Council on Hemispheric Affairs Retracts Dishonest Article on Haiti's Aristide

Something about this has a familiar ring to it. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs – an influential liberal Washington think-tank – has retracted another article from its website after the piece’s jaw-dropping conclusions unleashed what senior editor Larry Birns calls an “intense dispute on the part of outside critics.” Our readers will remember that, on September 14, 2007, COHA published an article by research associate Michael Glenwick, titled “Préval of Haiti—A Provisional Report Card: Grade B+.” In addition to some tortured punctuation in the article’s title, Glenwick made a number of statements that were surprising, to say the least, to anyone following the news from Haiti since a rightwing paramilitary uprising overthrew democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

One week later, Narco News contributor (and contributor to the online publication HaitiAnalysis) Joe Emersberger wrote in these pages:

There can be no serious dispute about the scale of the bloodbath under Gerard Latortue’s coup installed government — one that was backed (quite predictably) by the US, Canada, France and the UN Security Council. Less predictable, and in some ways more important, was the backing Lortortue received from progressive and “independent” institutions. Glenwick’s article moves COHA decisively into the camp of NGOs and media outlets that have served Haiti’s neo-Duvalierists so effectively in recent years. This represents a significant loss. Shortly before and after the coup, COHA stood admirably apart from the corporate media herd in its analysis of events in Haiti.
The opening paragraph of Glenwick’s article says that Latortue’s “accomplishments were meager at best” and that those years were “unstable” and “wasted.” In the next paragraph Glenwick says that “hundreds — if not thousands — of opposition party members were murdered” under Latortue. One is left wondering how many Haitians would have to die before Glenwick would condemn Latortue rather than offer modest praise and mild rebukes. In contrast, COHA’s Jeesica Leigh wrote a piece in 2004, coauthored by COHA director Larry Birns, about Latortue’s government entitled “A brutal regime shows its true colors.”

Citing no evidence, Glenwick equates Aristide to Latortue by writing that Aristide’s time in office was an “equally rocky period” but then goes on to assess Aristide much more harshly than Latortue by writing “Perhaps due to the attempted coup in late 2001 — or, just as likely, his own insensitivity to inclusive rule — Aristide seemed to manifest a show of lassitude to the rule of law as well as indifference to democratic institution building. He encouraged citizens to use violence when needed to fight the nation’s armed opposition, and civil liberties and political/human rights were in short supply.”

Yesterday, Birns posted a new article on the COHA website based on Glenwick’s original but significantly rewritten to express COHA’s “official position.” Read the full article here.

Birns writes:

“There has been an intense dispute on the part of outside critics regarding COHA's piece on Haiti - which was issued on September 14, 2007. Its author, Michael Glenwick stands behind his article and the sharp criticism of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which has now been moved from COHA's website and can be found in COHA's Forum. After closely reviewing the Glenwick piece, COHA's senior officials regretfully concluded that much of the criticism of it - notably the September 21, 2007 critique of COHA's Haiti piece by Joe Emersberger for the Narco News Bulletin - was well-founded. It should also be noted that most of the contributions we received on the subject were opposed to our point of view; this is why we decided to submit the Glenwick article to a protracted review. Today we are replacing the Glenwick piece with a substantially revised version which was authored by COHA Director Larry Birns. This is now COHA's official position on the relative roles of Presidents Aristide and Préval and contains some glimpses of the former president's strengths and weaknesses, including his invaluable contribution to Haitian democracy.”

Here in the Narco Newsroom we have had more cheers than jeers for COHA, whose reports we have cited extensively including in our own coverage of the first days of the coup. But this is not the first serious misrepresentation of a critical issue by the group, nor the first to be corrected by this newspaper. As Publisher Al Giordano wrote in July 2005:

A “do gooder” organization run by veteran Latin America watcher Larry Birns, COHA uses interns, mainly fresh out of college, to write drafts of its research reports that are distributed widely to the press on news and politics throughout the hemisphere. Typically, according to former interns, the draft then goes to Birns’ desk for final editing. Many of these reports have often been helpful in putting forward accurate information. Others, sometimes, miss the mark to embarrassing extremes.

The occasion for these words was COHA’s libelous document “ Zapatistas Issue a Red
Alert, Resurfacing Unwanted Memories for Mexicans,” which Giordano showed to have made a number of underhanded, completely false satements suggesting the Mexican rebels had ties to drug trafficking and historical links to some of the country’s most corrupt political figures. After a tide of protest, COHA issued a response retracting some of its claims (though requiring yet another round of fact-checking on Narco News’ part).

And now COHA has backed down again from another report full of dishonest rhetoric and innuendo better suited to the State Department than a critical organization purportedly committed to the defense of democracy in the Carribean and Latin America. Let’s try a little harder next time, eh Larry? The future of a hemisphere is on the line...

To refresh your memories, kind readers, to the brutal reality of the U.S. and French-engineered destruction of Haiti’s fragile democracy, which brought to mind memories of the worst excesses of the Cold War in region, here is a selection of Narco News’ best reporting from that time.

Five Questions About Haiti and the Coup Attempt
Echoes of Venezuela 2002 Are Heard Across the Caribbean
By Al Giordano
February 19, 2004

Haiti 2004: The Great Irony
In the Country's Bicentennial Year, another US-Backed Coup
By Numa St. Louis
February 28, 2004

Alert: Haiti's Aristide Says He Was Kidnapped
White House Denials, Breaking News, in The Narcosphere
By Narco News Copublishers
Up to the Minute Reports
March 1, 2004

Gerard Latortue, Haiti's Illegitimate Ruler
Washington and its New Viceroy Demand that Jamaica Gag Aristide
By Al Giordano
March 12, 2004

Aristide, Bush, Chávez, Kerry: When Presidents Collide
U.S. Political Campaign Plays With Latin American Fire
By Al Giordano
April 2, 2004

Haiti Since the Coup
Thousands killed or in hiding as coup government consolidates power with the help of paramilitaries and U.S. and French troops
By Benjamin Melançon
May 4, 2004

“Haiti Democracy Project” Not So Democratic
US Organization Works to Support Coup-Installed Dictatorship
By Jeb Sprague
May 4, 2005

U.S., UN-backed oppression in Haiti becoming more extreme
By Benjamin Melançon
July 23, 2005

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About Dan Feder

I was a member of the Narco News team in various capacities, from webmaster to Editor-in-Chief, from 2002-2008. Since 2006 I have also been a member of the International Peace Observatory, which performs human rights accompaniment for Colombian campesino organizations in conflict zones. I am now living in Boston and working as a website developer for DigitalAid, Inc.