Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Le Monde diplomatique

Triumphalism and foreign commentators

This article appeared in Lakbima News on Sunday August 29 2010.

Some months ago, my fellow LAKBIMAnEWS contributor, Dayan Jayatilleka, was kind enough to mention my humble efforts in what he called “the prestigious Le Monde diplomatique”. In a series of short articles, I tried to convey to the western world the complexity of what was actually happening in our country. Most people who  commented on these pieces described them as  “professional” and “unbiased”, although an article caused one reader to call me a government lackey and another to call me a regurgitator of terrorist propaganda. I received an e-mail addressing me as “you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum”.

The August 2009 edition of Le Monde diplomatique carried an article on Sri Lanka by one Cédric Gouverneur entitled ‘The Time of Triumphalism.’ The editor of the English-language edition, Wendy Kristianasen, asked me for my views, somewhat pointlessly,  after the article was published. Unfortunately, she did not like my views.

She wrote to me: “It will be rather a statement of the obvious for you, but it is a good way to get the wider world interested in the country and its complex politics.”

My response was that it was unhelpful to get the wider world interested if the wider world gets interested in a distorted picture. Her response was : “I think, for what it’s worth, that the West knows very little about Sri Lanka, particularly outside of the UK. …Most ordinary people simply know that there was a long, difficult conflict. That’s all. Whereas what goes on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and particularly Israel, is widely reported on, in every detail, and closely followed. Every ordinary person has an opinion on those subjects, and may even feel him/herself to be an armchair expert.”

Cédric Gouverneur wrote about Sri Lanka back in 2004: “Many observers would wager that the LTTE will evolve mid-term, influenced by the Tamil diaspora (accustomed to Western democracy after 20 years of exile) and their own pragmatic leaders, who are increasingly political and less warlike.”

He clearly got that horribly wrong!

In this latest article he raises several issues which need to be debated, and which have been covered in some depth in LAKBIMAnEWS and other papers, such as the plight of the IDPs, the militarisation of the north, the fear of colonisation of predominantly Tamil areas.

The phrase “the government, overjoyed at being able to divide the Tamils” occurs in the body of the text. I doubt if that is actually telling us anything real or useful. This phrase suggests that the Tamil inhabitants of Sri Lanka form a homogeneous entity. Tamils are already divided by differences of origin, class, caste, religion, income, status and political views no matter what the government does. It would be more accurate to say “The government, overjoyed at electorally annihilating the opposition”.

In the article, theories are developed on the strength of vox pop statements from unreliable witnesses. “This triumphalism has exasperated Tamils recently liberated from Menic (sic) Farm”. This is based on the comments of a man who is nostalgic about the days of the LTTE. But even he says : “I appreciate that since the shelling, the army has behaved well towards civilians. They want to win our hearts and minds.”

Shanti Satchithanandam’s views are cited and she is described as a “victim” of the Tigers. Others have described her as a Tiger supporter.

It is implied that Sinhalese were gullible because: “They truly believe the media’s line that their army freed the Tamils from the clutches of a criminal organisation.” Why should they not believe it?!

The article is riddled with factual inaccuracies. There many serious howlers in the historical timeline headed “Thirty years of civil war”. I will not bore you with all of them. The thirty years begins with 1815 (surely something wrong with the arithmetic!). “The British finish colonising the island, previously divided into three kingdoms – two Sinhalese, one Tamil”. The most egregious error is “December 2009. Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results”. How could they dispute the results in December 2009 of an election which did not take place until January 2010?

Ms Kristianasen was not pleased when I drew her attention to these flaws. She said “I must ask you to commit yourself to responsible journalism”. Monsieur Gouverneur sent me an angry and abusive e-mail after she forwarded to him my e-mail address without my permission.

I urge you to read the article in full. Only paying subscribers to Le Monde diplomatique can access it on their own website (http://mondediplo.com/2010/08/05srilanka) but the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (whose Advisory Council includes Noam Chomsky, Bianca Jagger, Jake Lynch, Lakhdar Brahimi, who was once foreign minister of human-rights beacon Algeria,  and Edward Mortimer) have kindly reproduced it (historical howlers and all).

http://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2010/08/uncomfortable-peace-in-sri-lanka-time.html

I am not one of those who use the tu quoque argument or says westerners are not allowed to criticise Sri Lanka because the crimes of the west are worse. However, Sri Lanka seems plagued by foreigners dropping in for a few days, becoming instant experts and disseminating a distorted picture. Cédric Gouverneur has written many of these “what I did on my holidays” pieces.

I urge LAKBIMAnEWS readers to study the article and engage in debate on it. Unfortunately, such debate is not possible with Le Monde diplomatique – they have no letters page, no readers’ editor, no complaints or corrections section, no facility to comment in any way on M Gouverneur’s article.

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

 

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