A Canadian newspaper publisher confronts his complicity in the Canadian, US and corporate backed coup and mass murder in Haiti.
Louverture’s first email to Steve Schmidt stated:
For over a year activists across Canada have been spreading the word that Canada, along with the US and France, was behind the coup that ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. These activists should not have to work around the Canadian media.
Canadian troops secured the airport in Port-au-Prince, while the US military completed the abduction of Aristide. Canadian personnel train the police who are murdering Aristide’s supporters. Canada oversees Haiti’s Ministry of Justice as it fills the jails with political prisoners and stacks the judiciary with supporters of the coup. Canada generously funds the dictatorship, and joined the US in an aid embargo on Aristide’s duly elected government.
This scratches the surface of a story your newspaper should be telling.
How large a bloodbath is required before you take interest?
Steve flipped through the latest issue of Maclean’s without really reading the pages that described the carnage in Iraq and the devastation recently inflicted on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. The magazine was a prop used to disguise his anxiety while he sat in his brother’s waiting room. He soon put the magazine back on a green plastic table, shuffled through other reading material, then picked up a copy of the Toronto Globe & Mail. Steve published the Windsor Free Press, his hometown newspaper, which he failed to notice was nowhere to be found in the room that morning.
When Steve spotted an article about the situation in Haiti he threw the newspaper back on the table as if it had suddenly caught fire in his hands. A young woman sitting across from him noticed the fear that flashed in his eyes and it amplified her own. She looked away, clutching more tightly the little girl on her lap.
“I’ve been hallucinating,” he told his brother after he was finally called in.
For the past two weeks Steve had been receiving emails, phone calls and even personal visits from a stalker who went by the name of Toussaint Louverture. The emails would disappear whenever Steve tried to show them to anyone – as would the phone messages. One day Louverture appeared on Steve’s driveway but vanished after Steve screamed at him to go away – provoking frightened looks from neighbours, and the visit to his brother the next day.
Dr. Mark Schmidt was not a man to waste words, energy or time. He listened to Steve’s story silently but very attentively – as he listened to all his patients. His face revealed no surprise or alarm. He had heard quite a lot over the years.
All he said after Steve finished – “I’ll set you up with a psychiatrist.”
Then he stood to leave his brother for other patients.
“Isn’t there anything else you’d like to say?” Steve asked.
“No,” replied his brother.
After the appointment, Steve shared the elevator with the young women from the waiting room. He felt angry thinking about his brother. The woman held her daughter’s hand tightly.
While Steve was getting ready for his appointment with the psychiatrist, the designers at Aristocratic Tool and Mold, a few miles away from the Free Press, were working in a very dark room where only computer mouse clicks were usually heard.
The buzzer had just sounded for the 9:30 break. Two of the designers rushed into the empty conference room to continue the argument they had been having in near whispers while they were supposed to be working.”
Ming and Bob were not always sure they liked each other. Bob sat at the head of the table smoking a cigarette. Ming sat several chairs down to avoid the smoke. Ming was defending Parecon – a detailed proposal by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel for expanding the democratic process to the economy. Bob was particularly skeptical that democratically run workplaces were practical.
At one point Bob argued, “If these ideas were practical they’d be implemented by now.”
“Slavery existed for centuries, Bob. Was the alternative impractical?”
“No, but – “
“It became impractical because the slaves revolted.”
Bob look thoughtful for a moment then replied, “I’ve heard that slavery just became obsolete as capitalism modernized.” He tried to remember where he had picked up that notion.
“Just became obsolete? Do you know how Haiti became an independent country?”
“No?” Bob said with a look that seemed to say, Why are you changing the subject?
“It was a massive slave rebellion! They kicked Napoleon’s ass, and the British, and the Spanish. It was a major body blow to slavery.”
“How badly did any of them really want Haiti though?”
“The French sent 60,000 troops to try to keep it. By 1804 nearly all of them were dead.”
“You keep those facts on the top of your head?”
“60,000 troops killed? Holly shit,” said Bob.
“I just finished this book called The Black Jacobins by a guy named C. L. R. James – been reading a lot about Haiti lately,” explained Ming.
“So France owned Haiti?”
“It was France’s richest colony by far! It was a fucking gold mine – well actually a sugar mine. Three quarters of the world’s sugar was supplied from there. It was the most profitable slave state in the world. It created more wealth for France than all the thirteen colonies did for Britain, and it was so brutal that one third of the slaves brought there were worked to death within three years.”
“So they kept bringing in more slaves to replace the ones killed off?”
“Yup. The fight those Haitian slaves put up made slavery ‘impractical’.”
“That couldn’t have been the only factor,” Bob said.
“It was one huge fucking factor – plus there were revolts elsewhere and other people fighting as well – including non-slaves.”
“Do you practice this shit on your wife?” said Bob, grinning. “Nice history lesson.”
Ming grew somber. “The wife? She’s not talking to me right now. Says I neglect her and the kids because of all the political stuff I do.”
“Sounds like she’s probably right,” said Bob.
The buzzer sounded.
“End of round 803!” joked Bob.
Ming responded with a weary smile.
They returned slowly to the design office. Their eyes soon adjusted to the dark, and they were productive for the rest of the shift.
“I should have seen this coming,” Steve concluded as he sat waiting to see the psychiatrist, whose office was a stately old house. Steve didn’t even bother to glance at any of the reading material available in the poorly lit waiting room.
Steve was one of the youngest people Canwest had ever put in charge of the Windsor Free Press. It was hardly the most important of the corporation’s newspapers, but many had considered it an impressive achievement for the son of a working class single mother.
He didn’t expect the job to be as challenging as the lower level positions he had held – in particular copy editor. However, he didn’t expect the job to drain him of all interest and enthusiasm. Just showing up to his office was now a challenge.
His favorite and most effective bosses had always been the ones who trusted their people and left them alone, so he delegated most of his job to his senior staff. His superiors in Toronto assumed he was busy with day to day business in Windsor. His staff in Windsor assumed he was busy taking care of corporate matters for Toronto. Most viewed his indolence as wise “hands off” management, his indifference as being “cool under pressure.” The less he did the more lavishly he was praised.
However, one task he refused to delegate (though it made him feel like the company hit man) was firing employees to achieve Canwest’s “head count” targets. He refused to involve security guards. He would look people in the face and tell them he had no choice but to let them go. Like a scarecrow in a hailstorm, he would absorb whatever barrage of insults, threats or tears rained down on him. He only enjoyed doing it once, when he fired a human resources manager who openly relished writing up separation papers for unionized employees. He hated it the most when he let go a hard working single mother from Advertising who occasionally chatted with him about her little boy.
She walked into his office the day of her termination looking pale and frightened – making Steve feel like even more of a hired thug. Before he finished trying to console her, she rushed out of his office in tears. He mailed her a check, out of his own pocket, to help her out, but she mailed it back to him with “No thank you” written on it. He cursed himself for not thinking of sending her money anonymously. “Now it’s too late,” he concluded after his check was returned. “She’d know it came from me.”
Steve toyed with the idea of becoming a foreign correspondent again or perhaps finding a completely different line of work even at a significant pay cut. He sensed that his job had a corrosive impact on him that the physical and intellectual stimulation he sought away from it could not repair. Now he was sure he should have resigned years ago.
His thoughts were interrupted by the creak of a door as a patient exited the examination room of the psychiatrist’s office. It was the former Human Resources manager he had fired. The man’s posture improved noticeably after their eyes met.
“I bet he’s on his way to getting cured now,” Steve joked to himself, and felt bad that he had enjoyed the man’s professional demise.
When Steve’s turn came he found the psychiatrist, Dr. Bueno, sitting at is desk with shoulders hunched and a look of resignation and defeat on his face.
After listening to Steve’s story, Dr. Bueno told him he suffered from grandiose type delusions.
“That’s when a person believes he has some great but unrecognized talent or insight, or special relationship with someone famous or even with God,” he explained in a barely audible voice Steve found very annoying.
“But I’m an atheist,” Steve replied – quite loudly compared to Dr. Bueno. “I’ve never lacked confidence but I’m not entertaining thoughts I have some special, undiscovered talent. I don’t really know anyone famous – some local bigwigs but they hardly count. They’re just big fish in a small pond.”
“You say you are communicating with Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian slave revolution,” whispered Bueno, who had devoured history books as a young man.
Steve was stunned: “There was a Toussaint Louverture? I thought I had made the name up…you know, subconsciously. There was such a person?”
“Yes,” answered Bueno, whose mind ached under the strain of making room for thoughts unrelated to the gambling debts he had run up at Casino Windsor. “Have you ever been to Haiti?”
“Once, for a few days…I was with the Toronto Star then – must have been around 1994 or 1995…” he stopped abruptly. He suddenly remembered then that he had read a little bit about a Toussaint Louverture before going to Haiti. “How could I forget that?” Steve was a bit frightened to think the stress of his job must be taking even more of a toll than he had thought.
“Let’s get some blood work done so we can rule some things out,” said Bueno.
Probably wants to verify that I’m not taking drugs, suspected Steve.
“In the meantime don’t indulge any delusions,” he advised. “Ignore them. We’ll meet again to discuss your test results and go from there. Take this. My daughter will explain what you must do before the tests.” He handed Steve a form for the tests.
Steve took the form, left the office, and never bothered to return.
Ming had never visited anyone in jail before. He and his friends had worked out a schedule and tonight was his turn to visit Theodore Lubin.
A thick glass window reinforced with horizontal steel bars separated the prisoners from the visitors. Ming was dismayed to discover that the window had no openings. He had wrongly assumed he would be able to pass Lubin some papers. There were no partitions between the inmates, and none between the visitors. Everyone spoke loudly and at once; yet no one showed frustration with the circumstances. The little room in which the prisoners sat was painted dark green and contrasted drearily with their bright orange uniforms.
Lubin was not summoned from his cell until the visiting hours were almost finished. However, three other prisoners were immediately available to visit their wives or girlfriends. Ming had a nervous stomach ache that was greatly aggravated the moment he recognized a former worker at Aristocratic Tool as one of the inmates.
Ming tried very hard not to look at anyone and not to listen to what anyone was saying. He hoped the former worker wouldn’t notice him and soon realized he had nothing to fear. The worker and his wife were totally involved in their conversation which alternated between tender and erotic.
Ming left his chair to ask the guard, for the second time, if Theodore Lubin had been called. The guard assured him that he had been. Ming returned to his seat at the window.
At last, Lubin, a slender middle aged black man, walked very quietly into the room and took a seat in front of Ming.
“Hello, Ming. Thank you for waiting all this time.”
“How long ago did they call you? I’ve been here more than an hour.”
“It must have been about ten minutes back. Let it go.”
“Let what go?”
“Don’t complain about the wait. We have important battles ahead.”
“Are you nervous about the hearing tomorrow?”
Lubin smiled. “No, we’ll be fine. Will I see you there?”
“I’ll be there.”
Steve came home from the psychiatrist and found Toussaint Louverture seated in the living room. Ignoring his unwelcome, unreal guest, he headed towards his bedroom as Louverture made a simple request:
“Steve, I need ten thousand dollars.”
Disregarding the psychiatrist’s advice, Steve decided to try something different – to engage with Louverture and see where it would lead. Maybe I need to hit bottom, he concluded.
“Why should I give you money?” Steve asked.
“To bail Theodore Lubin out of jail,” Louverture replied.
Assuming there was no risk in writing a check made out to a figment of his imagination, Steve quickly retrieved a check book, and returned to the living room.
He suspected that Louverture would not be there when he returned, that somehow going through the motions of fulfilling the request would make him disappear, but he did not get off that easily. Louverture was still sitting on the couch.
“I apologize, Steve. I forgot to mention that it must be a certified check.”
Steve agreed to let Louverture accompany him to the bank. Within an hour they were parked in front of the provincial courthouse in downtown Windsor.
“Take the check,” Toussaint Louverture reminded him. “You can handle things from here.”
Steve walked briskly across the courthouse lawn which was nearly covered with fallen leaves. Inside, he walked through an unmarked doorway into an office where a severe looking clerk worked quietly at his desk.
In front of the clerk stood Ming and Crista, a young woman who was talking on her cell phone.
The woman folded up the phone and looked up at Ming. “We’re screwed,” she told him. “Sean and his wife are willing to put up the bail but not have him stay at their house. Sean is going to ask a friend of his but we’re not going to have time.”
Ming sighed deeply. “I can’t believe he’s going to spend another weekend in jail because of this.”
He couldn’t help thinking that if he were single there would be no problem immediately getting the money and a place for Lubin to stay.
Steve braced himself and announced in a confident managerial voice developed through years of hiding inner doubt and vulnerability, “I’m here to post bail for Theodore Lubin.”
Ming looked at Steve. “Who are you?”
“My name is Steve Schmidt.” He held out the slip of paper and waited, and almost hoped someone would tell him no such inmate existed.
“Please tell me that’s a certified check you’re holding.”
“It is,” Steve whispered.
Ming snatched the check out of his hands. “Sir, we have bail for Theodore Lubin,” he said to the clerk.
Crista shook Steve’s cold hand. “You must be with ‘Work Together for Haiti’,” she said, referring to a local group that did philanthropic work in Haiti and that tried to stay apolitical, but, to their credit, did not always succeed.
Crista joined Ming at the clerk’s desk and Steve reached for an empty chair. Did all of this confirm his sanity or his insanity? Did he just do something noble or stupid? He was leaning toward the former but instead of trying to piece together a rational and reassuring explanation he marvelled at what he had just done.
“We’re ready to rock!” Ming announced after a few minutes. “Why don’t you ride with us to the jail?”
“That would be fine,” Steve replied. He was tempted to run away from the situation but decided that running would be cowardly. He needed to fully understand the nature of what he had done.
At the jail, Steve’s knees buckled when he saw Theodore Lubin. He looked exactly like Toussaint Louverture as the man had appeared to him.
“You don’t remember me do you?” Lubin said to Steve at the jail.
“You look familiar,” Steve replied cautiously.
Steve was horrified when he learned that Lubin would have to live with him to satisfy the conditions of his release but found it impossible to refuse the commitment. However, after talking to Lubin, he was ashamed of his initial reaction. Lubin was jovial and relaxed – completely non-intimidating – like a man who had spent a nice weekend at a resort rather than weeks in jail. Moreover, it was somehow reassuring that Lubin’s story of meeting Steve in 1994 was believable. As he listened to the story, Steve felt himself settle back into reality.
“You interviewed Aristide in his apartment in Washington DC,” Lubin reminded him as they drove to Steve’s house. “The apartment was noisy – full of visitors. You kept asking them to keep the noise down because you were worried that you wouldn’t be able to understand what you were recording. It was September of 1994, not long before the junta finally let Aristide return to finish off the last months of his term.”
“I remember the interview in the apartment. I vaguely remember it was noisy, but I don’t remember talking to you at all.”
Steve was frustrated at not being able to recall. Unfortunately, his first encounter with Lubin had not been particularly memorable.
Eleven years before Lubin was imprisoned in Windsor, Steve had been interviewing Aristide while a trusted advisor to Aristide turned to the man beside him and remarked in Kreyol, “That Theodore Lubin is very odd isn’t he?”
The advisor didn’t think Lubin could hear him on the other side of the noisy room, though Lubin did hear him, and didn’t care.
“I’ll never forget those photographs he took of the Election Day massacre in 1987,” replied the other man – Aristide’s Minister of Defence in his exiled government.
“I heard he nearly drowned while accompanying Haitian refugees to the US on their raft.”
“He’s a very brave journalist – always in the thick of things,” noted the Minister of Defence.
“Oh, I know. I’m not saying he isn’t brave – just odd.”
Lubin suddenly crossed the room and took a seat next to the men who had been talking about him. “Who’s the guy interviewing Tidid?” Lubin asked, as if he didn’t know (Aristide was referred to as “Tidid” by his supporters).
“That’s Steve Schmidt from the Toronto Star,” said the advisor.
“Ah! A Canadian,” Lubin replied.
“He interviewed Cedras and his henchmen in Haiti. Now he’s here,” added the Minister
Lubin nodded slowly as if something profound had just been said.
As Steve was getting ready to leave, Lubin introduced himself.
“So Emmanuel Constant was one of your tour guides in Port-au-Prince.”
“Yes,” answered Steve.
“Did you interview any of his victims?”
“Haiti is a dictatorship,” Steve replied, while scanning the room to ensure nothing of his was being left behind. “The victims aren’t easily interviewed.”
“No, not easily,” agreed Lubin.
He looked on silently as Steve zipped up his jacket.
“Don’t forget about me,” he said to Steve before walking away.
“How could I after all we’ve shared,” replied Steve with a smile.
Ten years later, days after Aristide was overthrown for the second time, Lubin left Haiti as a terror campaign began against Famni Lavalas (Aristide’s political party). US officials insinuated to Lubin that he would be granted asylum if he helped with their public relations campaign to demonize Aristide. He politely refused to play along. Lubin’s lawyers were fortunate to get him permission to voluntarily leave the US.
He crossed the border into Windsor and was immediately taken into custody. The justification given was that he had been part of a “criminal organization” – meaning that Canada had unofficially declared Haiti’s most popular political party a criminal group.
Ming and his friends in Windsor were alerted to Lubin’s case through the networks that had developed in North America in opposition to Haiti’s de facto government.
“Does this mean I’m psychic?” Steve wondered as he lay in bed staring up at the ceiling during the first night Lubin slept in his house.
For the first time in years, Steve allowed himself to think about the young lady who had translated for him in Haiti. She had reminded him of his brother. She was very cold, tight lipped – bordering on disdainful, though attractive, and what she lacked in warmth she made up for in competence. Several months after his visit to Haiti, he tried to arrange to have her translate for a colleague. She never returned Steve’s calls. Finding that odd, Steve investigated and learned from reliable sources that she had become a victim of the FRAPH death squad led by Emmanuel Constant. He winced at the memory of how friendly he had been with Constant while she was present. He wondered how much of her haughtiness was driven by hatred for the people he interviewed. Did she hate me too? Steve wondered.
At 4:00 a.m. car lights lit up Steve’s bedroom as the vehicle turned onto his street, enough to wake him and get him started on the day. While Lubin slept in the spare room, Steve searched on his computer for the article he had written about Haiti in 1994. It was entitled “A Place Called Terror.” The interviews had been arranged for Steve by a Canadian linked to the top people in the regime.
Steve began his article by writing:
He overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected government in 1991, defied US presidents, and thumbed his nose at an international embargo. General Raoul Cedras must rank as one of the world’s most audacious Bad Guys….
Steve described Cedras as being as “vain as a Prom Queen,” and also wrote that Cedras admitted a translator was only used during the interview in case he wanted to say he had been mistranslated afterwards. Steve also lampooned the Canadian who arranged the interviews. Outraged at the ingratitude, he made a furious phone call to the Toronto Star after it was published. Steve and his boss had a good laugh over it.
Steve particularly liked the following descriptive passage from his article:
The military headquarters is a converted two-story French mansion. Soldiers snore at the entrance as flies buzz around them. Others play checkers while rifles lie at their feet. Spike heeled wives and girlfriends come and go. Inside the General’s informal reception room the air conditioner is turned up so high that it could easily be an ice cream parlor.
After his visit to Haiti, Steve interviewed Aristide in Washington, and briefly summarized the interview at the end of the article. Steve expected, and received, criticism from apologists for the junta, but he did not expect the flak he received from many Aristide partisans.
Lubin wrote a very critical letter to Steve, who had forgotten it. The letter began:
Dear Mr. Schmidt,
I hope you remember me.
We met briefly when you interviewed President Aristide for your recent article about Haiti entitled ‘A Place Called Terror’.
I do not believe that you intended to write a propaganda piece for the dictatorship (otherwise I would not bother to write to you) but that is exactly what you did.
Lubin pointed out that the article gave the junta and its supporters ample space to slander Aristde and the Lavalas movement, but offered far less space (6 times less by Lubin’s careful count) for their allegations to be refuted. Detailed reports by human rights groups were barely mentioned – crowded out to showcase the Toronto Star’s “access” to the regime. The US track record of backing dictatorships in Haiti (after creating the Haitian army after the 1915-1934 occupation) was ignored as was conclusive evidence that the US was behind the coup.
Lubin concluded his letter to Steve, writing:
The embargo is in place to provide cover for the US as it allows its long time proxies to destroy the Lavalas movement that brought President Aristide to power. Perhaps the US will eventually order the army to allow President Aristide to return after their work is essentially done and the threat of social reform is averted. That sorry outcome could be avoided if foreign journalists would stop peddling the myth that the US is trying to save Haitian democracy.
Steve mailed Lubin the following note in reply (basically the form letter he sent to pro-Aristide critics of his article):
Dear Mr. Lubin:
Thanks for your letter.
It is an interesting conspiracy theory you put forth regarding US intentions in Haiti. If I have, as you accused, written propaganda for Cedras then I can assure you that his camp has been ferociously ungrateful. If I were only pleasing, or infuriating, the people on one side of an issue I’d be very alarmed.
Steve ignored that the truth is not necessarily equidistant from opposing sides in a debate. He disregarded that not everyone deserves to be offended, and that his rise within the newspaper industry proved that he wasn’t, as he liked to believe, offending everyone. He certainly was not offending the people who promoted him and the people they answered to. He had chosen a side so powerful that he failed to even think of it as a side.
Eleven years later Steve could only have responded with contrition to Lubin’s critique. Steve’s article had described FRAPH death squad leader Emmanuel Constant as “quick witted and friendly.” In ignorance, Steve had dismissed Constant as a relatively minor and harmless supporter of the regime.
Then after he learned of the young translator’s death, Steve looked into FRAPH more closely and remained aware of Constant over the years. He knew that the death squad leader lived freely in Queens and that the US government refused to deport him. Steve also noticed that FRAPH’s second in command, Jodel Chamblaim (whom he had also met in Haiti), marched triumphantly into Port-au-Prince after the coup of 2004 and was soon acquitted of his crimes in a farcical overnight trial.
“You’re up early.”
Lubin’s voice startled Steve who was lost in thought at his computer. Sunlight had just begun to stream into the room.
“Hi there,” said Steve, feeling now quite comfortable with the man who looked exactly like one who had driven him to a psychiatrist. “I was looking over an article I had once written about Haiti.”
“I remember it,” said Lubin. “I wrote to you about it.”
Lubin went on to summarize the critique he had made eleven years ago.
“Journalists don’t know as much as they think,” Steve replied sadly. “We get in. We get out. We take things in as quickly as we can. The speed with which we work makes us miss things – first draft of history as they say.”
“I’m afraid the problem goes deeper than that,” Lubin said. “Regular people with jobs and families – working under tighter constraints than journalists – have been able to grasp what is happening in Haiti. Look at Ming. He has a hectic full time job and a family. His advantage over most journalists certainly isn’t time.”
“I don’t know anything about Ming. I just met him.”
“You’ll soon learn a lot more.”
Four hours later Ming knocked at Steve’s door with Crista, the young woman from the courthouse. Steve welcomed them in.
“Hi Theodore,” Ming said to Lubin. “This place is quite a step up from the jail isn’t it?”
Crista’s mother and father were to arrive minutes later. An activist who had driven down from Toronto also arrived – a legal assistant to Neil Cohen – Lubin’s Toronto based lawyer. Cohen, though not politically radical, was trusted by people who had been fighting against post-9/11 changes to Canadian law.
Lubin gave everyone an overview of the government’s case – such as it was – for declaring him inadmissible to Canada. Though he was out of jail he was still at risk to be deported to Haiti. He made it clear that he welcomed Cohen’s help but trusted the people in the room more than any lawyer. The government cited allegations made against members of Famni Lavalas (but not against Lubin) by Amnesty International. It also cited allegations against Lubin’s journalism made on websites run by Haiti’s extreme right. That was it. That was the government’s case, but in post 9-11 Canada that was enough.
Though the Amnesty reports did not mention Lubin, he still urged everyone to pressure them about their reports. It was easily shown, Lubin argued, that Amnesty was parroting bogus allegations made by NCHR – a group that had been generously funded by the Canadian and US governments.
Faxes from Haiti were received and translated by Lubin. Activists called in from around Canada and the US offering assistance and advice.
“So what about the media?” asked Ming eventually. “To what extent do we involve them?”
“Let’s do plenty of face to face and internet based work before we give them anything they can distort,” replied Crista. “We can have Theodore speak at the high school where I teach. We can meet with the local Amnesty chapter. They have good people who would be sure to pressure the higher ups in the UK. Maybe we can get Tom’s friend to write a little article in the Windsor Free Press. His friend is about as progressive as they get over there.”
“I can arrange a talk at the University,” Crista’s mother added. “Ming, could you book the union hall for a talk?”
Steve, who had barely said anything until then, finally chimed in, “I can get a front page article in the Windsor Free Press, and several follow up articles elaborating on other things Theodore has mentioned.”
“Who are you, Izzy Asper?” Ming blurted out with a laugh – immediately regretting his sarcasm.
“I run the Windsor Free Press,” Steve explained. “I’m the publisher.”
Everyone but Lubin froze. Steve lived in a nice little house. Ming assumed he was some kind of lawyer with an interest in Haiti. The others had made similar assumptions. No one dreamed he was the head of a newspaper they despised.
“Excellent Steve!” said Lubin cheerfully. “That would be wonderful.”
Eager to contribute, Steve ordered in lunch and dinner. Despite what he had already done, he felt like he was only beginning to make himself useful. Time passed very quickly.
Within days of Lubin’s arrival at his house, Steve tossed his “hands off” approach out the window.
He rejected the managing editor’s suggestion that Lubin’s imprisonment be written about as a “bungled” immigration case – an example of the Canadian government being “over protective” in the post 9/11 era. Steve wrote special “From the Publisher” features in which Lubin was described as a “former political prisoner” of the Canadian government. One article took the form of a detailed and very hard hitting interview with Lubin about Canada’s role in Haiti. Lubin did not heed his lawyer’s advice to pull his punches with the Canadian government.
“I will not make the same mistake Aristide made while he was in exile in the US during the 1990s,” Lubin said. He had implored Aristide to be much more aggressive in his public statements about US policy:
“You must simply demand that the US order the junta to step down. We all know Cedras is nothing but their lackey,” he had told Aristide. “They could end this with a phone call. Don’t play along with them when they pretend otherwise.”
As word spread about Lubin’s case, an increasing number of activists crowded into Steve’s living room on a regular basis.
“How long do you think before they fire him?” Ming asked Crista one day as they drove to Steve’s house.
“I thought they would have fired him already.”
Lubin often said he was delighted to have such an effective team working with him. Steve was humbled by the intelligence and passion of the activists. They were exerting themselves more, for free, than he had done in years at a very well paid job.
Steve noticed the nervous, sometimes sad looks his editors cast at him while he sat in his office pouring over books and online articles about Haiti. For the first time, his boss called from Toronto to express “concern” about articles published in the Windsor Free Press. Steve knew he was drawing the wrong kind of attention to himself, but his real undoing came in the form of a large manila envelop that he found in his mail slot one morning. It was simply marked “Steve Schmidt.”
It contained documents that the Canadian government had been forced to release months ago under the Freedom of Information Act. However, unlike the documents that independent journalists received, these were not heavily censored. They were not censored at all.
Steve and Ming had them scanned and distributed by email to various people.
In these documents, Canadian officials privately stated to each other that the US had long ago decided, “Aristide must be made to leave. It is the only realistic way to resolve the situation, and our people are well positioned to help.”
The officials were confident the media would convince the public that Aristide’s resignation was voluntary and for the best. They noted that many NGOs funded by the Canadian government such as Oxfam Quebec were hostile to Aristide’s government and that this would be a great help.
Steve published a detailed front page article with the headline:
“DOCUMENTS REVEAL CANADA BACKED COUP IN HAITI”
Not wanting to be brought down with him, Steve’s editors sent him emails documenting their objections to it.
Two days later three security guards walked up to Steve as he was getting out of his car in the Windsor Free Press’s parking lot.
“I’m very sorry, Steve,” said the only guard Steve recognized. “You’re not allowed in the building.”
“That’s okay, Frank. Take care.”
“You too, Steve. Good luck.”
The other two guards looked angrily at Frank.
“Three of them!” Steve chuckled as he drove away. “What the fuck did those lunatics in Toronto think I’d do?”
The controller of the Free Press was appointed publisher, and a retraction of the article was published. It stated that the authenticity of the documents could not be proven and that the article had been inexcusably credulous of the anonymous source that supplied them. Steve’s dismissal was never mentioned in the Windsor Free Press or any other corporate newspaper.
With help from his new friends, Steve started up an internet blog on which the documents were made publicly available. Years passed and no one dared sue him for libel.
Steve began to give many talks about the Canadian media that discussed Canada’s role in Haiti.
One talk that he gave at a union hall in Hamilton lingered in his mind, though he wished it didn’t, because of a brief exchange with an old man. Steve assumed he was a retired worker.
“Why do Canada and the US bother at all about Haiti?” the old man asked.
It was a reasonable question and it came up all the time. Haiti’s natural resources were no longer important to the global economy. Its workers were the lowest paid in the Hemisphere, but even if that changed there were not enough Haitian workers to seriously impact the US or Canadian economies. Why then, would the US and Canada bother to thwart basic reforms?
Steve eventually worked out a fairly succinct and, he thought, convincing reply which borrowed in part from Noam Chomsky:
“In the case of Canada it was simply a case of trying to please the boss – the US government – because they believed they could do so without receiving much scrutiny. They couldn’t get away with that in Iraq. The public was just too aware of it and, of course, overwhelmingly opposed.
“In the case of the US, they intervene in Haiti for the same reason a Mafia Don doesn’t let a small shop keeper get away without paying him. It is part of maintaining an empire – not letting even the tiniest piece break away without a fight. Look at what the US has done in places like Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua and even Grenada – none of them economic powerhouses to say the least.”
The old man nodded in agreement but then couldn’t help but add, “They’re a primitive people though aren’t they?”
“Who’s primitive?” Steve asked dreading the old man’s reply.
“Haitians!” exclaimed the old man. “They believe in Voudou and sacrifice chickens. I mean, they’re mostly illiterate.”
It seemed like time stopped as Steve surveyed the audience’s reaction. Most looked stunned. Many looked guilty and embarrassed – especially those sitting near black people.
“Let’s move on to the next question,” said one of the organizers of the talk, thinking it best to ignore the old man.
“Hey! Let him respond to what I said,” the old man insisted.
“Sir, you’re remarks are extremely offensive,” Steve began dryly. “You obviously know nothing about Voudou and should at least do some reading before you comment on it. What I find primitive is that our government, and the media, threw its support behind a coup which left thousands of innocent people murdered, tortured and thrown into jail. There is something primitive about us, as Canadians, when we let that happen.”
The audience applauded. The old man shut up, but Steve was left feeling unmasked by the old man.
Steve thought his response to the old man had been adequate (though he should have added, he thought afterwards, that literacy and political sophistication are not the same thing. Haitians displayed political and organizational sophistication despite having to deal not only with illiteracy but massive repression. Steve compared that to the political fog he had been enveloped in for decades despite his high level of literacy), but it wasn’t the words he had used that bothered him.
“Why wasn’t I much angrier?” he wondered. “Was I really angry or offended at all?”
About a hundred protestors marched in front of The Cleary International Centre in downtown Windsor during an unseasonably warm day in November of 2005. The strong breeze off the Detroit River made holding up their signs a bit of a chore. Many of the protestors, including Steve, wondered why Lubin had not yet arrived. The Cleary had been taken over by the bodyguards of Prime Minister Paul Martin. Even managers of the Cleary felt they were being bossed around and treated like suspects.
Two large, fierce looking men stood outside a restroom while the Prime Minister of Canada was inside washing his kindly looking face. Martin was reaching for a paper towel when he heard a voice behind him:
“Mr. Prime Minister. Thousands of Haitians have been murdered and imprisoned by your good friend Gerard Latortue.” A US-backed council of Haitians had appointed Latortue head of the Haitian government after the coup d’état that overthrew Aristide in 2004. Latortue had been living in Florida for the previous ten years.
Horrified, Paul Martin spun on his heels and found Lubin gazing at him earnestly.
“Who the hell are you? How did you get in here,” said Martin – loudly, so that his bodyguards standing outside would hear. He couldn’t bring himself to just scream for help. His bodyguards, who had ensured the bathroom was empty and safe before Martin entered it, did not hear their boss, and they had not see anyone follow him inside.
“History is written by the winners, Mr. Prime Minister,” Lubin continued. “And eventually the winners will be the sons and daughters of your victims. You will be remembered as drenched in the blood of innocents.”
Martin suddenly remembered that his predecessor, Jean Cretien, had once attacked a protestor with his bare hands. Assuming his bodyguards were totally outsmarted, he attempted to handle the situation on his own. He rushed at Lubin but missed him completely and ended up sprawled on the floor.
He never did figure out how he missed. Lubin had stood directly in front of him and had not seemed to move.
While Martin was still on the floor, Lubin added, “You should be embarrassed to bring so many bodyguards with you to your hometown.”
Martin picked himself off the floor and scrambled out of the restroom. His bodyguards burst inside immediately but found no one.
All other events scheduled for the Prime Minster that day in Windsor were cancelled. The Prime Minister learned never to enter a restroom without a bodyguard.
In August of 2006, a survey published in the Lancet medical journal reported that 4,000 political murders were perpetrated in Haiti after the coup – overwhelmingly by the Haitian national police and their allies.
Steve had never expected to bring down Paul Martin’s government with the articles he published just before Canwest fired him. However, he did expect to have some impact on Canada’s policy in Haiti. Instead, he was astonished at how easily the media buried the government’s participation in a murderous coup.
By 2006, Paul Martin’s Liberal party was out of office, though Haiti had not been a significant factor in the election. The NDP, the most progressive of Canada’s major political parties, did not even mention Canada’s role in Haiti during televised debates.
Haiti relied on the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections (IMMHE) to supervise the elections that finally took place in 2006. Canada eagerly took the lead within the IMMHE. The Lavalas movement swept Rene Preval into the presidency. Rene Preval was a former Prime Minister under Aristide and the closest candidate available to Arsitide’s Famni Lavalas party who was not in jail or in exile. He won despite the barriers placed in the way of participation by Haiti’s poor and even a last ditch attempt at fraud which was foiled by massive demonstrations. Afterwards, Canadian officials, without fear of ridicule, said they were proud of Canada’s contribution.
Gerard Latortue’s ambassador to the US cited Preval’s candidacy as evidence that Lavalas was not being persecuted. After the election, Preval’s victory was cited as evidence that Lavalas was not popular since the Famni Lavalas party had no official candidate. The Canadian embassy, among others, attempted to pass off Marc Bazin, who had run against Aristide in 1990, as the Famni Lavalas candidate – a superfluous layer of deceit given how Canada’s actions in Haiti were ignored.
Guy Philippe, the rebel the corporate press reported as being greeted by huge, cheering crowds after Aristide’s ouster, received less than 2 percent of the vote. Charles Baker, a sweatshop owner widely and uncritically quoted by journalists before and after the coup, received 6 percent. Not a single editorial in any Canadian newspaper commented on the harsh rebuke to Canadian policy delivered by Haitian voters.
Many prominent political prisoners were released after Preval’s election, but his subsequent compromises with the elite were not surprising given the circumstances. The judiciary and National Police remained stacked with supporters of the coup. By the summer of 2007, foreign donors (Canada now the second largest among them) successfully pressured Rene Preval to privatize Teleco, Haiti’s telephone company.
Shortly after the announcement of Teleco’s privatization, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper made a visit to Haiti.
And there stood Steven Harper longing desperately for a cold shower as he perspired on the lawn of Haiti’s National Palace while Canada’s national anthem was played. Haiti was his last quick stop on a tour of Latin America and the Caribbean, but he wished it could be even quicker. Harper was glad that the press conference to follow would be held inside the air conditioned National Palace.
Inside the cool elegant palace, Rene Preval had just finished thanking Harper for all Canada had done for his country when a man’s voice suddenly filled the room:
“Rene, ask him not to have you overthrown.”
The words were repeated in French, Kreyol and English before Preval recognized Theodore Lubin as the heckler. Lubin began speaking from the back of the room, then walked slowly toward the two heads of state.
“Rene, ask him not to carry you off to Africa if you misbehave.”
Preval opted to stay quiet.
Lubin turned his attention to Harper.
“Mr. Harper, did you speak to any of the families of the people murdered by MINUSTAH while you passed through Cite Soleil?”
MINUSTAH was the French acronym for the UN troops stationed in Haiti who had been particularly busy in Cite Soleil, a poor neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that is a bastion of support for the Lavalas movement and Aristide.
Camaras ceased flashing. Bodyguards stood alert but motionless as if nothing unusual were happening. Realizing that Lubin would not be whisked from the room any time soon Harper decided to respond.
“That’s an absurd question. MINUSTAH is protecting the people of Cite Soleil. I don’t know where you’ve been getting your information, but Médecins du Monde is in Cite Soleil running a program for HIV-positive pregnant women. I was just there and they told me how much safer everyone is because of MINUSTAH.”
Lubin held up a large picture of two little girls lying dead in the tin shack that was their home.
“I get my information from Mercius Lubin, the grieving father of these little girls – Stephanie and Alexandra – who were shot dead by MINUSTAH. Why didn’t you talk to him?”
Mercius and his wife, Marie, were also wounded after MINUSTAH’s bullets pierced the flimsy walls of their house. In previous raids MINUSTAH had fired up to 22,000 bullets in the shantytown.
Harper shot an angry, bewildered look at his bodyguards before responding. “I spoke to Medecine du Monde and to other people in Cite Soleil.”
Lubin moved even closer to Harper:
“Isn’t it remarkable how groups funded by the Canadian government say what the Canadian government wants to hear?”
Harper’s voice was now angry. “You have no basis for impugning the integrity of this group.”
“This!” said Lubin pointing to the picture of Stephanie and Alexandra. “This shows that anyone who takes money from you and then raves about MINUSTAH’s exploits in Cite Soleil has disgraced themselves. And what lovely words you spoke a few days ago to Alvaro Uribe in Colombia! How appropriate that you would embrace his terrorism and then come here to embrace MINUSTAH. Please thank these journalists for being able to carry it off. You don’t appreciate them enough. They are your mask. They put a civilized face on your idolatry of brute force.”
Harper didn’t notice that Rene Preval had already slipped out of the room with a few other officials.
Giving up on the security detail, Harper appealed to the journalists – many of whom were embedded with him during his Latin American tour.
“This man is obviously not a journalist. Why are you letting him disrupt the press conference?”
The journalists were no more help than the bodyguards. They stood by quietly as if they had paid admission to watch Harper perform. Steve Schmidt sat among them struggling to keep his hands steady as he videotaped everything.
Harper finally charged out of the room in disgust, and would later enjoy a nice long shower.
A few journalists were affected enough by what they had seen to cautiously mention it in their reports. Most would quickly forget.
“In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Dominique only the tree of liberty. It will spring up by the roots for they are numerous and deep.” – Toussaint Louverture
Lubin had gained refugee status months before returning to Haiti with Steve. After Harper’s press conference, they had planned to return to Canada together, but Lubin suddenly announced he would never leave Haiti again.
“Don’t forget me” were his last words to Steve, who was too choked up to reply. He would never hear directly from Lubin again – only conflicting stories about his death told by friends in Haiti.
The video of the confrontation between Harper and Lubin was archived on the website Steve and Ming had co-founded shortly after they met – RadicalPub.com, inspired by Medialens in the UK and FAIR in the US, sites that encouraged readers to join with them in challenging the media’s coverage of a wide range of issues. Improving the corporate media’s coverage was a secondary goal, they explained. Involving readers in building an alternative forum for the dissemination of news, analysis and debate was the primary objective. Steve dipped into his savings to keep the site going at first, and then reader donations covered almost all their expenses – the largest being Ming’s salary. Eventually they were exceptionally fortunate that a few generous (and anonymous) donors relieved them of all concern about its sustainability.
Many emails of support encouraged them, though they liked it best when people wrote to journalists and editors – copying them on their correspondence. One of the most moving emails Steve ever received was from the single mother he had once fired. A surprising number of supportive emails came from corporate journalists who requested anonymity. Other emails came from human rights activists and independent journalists in Haiti and elsewhere they had come to deeply admire – people like Brian Concannon, Kevin Pina and Mario Joseph.
Confessions of a Corporate Media Hitman, Steve’s first book, was published a year after he left the Windsor Free Press. The dedication read:
“To Theodore Lubin, who taught me what it means to be an authentic journalist.”
“Steve, you should sleep more,” his brother said sternly after a routine checkup.
He had not approved of Steve committing professional suicide the way he had a year ago, but he couldn’t deny that Steve now exhibited more zest for life than he ever had, or that his teenage children regarded their Uncle Steve with an unsettling amount of admiration.
“I’ll try,” Steve said, and left the office hurriedly. On the way out a lady gave him an angry look because he was leaving with a magazine from the waiting room. He noticed her look but smiled because she was about to read the latest issue of Z Magazine which arrived at the office every month at Steve’s expense. Many patients had also leafed through a donated copy of Confessions of a Corporate Media Hitman. Steve never discussed these gifts with his brother but assumed they had been noticed and quietly tolerated.
An article in the magazine Steve took home referred to a Canadian policeman who had died in Haiti. It stated that the police officer had died “for Haiti.”
At home, Steve greeted Ming who was in the living room editing their latest “Action Alert.” Steve immediately emailed the author of the magazine article.
“Didn’t you mean to write that the officer died ‘in Haiti’ rather than ‘for Haiti’?” he asked.
The reporter replied promptly and initially attempted to argue that there was no difference between writing “for Haiti” or “in Haiti.” Steve replied asking if the reporter would write that the 9-11 hijackers died “for the US.” The reporter then claimed that he had written “for Haiti” out of respect for the officer’s family.
Steve replied: “What about the families of the people murdered by Canada’s allies in Haiti? Why must respect for the policeman’s family involve misleading people about our crimes in Haiti and negating the humanity of our victims?”
Steve received no further reply.