BAR columnist michael hureaux is a writer, musician and teacher who lives in southwest Seattle, Washington. He is a longtime contributor to small and alternative presses around the country and performs his work frequently. Email to: [email protected]
by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
Even when claiming to speak to the nation and world about Haiti, Barack Obama winds up talking about America – and himself. The author writes, “Mr. President…“I am always astounded to see just what a shallow and pretentious presence your elevation to the national scene has become, even at this moment of colossal tragedy.”
Eshu’s blues: An Open Letter to President Obama on Haiti
by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
“If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit.”
Dear Mr. President Obama:
Your cover story on Newsweek for the week of January 25th is titled “Why Haiti Matters.” Let’s look at this gem of deathless prose from your pen, the pen of the nation’s first black Commander- in-Chief.
This brief article leads off with the usual call for compassion:
“…We have all been deeply moved by the heartbreaking images of the devastation in Haiti: parents searching through rubble for sons and daughters; children, frightened and alone, seeking for their mothers and fathers…”
Yes, indeed, Mr. President, anyone who doesn’t have the sensibility of a rock was deeply moved by the devastation in Haiti, and how good of you to notice in between lining the pockets of financial speculators, blasting the civilian population of Pakistan with predator drones, and moving tens of thousands of troops hither and yon.
“…We are mobilizing every element of our national capacity; the resources of development agencies, the strength of our armed forces, and most important, the compassion of the American people…”
“Most of the time, the U.S. relationship with Haiti involves embargo, invasion, and the displacement of domestic agrarian economy.”
Important though our compassion may be, some of us can’t help noting that it appears third in your enumerated points of response, right behind the “strength of our armed forces” – 17,000 troops by the most recent count. How new and different, especially in the context of the U.S. relationship with Haiti, which, most of the time in the 206 years since formal Haitian independence, has involved embargo, invasion, the displacement of domestic agrarian economy – and the rejection of every form of black independent government, for that matter. But perhaps this is what you were referring to when you state in your article:
“…We act…for the sake of the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history, even as they have shown great resilience; and we act because of the close ties that we have with a neighbor that is only a few hundred miles to the south.”
“Stricken with a tragic history”, the man says. Well, that’s one way of putting it. If being overseen by the U.S. supported Duvalier regime, or being the target of two U.S. invasions and support for two overthrows of the democratically elected head of state in the last twenty years is being “stricken” with a tragic history, yes, someone’s striking someone, and striking them repeatedly over the head. As for the “ties” the United States has had with its neighbor to the south, the correct phrase would be “bound and gagged.” But of course, these are only semantic points.
But then what happens in the text of your article? Why, we get a pitch for Amurika Uber Alles, Obama style, as in:
“But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy the United States of America steps forward and helps. That’s who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America’s leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up---whether it was rebuilding our former adversaries after World War II, dropping food and water to the people of Berlin, or helping the people of Bosnia and Kosovo rebuild their lives and their nations. At no time is that more true than in moments of great peril or human suffering…”
You know, Mr. Prez, it’s a terrible thing when men of great intelligence and talent put it into the service of perpetuating myths. But what we have in this paragraph – and in the general tone of this article – is the essence of that age old shopfloor maxim, “If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, baffle ‘em with bullshit.”
Because, after all, Mr. Prez, the title of your article is “Why Haiti Matters.” And silly me, I really thought you might have it in you to give a breakdown of the actual history of Haiti as the first independent black republic in the western hemisphere, and the role the United States has historically played there, but no, your article stunningly turns out to be an exposition on why the United States matters:
“Right now, our search and rescue teams are on the ground, pulling people from the rubble. American from Virginia and California and Florida have worked around the clock to save people whom they’ve never met.”
“The Cubans were on the scene way before the earthquake hit with medical and public health assistance.”
Well, yes, this is usually what genuine compassion involves, a certain selflessness and inattention to the matter of whether one actually knows or has met the person one is assisting or not. And rarely do people who lend themselves to such campaigns do much trumpeting of their virtues in such a public space. But, then, when the dominant drive of a certain political culture – late capitalism – is one of total indifference to most forms of human suffering, the people who find themselves in command of such monstrosities are actually surprised when they discover that most people, when offered a chance, are basically pretty decent. And by the way, these aren’t character traits exclusively given to people from the United States of America. People from countries like the terrible Castroist Cuba have been assisting the Haitian people for years, they were actually on the scene way before the earthquake hit with medical and public health assistance. And Cuba, by the way, has far less surplus wealth to give away then does the United States. But I suppose when one keeps the company you keep, Mr. President – the likes of Rahm Emmanuel and Hillary Clinton and her Haitian sweatshop baron husband Bill – anything moderately decent looks novel after awhile.
And I could go on, point by point, through the remainder of this article, but it’s just too painful. I suppose my point overall is that, as cynical as I and many other people have been about your prospects, I am always astounded to see just what a shallow and pretentious presence your elevation to the national scene has become, even at this moment of colossal tragedy for a people who have long suffered under the boot heel of the bloody juggernaut you hanker to be in charge of.
You’d do well to walk away from the hot mess you sit atop of three years from now. It actually appears to have eaten your brain.
Yours sincerely – M. Hureaux Perez