Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Haiti, Aristide, and Some Liberals

A recent commentator responded to my post about how the Canadian Left must do more to seek justice for Haiti, by taking issue with my good words for deposed, democratically elected President Aristide.

For the record, my case for the restoration of Aristide is not due to my belief that the man is flawless. I'm quite sure that he might have gone power-mad, or turned corrupt, just as I'm also quite sure that he might have remained an admirable character to the end of his time in power, trying to make the best of an impossible situation.

My case for the restoration of Aristide is partially based on the really indisputable fact that the regime we installed there immediately after the coup was far worse than his, but it's more due to the fact that Canada, France, and the United States have no business, absolutely no business whatsoever, financing and arming rebels against democratically elected governments. Especially ones that are relatively benign. Especially when we install ones that are relatively far worse.

One of the things I was told to look at to establish the irrelevant argument that Aristide wasn't perfect though, was the amount of money Aristide's government spent on the services of lawyer Ira Kurzban of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). The issue being: how can anyone justify the president of a desperately poor country paying enormous sums to one individual? One source I was told to check out was Michael Diebert. Well, I googled "Ira Kurzban" and "IJDH" and found an article by Michael Diebert, including the quote:

In a similar vein, when Mr. Kurzban writes that Haiti’s 2004-2006 interim government paid a U.S. law firm $250,000 a month retainer solely to bring against Aristide a civil suit that was ultimately dismissed, he errs in that the case was in fact withdrawn with an option to refile, not dismissed. When it comes to the subject of expenditures, Mr. Kurzban declines to reveal that, according to US Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings, his own law firm received an astonishing $4,648,964 from the Aristide government of behalf of its lobbying efforts alone between 2001 and 2004 [14], and that Mr. Kurzban still serves as Mr. Aristide’s attorney in the United States.

I don't know what planet Mr. Diebert lives on, but here on earth, while it seems extraordinary at first, four-and-a-half million dollars over 3 years for a US law firm's work providing lobbying for an entire country (that within the world's super-power, the governments of which have always had a hate-on for you) really isn't too surprising.

Contrast this with paying a law-firm $250,000 a month (which works out to one million dollars every four months, three million a year, passing Kurzban's entire bill in less than half the time) to pursue one case, one part of one vendetta against a single man, ... and you wonder why Diebert had the temerity to introduce the subject in the first place!

But who is this Michael Deibert anyway? I decided to do some looking and found this Znet Exchange between him and Justin Podur. I'd actually read this a couple of years ago, but had forgotten about it.

It's pretty obvious that Deibert knows a lot of details about Haiti. His arguments aren't very strong however. Two cases in point are 1.) His bizarre condemnation of Kurzban's $4.6 million bill for 3 years of general work for the government of Haiti, and his indifference to the $250,000 per month (which would $9 million charged for three years, on one case that was withdrawn), and 2.) His inability to see that it is senseless to justify the overthrow of Aristide for his crimes when Aristide was replaced by a government that was far worse by any comparison.

What else can we say about Deibert? Besides the fact that his mountain of details, gained from ten years' knowledge of Haitian politics appears to have overburdened his ability to reason? Well, this telling segment of Podur's final reply to Deibert gives one cause to wonder if those details of ten years' work that have so unhinged Deibert might even have been hallucinations:

Some of Deibert’s book is first-hand reporting, and as such is difficult for the reader to verify. I did have a rare opportunity to verify one of Deibert’s claims. I met Haitian activist Patrick Elie (who I found, from a brief interaction, to be a very courageous and brilliant individual) in Port au Prince in September 2005. When I saw him mentioned in Deibert’s book, I wrote to him (on January 2, 2006):

Hi Patrick.

I am going through Deibert's book the second time today and reached the part where he describes you. It's page 285. December 3, 2002, at the memorial of journalist Brignol Lindor, he describes "chimere" who showed up and chanted for Aristide under the direction of Hermione Leonard."I stood on the steps and watched as journalists who had been honoring Lindor began to come out and the chimere advanced to the cathedral steps, flinging Aristide pictures at them, shrieking 'git mama w, blan' and about how they worked for 'colon blan'. As Michele Montas descended the stairs, one stood screaming 'Aristide a vie' about five feet away from her... Patrick Elie, the head of the Eko Vwa Jean Dominique organization that had strung those damning banners around Port au Prince on the second anniversary of Dominique's death, shook his head and looked disgusted."


Patrick replied immediately:

Justin, I never attended any religious ceremony for Lindor and have not set foot in the cathedral since February 7, 1991, the day of Aristide's first inauguration, when I was in charge of his security. Deibert sure has a creative writing style, which is a nice way to say that he is a goddamn liar.


Such a definitive reply from a subject of one of Deibert’s eyewitness tells us something about the credibility of his reporting. Most of Deibert’s replies to me rely on his reporting and his supposed decade of experience in Haiti. Some of his principal sources, like Labanye and Billy, are now dead or missing, and so, unlike Elie, can’t say whether he’s misrepresented them. Deibert presents himself as the voice of Haiti’s poor. I suppose one way of putting it is that he’s a voice of the voiceless. Another way of putting it is that he speaks about those who can’t defend themselves.



Michael Deibert said...

Dear Schoolyard,

So good of you to find me on the internet!

I actually responded to Justin Podur’s article in a piece published on the Haitian news site AlterPresse. Znet editor Michael Albert refused me the right of response on the site itself.

In addition to setting Justin and Patrick straight on their geography (the ceremony for Brignol Lindor on December 3, 2002 was held at the Eglise Saint Pierre in Petionville, not the National Cathedral, many miles downtown), the response also gave me the opportunity to provide a summary of Patrick Elie’s record in Haiti that I think is worth reproducing in its entirety below.

“A former junior cabinet minister and confidante of Mr. Aristide who has thus far wisely been excluded from involvement in Rene Préval’s re-emergence on the political scene, Mr. Elie was heretofore perhaps best known for being arrested outside of Washington, DC in April 1996 and jailed for nearly two years in the United States for, among other offences, apparently threatening the life of Preval’s ambassador to the United States at the time, Jean Casimir. Subsequently held for falsely claiming to be a diplomat and for using a false address on a federal firearms transaction, court documents from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit show that US diplomatic security and police inventoried from Mr. Elie’s hotel room at the time a Colt .223 semi- automatic assault rifle with a round in the chamber and six magazines loaded with armour-piercing ammunition, a Remington .22 calibre bolt action rifle equipped with a telescopic sight, a loaded Steyr 9mm semi-automatic pistol with 264 9mm rounds (including 180 rounds of hollow-point ammunition), night vision equipment, two knives, approximately $4,800 in cash, purchase receipts for three additional firearms and documents relating to the activities of Mr. Casimir. Mr. Elie’s connections among Haiti’s elite economic and political class saved him on that occasion, but one cannot help but to speculate as to what exactly was being planned."

The full discussion on Patrick Elie’s crimes can be found here:


The full article “Time To Support Haiti” can be read here:


I think that pretty much closes the book on Patrick Elie’s credibility, and Justin Podur’s, as well.

For a good summary of the events surrounding Mr. Aristide's departure from Haiti, I recommend “Aristide's last days” by the veteran journalist David Adams, published in the St. Petersburg Times.:


For a perceptive analysis on the inferno of violence that consumed Haiti following Mr. Aristide's depature, I recommend journalist Jane Regan's "In Bondage to History," written for the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) and available here:


In René Préval, Haiti has a popularly-elected, progressive president who deserves our best wishes and support.

Thank you for your interest in Haiti.

All best from the United States,


Anonymous said...

Isn't my friend Michael's point that Kurzban undercuts his own credibility by failing to mention his own conflict of interest? Certainly such a princely sum could not have slipped the man's mind. Speaking of credibility or lack thereof, I seem to recall hearing of Mr. Kurzban showing up at one of Michael's readings in Miami and screaming apoplectically about Michael's being a CIA operative, among other absurdities. If these people have a reasonable case to make, why the dissembling? Why the screaming (and, frankly, intimidation, which I think was also intended by the outburst at the reading).

As for Aristide, as a confirmed lefty myself, it took me a long time to come around to the view that he was a deeply flawed man, apparently incapable of rising above certain historically entrenched temptations and tendencies in Haitian governance. I agree that good governments don't get involved in plotting the overthrow of other governments, although I find the evidence that this is definitely what happened in Haiti to be inconclusive. (Perhaps you can point me to some better.) But what if, for example, the CIA did turn out to be involved? The CIA has an awful history, but that does not mean that good people working there have not also sometimes been able to exert a positive influence on the world. I doubt they sit around in a smoky room and decide whether every operation is "evil enough" to proceed. What if the CIA had put a Hellfire missile in bin Laden's lap eight years ago, as I think we all wish to Christ they had, and as certain CIA officers tried very hard to get permission to do? Would that make bin Laden worth defending, too?

But that's off topic, obviously. My main point is that just because some very sleazy people MAY have plotted against Aristide, and certainly didn't seem to have liked him, does not mean he was a good person, and does not mean that good people could not also have had good reasons to oppose him, too.

thwap said...

Thanks for your comments.

You'll notice that it isn't really essential to my whole case whether or not Aristide was corrupted or not.

The central point is that we have no business overthrowing governments that are not to our liking, especially since the United States is governed by a regime that makes Aristide look like a saint regardless, and especially since the gang we installed after the overthrow is by almost all accounts worse than anything Aristide can be accused of being.

I'll try to refrain from recommending hell-fire missles taking out any governments that I don't like, regardless of where they are, thank you very much. I certainly do not want the criminal bush II regime and the American state making those decisions!

Regarding Preval, ... it is no thanks to us that he managed to get elected. Elsewhere on my blog I link to an article about electoral fraud in Haiti (the handiwork of Canada's own electoral commissioner) that I think you should read.

I am not interested in clinging to beliefs that do not conform to the evidence, and I will get to your links Mr. Deibert. For now, I'll say that Elie's credibility is suspect in my eyes until I read your link, as is yours.

Regardless of whatever new facts appear, the bulk of what I've read of your work leads me to conclude that you remain an apologist for imperialism, and not a friend of the Haitian people.

I'm sorry, but people who twist themselves into knots to demonize Aristide and to defend his overthrow have a hard row to hoe.

There was the meeting in Canada between my government and the US and France.

There was the bogus electoral crisis, when the opposition refused to meet with an Aristide government more than willing to meet every demand.

We have an cynical embargo of aid to the Haitian government as a result of this phony crisis, crippling a desperately poor nation.

We have a rebellion financed and armed and trained by the United States, and we have the Canadian military acting in a coordinated fashion to secure the runway at the airport from which Aristide was spirited out of the country.

I remain unconvinced, but I thank you for the information you've provided.

Anonymous said...

I just came back to express regret at the odd tangent I got off on, in my bizarrely pro-CIA-intervention-sounding comment. That's not really like me. But now I can't help but point out that, if you look at my comment, I did not recommend using a hellfire missile to "take out" a government, but an individual with homicidal designs on innocent people. A small difference, perhaps, but it seems important to me. Anyway, as I asked, can you please point me to some source for this: "We have a rebellion financed and armed and trained by the United States." I really want to read it

Anonymous said...

And let me just add that I agree that meddling in foreign government's affairs, such as by funding/arming a rebellion in the manner you describe, is illegal and those responsible should be punished. I mainly responded because I personally know Michael, and know him not to be deranged or hallucinating -- and further know him to care very deeply about the Haitians he has met, just like other impoverished, oppressed people he has met in other countries he has reported from, such that he forgoes making a decent salary (sorry, Michael) or living comfortably in order to continue in this line of work, which believe me, if he is doing the bidding of "imperialists," he must be doing out of charitable feelings for them, because it isn't going to make him rich by a long shot. Before you go tarring him as some sort of caricature (why not call him a "capitalist running dog" and have done with it?), you should consider that he is a human being, making the best calls he can based on personal experience in a country/situation with more gray areas than most.

Anyway, sorry to be so long-winded and disjointed. It's been a long day.

Michael Deibert said...

Dear Schoolyard,

You write that “I am not interested in clinging to beliefs that do not conform to the evidence, and I will get to your links Mr. Deibert. For now, I'll say that Elie's credibility is suspect in my eyes until I read your link, as is yours.”

I think that's a perfectly legitimate approach to take. I know that everyone isn't lucky enough, as I was, to be able to travel around Haiti by public transportation, speaking to people in Kreyol and seeing these events up close in forming their opinions. So I guess the best one can do (as I try and do with subjects that I haven't witnessed first-hand, such as the crisis in the Balkans in the 1990s or Darfur in the present day) is read as much as one possibly can with a discerning, skeptical eye, keep an open mind, and try and form some sort of informed (but open to change) opinion on the subject.

The thing I have always found most curious about Aristide's supporters here in North America is their burning desire, it would seem, to shut down debate and dialogue at every turn, as if by even discussing an alternative to the Aristide-as-popular-leader-undermined-by-US-hegemony narrative, that somehow one is committing a grave, incalculable sin. Many of the voices in my book, for example, are from some of Aristide' most fervent supporters, the gunmen in the slums who were willing to defend the Aristide government to the death, while his wealthy lobbyists in the United States were content to rake in the dollars. I saw no reason to stifle their point of view from being heard. The acts of paid agitators such as Mr. Aristide’s lawyer Ira Kurzban at public dialogues on the subject, and the Znet crowd, on the other hand, refusing alternative voices any sort of forum, do everything they can to stifle debate on the subject of Haiti, and portray a one-sided picture of events there.

When you write “I remain unconvinced” and that “you remain an apologist for imperialism, and not a friend of the Haitian people,” my response is, that it is not at all me that you need to be convinced by.

Would you apply the “apologist for imperialism, and not a friend of the Haitian people,” label to Lolo Beaubrun, the leader singer of the band Boukman Eksperyans, who lived under dire threat of death under the military governments in the 1980s and 1990s and was at the forefront of the protest movement against Aristide in 2003/2004, and who narrowly survived several attempts on his life, one of which killed student leader Maxime Desulmond (in a rally at which I was present, were it that I could have tied you to me with a rope that day…)?

Would you apply that label to the peasant leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who has labored on behalf of Haiti’s peasantry (the majority of Haiti’s population) for over 30 years and leads the country’s 200,000 strong Mouvman Peyizan Nasyonal Kongre Papay (MPNKP)? A recipient of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize, Chavannes spoke out about the anti-democratic, anti-peasant, anti-progressive tendencies in Mr. Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas party (quite different from the Lavalas movement) for many years, and also survived attempts on his life.

Would you apply that label to Fanmi Lavalas militant leader Yvon Bonhomme,(former head of the Oganizasyon pou Sove Ayiti), forced to flee Haiti for his life in July 2001 and leaving behind a taped message in which he said the following:

“If the Lavalas government thinks they can arrest me and attack me today, the only thing they can charge me with is the fact that I contributed to the lying and brainwashing of the pep la, as did a lot of other people, in order to drag them into the situation that they are in now I believe that one day the people will wake up and realize that they are mistaken… Haitian people, open your eyes! You lost the 16 December elections and you have lost them forever. Ideology does not stand anymore. It’s a matter of people who are making money. And that is one of the things that caused me to be persecuted, because I refused to speak in their favor on the radio, hold demonstrations or do other things.”

And finally, would you apply the “apologist for imperialism, and not a friend of the Haitian people,” label to Jean-Robert Faveur, a highly respected PNH (Haitian National Police) officer, who was sworn n as the PNH’s director general in 2003 and likewise had to flee for his life, leaving behind a not which read as follows:

“Mr. President, the situation is not good at all within the PNH, and poverty is killing the country. I had thought that with my presence at the head of the PNH you would see a beginning of the solution to the crisis, but, unfortunately, you do not care about that. Those people who
are making money around you are afraid to tell you that things are bad out there. I am glad that I did not betray the confidence that the people, the policemen, the large majority, the international community and some of your partners placed in me.”

These are all Haitians, with far deeper links to the Haitian working class and peasant movements than any of Aritide's defenders among the Canadian activist circles ever had. It may be relatively easy to see things in such starkly defined terms from the relative safety of Canada or the United States, but I assure you these assumptions are challenged mightily when one moves among and speaks (in Kreyol) to the people of place like Cite Soleil, Hinche, Martissant, Gonaives and Cap Haitien. The dismissal of the voices of Haitians like these by self-described progressives in North America only proves that condescending, imperial hubris when it comes to countries like Haiti is not only confided to rightist elements, but indeed spreads its infection all across the political spectrum.

Haiti, in my experience, is anything but black-and-white, and so, while extremely polarized views may play well in North America, they do precious little to shed light on or ameliorate the situation of Haiti's long-suffering people who, it must be said, have been failed equally
by the narrow self-interest and opportunism of both the international community and their own political leaders.

Best from the United States,


thwap said...


Whoa. Just a word of advice. You'll go farther convincing people if you could avoid constantly referring to your lengthy, first-hand exprience.

It gives the reader the impression that you're facts and analysis must be accepted because of your authority, and not on their own merits.

For example; Aristide and Patrick Elie and all of the Fanmi Lavalas who continue to support him, have had a much lengthier exposure to Haitian realities than you, yet somehow I suspect that there experience doesn't give them or their analysis of the situation a free pass in your view.

That sort of thing can get ridiculous. Here in my neck of the woods, there's a stand-off between First Nations peoples and the federal and provincial governments over some disputed lands in a place called Caledoinia. Non-Indian Canadians in the area are quite upset, and some of them are calling for the violent removal of the First Nations activists. Whenever they try to justify their position to me, a lot of these types say "I live in Caledonia" or (even more ridiculous) "I used to live in Caledonia" as if that's supposed to mean anything to anyone.

In the US in the 1960s, White Southerners used to complain about how "outsiders" didn't understand the complexities of Southern society, and that all those ignorant trouble-makers in the Civil Rights movement should stop stirring up trouble and leave things with them.

Secondly, you could refrain from burying your reader in an avalanche of details (case in point - your list of Haitian opponents to Aristide complete with mini-bios) that gives the reader the impression that your trying to hide behind them, as opposed to supporting yourself with them.

Someone with knowledge of Haitian society at a level between yours and mine could probably come up with an even lengthier list of people who share his/her views, and the two of you could go back and forth all day without getting to the heart of the matter.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Michael, for Christ's sake, please stop offering and hiding behind "evidence," and just "get to the heart of the matter," already. That heavily-armed assassin arrested outside D.C. likes Aristide and disagrees with you, so you must be WRONG.

Meanwhile, Mr. Thwap will get around to reviewing the facts of the matter later, even though he already knows he will not be convinced....

thwap said...


Why don't you try to re-read my post? All the relevant parts. You've obviously missed some things.

Mr. Deibert constantly refers to his extended first-hand experience in Haiti, and I told him that people who have lived in Haiti all their lives can come to different conclusions, and who we decide in the end to believe shouldn't be based on who has been in the country longer.

This is a pretty simple point.

Also, my problem with the long list of anti-Aristide mini-bios was clearly stated. Someone else with sufficient knowledge of Haiti could provide me with a similar lengthy list of pro-Aristide Haitians whom I've never heard of, and accuse Mr. Deibert of denying the validity of their principles.

And that sort of thing could go on, and on, and on.

And how is such a debate to be "won"? Whoever types the longest list of partisan activists?

For the record, I don't doubt that a Haitian activist could have a falling-out with Aristide or Lavalas. I don't doubt that there are Haitians with legitimate grievances against Aristide.

What I object to (as I've stated several times) is Canada/France/the US's presumption in taking one side in these internal matters and imposing a violent, incredibly problematic "solution" to these internal Haitian disputes. For the record, that is Justin Podur's position to, as he quite clearly stated:

"Having established such credentials, and so thoroughly discredited me, Deibert has put me in a predicament. Shall I compete with him to be the voice of Haiti’s poor? Shall I tell him that I am the true voice of the poor and not him? It’s would be a real problem, except that I’m not posturing as the voice of Haiti’s poor. My interest in Haiti was sparked by the actions of my government there, something Deibert doesn’t understand."

Finally, you're going to have to excuse my skepticism about your friend. Not only does he (like you) continue to miss my central points, but he also presents a framework that contradicts the story as told by sources that I trust, and that which have always turned out to be correct.

My sources said that NAFTA would not be good for ordinary folks in the member countries. True

My sources said that Afghanistan and Iraq would be disasters. True.

My sources said that the WMDs would turnout to be imaginary. True.

My sources say that the Western governments' involvement in Haiti is based on imperialism, racism, and cynicism. There's a strong case for that.

You and Deibert have a hard row to hoe to work against that tide. But I have been checking out Deibert's links.

I went to see the link about Elie's crimes, but it's something that requires registering and I'm not sure whether it's a free internet source or not. I read the rebuttal to Podur that wasn't allowed on Znet. (I wasn't too impressed.)

And, to be perfectly honest, I am very, very busy. I meant to finish my latest blog entry, but I haven't had the chance to.