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Handwringing over Haiti.

I'm having Raoul Cedras and the boys over for dinner. Wanna come? Hey, don't be nervous. "He's not the demon you think he is," insists John McLaughlin. "His track record is okay in some respects."

See, the human-rights observers for the U.N./Organization of American States International Civilian Commission in Haiti are just hysterical. They seem to think that the monthly toll of sixty-plus political killings of suspected Aristide supporters at the hands of Cedras and company isn't "okay." But then, they haven't watched The McLaughlin Group. And some people, especially those pesky feminists and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, might find the rise in the numbers of politically motivated rape in Haiti somewhat demonic. What do they know? They should kick back with John and see Cedras for the pussycat he is.

This is just one of the more bizarre moments in the story of how pundits have sought to enlighten us about Haiti. The debate in punditland has focused on the following questions: 1) Isn't Jean-Bertrand Aristide nuts, as the CIA keeps insisting, and even if he isn't, isn't he just as sadistic, vindictive, and lethal as the military regime? 2) Should we go in or not? If not, how do we keep those dark-skinned people--who "practice voodoo widely," McLaughlin solemnly warns--out of Florida? 3) Isn't Haiti so unalterably, inherently barbaric that it could never benefit from all we could teach it about establishing a rational, humane, equitable, and democratic society?

As this idiotic and self-congratulatory debate, punctuated by TV images of starving and sick children, surrounds us, I find myself completely torn about what to do or not do. The strange sides and alliances that are forming don't help. While the Clinton Administration rattles its sabers (or, more aptly, its penknives), and wonders whether an invasion of Haiti would do for Bill's poll ratings what the Gulf war did for George's, the world of pundit debate has turned upside down.

Christopher Hitchens of The Nation argues for military intervention, and he is not the only liberal or progressive to do so. At the same time, the hawks who cheered like drunken fans at a cock fight when Reagan invaded Grenada and Bush went into Panama and Iraq are now suddenly doves. McLaughlin resembles George McGovern circa 1972 when he argues against military intervention, rightly noting that after the last invasion, in 1915, "We stayed for nineteen years, leaving nothing behind except ill will." George Will, sounding as if he might, at any moment, burst into his own rendition of Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," also denounces military intervention on humanitarian grounds, pointing out that "divisions are not democracy planters; they are war-making machines." I don't know about you, but I start squirming when guys like this say stuff I agree with. So I start wondering why they're saying it.

Let's cut to the heart of the matter. Which is that Haiti is, as Time magazine put it, so "primitive," such a "hellhole," that it is unredeemable. "The history of Haiti is a history of horrible brutality" intoned neo-con windbag Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report with an air of world-weary resignation, as if these people were innately violent and not ripped apart by class warfare in which the United States has played its usual reactionary role.

If we go in, warned McLaughlin, Haiti will become the fifty-first state because the place is "a total disaster--100 years behind the rest of the hemisphere." (Well, if you don't count our very own urban hellholes where murder, rape, infant mortality, and unemployment might give Portau-Prince a run for its money.) The United States would have to stay and run the place or leave immediately because Haiti is, McLaughlin continued, "not receptive to democracy, it's too underdeveloped for democracy." Projecting statistics onto the screen--"75 per cent unemployment, 80 per cent of the land barren, industry: practically none"--McLaughlin made Haiti seem like the surface of the moon. Haiti is so inherently barren that even after our nineteen-year occupation, moaned George Will, "we didn't even leave baseball" behind. "It's hard to leave the impress of Jeffersonian democracy on stony soil such as that," he concluded. Plus Fred Barnes and others have, for months, been repeating as gospel a CIA report that Aristide is mentally unstable without noting, as ABC News did, that this "information" was fed to the CIA by the military junta.

The real reason for nonintervention isn't revulsion at the concept of military solutions to political problems. Nor is it disgust with how Yankee gun-toting in this hemisphere has, over the last century, used idealistic rhetoric about "democracy" to legitimate the imperialist demands of United Fruit, the U.S. Navy, and various Presidents.

In other words, these people just aren't worth it. They and their society are subhuman, culturally diseased, and as resistant to a cure as CANCER, which is the metaphor Time printed in bold letters. If we let refugees enter the United States, or if we send troops there, Americans will catch something really bad. Haiti is beset by unimaginable poverty and violence. It's the pundits' condescending tone, as if Haitians are another species, a breed apart, that's so offensive and dangerous.

An ABC special on Haiti dared to show, if too fleetingly, that the wealthy professional classes in Haiti who have milked the rest of the population--with U.S. help--don't fit this profile at all.

So here I sit, pulled one way by my repugnance for such a callous and racist dismissal of the misery in Haiti and pulled another by an equally strong repugnance for U.S. military intervention. When Morton Kondracke insists that we must go in now because "the credibility of the U.S. is at stake," I shudder. And it gets worse when I see a piece in Time titled THE CASE FOR KIND COLONIALISM, as if that weren't an oxymoron.

For the most part, though, the press has argued against an invasion. But the reasons behind some of these arguments are despicable--and as morally bankrupt as the rationales that justified more than twenty armed interventions in the region since 1898. And no one is reminding viewers of the central role the CIA has played, by training and sustaining the secret police, in keeping Haiti the "hellhole" it is.
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Title Annotation:Pundit Watch
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:In search of democracy.
Next Article:Haiti on the brink.

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