It all began in 1991 when Lieutenant-General Raoul Cédras and Colonel Michel François led a bloody coup against President Aristide, the first democratically elected leader in Haitian history. Well over a thousand Haitians were killed in the initial violence. Over 5,000 would be dead before Aristide's return in 1994. The death and chaos that followed the coup was a public relations nightmare for the new military regime. In an attempt to clean up his regime's image, Cédras enlisted an army of lobbyists and public relations experts to whitewash his atrocities and demonize the former government of President Aristide.
Bob Novak came in to the fray when lobbyist Robert McCandless signed a $165,000 contract with Cédras to "direct favorable PR to Provisional Government and unfavorable PR against former President Aristide." McCandless capitalized on his friendship with Novak by urging him to help out with the propaganda campaign. Novak obliged him by visiting Haiti in 1993 and writing a series of columns in support of the dictator. Novak's columns were fraught with lies and distortions. He described Cédras as a "gentleman" and a "family man, surrounded by his wife and small children." He denounced the Clinton administration for "dehumanizing" him as a "thug."
Novak was not so kind to President Aristide, whom he denounced as a brutal dictator and a "lifelong enemy of democratic capitalism." Novak seized upon any allegation that made Aristide look bad and reported it as a fact, no matter how untrue it was. He publicized a phony "hit list" that Aristide had allegedly drawn up. He characterized Aristide's first seven months in office as a time when murder and chaos reigned, when in fact the opposite was true. There were only 53 murders under Aristide, giving Aristide's Haiti a per capita murder rate that was 8 times lower than the per capita murder rate of the United States. Those 53 murders included non-political killings and killings done by his opponents. None were ever linked to Aristide. The story under the Cédras regime was quite different. As Human Rights Watch reported in 1994, "documented cases of politically motivated rape, massacres, forced disappearance, and violent assaults on entire neighborhoods have increased greatly since the end of 1993."
In response to reports of mass murder and torture, Novak said, "That is not what I have observed on my third visit to Haiti this year. It is calm, and there is a low police-military profile, a more orderly appearance of this capital city and no danger for U.S. nationals here." Of course, the "order" Novak observed was the result of the brutal terror campaign waged by the regime. Lavalas supporters could not openly voice their opinions or peacefully protest without being targeted for assassination or torture. There is a difference between peaceful order and order imposed through repression and violence. In another piece Novak reported that "Garbage no longer litters the capital's streets, and potholes are filled," although "Freedom is limited." Apparently, giving up freedom for less potholes is a fair tradeoff in Bob Novak's world.
Novak's "reporting" on Haiti's human rights situation was one of the filthiest excuses for journalism in recent American history. When reports of killings began to surface, Novak claimed that pro-Aristide groups were taking bodies from the city morgue and placing them in the streets in an attempt to fool human rights observers in to thinking they were killed by the regime. It is amazing that the Washington Post even printed such a bizarre conspiracy theory. According to Douglas Farah, who worked for the same paper at the time, "human rights workers in Haiti are reporting rapes, kidnapping, arbitrary and illegal detention, and the torture and mutilation of bodies, which are left in public places to be eaten by pigs." Novak would have us believe that this was all an elaborate deception organized by Aristide supporters using fresh corpses as stage props.
General Cedrás was convicted in absentia by a Haitian jury for participation in the infamous Raboteau Massacre, in which army forces killed over 20 people. Here is how the BBC described the massacre: "The attackers forced their way into dozens of homes, beating and arresting those they found inside. Some were tortured on site, forced to lie in open sewers; others were shot as they tried to flee." Rape was also used as a weapon of political violence under the Cedrás regime. A recent report by the Houston Chronicle described a victim and her search for justice:
"When the men stopped beating her, the night was silent. For an instant, Immacula Deluce said, she wondered if she was dead. Then she was overwhelmed by the pain and the shame of having been raped repeatedly by three men, their faces covered by black hoods. According to human rights reports, hundreds of Haitian women were disfigured, some with machetes that were used to slice off their arms or parts of their faces. Many were tortured, some said they were forced into incest and sometimes their husbands and children were killed in front of them, according to the reports. Many fled into the hills ... Brian Concannon, who works on human rights issues, said the rapes were 'massive, systematic and designed to terrorize and intimidate the pro-democracy movement. The perpetrators maximized the terror through sadism -- multiple rapes, forcing family members to watch, forcing incest and raping young girls and pregnant women,' he said."
The people who committed these unspeakable acts, some of which are back in Haiti today, are "freedom fighters" in Bob Novak's mind. Among them are former FRAPH members such as Louis Jodel Chamblain (who recently expressed his gratitude to the U.S., France, and Canada for helping him in his efforts). FRAPH was a terrorist organization created at the behest of the DIA and CIA. Even most of Aristide's opponents denounce FRAPH as a brutal band of thugs. However, in March of 1994 Novak gave a much more innocuous description of the organization: "FRAPH, which claims 150,000 members, has neutralized Aristide's Lavalas street gangs and is now an important political factor." Novak uses a grossly inflated number of members to imply that FRAPH is some kind of broad-based political movement with popular support rather than the armed band of killers that they actually are. FRAPH did indeed "neutralize" the "Lavalas street gangs." They used a method known as "mass murder," but Novak doesn't seem to mind that.
Novak's support for the junta continues to this day. On CNN's Capital Gang, Novak recently said, "He was not a thug ... I don't believe he killed anybody," referring to Cedrás. When asked if he believes the military regime was preferable to President Aristide, Novak said, "Yes. Oh, there's no question they were ... private property was respected." I am not making this up. If CNN had any credibility at all they would have given Novak a one-way ticket to the nearest unemployment office after that comment. Imagine what the reaction would have been if Novak had said, "Things were a lot better in Indiana when the Ku Klux Klan was in charge. Those left-wingers running the show now don't respect private property." He'd be gone tomorrow, even though what he actually said was even worse. The KKK never racked up a body count in Indiana as high as the junta did in Haiti. Aside from being astonishingly cruel, Novak's comment is factually inaccurate, unless he thinks churches, orphanages, schools, hospitals, homes of Lavalas members, and women's own bodies don't qualify as "private property."
As the human rights situation worsened, pressure increased on the Clinton administration to intervene. Novak attempted to deter the administration by publishing a series of articles warning about the massive "resistance" that U.S. soldiers would be faced with if they entered Haiti. He talked about the "boat people" who would be heading for the coast of Florida. He described in detail the methods by which Cedrás and his men would stay in Haiti and hold on to power until the bitter end. His goal was to convince the Clinton administration that the political costs of intervening in Haiti would be too great. It didn't work out in the long run, and Aristide was restored to power with the help of the U.S. military. Despite being a "lifelong enemy of democratic capitalism," Aristide agreed to neoliberal economic reforms as a condition of his return.
With Aristide back in power, Novak suddenly saw Haiti as a nation facing a human rights crisis. In August of 1995 he alleged that "Political murders here since the restoration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, traceable to close associates of the Haitian president, have reached at least 80." Novak provided no evidence for this claim, which came from an anonymous "intelligence" source. It was almost certainly untrue. According to Human Rights Watch, "In the year after Pres. Aristide returned to Haiti, there was marked, concrete improvement in respect for human rights and the government launched institutional reforms that should bring lasting change." He also falsely claimed that Aristide was creating a "private army" to terrorize the population.
This is the same Bob Novak that refused to believe atrocities were being committed under the junta, despite overwhelming evidence. For example, when the military regime was once accused of shooting a former politician, Novak was incredulous: "Haitian senator Reynold Georges was reported to have been shot and wounded by 'government security forces' ... In truth, however, there is no evidence of who fired the shots, how seriously Georges was hurt or whether he was wounded at all ... it defies belief that the Haitian regime would feed the American propaganda mill by going after a fringe political figure." Novak never displayed such a high degree of skepticism when it came to the alleged "political murders" under Aristide because it didn't suit his propaganda purposes.
Now the same killers who overthrew Aristide the first time are back. Yet another campaign of terror is being waged against pro-democracy activists. The puppet government that has been installed is looking increasingly dictatorial. Paul Denis, a prominent Aristide opponent, has recently appealed to the new government to dissolve the Senate of the Republic. Dozens of former Aristide officials have been blocked from leaving the country. Freedom of speech is no longer allowed. Pro-Aristide radio stations have been shut down and attacked. Meanwhile, anti-Aristide radio stations are broadcasting the of names of people that the government is after, allowing armed bands to take "justice" in to their own hands. Hundreds, possibly a thousand or more, have been killed by the "rebels" in some of the most gruesome ways imaginable. Robert Novak is back as well, assuming his traditional role as a cheerleader for the death squads.
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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