5 Months, 9 Days, still sober.
Wikileaks and Haiti
The latest Wikileaks concern one of the poorest, most impoverished and most desperate states in the world – Haiti – a country where half the population are still living in make-shift shelters and where cholera is still running rife. As if there wasn’t enough tragedy in this miserable country, the USA and to a lesser extent, the entire international community, have perpetrated some appalling machinations in connection with Haiti which do them no credit whatsoever.
I must admit that when the first Wikileaks started to surface I did feel quite strongly that the leaks were completely out of order and that basically, how could the world conduct it’s obvious need to communicate privately through diplomatic channels when everything they said or wrote was now available to all and subject to public scrutiny?
Of course our diplomats have private opinions about other states and foreign politicians and dignitaries and they should be able to communicate these opinions without the world knowing what they were saying.
Yet the more these leaks are revealed and the more we learn about the intrigues and manoeuvring of governments, the more I start to realise that maybe, after all, this is no bad thing. We have learned much about our political masters since the leaks first surfaced and as time goes on, I have no doubt that we shall learn much more.
Most of what we have learned about our beloved leaders is bad – very bad. We have seen the lies, the hypocrisy and the self-interest on such massive scale that it beggars belief. Maybe, one day when all the leaks are out and digested, it may make out future leaders think twice before they embark on a certain course of ‘secret’ policy or action, as they will always worry that one day what they do may become public knowledge.
So what’s been going on with Haiti? Quite a lot actually, but I will confine this little piece to the three most recent incidences that have now been revealed by Wikileaks.
Subversion of the Haiti Election
Haiti’s recent election was manipulated and undermined by the Americans and the international community
The United States, the European Union and the United Nations decided to support Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections despite believing that the country’s electoral body, “almost certainly in conjunction with President Preval,” had “emasculated the opposition” by unwisely and unjustly excluding the country’s largest party, according to a secret US Embassy cable.
At a December 1, 2009, meeting, a group of international election donors, including ambassadors from Brazil, Canada, Spain and the United States, concluded that “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections,” in the words of the EU representative, according to US Ambassador Kenneth Merten’s December 2009 cable.
Haiti’s electoral body, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), banned the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) from participating in the polls on a technicality. The FL is the party of then-exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown on February 29, 2004, and flown to Africa as part of a coup d’état that was supported by France, Canada, and the United States.
When the first-round results were disputed, international donors arranged for an evaluation by the Organization of American States, which pronounced that pro-coup candidate Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, 50, a former musician, should face another neo-Duvalierist candidate, Mirlande Manigat, in the final round. Martelly emerged as the victor in the runoff.
Less than 23 % of Haiti’s registered voters had their vote counted in either of the two presidential rounds, the lowest electoral participation rate in the hemisphere since 1945, according to the Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research.
Furthermore, the second round was illegal because the eight-member CEP could never muster the five votes necessary to ratify the first-round results.
When the polling was rescheduled, there was even more at stake, primarily how billions of dollars in pledged earthquake aid would be spent and the future of the 11,500-strong UN military force that has occupied Haiti since the 2004 coup d’etat.
According to the December 4, 2009, cable, US officials pushed hard for the election.
Ambassador Merten urged a minimal donor reaction to the FL’s exclusion….
His cable was classified “Confidential” and “NOFORN,” meaning “Not for release to foreign nationals.”
Merten explained in the cable that he had opposed FL’s exclusion because the party would come out looking “like a martyr and Haitians will believe (correctly) that Preval is manipulating the election.”
The election’s low turnout has been ascribed to Haitians’ sense of futility in the choice between two unappealing candidates, to a grassroots boycott campaign and, primarily, to popular dismay over the FL’s exclusion, the very issue that gave rise to the December 2009 meeting.
USA reduced the Haitian legislated minimum wage from 5 to 3 dollars per day.
The US, in conjunction with major American clothing companies, effectively imposed a minimum daily wage for the Haitian textile industry workers of 3 dollars, instead of the 5 dollars a day as already legislated by the Haitian government.
Contractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere, according to secret State Department cables.
The factory owners told the Haitian Parliament that they were willing to give workers a 9-cents-per-hour pay increase to 31 cents per hour to make T-shirts, bras and underwear for US clothing giants like Dockers and Nautica.
But the factory owners refused to pay 62 cents per hour, or $5 per day, as a measure unanimously passed by the Haitian Parliament in June 2009 would have mandated. And they had the vigorous backing of the US Agency for International Development and the US Embassy when they took that stand.
To resolve the impasse between the factory owners and Parliament, the State Department urged quick intervention by then Haitian President René Préval.
“A more visible and active engagement by Préval may be critical to resolving the issue of the minimum wage and its protest ‘spin-off’—or risk the political environment spiralling out of control,” argued US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in a June 10, 2009, cable back to Washington.
Two months later Préval negotiated a deal with Parliament to create a two-tiered minimum wage increase—one for the textile industry at about $3 per day and one for all other industrial and commercial sectors at about $5 per day.
Still the US Embassy wasn’t pleased. A deputy chief of mission said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”
Haitian advocates of the minimum wage argued that it was necessary to keep pace with inflation and alleviate the rising cost of living. As it is, Haiti is the poorest country in the hemisphere and the World Food Program estimates that as many as 3.3 million people in Haiti, a third of the population, are food insecure. In April 2008 Haiti was rocked by the so-called Clorox food riots, named after hunger so painful that it felt like bleach in your stomach.
According to a 2008 Worker Rights Consortium study, a family of one working member and two dependents needed at least 550 Haitian gourdes, or $12.50, per day to meet normal living expenses.
And thirdly, the most disgusting of all,
USA tries to stop Haiti saving 100 million dollars per year on oil deal.
The USA attempted to sabotage the ‘PetroCaribe’ deal in which Haiti would save a hundred million U.S. dollars a year, by purchasing oil with only 60 % up front with the remainder payable over twenty-five years at 1 % interest” — a remarkably good deal for the Western hemisphere’s poorest country
Yet, under the charge of ambassador Janet Sanderson, the embassy immediately set out to sabotage the deal. In a classified cable, Sanderson noted that the embassy started to “pressure” Haitian leader Rene Preval from joining PetroCaribe, saying that it would “cause problems with the United States.” Major oil companies — such as ExxonMobil and Chevron — began threatening to cut off ties with Haiti, and Sanderson repeatedly met with the energy firms to assure them that she would pressure Haiti at the “highest levels of government.” The U.S. embassy also continually warned Preval against traveling to Venezuela and collaborating with other left-wing governments in the region.
Despite this intimidation campaign, Haiti successfully completed its deal with PetroCaribe, rebuking both its superpower neighbour and the combined threats of the world’s most powerful oil corporations. Yet the story of the PetroCaribe deal outlined in the cables is a powerful tale of how multinational corporations have exerted pressure on the U.S. government to undercut development in the emerging world economies.
‘Good Morning Vietnam’
Continuing my occasional introspective on films about the Vietnam War, a few days ago I watched the 1987 movie, ‘Good Morning Vietnam‘, starring the American comedian and movie mega star, Robin Williams.
I have mixed feelings about Williams as a comedian – I suppose I struggle a little with him in much the same way as Americans struggle with many British Comics. He is undoubtedly a very gifted, genuinely funny man and when I succeed in following his very fast repartee, I can laugh along with the best of them. But sometimes, his delivery is fast, and so ‘American’ that I just can’t follow what he is saying, so most of his clever humour goes over my head.
I do remember once watching him being interviewed on UK’s Michael Parkinson chat show, some years ago and he was utterly hilarious and took the whole show over with his brilliant antics and ‘one liners’. Maybe he slowed down his delivery a bit for us slow-witted Brits.
He is also no slouch as a movie actor and has a string of successful hits to his name. I was never a great fan of Mrs Doubtfire but I thought his wonderful performance in Dead Poets Society was truly inspirational.
I like Williams a lot in Good Morning Vietnam and his wacky, spontaneous sense of humour was absolutely perfect for the role of the irreverent, entertaining DJ who was shipped over to Saigon to shake things up at the armed services radio station. The movie is based on the true experiences of a DJ who was sent there during the early days of the war, and he states that the story is about 40% accurate – but which 40%, of course, we will never know.
I still had problems with Williams’ rapid fire delivery and ‘one-liners’, when he was broadcasting ‘on air’ and sometimes I was lucky if I caught one joke in five of his deliveries. But that didn’t matter, as he was in character and was playing the part of this crazy, funny DJ and I have no doubt that the GI’s had no problems in understanding what he was saying.
Interestingly, like The Deer Hunter, which I reviewed the other week, the entire Vietnam sequences (which encompass the whole movie in the case of ‘Good Morning’) were all shot in Thailand. I had not realised this until I read the closing credits, although I should have realised something was amiss as the traffic was all driving on the left hand side, whereas in Vietnam they drive on the right….
The Deer Hunter did not really deal with the Vietnam war as such, but merely used the war as a background to show the effects the war had on a group of blue collar workers from America’s hinterland.
‘Good Morning’, on the other hand was clearly an anti-war, anti-military bullshit bureaucracy, where tin pot, ignorant, myopic officers abused the power they had over fellow soldiers.
After making allowances for a certain degree of literary licence in the interest of a good story, the background to the movie was totally believable and certainly provided an interesting insight into how the seeds were being sown, which eventually led to America’s greatest military disaster in their short history. When the Williams character arrived in Saigon in 1965, the conflict in Vietnam was regarded as a local little skirmish, but by the time he was thrown out of the country, it had already developed into a full scale war, even though news of the daily bombings in Saigon by VC terrorists and the general war escalation was kept from the local radio airwaves.
Ironically, along with many other milestones, the Vietnam War eventually became the first war where the world could watch the ‘action’ from the front lines as they ate their dinner at home every night, as unimpeded access was granted to journalists and TV crews.
‘Good Morning Vietnam’ is funny, entertaining, sad and thought provoking in equal measures. Enough time has now passed for the viewer to resist the urge to become judgemental about the ‘villains’ of the piece’ – the US military, but never the less it remains an interesting film which helps us to understand why America’s ‘Dunkirk’ will remain part of their psyche for many years to come.
If you haven’t yet seen it, I recommend you give it a go.
My next movie in this ‘introspective’ will be ‘Platoon’.