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July 31, 2004
"The Savage Extreme of a Narrow Policy Spectrum"
Five Questions with Noam Chomsky
By MERLIN CHOWKWANYUN
MIT Professor Noam Chomsky is one of the world's most perceptive social critics. I had the opportunity recently to ask him some questions concerning a range of subject matter. Professor Chomsky's latest book is Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. Other works, many recently reissued, include American Power and the New Mandarins, Manufacturing Consent, and Deterring Democracy.
Merlin Chowkwanyun: The coup in Haiti occupied headlines for about a month this past spring, but a scan through the major news archives reveals a lack of follow-up stories since, save for the recent minor surge of articles o
n the U.S. new investigation of Aristide's alleged corruption. What preliminary interpretations can we make about the general U.S. press coverage of Aristide's fall from power? And how can we situate what happened in Haiti in historical context?
Prof. Noam Chomsky: As press coverage has declined, serious human rights violations increase, a matter of no interest since Washington attained its goals. Previous press coverage kept closely to the officially-determined parameters: Aristide's corruption and violence in a "failed state," despite the noble US effort to "restore democracy" in 1994. It would have been hard to find even a bare reference to Washington's fierce opposition to the Aristide government when it took office in 1990 in Haiti's first democratic election, breaking the pattern of US support for brutal dictatorship ever since Wilson's murderous and destructive invasion in 1915; or of the instant support of the Bush-I and then Clinton administrations for the vicious coup leaders (extending
even to authorization of oil shipments to them and their rich supporters in violation of presidential directives); or of the fact that Clinton's noble restoration of democracy was conditioned on the requirement that the government must adopt the harsh neoliberal program of the defeated US candidate in the 1990 election, who won 14% of the vote. It was obvious at once that this would have a devastating effect on the economy, as it did. Bush-II tightened the stranglehold by barring aid, and pressuring international institutions to do the same, on spurious pretexts, therefore contributing further to the implosion of the society. No less cynical was the contemptuous refusal of France, which preceded Washington as the primary destroyer of Haiti, even to consider Aristide's entirely legitimate request of repayment of the outrageous indemnity that Haiti was forced to pay for the crime of liberating itself from French tyranny and plunder, the source of much of France's wealth. All of this was missing, replaced by
lamentations about how even our remarkable magnanimity and nobility were insufficient to bring democracy and development to the backward Haitians, though we would now try again, in our naive optimism.
This illustration of abject servility to power is not, regrettably, unique. But the spectacle is particularly disgusting when the world's most powerful state crushes under its boot, once again, the poorest country in the hemisphere, as it has been doing in one or another way for 200 years, at first in understandable fear of a rebellion that established the first free country of free men right next door to a leading slave state, and on to the present. It is a depressing illustration of how a highly disciplined intellectual class can reframe even the most depraved actions as yet another opportunity for self-adulation.
Merlin Chowkwanyun is a student at Columbia University. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
He also hosts a radio show on WBAR 87.9 FM NYC (www.wbar.org).