Saturday, January 23, 2010

Aristide and the $900 Million

Last night J and I watched, as we often do, The McLaughlin Group, where right-wingers Pat Buchanan and Monica Crowley spar with moderates Clarence Page and Eleanor Clift on the issues of the day. It's mostly yelling, occasional references to pitchforks, and insight into the minds of people who don't do much thinking. Anyway last night both Buchanan and Crowley made reference to $900 million that former President Jean Betrand Aristide had lifted from Haiti when he was kidnapped and dumped in the Central African Republic. I'd never heard this before and so, this morning, set about hunting down the information on same. Unfortunately there is no information on same, although there are repeated references to it throughout the right-wing press.

It appears that this canard comes from one of two misrepresentations. The first is that USAID granted Haiti some $900 million in development aid during the second Aristide Administration, but that there is little to show for it. But the fact that there is little to show for it does not mean that Aristide stole it. Indeed it may simply mean, as it usually does with USAID funds, that the funds were consumed by administrative expenses and the excessive prices paid to import goods from the United States. (The vast majority of the UN aid to Haiti, for instance, is consumed by military rumbling through various communities in armored vehicles.) There is, so far as I can see, no evidence that Aristide pocketed any of that money.

This second possibility is the result of sloppy reading. It is believed that Papa and Baby Doc extracted some $600-900 million during their respective administrations. Is is truly possible that the right makes no distinction between the Docs and Aristide? I honestly don't know.

I did note that the moderates on the panel didn't condtradict Buchanan or Crowley, or even ask for evidence of their assertion. (And "Bill O'Reilly said so" is not evidence.)

But this brings up an interesting point. One of the real problems in Haiti is that non-governmental organizations control so much of the administration of the country. We can see what this means by looking at the nature and extent of the relief efforts. The country has plenty of whatever the NGOs have to offer, but the activities we expect of governments aren't anywhere to be seen. There are lots of doctors, but no way to move medical supplies. There are plenty of armed men in uniform, but they aren't doing what the Coast Guard did during Katrina. There's no heavy equipment to clear roads and remove rubble. There's no one to do what CalTrans did after Loma Prieta, which was to get the section of I-80 that had buckled back into service within a couple of days. And because all of this is charitable giving, there's no one who is accountable, as a government would be.

I've never been much impressed with Rene Preval, but I understand his reticence to create a government. That would require opposing the neoliberalism imposed by the United States. And we know what happened to the last guy who did that.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Thanks very much for posting this! I was as annoyed as you while watching McLaughlin Group. Of course, just about everything Monica Crowley says is wrong, but, unlike her, I like to have my facts straight.
I've never heard of Aristide being anything but above board, but if he was corrupt, I would condemn him, too.

But I doubt that he was.

Glad to see I'm not the only one wishing the moderates would at least question these assertions!