him is his own less-than-perfect human rights record, including speeches that have been interpreted as condoning the practice of 'necklacing' political opponents with burning tires. But independent human rights experts insist that his transgressions were mild compared with the tyranny that preceded and followed him." It then quoted Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch as saying that "it's obscene" to compare Aristide's record to the "mass murder, torture, arbitrary detention by the military."
PRESIDENT CLINTON'S IMPASSIONED PLEA FOR HIS BUDGET RESTED ON THE CLAIM that his proposed tax increases were necessary to reduce the deficit by $496 billion. Federal government spending, according to his estimates, will rise from $1,450 billion this fiscal year to $1,756 billion in 1998, an increase of 21 percent. Receipts are supposed to rise from $1,165 billion to $1,554 billion, an increase of 33 percent. The deficit, according to these estimates, will drop from this year's $285 billion to $202 billion. Clinton's $496 billion deficit reduction obviously does not refer to a reduction in the size of the annual deficit. It is an estimate of what the total deficits over the next five years would be in the absence of Clinton's program less the total deficits with the Clinton program. These estimates are not reliable. From 1980 to 1992, the actual deficit exceeded Congress's estimate every year by an average of 23 percent. Five year projections are even worse. In 1990, the deficit for 1995 was estimated to be $29 billion, but it will probably be ten times that or more. The government can always achieve or exceed its spending targets, but the same is not true for revenue. That depends on the economy, which is why it is important to ask not is the program fair, but what does it do to growth. Clinton talks a lot about growth, but he shows no understanding of the conflict between fairness, defined as income redistribution, and growth incentives. He and AI Gore seem to think that economic growth must take a back seat to saving endangered owls, insects and weeds and reducing remote risks of cancer.
IN 1989, EPA ORDERED THAT THE USE OF ASBESTOS IN BRAKE LININGS BE PHASED OUT by 1996. In October 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified this regulation, but manufacturers had already begun switching to substitutes. The substitute linings couldn't stand the heat. Larry Strawbridge, an engineer with the American Trucking Association, said the linings on trucks were literally exploding. They also caused the brake drums to overheat, cracking the drums and causing them to disintegrate. Arne Anderson, a retired researcher for Ford Motor Co., says he knows of at least five fatal accidents caused by fragmenting brake drums on tractor-trailers. Two accidents came to light at the end of July in the Washington, D.C. area. In one, a young mother was killed when a 27-1b. brake drum fragment hurtled through the window of the vehicle in which she was riding. In the other, a month earlier, a little girl was struck by a piece of brake drum and 20 fragments of her skull had to be wired together to save her life. Larry Strawbridge says the technology has been greatly improved and the number of problems with the new brake linings has been greatly reduced, though they still aren't as good as the asbestos linings. The National Highway Traffic Safety Agency has no records on accidents caused by ballistic brake drums. Strawbridge says two in the same area within a month is a freak, like lightning striking twice.
THE EPA JUSTIFIED ITS BAN ON ASBESTOS BRAKE LININGS WITH THE CLAIM THAT IT would save 12 to 15 lives a year. Judge Steven Breyer, the Fifth Circuit judge who was on President Clinton's short list for the Supreme Court nomination, says that twice as many people will die from swallowing toothpicks as from asbestos. An EPA spokesman told me that asbestos is more dangerous than toothpicks because you can't see the fibers you inhale and it may be years before you develop any health problems from inhaling them. But personally, I would prefer exposure to the fibers from asbestos brake linings to risking decapitation by a ballistic brake drum.
AUTOMOTIVE SAFETY HAS LONG BEEN OF GREAT INTEREST TO MEDIA INVESTIGATIVE reporters. You may recall the number that 60 Minutes did on the Audi 5000, claiming that it had the bad tendency to accelerate when the brake was depressed. This was supported by rigged footage. About the same time, 60 Minutes aired an expose of exploding truck wheels, and it turned out that the footage used to support the charge had also been rigged. Dateline NBC's rigging of the tests designed to show that GM pickup trucks are rolling firebombs is still fresh in our memories. While their attention was absorbed with these fake problems, they somehow completely overlooked a real problem caused by EPA's obsession with the dangers of asbestos.
IN OUR LAST REPORT, I NOTED THAT ONLY 12 U.S. ATTORNEYS HAD BEEN NOMINATED to fill the 93 vacancies created last April when President Clinton asked all U.S. attorneys to resign. Another nomination has since been submitted, that of Judge Eric H. Holder, Jr., who has been nominated to succeed Jay B. Stephens, the U.S Attorney for the District of Columbia. Neither The Washington Post nor The Washington Times, in reporting Holder's nomination on July 30, pointed out that it came just four months after the date Stephens had set for revealing if he would seek the indictment of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski. The Post's story quoted Holder as saying he was confident that his nomination and confirmation "will not in any way delay anything related to the investigation" of the House Post Office scandal in which Rostenkowski has been implicated. There has already been a four month delay, thanks to Jay Stephens' dismissal. The naming of his successor ten days after the former House postmaster copped a plea and provided additional evidence of Rostenkowski's involvement in the scandal appears calculated to prolong the delay. The acting U.S. attorney is likely to leave this explosive decision to Judge Holder, who may not be confirmed for another two months, or even more. He could then take additional months to study the evidence and reach a decision.
THE FAILURE OF THE MEDIA TO PAY ANY ATTENTION TO THE EVIDENCE THAT THIS long delay has been deliberately engineered by the White House is another example of their lack of interest in investigating potential scandals in the Clinton administration. When I read that Vincent Foster, the deputy counsel to the president who apparently committed suicide, was taking anti- depression medication prescribed by a physician in Arkansas, it reminded me that Clinton fired the White House doctor rather than show him his medical records. Why don't the media insist that the president's medical records be released? Why was the investigation of Foster's death assigned to the Park Police? Why hasn't the tom-up note found in his briefcase been released?
DR. PETR BECKMANN, ONE OF THE GIANTS OF OUR ERA AND OUR CAUSE, IS WITH US no longer. He passed away on August 3, finally felled by a kidney infection after a long and valiant battle against cancer. As publisher and editor of a remarkable newsletter, Access to Energy, the author of The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear and many other books, Petr was a bold, indefatigable foe of the charlatans and wimps who frustrated or retarded the exploitation of scientific advances such as the peaceful uses of nuclear power. Petr was a good friend and a valued scientific adviser to Accuracy in Media. The breadth and depth of his knowledge was astonishing. Born in Czechoslovakia of parents who were both members of the Communist Party, he became a ferocious anti-communist and a master of the English language, equally adept at explaining arcane science to the layman and demolishing the charlatans he detested with withering polemics.
DIXY LEE RAY DEDICATED HER LATEST BOOK, ENVIRONMENTAL OVERKILL, TO "TWO great men, both physical scientists. One is Dr. Petr Beckmann and the other is Dr. Edward Teller." She wrote: "Dr. Beckmann and Dr. Teller have demonstrated their passionate devotion to truth in science and their unshakable belief in its remarkable power to improve the lot of human beings. Above all, they have used their considerable skills to make complex science understandable to the common man." Petr reacted with his deeply-ingrained modesty, expressing profound embarrassment at being placed on the same plane as the great Edward Teller. True, he was just a professor of electrical engineering, emeritus at the University of Colorado, not world renowned for his scientific discoveries. But Dr. Ray was right; besides genius, the two men shared many traits, among them integrity, courage, tenacity, tirelessness, and dedication to the cause of freedom. Petr arranged for the transfer of his newsletter to a new editor-publisher before he died. At death's door, he signed off in the August issue with an editorial, "Goodbye, dear readers," in which he said, "It is the torch, not the torchbearer that matters. The torch, the Truth shines on; the old torchbearer recedes into the darkness." Farewell, dear friend. We will miss you.