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Balanced Reporting of Political Violence in Haiti is Not Fair

On September 5, 2004 the Florida Sun Sentinel published an article by Alva
James-Johnson entitled Haiti’s Fragile Peace. Having recently returned from a trip to Haiti with a group of human rights monitors, we read the article with great interest. Haiti’s Fragile Peace is another in a long line of articles published in the mainstream media that portray the conflict in Haiti as a chaotic power struggle between equally violent rival factions over which the interim government is attempting to gain control. After interviewing community organizers, elected officials, and labor leaders we came away with a very different impression.

Whether or not the government of Haiti currently acknowledges having ties to the former military, despite the fact that Latortue hailed them as “freedom fighters” in early March, it was our impression that the majority of Haitians see the interim government and the former military as two hands on the same body. One hand presents the façade of legitimacy, while the other violently represses legitimate political dissent.

We believe that it is irresponsible to state that angry Aristide loyalists are “just as dangerous” as the ex-military soldiers that have now taken over several towns in the south of Haiti and continue to force thousands of grassroots community organizers and former Lavalas officials into hiding. Indeed, Aristide loyalists are angry. They feel that their fledgling democracy and the laws and procedures dictated by the constitution have been taken away from them by a relatively small armed force and an international community intent on removing the president they elected.

We attended the soccer game and did not see the burning tires or shots fired that James-Johnson reported, but perhaps tires were burned and shots fired that day. Nonetheless, presenting these random actions as equivalent to the targeted violence of the former military is misleading. The former military is composed of several thousand heavily armed soldiers with no political mandate; those that support Aristide are part of a popular movement that is several million strong, essentially unarmed, and comprised of citizens who have the right to protest. The so-called “chimere” represent only a fringe element of an overwhelmingly peaceful movement, whereas violence and intimidation are the sole tactics used by the former military to silence the voice of the masses. While we respect the author’s intention to present a balanced view of the situation, after interviewing dozens of victims of human rights abuses we feel that the ongoing political repression in Haiti is almost entirely directed at Lavalas supporters.

Understanding the current situation in Haiti requires careful reading to separate propaganda from fact, even when the sources are well known media outlets, such as the Sun Sentinel, or credible human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Since the February 2004 coup Amnesty International has rightly criticized the former military and the government and international forces that have allowed them to act with relative impunity. However, Amnesty International’s 2004 human rights report on
Haiti presents evidence in a misleading way that fueled the propaganda campaign against the elected government and Lavalas party. We tallied the killings reported in Amnesty’s 2004 Haiti report and found that the conclusions they draw are biased and directly contradict the evidence they present. Their summary states that:

Political violence increased as rifts between opposing sides widened. Numerous abuses were allegedly committed, most frequently by supporters of the government and its party, Fanmi Lavalas (FL – Lavalas Family).

However, the report documents 37 Fanmi Lavalas activists or government officials were killed while only one opposition party member was killed.

There were two killings in which neither the victim’s nor the killer’s political affiliation were clear. Eleven people, also of unclear political affiliation, were killed by police. These facts, contained within the report, stand in stark contrast to the conclusion presented in the introduction and misrepresent the nature of political violence in Haiti.

We encourage those concerned by the misrepresentation of political violence in Haiti to pressure media outlets and Amnesty International to strive for accuracy rather than balance in their reporting. This is particularly important now that the scales have been tipped even further; the former military now control a large portion of the country and thousands of Lavalas supporters have been killed. We also applaud those media outlets, such as the SF Bayview, that have worked so hard to separate truth from propaganda in their reporting on Haiti.

Zoe Moskovitz and Sasha Kramer may be reached at: sash@sash.pobox.stanford.edu

 

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