The Haiti Memory Hole

Maui Time | January 25, 2010
Ah, "1984." As the cartoonist Matt Bors says, it's "the dystopian novel that keeps on giving."

Orwell's main character worked for a government ministry that controlled the future by changing the past. Its most effective tool: the Memory Hole. Pieces of history went in—poof!—never to be heard from again. Afterward, it was as if those particular events had never happened:

"The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia."

American news producers and editors have long been masters of the Memory Hole, purposefully omitting the most relevant information stories that would otherwise make the whatever the current regime is look bad. "President Hugo Chávez," reported The Washington Post in a typical example of spin from 2005, "has recently accused President Bush of plotting to assassinate him." Going on to slam Chávez's supposed "bluster and anti-American showmanship," the Post left something out: Chávez's accusation was true.

Still, no one could have anticipated the soaring brazenness or the cynical linguistic savagery U.S. state-controlled media would deploy while "covering" the invasion of Haiti.

[Given that it took at least four days after the earthquake before the U.S. military permitted relief supplies to land at the Port-au-Prince airport, turned away planes from such NGOs as Doctors Without Borders, and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates refused to release aid until a full week had passed, one can hardly call the deployment of 10,000 troops a relief operation.]

Vanished from news accounts of Operation Haitian Freedom—poof!—was the United States' century-long raping and pillaging of the country, including several CIA-backed coups that installed vicious dictators and a brutal occupation by U.S. Marines that lasted several decades.

There were hundreds of candidates to choose from in awarding this week's Haiti Memory Hole Prize, but the winner is The Oregonian, the daily newspaper in Portland, Oregon. On January 15th the paper published an editorial titled "A muscular paternalism for Haiti" with an incredible thesis:

"If the nations of the world had devoted to Haiti only a fraction of the diplomatic and military energy they have spent over the past five decades on nearby Cuba, the country would be far more advanced and able to aid in its own recovery today."

In other words, Haiti's problem isn't that the U.S. expropriated 40 percent of its GDP from 1915 to 1947. Or that the U.S. installed the father-and-son Duvalier team of "anti-Communist" dictators, who looted the Haitian treasury of more than $1 billion. Or that the CIA deposed Haiti's popular, and only democratically-elected president, not once, but twice—because he had the gall to push through an increase in the minimum wage for Haitians who work in sweatshops owned by U.S. companies.

Those events couldn't be responsible for Haiti's plight. Not even a little bit. Because, if you rely on The Oregonian for your news, you'd never know that that stuff happened.

"Perhaps the scope of the current disaster will at last shock these countries, including the United States, to conduct a muscular intervention into Haitian affairs," editorialized The Oregonian.

"At last"? What do they call a 20-year-long military occupation? Half a dozen military coups?

Like most of the world, Haiti would have been better off if we really had "neglected" them. How much of our "help" can these poor people stand?

At least The New York Times acknowledged "Haiti's long history of foreign intervention, including an American occupation" in its coverage. But like other papers that ran sickening—and treacly cartoons falsely depicting a friendly (white) Uncle Sam patronizingly deigning to assist clueless dark-skinned Haitians in their time of need—the most pertinent details had disappeared into the Memory Hole.

Here's an unexpurgated section of the Times' background coverage:

"President Woodrow Wilson sent American Marines to Haiti in 1915 to restore public order after six different leaders ruled the country in quick succession, each killed or forced into exile. Opposition was intense, but it would be nearly two decades before the Marines would leave, in 1934.

"When President Bill Clinton ordered troops into the country in 1994 to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted as president by a group of former soldiers, Haitian critics raised that earlier intervention.

"A decade later, Mr. Aristide was forced out of office, and he accused the United States of orchestrating his ouster."

Wilson said he invaded Haiti to restore public order. The real reason, historians widely acknowledge, was to transform the country into an economic vassal state, a Caribbean colony.

It's true that Clinton brought Aristide back to power. But his predecessor, George Herbert Walker Bush, had ordered a CIA coup that removed him in the first place.

Finally, Aristide wasn't "forced out of office" by some mysterious random power. The Times' editors knew that. After all, their own newspaper ran a page-one story on March 1, 2004 titled: "Aristide Flees After a Shove From the U.S." So when Aristide "accused the United States of orchestrating his ouster," he was "accusing" the U.S. of doing what The New York Times reported that it did.

True, this information is available to anyone who cares to spend a few minutes Googling it. The point is, few people have the time, energy or inclination to second-guess everything they read. Like Winston Smith in "1984," they start to wonder whether they misremembered events as they were originally reported. Maybe we really have always been at war with Eurasia. Maybe we really did invade Haiti in 1915 merely to "restore order." Or maybe, if you live in Portland, this is the first time the U.S. or any other country has ever bothered to pay attention to Haiti. Who knows?

What I want to know is: Why do editors and producers do it? Why do they leave out the basic facts? It's not like they get a call from Big Brother ordering them to spin or delete historical facts from their coverage. They do it voluntarily.

What are they afraid of?

(Ted Rall is the author, with Pablo G. Callejo, of the new graphic memoir "The Year of Loving Dangerously." He is also the author of the Gen X manifesto "Revenge of the Latchkey Kids." His website is


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