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Haitian Activist Speaks out Against Deibert's anti-Haiti Propaganda
How unfortunate that Michael Deibert will not be the last of these self-proclaimed experts on Haiti, who will never get Haiti right, neither this time or anytime soon, for they are forever prisoners of
their arrogance and paternalism.
"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
March 22 - 28, 2006
Vol. 24, No. 2
A FEW NOTES ABOUT "NOTES FROM THE LAST TESTAMENT"
BY PATRICK ELIE
"The Aristide government deserved to be overthrown as much as any in
Haitian history," writes Michael Deibert in his recently released "Notes
from the Last Testament" (Seven Stories Press, 2005), a scarcely-edited
454-page effort to prove that point.
Posturing as an expert, Deibert, who served a brief stint from late 2001
to 2003 as a Reuters correspondent in Haiti, portrays President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, kidnapped from his home on Feb. 29, 2004 by U.S.
Special Forces soldiers and flown into exile, as some kind of monster.
Haitians, Deibert writes, "were forced to endure unimaginable agony so
that one man -- with the aid of a small cadre of killers for hire,
corrupt officials and cynical, avaricious foreign advocates -- could
attempt to build his own personal empire on the ruins of what was once a
Studded with factual and typographical errors, the book sports an
introduction by filmmaker Raoul Peck, a disillusioned and bitter critic
of both Aristide and President-elect René Préval, in whose 1996-2001
administration Peck briefly served as Culture Minister. The book has
also been hailed by the Miami Herald's arch-reactionary former Latin
America editor and State Department-mouthpiece Don Bohning as a
"powerfully documented exposé of what amounts to Aristide's criminal
rule of Haiti."
"Deibert deftly chronicles Aristide's transformation from a perceived
messiah to a master manipulator," Bohning writes.
But Canadian journalist Justin Podur had a different assessment of
Deibert's book in a review published in last month's New Left Review
(http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR27110.shtml). "Notes from the Last Testament
deploys the standard literary techniques of the middlebrow foreign
correspondent," Podur writes. "The narrative is essentially
experiential: our man in Port-au-Prince leaves his flat, attends a
demonstration, breathes the air, encounters various characters who
mutter ominous words about Aristide or sigh about what's happening to
the country. An aerosol of local colour - blue skies, crowded lanes,
pungent smells, snatches of kreybl, barefoot kids, throbbing music - is
spray-painted over a framework supported at all key points by
international officialdom. Time and again, the clinching argument of a
passage will be made by 'a member of the OAS team', 'a veteran of
international observer missions', or a seemingly ubiquitous 'US official
'. Further claims are attributed to still more anonymous sources: 'many
said', 'most said', 'critics wondered', 'it appeared'; or simply to
'rumours', some of which were 'unusually detailed rumours'. Half a dozen
interviews with prominent Haitian opponents of the Lavalas government -
Andy Apaid, Evans Paul, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Hans Tippenhauer, Micha
Gaillard, Pierre Esperance of the National Coalition on Human Rights and
(in Manhattan) Michele Montas, widow of Jean Dominique, the radical
radio journalist profiled in Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist - fill in
Deibert answered Podur's review, and Podur responded. The exchange can
be found on http://www.zmag.org.
We asked long-time Haitian democracy activist Patrick Elie, the former
head of Haiti's Anti-Narcotics Unit and secretary of state for Interior
and National Defense under President Aristide's first administration, to
offer his impressions of the book, which he is now reading. Although on
a speaking tour in Canada, he took time out to send us this response.
- - - - -
I have yet to finish Michael Deibert's "Notes from the Last Testament"
and I promise I will drag myself through the rest of it, down to the
last page. But I seriously doubt my opinion will change about a badly
written, hastily put together book, which speaks more about Deibert than
How unfortunate that Michael Deibert will not be the last of these
self-proclaimed experts on Haiti, who will never get Haiti right,
neither this time or anytime soon, for they are forever prisoners of
their arrogance and paternalism. I wonder what judgment would be passed
on a Haitian author claiming to explain England, France or the U.S. to
the world after three mere years of a limited experience of those
countries. But Haiti, it seems, is fair game for all those white
hunters. Isn't it, after all, a country so easily defined as "the
poorest in the Western hemisphere" with a people that is at best
primitive and infantile?
Why bother to understand a culture so rich and original, a people so
complex, a history so very unique? Why not simply sweep under the rug of
prejudice an example that continues to be so disturbing to reactionary
as well as so-called progressive intellectuals? Halfway through Deibert'
s work I have as much a sense of Haiti as I got about the French
Revolution by seeing "An American in Paris."
A major problem with the author, as well as many Haitian intellectuals
who actually recently recommended voting for Leslie Manigat, for Christ'
s sake, to be Haiti's president in the last election, is their inability
to recognize History as it unfolds under their noses. They can only
understand it when it has been safely tucked away in books, 200 years
after the facts, or when they observe it from a comfortable distance.
Hence, their idolization of Mandela and Soweto and their vilification of
Aristide and Cité Soleil. One should note, in passing, that their
Mandela has been reduced to the wise old man at the dusk of his life;
gone is the passionate young rebel, who spent 26 years in jail rather
than renounce armed struggle as a means to defeat injustice. They cannot
stomach revolutions and heroes, unless they have been conveniently
And, there is the little matter of factual accuracy. While I might be
ready to forgive a writer or a journalist for his interpretation of
facts, which after all is often a matter of opinion or ideological
standpoint, getting the facts right is a matter of respect for your
subject. Deibert's book is full of factual inaccuracies or pure
inventions, for the purpose of dramatization I suppose. Thus, (p.285) he
has me attending a mass for Brignol Lindor in a church alternately
described as the Cathedral or Saint Pierre and shaking my head in
disgust at Aristide's partisans. Not only do I have absolutely no
recollection of having ever attended such a ceremony, but neither do my
associates of Fondasyon Eko Vwa Jean Dominique. Robert (Bob) Manuel is
described (p. 33) as "a progressive young mulatto officer" who served
"as the chief of Aristide's security during the campaign." Deibert's
fertile imagination follows him all the way to Guatemala (p.91), where
he interviews the "light completed (sic) mulatto with a solid, military
man's frame." Well, Manuel has been as much an officer of the Army as I
was an NBA center. And the list goes on and on, but I am presently too
busy to spend my time picking up after Mr. Deibert, like a mother after
an untidy teenager. I will undertake this chore at a later date and at
However, I will not finish this short dispatch, without pointing to
Deibert"s systematic attempt at character assassination wherever
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is mentioned. This reactionary allergy to the
first freely elected President of Haiti's history is a disease Deibert
might have caught from his too constant frequentation of our pathetic
economic and intellectual "elites" and foreign expatriates haunting the
verandas of the Montana and the Oloffson hotels.
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