Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Category: The Nation

Corruption

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 1 2012

Although patriotic Sri Lankans might like to boast that they are the best in the world at the corruption game, there are lessons to be learnt from other countries. Somalia holds up the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index at number 182.  Sri Lanka is at number 86 (improving on a previous 91), somewhat worse than Serbia, Panama and Jamaica. I am not saying mutts like Somalia can teach us anything. Lessons can, however, be learnt from nations who are sophisticated enough to climb to respectable positions on the index.

In 2010, Ireland was at number 14 and the UK at number 20. The 2011 table shows the UK (now number 16) has improved in honesty and Ireland (number 19) has worsened. The US is at number 24.

Only this week, news came out that Micheál Martin, the current leader of Fianna Fáil, the party, which dominated Irish politics for most of the life of the Republic, has called on his predecessor, Bertie Ahern, to be expelled from the party.
Bertie’s mentor, Charles Haughey, enjoyed an opulent lifestyle on his modest salary as Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister, pronounced ‘tea-shock’). He had a fine art collection and wine cellar, racehorses, owned at least one island, a helicopter and enjoyed the services of a voluptuous but garrulous mistress. Retail tycoon Ben Dunne gave Charlie millions, prompting the T-shirt slogan: “Ben there. Dunne that. Bought the Taoiseach”. A culture of impunity has rewarded corrupt politicians, bankers and builders. Ireland shares with Sri Lanka a kind of cronyism. ‘Gombeenism’ describes the kind of parish-pump politics in which those elected to be legislators devote themselves to self-aggrandisement and bestowing favours,  rather than honestly representing their constituents’ interests.

Fianna Fáil was practically wiped out at the last general election. The last Fianna Fáil PM, Brian Cowan, liked to refer to himself affectionately as Biffo, Big Ignorant Fat F…er from Offaly. He has lost any affection the public felt for him, and has apologised for his role in ruining the economy. The culprits continued to receive generous pensions and expenses.

Martin’s condemnation of Bertie came after a report said, “Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.” The report found Mr. Ahern failed to “truthfully account” for the source of bank account lodgements and   confirmed the former Fianna Fáil leader’s personal behaviour had fallen short of the standard expected of holders of high office.

The report referred to was by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, commonly known as the Mahon Tribunal. As well as accusing Ahern of untruthfulness, the report found former European Commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power.
Martin made sure the other Irish parties were not left out of the condemnation. Current PM, Enda Kenny, refused to take any action when told a member of his Fine Gael party had “sought a bribe of £250,000”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claimed institutionalised sleaze and corruption had been rife in Ireland.  “It was not just political life that was corrupt,” he added. “So, too, was the business elite.” Adams said institutional corruption and gombeenism (a Sri Lankan equivalent of the Gombeen Man would be the mudalali involved in politics) were part and parcel of British colonial rule on the island and the practices survived and thrived in the post-colonial period.
Martin described Sinn Féin’s “embrace of double standards” as “particularly brazen”. During the period investigated by Mahon, “Sinn Féin’s movement killed more than 200 people, kneecapped and exiled many more and ran this island’s largest racketeering, kidnapping and bank-robbing network”.

Some Sri Lankans have a touching faith in the institutions of western countries. When one points to the shortcomings of other countries, one is told that there is at least accountability for wrong-doing, unlike the impunity that is characteristic of Sri Lanka. Taking Ireland as an example, one can take comfort in the fact that there is an Act of the Oireachtas (parliament), establishing Tribunals of Inquiry to look into matters of urgent public importance. Tribunals are obliged to report their findings to the Oireachtas. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of documents relevant to the work in hand.

By the end of 2000, there were six tribunals. According to historian Diarmaid Ferriter: “Tribunals were an indictment of the lack of investigation at home into these issues. It often took outsiders to unfold the truth, as with the exposure by Susan O’Keefe of the BBC of the beef industry in the 1991 documentary “Where’s the Beef?” O’Keefe concluded that there was in Irish society too much indulgence of unethical behaviour and that a culture of silence prevailed. These tribunal inquiries tended to go on for a long time (Mahon started in 1997), the details are very complicated and they are very costly to the taxpayer.

The amounts brown-enveloped by corrupt businessmen and politicians are trivial compared to the amounts legally made by lawyers at the tribunals. Barristers’ daily tribunal rates were €2,500 (£1,700 LKR 432,000). Senior counsel Patrick Quinn earned more than €50,000 from other  State work. In a year, he was paid almost €500,000 for working part-time at the inquiry. He earned a total of €5,273,521.17 (911,223,388 Sri Lanka Rupees) in fees over the decade he has worked at the tribunal. Legal team costs for 2011 were €950,000. Total legal costs have reached almost €50 million (8,639,610,596 Sri Lanka Rupees).

It is not a function of Tribunals to administer justice, their work is solely inquisitorial. Wrongdoers can take comfort in the fact that the outcome of tribunals would rarely be prosecution.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/4584-

corruption.html#sthash.7yvkong8.dpuf

Political Corruption UK –Style

 

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 15 2012

 

 

In the Labour landslide of 1997, little Alistair Burt lost his parliamentary seat of Bury North, which he had first won in 1983. He lost to David Chaytor who was later jailed for fiddling his expenses. Burt returned to parliament in 2001, taking over the safe Tory seat of Bedfordshire North East from Sir Nicholas Lyell.

Burt had his own problems in the expenses scandal. He seems to be rather fond of little bites. Between 2004 and 2005, he claimed more than £13,000 in hotel expenses. He regularly claimed for alcohol and snacks from mini bars of hotels such as the Savoy. In March 2004, he claimed £2 for a packet of Pringles, £3 for a bag of mixed nuts. The following month he claimed £3.55 for a ‘night beverage’ and £6 for another two bags of mixed nuts.
Burt agreed to repay a total of £229.24 for hotel sundries. “I do accept that the climate has changed, and although I thought these were perfectly fair subsistence charges I will repay them immediately,” he said. “I am genuinely sorry for any error made, in relation to any claim, which is considered excessive.” How can a man looking after 30 countries at the Foreign Office have time to fill in a form to claim a refund for peanuts?

Burt over-claimed payments for his London flat by £200 per month for five months in 2006. He apologised for what he described as an ‘oversight’. However, he said that because he had not claimed for food during the period, he should not need to repay the money. He was let off and allowed to keep the GBP 1,000. The taxpayer-funded rent at his latest flat comes to £1,890 per month. For more on Burt see:
http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=28632.

The venal and venial fiddling by MPs revealed by the Daily Telegraph is shameful, but more worrying than politicians lining their own pockets, is the systemic undermining of democracy by lobbyists. The London Sunday Times set up a sting operation against Peter Cruddas, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, forcing his resignation. He was secretly filmed offering influence over policy in return for donations to party funds.

Voters are not getting what they voted for. They are getting what wealthy donors want. The case of NHS ‘reforms’ is a prime example. In the early 90s when Kenneth Clarke, now Justice Minister in the coalition government, was Health Minister the government was trying to privatise everything to endow the supposedly entrepreneurial sector with a licence to print money exploiting what had been regarded as public utilities. There would be no risk in their investment as guarantees against failure would be provided by the taxpayer.  New Labour continued privatisation of the NHS by stealth. Health Secretary Alan Milburn became an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a venture capital firm backing private health companies in Britain and works 18 days a year advising Cinven, a private equity, which owns 37 private hospitals. In January 2008, it was announced that another Labour Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, had been appointed ‘special consultant’ to the world’s largest chemists, Boots. Hewitt also became a ‘special adviser’ to Cinven.

After Labour left office, Hewitt was secretly filmed by Channel 4 News claiming she could influence policy in return for cash payments. Not one of the 20 politicians approached in the sting put the phone down. The amounts asked were so similar, wrote Philip Clothier in Prospect magazine, “£3000-£5000 a day plus — that it almost felt these politicians had agreed a rate among themselves beforehand, or at least that such a rate was now deemed commonplace in Westminster…. The more I watched and listened, the more it seemed reasonable to conclude that our candidates had fallen out of love with politics… Patricia Hewitt’s monthly diary was assessed in the numbers of days that she was away from Westminster rather than at it. She fitted her interview with us in between two votes at Westminster. .. In their attempts to show off their access to all areas, they painted an image of Westminster as one big club where the members just pretend to be different for the public’s sake.”

At the last UK election, David Cameron recognised that the public did not want any further privatisation of the NHS and neither did the medical profession and promised no further reorganisation. Private health care organisations had donated more than £750,000 to the Conservatives since David Cameron became leader. John Nash, private equity tycoon had given £21,000 to health secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Despite his election promises, when Cameron became PM a Health Bill was proposed, which meant further privatisation.

Tory peer Lord Stanley Fink (Fink by name, fink by nature) replaced Cruddas as the party’s principal treasurer. Known as the ‘godfather’ of the hedge fund industry, Fink has himself donated more than £2 million to the Conservative Party. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ)found that hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms contributed more than a quarter of all the Tories’ private donations, with three of the City’s hedge fund giants, Michael Farmer, Andrew Law and Fink together contributing £636,300. The general public can have no love for predatory capitalists who left the banks in ruins and demanded taxpayer support. They would not vote for these crooks. That carries no weight with governments.

 

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/feature-viewpoint/item/5002-political-corruption-united-kingdom-style.html#sthash.JzDfOGU2.dpuf

 

Austerity and Hypocrisy

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 8 2012

 

There have recently been many references in the press, both in Sri Lanka and the UK, to Marie Antoinette. She was the wife of Louis XVI of France who was deposed by the revolting peasants in 1792. Nine months after the execution of Louis, Marie Antoinette was herself tried, convicted of treason and guillotined.

The French people had at first been charmed by her personality and beauty but  came to loathe  her, accusing “L’Autre-chienne” (“Autrichienne” meaning Austrian (woman) and “Autre-chienne” meaning Other Bitch) of being  a promiscuous, callous spendthrift, and of harbouring sympathies for France’s enemies, particularly Austria, her country of origin.

Contemporary sources, such as Mary Wolstencraft and Thomas Jefferson, place the blame for the French Revolution and the subsequent reign of terror on Marie Antoinette. This view is summed up by the phrase “let them eat cake”. There is no evidence that she ever uttered this phrase; It originally appeared in Book VI of the first part (finished in 1767, published in 1782) of Rousseau’s putative autobiography, Les Confessions. “Enfin je me rappelai le pis-aller d’une grande princesse à qui l’on disait que les paysans n’avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit : Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.”When told the peasants had no bread the princess said ‘Why don’t they eat cake?’

Whenever I visit my local Sathosa, I see a framed photograph of Bandula Gunawardena. Judging from that picture, I would guess that he is not being compared to Marie Antoinette on grounds of charm, beauty or personality. It’s to do with the cake-eating thing. Minister Gunawardena apparently asserted that a family of three could live on  Rs. 7,500 a month. UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva responded: “Minister Bandula Gunawardene’s challenge for a debate on this matter is irrelevant, childish and a waste of time.  It is of no consequence to the people of this country that certain ministers and senior officials of this government have become the laughing stock, but what is unpardonable is that the unwise actions of such people bringing misery to the population.”

Over in the UK, The Sun newspaper, frothing for revenge over the Tories’ failure to protect Murdoch, described Chancellor George Osborne as the Marie Antoinette of the 21st century. Marie Antoinette has come to symbolise the indifference of the rulers to the sufferings of ordinary people.

 
Throughout the hard times of the 1970s, British citizens were exhorted by governments, both Labour and Conservative, to tighten belts and accept wages that did not keep up with inflation.

There was no evidence that the austerity was being shared across all classes. On 31 December 1973, Edward Heath’s Tory government enforced a three-day working week to preserve dwindling fuel supplies. Electricity was switched off on a rota basis between seven a.m. and midnight. Television companies switched off at 10.30pm. Energy Secretary, Patrick Jenkin, won notoriety for advising the nation to “clean our teeth in the dark”. His own house was photographed with all lights blazing.

In the UK currently, the question is not whether the masses should eat cake, but whether they can afford to eat Cornish pasties. The current coalition government have been savagely cutting public services to patch up the mess caused by greedy banksters who continue to draw large salaries and bonuses. In the recent budget, Osborne cut income tax rate for the 300,000 richest households, while 4.4 million pensioners are set to lose out by £84 a year. The strategy was to boost business and the rich by raising tax allowances – and forget about the unemployed and the lowest earners. That old ‘trickle down’ myth again.

Labour MP John Mann zeroed in on one particular aspect of the Budget and asked Osborne when he had last eaten a pasty at Greggs the bakers. Osborne was discombobulated by this and had probably forgotten that his Budget included a VAT increase on Cornish pasties. Greggs chief executive Ken McMeikan denounced Osborne as out of touch, and warned hundreds of jobs were at stake if pasty prices were raised by 20%.

 

One tweet suggested Osborne was then probably subjected to a Treasury presentation where he was told that pasties were “similar to mini boeufs en croute”.
The greasy spinmeisters went into action and Osborne’s fellow old-Etonian and Bullingdon member David Cameron was ready to fend off the pasty attacks from the press. “I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too.”

Indefatigable investigative reporters ferreted out the information that the West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet where he thought he enjoyed his last pasty closed two years ago. Gavin Williams, the boss of the West Cornwall Pasty Company, was not interested in Cameron’s endorsement of his product. He wanted ‘clarity and leadership’ from the prime minister.

One disaffected Tory MP reminded The Guardian that it was Osborne who brought in Andy Coulson to handle the media for Cameron. Coulson’s effectiveness was hampered by the fact that he was arrested (and has since been imprisoned) for criminal activities on behalf of the Murdoch empire.

Another said that Osborne misjudged the budget by failing to spot the significance of what has become known as the ‘granny tax’. It is not immediately obvious what is more depressing, the inane antics of the press, the ham-fisted attempts at populism by wealthy politicians or the total disregard of those in power for what ordinary people’s lives are actually like. Politicians insensitive to the suffering of ordinary people while they themselves enjoy a VVIP life-style should remember what happened to Marie Antoinette.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/feature-viewpoint/item/4829-austerity-and-hypocrisy.html#sthash.UZnFOuOi.dpuf

 

Reconciliation and Retribution in Argentina

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 6 2012

Jorge Luis Borges described the Falklands conflict as “two bald men fighting over a comb”. Thirty years later it is still not over, and there is oil to fight for. One positive outcome of the Falklands conflict was that the Argentinean military junta displayed its incompetence and was ousted. One of the junta’s reasons for invading the Falklands was to divert public attention from Argentina’s poor economic performance and growing internal opposition to the junta’s repression.

 
The Guerra Sucia, Dirty War, was a period of state terrorism that had been going on since 1976 (although some argue that it started in 1973 with targeted assassinations of trade unionists; individual cases can be traced back to the bombing of the Plaza de Mayo in 1955). Human rights organizations dislike the term ‘Dirty War’, as it implies justification for the regime’s crimes through a state of war. The guerrillas did not pose a significant threat to the State.  They had not taken control of any part of the national territory; they were not supported by any foreign power, and they lacked popular support. The repression affected everyone, not just active opponents of the regime.

 

The state terrorists were supported by foreign powers. On March 27, 1976, the IMF released a $127 million credit for the military junta. The paramilitary death squads directly reported to General Galtieri. In March 1981, Galtieri was warmly received in the US. National Security Advisor Richard V Allen described him as a “majestic general”. His support for the Nicaraguan contras, and participation in Chile’s Operation Condor against left-wing subversives, allowed Galtieri US support in removing rival generals and, in December 1981, a coup won him the Presidency.

 

The junta’s first leader, General Jorge Rafael Videla, defined a “terrorist” as “not only someone who plants bombs but a person whose ideas are contrary to Western, Christian civilization.” The junta’s security forces exceeded even that broad mandate when defining dissidents. If they captured pregnant women or children, they placed the children with new families – often with families, who had been involved in the murder and torture of the parents. Sometimes the women became pregnant after being raped by their captors. The children of subversives were seen, author Marguerite Feitlowitz explained, as “seeds of the tree of evil.” Perhaps through adoption, those seeds could be replanted in healthy soil.

 

Francisco Goldman in the March 19 issue of the New Yorker discusses in detail the case of Marcela and Felipe Noble Herrera, who were adopted by Ernestina Herrera de Noble, the widow of Roberto Noble, the founder of Argentina’s Clarín media empire.

 
The dictators used Clandestine Detention Centres to incarcerate the “disappeared”. Most were eventually murdered and their bodies were buried in unmarked graves, incinerated or dumped in the sea from helicopters. Many of the captives were heavily drugged and taken over the Atlantic Ocean, into which they were thrown alive (unlike bin Laden), with heavy weights on their feet.  An Argentinean animal rights activist told me a couple of years ago: “Do not believe all you read, many but many people rather lived in that Argentina than what we have today, and I have the same feeling. Ninety eight percent of the people who disappeared were involved in some obscure thing, most of them were freedom fighters, if you know what I mean… There were some horrible things, but there always are horrible things in a war and that was a war against terrorism. I do remember all this, I am 42 years old, and I spent most of my childhood and adolescence under the military government, and I never felt the fear I feel today that you cannot even go out without thinking if you’ll get back in one piece or will be robbed, shot or raped.”

 
Terence Roehrig agrees with her, estimating that of the disappeared “at least 10,000 were involved in various ways with the guerrillas”. The Montoneros admitted that 5,000 of its guerrillas were killed, and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo or ERP admitted the loss of 5,000 of their armed fighters.

Shortly after his inauguration in 1983, civilian president Raúl Alfonsín created CONADEP, Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons. The commission published its findings in the Nunca Más (Never Again) report. CONADEP recorded the forced disappearance of about 9,000 persons from 1976 to 1983. Estimates by human rights organizations usually claim 30,000. The report contains descriptions of individual cases of people being tortured or killed.

Elin Skaar, Senior Researcher and head of the Transitional Justice Research Programme at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, has written a book, Retributive Justice: The Politics of Prosecution, on the role of courts and other institutional machinery in shaping “trajectories of post-transitional justice”. She argues that in Argentina judicial independence played a key role. In 1985, nine junta members were prosecuted and convicted. It was the first action against a former dictatorship since the Nuremberg trials and the first to be conducted by a civilian court. It largely succeeded in proving the crimes of the junta.

Less publicity was given to the fact that President Carlos Menem released the accused in 1989. In 2003, President Néstor Kirchner obtained a Supreme Court ruling permitting extraditions; a 2005 ruling declared that the 1986 and 1987 laws shielding those accused from prosecution were unconstitutional. Despite delays and ongoing threats against witnesses, over 600 hitherto immune defendants faced criminal proceedings by 2010. A total of 677 affidavits concerning civilians and servicemen killed in leftist terrorist acts were also filed.

Two former Argentine dictators appeared in court last March on charges of kidnapping hundreds of babies seized from political prisoners. The trial has focused on the fate of at least 34 children who were born to mothers being held in the two main prisons used during military rule, the Naval Mechanics School, and the Campo de Mayo military base.
Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, alongside six other former military officers, and Dr. Jorge Luis Magnasco, who attended many of the births, are involved in the case. Videla, now 85, was one of those released by Menem but later sentenced to life imprisonment. Bignone, 83, ruled Argentina during the Falklands conflict and handed over power to Alfonsín. He was sentenced to 25 years in April 2010. The sentence in the baby trial is expected to be delivered  in late May 2012.

“Justice was slow in coming but it has finally arrived,” said Estela de Carlotto, head of the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Thirty years after the fall of the junta, trials are still taking place.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/feature-viewpoint/item/5753-reconciliation-and-retribution-in-argentina.html#sthash.8O0DEL7f.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in El Salvador

 

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 17 June 2012

From the early 1970s, there was conflict in the Central American republic of El Salvador as a result of great disparities between rich and poor. There was a resurgence of guerrilla activity which the government countered with death squads, which killed 687 civilians in 1978 and 1,796 in 1979.  The Revolutionary Government Junta took power in a bloodless coup in October 1979 and made promises to improve living standards, hold free elections, and put an end to human rights violations.

US-funded barbarity

The US began offering large-scale military and economic support. For over 20 years, Latin American officers were trained at the notorious US Army School of the Americas. In 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals from the School. These manuals advocated targeting civilians, extra-judicial executions and torture. In one training exercise, trainees act out the murder of a local priest.

In 1980, government forces murdered at least 11,895 people, mostly civilians. On December 2, 1980, the National Guard raped and murdered four American nuns. In 1981, government forces killed at least 16,276 unarmed civilians. Military death squads wiped out entire villages. In December 1981, the military killed 1,000 in the village of El Mozote. The US denied reports of these atrocities.

Failure to implement reforms provoked the five main guerrilla groups to unite into the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The death squads forced many civilians to flee to the US but most were denied asylum. The US-assisted plan was to burn all vegetation, including subsistence crops, and to destroy everything that might be of use to those, who opposed the Salvadoran armed forces.

The London Sunday Times reported that Menendez de Iglesias, was arrested in September 1985 by U.S. officials, “handed over to the Salvadoran Treasury Police and repeatedly raped and tortured while in detention and further questioned by U.S. officials while in custody.”

 

Baptist Carter wages war on Catholic Church

 

When we see the venerable and saintly Jimmy Carter roaming the world doing good in 2012, let us not forget that he was the US president who began funding the Salvadoran sadists, and he  refused  Archbishop Oscar Romero’s request to cut US military aid to El Salvador. Romero was assassinated while saying mass in 1980. At Romero’s funeral, government snipers killed forty-two mourners. Carter ignored the Archbishop’s plea and authorized $5.7 million in military assistance to “strengthen the Army’s key role in reforms.”

In one of its last acts, the outgoing Carter administration increased military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces to $10 million, claiming that the regime had taken “positive steps” to investigate the murder of the American nuns; this was disputed by US Ambassador, Robert E. White, who said that he could find no evidence the junta was conducting a serious investigation.”

Reverend Daniel Santiago was a Catholic priest working in El Salvador. He reported:
“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador — they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disembowelled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch. There is a purpose to all of this. … Sadomasochistic killing creates terror in El Salvador. Terror creates passivity in the face of oppression. A passive population is easy to control. Why the need to control the peasants? Somebody has to pick the coffee and cotton and cut the sugar cane.”

Remember Father Santiago’s words when next you hear Jimmy Carter pontificating about human rights. This devout Christian president funded and gave immoral support to what many have interpreted as a war against the Catholic Church in El Salvador, which promoted “liberation theology” and defended the poor.

On  November 16, 1989, the US-backed Atlacatl Battalion summarily executed six Jesuit priests. In the middle of the night, the six priests, and their housekeepers, were dragged from their beds and then shot in the head. “They were assassinated with lavish barbarity” said the Rev. Jose Maria Tojeira, the Jesuit Provincial for Central America. “For example, they took out their brains.”

Blowtorch Bob

 

Major Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta, can stand as a symbol of the horrors that the US funded in El Salvador. He was known as “Blowtorch Bob” because of his interrogation techniques. D’Aubuisson was the master-mind of the death squads. There is little doubt that he was responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero. He lost a presidential campaign in 1984 to Jose Napoleon Duarte. In 1992, D’Aubuisson died at 47 of oesophageal cancer. He was never tried for any of his crimes.

Peace

 

This most uncivil of wars ended on  January 16, 1992, when the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed. The Comisión de la Verdad para El Salvador was a truth commission established by the UN to investigate and report on human rights abuses during the civil war. The Commission received testimony from 2,000 people in relation to 7,000 victims, and gathered information from secondary sources related to more than 8,000 victims. In addition, 23,000 written statements were received. The commission selected 13,569 cases and highlighted 32 cases, which illustrated the patterns of violence by the combatants in the war. On March 15, 1993, the commission published its report From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador. Five days later the legislative assembly approved an amnesty covering all the violent events of the war.

The complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to State agents, private paramilitary groups, and the death squads. In its conclusions, the Commission called for an end to impunity. “Acts of this nature, regardless of the sector to which their perpetrators belong, must be the object of exemplary action by the law courts so that the punishment prescribed by law is meted out to those found responsible.”

 
The Commission recommended systemic changes: “In order to avoid any risk of reverting to the status quo ante, it is essential that El Salvador establish and strengthen the proper balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches and that it institute full and indisputable civilian control over all military, paramilitary, intelligence and security forces”.

Did reconciliation work?

 
In an academic paper, Ruth Velasquez Estrada contends that the amnesty law closed what little space there had been for attaining symbolic retributive or restorative justice. However, she believes that “remembering” and “creating” communities have become part of a contestation against the socio-political polarisation based on ideological discourses serving the interests of political parties. She argues that, despite some claims of continuing political polarisation in El Salvador, many former army and guerrilla combatants are coexisting in the same communities and working together in various ways, and a space has opened up for the recreation of social networks and the creation of post-war communities. She calls this process ‘grassroots peacemaking’.
El Salvador today

 
In 2010, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords. President Mauricio Funes gave a speech addressing important issues of human rights and accountability and asked forgiveness, in the name of the state, of those who were victims of the armed conflict. Mr. Funes, who was elected in 2009, is a leader of the former rebel movement, the FMLN. The government has taken a number of important steps on impunity and human rights.  Investigations into police and government corruption have been launched, with suspensions and several arrests. President Funes honoured the six Jesuit priests and their two companions who were murdered in 1989.

In March 2011, President Obama visited El Salvador and met Funes who, despite his left-wing roots, does not share the suspicion and hostility towards US imperialism expressed by other Latin American leftists such as Hugo Chavez.

A common thread in these articles has been that reconciliation, whatever truth-telling talky-talk  goes on, is fragile if economic inequality and abuses of human rights persist. This is true in El Salvador today. Only last week, Robert Lorenzana, FMLN deputy and vice president of parliament, warned that conditions for a coup are being generated. The economic crisis has hurt El Salvador.  Crime has continued to be a major problem; homicide rates have risen. The government has been criticized by the human rights community and the business community, for not introducing a comprehensive and effective anti-crime plan. A military crack-down might be a temptation. These are still dangerous times.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/focus/item/7260-reconciliation-in-el-salvador.html#sthash.HApPNg25.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Bosnia

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 29 July 2012

Tensions between the Yugoslav republics soon emerged after Tito’s death and in 1991, the federation collapsed into mayhem. The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly complex and horrific because there were so many parties involved. It was principally a territorial conflict, initially between Serb forces and the national army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which was mainly composed of Muslim Bosniaks) and Croatian forces. The population of the multi-ethnic, multi-faith Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 31% Orthodox Serbs, 17% Catholic Croats. Serbs set up their own enclave within Bosnia, Republika Srpska, whose army had some 80,000 personnel during the war and committed war crimes and genocide against Bosnia Muslims and Croats.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo and Srebrenica can stand as specimens for the many horrors of the Bosnian war. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, three times longer than the Siege of Stalingrad. There was an average of 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on July 22, 1993. It is estimated that nearly 12,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. Snipers killed civilians queuing for water or trying to buy food in the market. Bosniak homes were ransacked, males taken to concentration camps, women repeatedly raped. UNICEF reported that, at least 40% children in the city had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. The Bosnian Government reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50% drop in births since the siege began.

Srebrenica UN failings

In July 1995, at Srebrenica, a “safe area” under UN protection, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb forces under Ratko Mladić and massacred. The victims included boys aged under 15, men over the age of 65, women, and reportedly even several babies. Dutch UN soldiers were criticised for failing to protect the Bosniak refugees in the “safe area”. Lieutenant-Colonel Thom Karremans was filmed drinking a toast with  Mladić .
In 2005, in a message on the tenth anniversary commemoration of the genocide, Kofi Annan noted that great nations had failed to respond adequately and that Srebrenica would haunt the UN forever. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruled that the massacre constituted genocide, a crime under international law.
Addressing the Bosnian parliament in July 2012 Ban Ki-moon said: “In a tragedy of such epic proportions, there was so much blood and so much blame. The United Nations did not live up to its responsibility. The international community failed in preventing the genocide that unfolded”.

Jasmin Mujanović argues that persistent fallacies have informed the international community’s attempts to “deal” with Bosnia since (at least) 1991-92. He writes that the war was not “the result of the unbridled and millennial ethnic hatreds of its peoples, but rather the engineered and orchestrated machinations of an unaccountable political elite seeking to secure its political and economic survival in a period of immense social crisis…” Significant elements of the international community advocated a foreign policy based on preserving a vacuous conception of ‘stability’ and ‘unity’ rather than a principled insistence on democratization and human rights. …the international community had sent strong signals to the country’s leadership that an increased role by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) would be a welcome step towards checking some of their growing concerns about the stability of political authority in the country in the post-Tito period.”

Death toll

There are large discrepancies between estimates of the total number of casualties in the Bosnian war, with estimates ranging from 25,000 to 329,000. According to Prof. Steven L. Burg and Prof. Paul S. Shoup, “The figure of 200,000 (or more) dead, injured, and missing was frequently cited in media reports on the war in Bosnia as late as 1994. The October 1995 bulletin of the Bosnian Institute for Public Health of the Republic Committee for Health and Social Welfare gave the numbers as 146,340 killed and 174,914 wounded on the territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Mustafa Imamovic gave a figure of 144,248 perished (including those who died from hunger or exposure), mainly Muslims. “

Peace?

There were several major massacres during 1995 and NATO made widespread air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks. On 14 September 1995, the NATO air strikes were suspended to allow the implementation of an agreement with Bosnian Serbs for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. A 60-day ceasefire came into effect on October 12, and on November 1 peace talks began in Dayton, Ohio. The war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on November21, 1995.

 
The Dayton Accord was described as a “construction of necessity” the immediate purpose of which was to freeze the military confrontation, and prevent it from resuming. There is no space here to go into the intricate juggling to swap territories from one group to another in order to establish the new nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Many scholars have deemed Dayton an impressive example of conflict resolution which has turned Bosnia from a basket-case to a potential EU member.

Critics have, however, had problems with the fact international actors, unaccountable to BiH’s citizens, were allowed to shape the agenda of post-war transition, and decide punishment for local political actors. Another perceived flaw is that each ethnic group was discontented with the results.

Truth and reconciliation

Retributive justice is impossible to apply in a context like Bosnia where so many were involved in the conflict. There are not enough resources to capture and try everyone who committed war crimes. Widespread arrests would reignite conflict. In January 2005, Hajra Catic of the Mothers of Srebrenica organization, “lost faith” in ICTY’s ability to dispense justice after they sentenced Dragan Jokic, a man she believed was responsible for 3,000 deaths, to only nine years in prison.

Eileen Babbitt wrote about UN efforts to reintegrate refugees: “they were coming back to communities where they were really, really unwanted. Most of them were coming back to places where they were a majority population and now post-war they are the minority, so another group has literally taken over and moved into their homes, and many of those people are also displaced, traumatized, etc. and they’re not about to simply give up everything and welcome the returning refugees with open arms.”

 
Reconciliation is hampered by a refusal to face up to the truth because each group has its own narrative. Schools are strictly segregated and children learn three different versions of the war. After many failed attempts, there has still not been a successful truth commission.

On 6 December 2004, Serbian president Boris Tadić made an apology to all those who suffered crimes committed in the name of the Serb people. Croatia’s president Ivo Josipović apologized in April 2010 for his country’s role in the Bosnian War. On 31 March 2010, the Serbian parliament adopted a declaration “condemning in strongest terms the crime committed in July 1995 against Bosniak population of Srebrenica” and apologizing to the families of the victims.

Europe

In Bosnia, 88% support the country’s bid for EU membership. Identification with Europe as a supranational community can in Bosnia and Herzegovina become a way to overcome ethnic differences. Poll results show that support for EU membership is strongest in the Muslim community, with 97% in favour, while 85% of Bosnian Croats support it and 78% of Bosnian Serbs. The EU-initiated processes of institutional engineering and systemic inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists into policy-making processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina signals an important and historic shift from an ethnocentric citizenship model towards a democratic and inclusive citizenship regime.

Bosnia today

On July 25, 2012, Ban Ki-moon addressed the BiH parliament and noted the progress achieved by Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last two decades, including its transformation from a country which hosted UN peacekeepers to a troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, and from occupying the agenda of the Security Council to successfully serving on the Council. “Led by your priorities and direction, we are working together to create jobs especially for young people, extend social protection for the most vulnerable groups, end the suffering of those enduring protracted displacement, safeguard the environment, tackle discrimination and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) highlighted the continued marginalization of minority groups, particularly Roma. In a joint opinion issued in June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UK Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague expressed disappointment at the protracted institutional gridlock in Bosnia that was preventing needed reforms, including ending ethnic discrimination in politics.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/8742-reconciliation-in-bosnia.html#sthash.Ih6Zh13M.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Cyprus

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday, 22 July 2012

 

In 1878 Britain was granted control of Cyprus in exchange for giving military support to the Ottoman Empire against Russia. The first British High Commissioner to Cyprus was Sir Garnet Joseph Wolseley. The indigenous Greeks of the island in the 1881 census formed 73.9% of the population desired enosis to unite with Greece.

Cypriots believed British rule would bring prosperity, democracy and national liberation. However, the British levied severe taxes to cover the compensation they were paying to the Sultan. All powers were reserved to the High Commissioner and to London thwarting hopes of democracy for Cypriots.

 
The First World War ended protectorate status and Cyprus was annexed to the British Empire. Britain offered to cede Cyprus to Greece if they would fulfil treaty obligations to attack Bulgaria but Greece declined. Britain proclaimed Cyprus a Crown colony in 1925 under an undemocratic constitution.

 
Under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 the new Turkish government formally recognised Britain’s sovereignty over Cyprus. Greek Cypriots continued to demand enosis achieved by many of the Aegean and Ionian islands following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The British opposed enosis and unrest developed during the 1930s. The 1931 riots in Nicosia burnt down Government House.

The Governor Sir Richmond Palmer took suppressive measures against the Greeks and prohibited trade unions and limited freedom of association. Yet more than 30,000 Cypriots joined the British during World War II. After the war, there was international pressure for enosis and a delegation from Cyprus submitted a demand to London. The demand was rejected but the British proposed a liberal constitution and a 10-year development programme.

 
When international pressure did not suffice to make Britain respond, violence escalated with a campaign against the colonial power by EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston). Its leader Colonel George Grivas created and directed a campaign in 1955. The first bombs were set off on April 1. Attacks on police started on June 19. The Governor proclaimed emergency on November 26.

For the next four years EOKA attacked British targets and British collaborative Cypriots. Archbishop Makarios and other Cypriot clergy and political leaders exiled. The Cyprus emergency cost the lives of 371 British servicemen – more than died in Afghanistan.

 
Turkish Cypriots in 1957 responded to the demand for enosis by calling for taksim partition. Taksim became the slogan used by the militant Turkish Cypriots to counter ‘enosis’. In 1957 Fazıl Küçük who represented Turkish Cypriots and later became vice-president of independent Cyprus, declared that Turkey would claim the northern half of the island.

The British were forced to take a different attitude after the Suez fiasco. They were no longer a convincing imperial power. Britain decided that independence was acceptable if military bases in Cyprus could be an alternative to Cyprus as a base. However Governor Sir Hugh Foot’s plan for self-government alarmed the Turkish community and violence between the two communities increased.

On August 16, 1960 Cyprus gained independence from Britain. Archbishop Makarios was elected the first president. In 1961 Cyprus became the 99th member of the UN. Independence did not bring reconciliation. Greek Cypriots argued that the complex mechanisms introduced to protect Turkish Cypriots’ interests were obstacles to efficient government and tried to exclude Turkish politicians. Both sides continued the violence. Turkish Cypriot participation in the central government ceased on December 23, 1963 when all Cypriot Turks from the lowest civil servants to ministers including the Turkish Vice-President Dr. Fazıl Küçük were out of the government. UN peacekeepers were deployed on the island in 1964 recognising the Greek Cypriots as the government. UK PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home said international intervention was essential.

In July 1974 Makarios was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard which supported the military dictators who had seized power in Athens. Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20 and took control of 38% of the island. Greek Cypriots numbering 200,000 fled the northern areas and 60,000 Turkish Cypriots were transferred to northern occupied areas by the UN. Since then the southern part of the country has been under the control of the internationally recognised Cyprus government and the northern part occupied under a Turkish administration and the Turkish army. Turkey relocated 40,000 Turkish civilians to the occupied part of the island through coercive measures.

Historians such as Brendan O’Malley, Ian Craig, Lawrence Stern and  William Mallinson have argued that the US had a decade-long plan to partition Cyprus through external military intervention and that this plan was based on the strategic value of Cyprus as a military base and a source of intelligence.
When Cyprus applied to join the EU in May 2004 members of both communities (and citizens of EU) have been able to cross the buffer zone. An UN-sponsored referendum on reunification was held on April 21, 2004. Turkish Cypriots voted for UN plan as stated in the referendum but Greek Cypriots rejected it by a large majority.

The first election was held in 2008 after Cyprus’s accession to the EU and the failed referendum. Dimitris Christofias of the communist party became president and started talks with on the reunification of Cyprus as a bizonal federal state. His hopes for Greek Cypriot approval of such a plan were thwarted by the nationalists’ victory in the 2009 elections. Turkey’s own bid for EU membership has been thwarted and they may now have given up. EU membership was a strong factor in reconciliation Ireland but that avenue seems to have closed for Cyprus.

Although Northern Cyprus has been a de jure member of the EU since 2004, EU law is ‘suspended’ there. Cyprus currently holds the EU presidency for the first time. President Christofias has stressed that the Cyprus Presidency would be a European Presidency and that it would only promote the EU’s interests as a whole working as an honest broker. Cyprus is the fifth state to ask for an EU bailout. According to Standard and Poors 15 billion euros would be needed. There is fear that the main victim of the Cyprus EU Presidency will be the ongoing re-unification talks.

On July 19 2012 Christofias welcomed an agreement to identify missing persons who were believed to have been exhumed. The President announced that soon the first 280 samples of remains believed to belong to about 70 missing persons would be delivered to the International Commission on Missing Persons. He also said that the remains of 330 missing persons had been identified, 66 of whom were Turkish Cypriots and the rest Greek Cypriots. He stressed that the healing process for the families of missing persons would only end when the remains of the last victims was identified on the basis of international law. The European Court of Human Rights established that there had been continuing violations by Turkey of Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the Convention concerning the right to life, liberty and security and prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Turkey was found to have failed to conduct an effective investigation into the fate of the Greek Cypriot missing persons disappeared in life-threatening circumstances or were in Turkish custody at the time of their disappearance.

Mehmet Ali Talat, a leftist like Christofias, was  president until 2010 of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He said he wanted a Cypriot federation with a central government and a shared flag but “the Greek Cypriots aren’t cooperating.” The north has increasingly attracted undesirable elements. Turkish Cyprus attracts fugitives seeking sanctuary in a territory without extradition arrangements, smugglers, human traffickers and gamblers. Electricians, plumbers and bricklayers crossed the border to work in EU territory. Some 80,000 Turkish Cypriots or about one-third of the population in the north now have EU passports.

 

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/international/item/8501-reconciliation-in-cyprus.html#sthash.31zF2PoW.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 4

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 26 2013

 

Aristide was elected by a landslide in November 2000. Many said he had become a corrupt tyrant against whom even the poor had turned. Nevertheless, Gallup polls in 2002, the results of which were never disseminated, showed that, whatever his faults, he was far and away Haiti’s most popular and trusted politician.

The protégés of white supremacist Jesse Helms had more say in Aristide’s fate than the Haitian electorate. The Bush administration sent Roger Noriega to Haiti to ‘work out’ the crisis. Noriega worked for Helms and his allies and US Haiti policy was determined by a small number of people who were prominent in Reagan’s or Bush pére’s cabinets. Reagan’s UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was on the board of the International Republican Institute which actively supported the Opposition in Haiti and backed the demobilized army personnel who provided the opposition’s muscle. Many of Reagan and the elder Bush’s henchman returned to government under Bush fils after spending time in conservative think tanks or lobbying firms. Elliot Abrams, convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings was on the NSC and even today is offering Obama advice in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine.

Although US officials stated initially that Aristide had been “taken to the country of his choice”, Aristide’s claim that he had no idea where he was going seems more plausible.

Aid as a weapon

Haiti’s government, which serves eight million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. Paul Farmer reported that The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved four loans, for health, education, drinking water and road improvement. Haitian and American sources have confirmed to him that the US asked the bank to block the loans until the electoral disputes had been worked out.

 
The freeze continued throughout Aristide’s tenure even after the dispute was resolved. The US gave Haiti, per capita, one tenth of what it distributed in Kosovo. A great deal of it went to the anti-Aristide opposition. A lot also went to pay for the UN occupation and Halliburton support services. International financial institutions engaged in discriminatory and probably illegal practices towards Haiti.

Many of Aristide’s supporters in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.

Amy Wilentz recounts an anecdote which epitomizes the foreign aid relationship. Joyce and Eldon were Baptist missionaries who wanted the CARE Food-for- Work program to make converts for the Lord. The peasants did not like building a new pigsty for Joyce and Eldon for a meal a day rather than cash. With cash they could store food at home for their families. Food-for-Work felt like slavery.

Debt

The Haitian government was forced to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts. About 40% of Haiti’s $1.134 billion international debt was from loans to the Duvalier dictators. In July 2003, Haiti sent more than 90% of all its foreign reserves to Washington to pay off these arrears.

By the end of the 19th century, payments to France consumed around 80% of Haiti’s budget. 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, healthcare, water systems and roads.” He added in interest and adjusted for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48

 
Régis Debray, left-wing hero of the 1960s and associate of Che Guevara, was sent to Haiti by Chirac in search of arguments to undermine Aristide’s position. Debray concluded that Aristide’s demands had no “legal basis” and claimed that no members of the democratic opposition to Aristide took the reimbursement claims seriously. Debray neglected to mention that the Haitian electorate preferred Aristide to this opposition by a factor of nine or ten to one.

Aftermath

In his book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster, Jonathan Katz describes the role of the international community after the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Aid groups warned potential donors, “Do Not Give To The Haitian Government: Haiti is known to be a corrupt country.” Reviewing the book in the Columbia Journalism Review Justin Peters wrote: “It wouldn’t surprise me if some observers secretly believed the Préval regime had engineered the earthquake in order to steal billions from the international community.”

The “action plan,” demanded strict oversight of their donations, and wealthy investors intent on making the new Haiti a business-friendly place. Small donations were mishandled by NGOs, as big donations never materialized. Katz estimates that of the $2.43 billion spent on ostensible humanitarian relief by the end of 2010, a mere seven percent actually made its way to Haiti. The donors had their own ideas of how to “build back better,” epitomized by the words of Brad Horwitz, an American whose company owned one of Haiti’s largest cell-phone networks: “We need Haiti open for business.” “Open for business” very specifically referred to the production of cheap garments. In Haiti, the plan was to make it a sweatshop economy where the government is largely absent.

Haiti enjoyed a successful slave revolt in 1804. Today is enslaved to the global market.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/18063-before-and-after-the-earthquake-part-4.html#sthash.WrXJrpra.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Haiti Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 12 2013

Titid – Le Petit Aristide – was hugely popular with poor Haitians and hated by the elite. The case against him has been put by Peter Dailey in the New York Review of Books, Andre Linard and Maurice Lemoine in Le Monde diplomatique. Kim Ives has demolished Dailey’s NYRB articles. My virtual friend, who calls herself Zen Haitian, has challenged Le Monde diplomatique. Paul Farmer has made the case for Aristide in London Review of Books and been supported by Peter Hallward and Brian Concannon.

 
Linard wrote of Aristide: “He was attacked for setting up an anti-democratic regime and accused of enriching himself through illicit trafficking. The public was divided between three explanations. Some feel they were conned by Aristide in 1990. A slightly less widely shared view is that he was changed by the 1991 coup that ousted him, his exile in the US and return to power in 1994. There are those who saw him as a victim of constraints: ‘se pa fôt li (it’s not his fault)’, they say in Creole, preferring to blame both his entourage and the international community”.

Dailey’s assertion that the “Aristide government’s increasingly authoritarian behavior has left it isolated and condemned by the international community, which suspended crucial foreign aid” was countered thus by Ives: “The ‘international community’, if defined as the majority of the world’s nations, is sympathetic to the Haitian government and disapproving, at the very least, of the Bush administration’s strong-arming. … the majority of the OAS and CARICOM member states have pleaded for the release of the aid and loans to Haiti, held hostage only by Washington’s hostility to Aristide.”

Titid vs. Washington Consensus

Aristide came under fire from those who advocated more enthusiastic compliance with the US and IMF. Ives: “Aristide was proving to be mercurial and uncooperative about privatizations and other neoliberal reforms.”
Brian Concannon: “The ease with which Haiti’s leftist elite and its foreign supporters joined sweatshop owners, Duvalierists and the Bush administration in a crusade to overthrow Aristide says more about the fluidity of their own political commitments than about Haiti’s government. The real cleavage in Haiti has always been not left-right but up-down. When push came to shove, class allegiance trumped any professed commitment to social equality or democracy.”

Military coup

Aristide was overthrown in a military coup September 1991, in which the US and France were heavily implicated. The military’s leader, General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. Both the Organization of America States and the United Nations issued international sanctions against Haiti in response to the coup.
In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorized by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. My friend Zen Haitian commented: “He was forced to agree to their structural re-adjustment measures in order to be restored to power– he lost some, but was still able to command the love and respect of a majority of Haitians.”

Another electoral triumph

In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. The Haitian government, faced with crippling poverty, was required to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts, many of them linked to loans paid out to the Duvalier dictatorship and to the military regimes that ruled Haiti with great brutality from 1986 to 1990.

 
The US State Department ignored repeated opposition attacks against Lavalas and the deadly campaign being carried out by neo-Duvalierist guerrillas. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US groups helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH.

Abduction and exile

Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on 28 February, 2004. Aristide has accused the U.S. of kidnapping and deposing him.

In his book, Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti, Jeb Sprague focuses on the period beginning in 1990 with the rise of Aristide, and the right-wing movements that succeeded in driving him from power. Sprague traces connections between paramilitaries and their elite financial and political backers, in Haiti and in the US and the Dominican Republic.
Peter Hallward argued that people with – generally tenuous – connections to Aristide’s Lavalas party were probably responsible for around thirty killings in all the years he was in office. Five thousand Lavalas supporters were killed while Aristide was in exile between 1991 and 1994, and fifty thousand deaths have been attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships.

For all its faults, Lavalas remained the only significant force for popular mobilization in the country. No other political figure of the past fifty years has had anything like Aristide’s stature among the urban and rural poor. Class sympathy among Western elites who felt themselves under similar threat, both at home and abroad, goes a long way to explaining the international perception of the Lavalas regime.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17745-reconciliation-in-haiti-part-3.html#sthash.o9OGpDFG.dpuf

 

Reconciliation in Haiti

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 28 2013

After independence, Haiti’s leaders were desperate for recognition. In 1825, under threat of another French invasion and the restoration of slavery, Haitian officials signed a document agreeing to pay an indemnity of 150 million Francs (comparable to US$12.7 billion as of 2009) in return for France recognising Haiti’s independence.

Victor Schoelcher published many articles between 1833 and 1847 about the evils of slavery. He was the first European abolitionist to visit Haiti. Schoelcher argued: “Imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood”.

 
The impact of the debt repayments – which continued until after World War Two – was devastating. Haitian anthropologist Jean Price-Mars wrote: “the incompetence and frivolity of its leaders had turned a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to then into a nation burdened with debt and trapped in financial obligations that could never be satisfied.” This may be unfair, as the demand was allegedly delivered to the country by twelve French warships armed with 500 cannons.

US Dominance

 
By the late 19th century, the USA had eclipsed France in Haiti. A US military occupation (1915-34) brought back the corvée (state-imposed forced labour). The Haitian army, which never fought a non-Haitian enemy, was created by an act of the US Congress. The Americans abolished the clause in the Haitian constitution barring foreigners from owning property, took over the National Bank, reorganized the economy to ensure more reliable payments of foreign debt and expropriated land to create their own plantations.

Canadian political philosopher Peter Hallward wrote: “The United States installed several puppet presidents favourably disposed to American corporate interests. But eventually, Haiti stopped being worth the trouble. Strongman regimes made a mockery of democratic governance; millions migrated from the countryside to a capital unready for such a vast population influx. Haiti’s problems were so systemic, its infrastructure so rotten, that when interested foreigners got together to discuss them, the solutions always came down to one of two things: a bulldozer or a bomb.”

Duvaliers

 
François Duvalier was president from 1957 until his death in 1971. He was called Papa Doc because he started out as a simple country doctor, fighting disease among the poor (sponsored by the US). He opposed a military coup in 1950, and was elected president in 1957. He used the Tonton Macoutes (bogeymen) to extend and bolster support for the regime in the countryside. The Macoutes had twice the numbers of the regular army. An estimated 30,000 Haitians died as a result of Papa Doc’s tyranny.

He was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude, nicknamed “Baby Doc”. After assuming power, Baby introduced cosmetic changes, but thousands of Haitians were killed or tortured, and hundreds of thousands fled the country, further sapping the economy and creating a diaspora. His lavish lifestyle was funded with millions from involvement in the drug trade and from selling body parts from dead Haitians.

Aristide

 
Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide (Titid – Creole for Le petit Aristide) was a proponent of liberation theology. In September 1988, he was saying mass when the church was set on fire by a gang paid by the mayor of Port-au-Prince. Twelve people died. Aristide rose from being a slum priest to be president of Haiti. He was focal point for the pro-democracy movement first under Baby Doc and then under the military transition regime which followed. His party FL (Fanmi Lavalas – “Waterfall Family”, referring to the Biblical flood) claimed to support a policy of “growth with equity” based on Caribbean and Western European social democratic principles. FL’s policy was to invest in education and healthcare and refused IMF austerity measures. In the presidential election on December 16, 1990, Aristide got 67% of the vote in a field of twelve. No run-off was required.

Aristide came under fire from those wanting compliance with the US and IMF and was overthrown in a military coup in September 1991. General Raoul Cedras, led an oppressive regime marked by numerous human rights violations. For the next three years Haiti was run by military-civilian juntas as ruthless as the Duvaliers. According Gayle Smith, a member of the National Security Council staff under Bill Clinton, “Most people around the world believe that Aristide’s departure was at best facilitated, at worst coerced by the US and France”.

In October 1994, under Bill Clinton, the US military intervened and restored Aristide to power, with a little over a year of his term left to run. Although authorised by the UN, the restoration was basically a US operation. In November 2000, Aristide was again elected by a landslide. The US cut off aid and ignored pleas from the Aristide government for an international peacekeeping force as anti-Aristide death squads overran more than half the country. US marines stationed in Haiti made no effort to disarm these rebels. Under disputed circumstances, Aristide was flown out of the country by the US on February 28, 2004. Aristide has accused the U S  of kidnapping and deposing him.

 

 

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/17517-reconciliation-in-haiti.html#sthash.Fj0U58Sj.dpuf

 

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