March 10, 2004

Telling the imperialists to go to hell

By Stephen Gowans

That business people and professionals comprise the Democratic Convergence (or Democratic Platform) and the Group of 184, the main opposition groups that successfully sought to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, should have been a tip off that Aristide's alleged democratic lapses weren't at the heart of the groups' enmity toward the reformist leader.

Aristide's committing the unpardonable sin of jacking up the daily (not hourly) minimum wage to $1.30 from 80 cents two years ago [1], and his doubling of the minimum wage in February [2], surely left opposition kingpins Maurice LaFortune, head of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, and Andy Apaid, a US national who owns a number of Haitian factories that depend on low-wage labor, seeing red -- literally and figuratively.

Cutting into profit margins by driving up wage rates from desperation-level to misery-level, and playing the "smile-fucker" game -- "oh sure, we'll privatize these state-enterprises," but failing to carry through -- is hardly the kind of game someone who's already on shaky ground for expressing a distaste for capitalism ought to be playing if he expects to have a long and fruitful career in politics. And getting too close to Washington's  Latin American bugbears Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez -- and demanding that France compensate Haiti for the crimes of colonialism -- didn't endear Aristide to powerful forces that could arrange his ouster as a matter of no great difficulty. A band of armed thugs streaming over the border, disruption and disorder, dead bodies littering the streets, and what could a humanitarian state do but intervene to restore order? And if order meant carting off the offending President, well then carting him off it would be. The next president, you can be sure, won't be jacking up minimum wages, and he'll quickly see to it that the demands the IMF has been making for years that state-owned enterprises be placed on the auction block are acceded to with alacrity.  Otherwise, he too will be ushered out the door faster than you can say "don't fuck with us."

Many years ago, the recently deceased Marxist economist Paul Sweezy observed that the outstanding characteristic of reform movements was the progressive bartering away of principles for votes and respectability [3]. Aristide, to be sure, did his share of bartering, not so much for votes, but to assuage conservative forces, so they would leave him be. The other side of the coin of Sweezy's observation is that reformists who accept the capitalist frame of reference and don't barter zealously enough, don't last long. So there's more than a touch of naivety in the shock that attended Aristide's being swept from power. If you choose to live in the bull's pen and get in his way, expect to get the horns.

There's also more than a dollop of bullshit in the sly innuendo that Aristide was a dictator, or the overt claim that Aristide was a despot who had worn out his welcome. He had worn out his welcome, that's certain -- but not with ordinary Haitians, 10,000 of whom took to the street to demand their President's return, lambaste the US for occupying their country, and to call Bush what he is -- a terrorist [4] (which proves that being poor and Haitian doesn't mean you don't know what's going on.) Aristide wore out his welcome with people like Maurice LaFortune and Andy Apaid, and with Washington too, where a new standard of judging the democratic credentials of foreign leaders has taken hold.

Aristide, remarked US Vice-President Dick Cheney "was democratically elected, but he never governed as a democrat," [5] the same charge leveled against Venezuela's Chavez, and earlier Yugoslavia's Milosevic, one the US uses in some form or other to dismiss opponents who insist unhelpfully on getting themselves elected and thereby making it tough to engineer their ouster as part of a moral crusade to deliver long-suffering foreigners from despots. So you stretch the truth as far as you can, to upset the rule of leaders of reformist governments who don't accept the rule of the IMF, or the logic of capitalism. "Oh yeah, he was elected, but he didn't rule like a democrat. He pissed off a lot of powerful business people, a lot of people who thought the country needed a good dose of economic reform, and you don't want to do that. That's not governing like a democrat."

But then the credibility of Dick "oh sure, there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no doubt about it" Cheney should be a little suspect, to say nothing of his commitment to "governing as a democrat." Wasn't the Bush administration bursting with bon mots for Spain's Jose Maria Aznar for standing tough against democracy, when polls revealed that 91 percent of Spaniards were opposed to Spain backing the invasion of Iraq [6]? Aznar went ahead anyway, elected, but hardly governing like a democrat, at least not by any normal definition of the word democracy, but then normal definitions don't count in Washington where democracy really means "democracy for the few."

Aristide, who must have thought he could get away with governing without recognizing the inviolability of this definition, says he was kidnapped, by which he means forced from Haiti, flown overseas and dumped unceremoniously into the Central African Republic. Cheney and US Secretary of State Colin Powell say that's nonsense. So, who are you going to believe? Aristide, or Cheney and Powell? I seem to recall a time when a dispute over the question of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction came down to a challenge. Who has more credibility: Powell, Cheney, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the one hand, or...Saddam Hussein? If you voted for the first three, count it as a learning experience that guys with nice suits, a facility with language, impressive CVs, and healthy bank accounts, aren't, ipso facto, more truthful than reviled foreign leaders with swarthy skin, dark, heavy facial hair, and a penchant for military uniforms.

"These Americans who are pontificating about human rights and democracy would not recognize these things even if they hit them on the faces," observed Zimbabwe's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, after the United States announced it was tightening sanctions on the poor African country for reasons it says has something to do with President Mugabe's democratic lapses, but as in Haiti, has more to do with the economics of capitalism. "So go tell the imperialists to go to hell [7]."

Indeed, we should, including US Presidential hopeful John "I'm tough and prepared to use US force unilaterally [8]" Kerry, who is as bullish on US imperialism as his Republican counterparts are. The Kerry Democrats want to follow the party's tradition of "muscular internationalism," a policy that would allow for the "bold exercise of US power," in the tradition of Harry (atom bomb) Truman and John (Vietnam war and Bay of Pigs) Kennedy, little different than the Republicans wanting to preserve US global pre-eminence, eclipse the rise of a great power rival, and shape the international security order in line with US interests. The difference, minute and insubstantial, is that the Republicans wear their aims on their sleeves, while the Democrats cravenly hide behind a veil of moral authority [9]. But even that difference is questionable. Kerry's promise to be tough, to act unilaterally and pre-emptively, suggests the veil may have been cast aside. And the likely Democratic standard-bearer's declaring that the US wasn't the villain in the Vietnam war [10] calls to mind a paraphrase of Moyo's comment: Kerry wouldn't know moral authority if it hit him on the face.

It gets worse. Besides being the principal practitioner of terrorism -- a point made repeatedly by Noam Chomsky -- the US can hardly be regarded as a model of human rights, though Washington has enough hubris and confidence Americans will hungrily imbibe the deception to make the claim. It is an act of jaw-dropping hypocrisy to bomb, strafe, and burn to death tens of thousands of Iraqis in a war of conquest based on a lie, and then denounce other governments for human rights violations that, together, pale in comparison to this single atrocity. Add the equally horrific trail of blood and carnage the US has left in Afghanistan, on top of the Pentagon having rounded up 10,000 Iraqi males to be interned in concentration camps, some as young as 11 and as old as 75 [11], and the hypocrisy defies belief. Iraq has become one large Guantanamo, remarked Adil Allami, a lawyer with the Human Rights Organization of Iraq [12], a reminder that the eponymous Guantanamo is no human rights picnic either.

A country whose human rights record is so foul has no business planning a war crimes tribunal for Iraq, but putting Saddam Hussein on trial is good politics -- and so, a war crimes tribunal is in the works. As the New York Times pointed out, "facing wide-scale criticism after no unconventional weapons have been found in Iraq, administration officials have increasingly turned to the evidence of the wide-scale atrocities committed by the Hussein government as a justification for going to war [13]," and it should be added -- because this is entirely the point of the whole exercise -- to justify the US having committed its own wide-scale atrocities in invading and occupying Iraq. But then at least Washington is consistent. The Hague Tribunal, set up under a Democratic administration, serves the same purpose as the soon-to-be established tribunal for Iraq, set in motion by a Republican administration: to justify decisions to trample international law, blast away thousands of people, and install puppet governments in far off lands that posed no threat but are home to attractive prizes of imperialist conquest.  The US, observed Arab legal specialist M. Cherif Bassiouni "is looking to have a political vindication of why the US went into Iraq. With no weapons of mass destruction to be found, the next best thing is to show how bad Saddam was, how his regime was like the 'Nazis' [14]." In other words, set up a tribunal to call attention to Saddam's atrocities to draw attention away from Washington's.

Salem Chalabi, nephew of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, who proved to be an inexhaustible source of misinformation on Saddam Hussein's mythical banned weapons program, is heading up the war crimes issue. Chalabi makes no bones about using the tribunal as a propaganda tool to focus attention on Saddam's atrocities, steering it away from Washington's own atrocities in Iraq and its earlier complicity in the Ba'athist party record of murder and bloodshed. Which is to say, with US backing, Chalabi is planning a mischievous political prosecution, the very same abuse the US says it has shied away from signing on to -- and is actively undermining -- the  International Criminal Court for. Chalabi says he'll "tailor the trial procedures in such a way that shows we learned the lessons of the Milosevic trial [15]," which is to say he won't allow "the tribunal and people like Saddam to be the principal teller of the history here [16]." Washington has expressed anger that Milosevic has fought back, challenging the official line effectively. The same mistake won't be made twice.  Saddam will be denied a platform, and he won't be allowed to " call witnesses like Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to testify about the United States' earlier co-operation with the Hussein government [17]." To put it in other terms, Hussein won't be given room to impugn the official line, and so wreak havoc with Washington's carefully constructed propaganda exercise. There will be no telling the imperialists to go to hell.

1. "Power Shift In Haiti Puts Rights at Risk," Washington Post, March 7, 2004.

2. Statement on Haiti, Freedom Socialist Party, March 3, 2004.

3. Paul M. Sweezy, The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy, Monthly Review Press, New York, 1970, p. 352.

4. "Thousands of Aristide Supporters Pour Into Streets," Reuters, March 5, 2004.

5. "They destroyed our democracy: An interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide by Amy Goodman," March 8, 2004.

6. "Aznar faces 91% opposition to war," The Guardian, March 29, 2003.

7. "Zimbabwe Reports Seizing Plane With 64 Suspected Mercenaries," The New York Times, March 9, 2004.

8. "Kerry Condemns Bush for Failing to Back Aristide,"  The New York Times, March 7, 2004.

9. John Pilger, "Bush Or Kerry? Look Closely And The Danger Is The Same," New Statesman; March 04, 2004.

10. Mark Hand, "It's Time to Get Over It: Kerry Tells Anti-War Movement to Move On," www.counterpunch.com, February 18, 2004.

11. "As U.S. Detains Iraqis, Families Plead for News,"  The New York Times, March 7, 2004.

12. Ibid.

13. "U.S. Team Is Sent to Develop Case in Hussein Trial," The New York Times, March 7, 2004.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

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Stephen Gowans