Cole on Haiti, history and the media

Informed Comment: Milne: Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of ” . . . colonial exploitation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Milne: Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of ” . . . colonial exploitation

Seumas Milne: “Haiti’s poverty is treated as some ­baffling quirk of history…when in reality it is the direct ­consequence of a uniquely brutal ­relationship with the outside world — notably the US, France and Britain — stretching back centuries.” (h/t

One of the many ways in which Aljazeera is superior to American news programs is that it has a frequent 5-minute History spot, in which reporters review some key historical turning point. In all the wall-to-wall coverage of Haiti’s earthquake that I have seen on US news channels, I cannot remember Toussaint L’Ouverture being mentioned even once. I cannot remember any extended consideration of the decades when the US Marines ruled the country or why FDR stopped that. I can’t remember a report on recent US history with Aristide.

It is as though a top executive actively ordered the reporters to avoid any context, any background, any history. The so-called “History Channel” has nothing about Haiti. The shows are “Sniper,” “Extreme Marksmen,” “Seven Signs of the Apocalypse,” and the “Nostradamus Effect.”

There have been a couple of good essays at the History News Network, but they are more impassioned op-eds than explanations of the history (see “Too Hard for the White Folks? Americans and the Haitian Revolution,” and Haiti’s troubled history with the US and France.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson: “You can’t handle the History!”

Since MSNBC is positioning itself as a ‘progressive’ news network, couldn’t it do up some inexpensive short spots on historical background?

Milne continues:

“When the liberation theologist Aristide was elected on a platform of development and social justice, his challenge to Haiti’s oligarchy and its international sponsors led to two foreign-backed coups and US invasions, a suspension of aid and loans, and eventual exile in 2004. Since then, thousands of UN troops have provided security for a discredited political system, while ­global financial institutions have imposed a relentlessly neoliberal diet, pauperising Haitians still further.

Thirty years ago, for example, Haiti was self-sufficient in its staple of rice. In the mid-90s the IMF forced it to slash tariffs, the US dumped its subsidised surplus on the country, and Haiti now imports the bulk of its rice. Tens of thousands of rice farmers were forced to move to the jerry-built slums of Port-au-Prince. Many died as a result last week.”

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Filed under general, global issues, history, news, note to future generations

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