By Raul Groom
hay Banda. There is no band." - MC Silencio, "Mulholland Drive"
My sleep this week has been haunted and fitful. Normally
my dreams are pleasant, and when I wake up they dissipate
easily, like wisps of a low-hanging cumulus cloud in the sunny
chill of a spring morning. But these last few days I've awakened
with images stuck in my head that I'd prefer to forget. When
I was younger, still in school, this malaise was a more or
less constant condition. I would lay awake at night, or drift
in and out of sleep, feeling isolated, persecuted, trapped.
For the most part I've left that life behind, but occasionally,
as now, the Fear returns to remind me that I have not completely
escaped from that almost interminable darkness.
Last night I found myself riding along in Sophia's old Nissan,
which in real life already enjoyed a hero's burial after an
aborted trip to North Carolina revealed $2500 worth of problems
with a $1300 vehicle. She was driving, and I was in the passenger's
seat yakking about some frivolous subject when I noticed,
too late, that we were about to go over a cliff.
"Turn left!" I shouted at her, and she cut the wheel with
a gasp, but we tumbled over the edge and splashed down in
a large, deep swimming pool. The car began to fill with water,
and she told me to open my window and let the water rush in.
We opened the windows frantically, and after taking one last
panicked breath, we swam up to the surface to find a group
of people, presumably the owners of the pool, staring at us
disapprovingly. I began to remonstrate with them about the
dangerous blind cliff at the end of their driveway.
When they led us back to the top of the hill, however, they
showed us that there was indeed a large, clearly visible barricade
between the road and the drop. I deduced that they must have
hastily placed the barrier after we went over the edge. I
accused one of them of setting us up, but they laughed scornfully
and called me a conspiracy theorist. Soon they were all laughing
and calling me names, though none made any move to harm us.
Only after I punched one of them in the nose (a rarity - in
dreams my punches almost never land) did the pack begin to
close in, their eyes wet and shining with murderous rage.
The scene doesn't make a lot of sense, but it was a dream,
after all. In any case, it's the emotions that are revealing
to me, not the storyline. I remember feeling mostly outrage
and shock, not fear. I was angry first that a cliff so dangerous
could come up so suddenly, with no sign posted by the authorities
charged with informing drivers of impending hazards. Then
later, my indignation was directed at the group of strangers
trying to convince me that what I knew had happened was a
figment of my imagination, despite the fact that evidence
still clearly visible indicated that my version of events
made the most sense (the car had not flown far enough, for
example, to indicate that we had sailed over the barrier because
we were going too fast). I had a sense that most of the mob
actually believed the bogus story, but of course I knew also
that at least one of them - the author of the coverup - knew
he was peddling a lie.
Some of you are thinking to yourselves "What the hell is
this lunatic talking about? When is he going to get to the
Cheney jokes?" But more than few of you, I'd wager, know just
where I'm going with this, because you've been having the
same dreams, day and night, since a gang of unidentified rebels
with M-16's and U.S. Army surplus battle uniforms showed up
in Haiti expressing their desire to overthrow the constitutionally
elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
For those of you who haven't been following the story very
closely or for very long, let me get you up to speed. The
U.S. taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy had
been financing groups in opposition to Aristide to create
what they refer to as an "institutional check" on Aristide's
power. Eventually these groups, which include not only the
wealthy business elite but also the brutal Duvalierist murderers
who ran the country before Aristide was elected, put together
a large enough band of armed thugs to take the country over
During this time, the Bush Administration called repeatedly
on Aristide to recognize the authors of the armed takeover
as legitimate partners in government, with Aristide capitulating
to most of Washington's demands and offering to create a coalition
government with the movement despite the fact that it enjoyed
very little popular support.
While Aristide was appeasing his powerful neighbors to the
North, they were busy undermining him and lavishly financing
his tormentors back in Haiti, waiting for the right moment
to spirit him out of the country and into exile. Meanwhile,
major U.S. newspapers fell all over themselves repeating the
State Department's caricature of Aristide as a weak, unpopular
and unprincipled thug, alleging a long list of atrocities
committed under his watch and implying that the elections
that brought the former priest to power were fundamentally
tainted. State consistently implied that the loose coalition
of wealthy businesspeople, Army generals, and career criminals
who were seeking Aristide's ouster represented the true future
of democracy in Haiti, and that the country could never achieve
stability while he was in power.
Finally, the rebels entered the capital, and Aristide was
taken into exile by the Americans. Upon the dissolution of
the government, the rebels refused to lay down their guns
as they had allegedly promised their American benefactors,
and instead began the process of reconstituting all the brutal
instruments of repression that had been in place under the
the hated dictator Baby Doc. Duvalier himself announced his
plans to return to the country, and his assurances that he
had no desire to be President did little to assuage the fear
of his traditional victims - the poorest and most powerless
Haitians, young and old. Death squads roamed the streets massacring
people in churches, union offices, and community centers.
The reaction of the major U.S. papers was generally supportive
of the coup. The New York Times printed an editorial
comparing Aristide to Mao, and repeated the State Department's
line that Aristide was a dangerous thug who governed with
an iron fist, a man with no regard for his citizens who cared
only for his own power.
I'll stop now; the last paragraph has tipped my most astute
readers to the joke, though I doubt too many of you are laughing.
For that I apologize; I've always had a weakness for gallows
The last 450 words of this article are a description of events
that occurred 14 years ago, in 1990.
What I've written is mostly a paraphrase of Chomsky's Haiti
section in Year 501, published in 1993, before Bill
Clinton had the Marines reinstall Aristide as President, and
of course well before the entire affair was repeated in February
Few now dispute that the 1990 coup was funded and facilitated
by the United States, but for some reason this recent carbon-copy
of that operation is being given the exact same treatment
the original enjoyed at the time - the State Department's
official script is being faithfully followed (though among
major papers, this time the New York Times is actually
distinguishing itself as the least toadying publication by
far) and everyone is shocked - SHOCKED - that anyone would
imply that the U.S. might have been behind Aristide's ouster.
Just for fun, here's the abridged cast of characters starring
in that 1990 overthrow of Aristide, Haiti's first (and still
only) constitutionally elected president. Secretary of Defense
- Dick Cheney. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy - Paul
Wolfowitz. Senior Policy Advisor at the OAS - Roger Noriega
(current Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of Western Hemisphere
Affairs.) The list goes on.
Elliot Abrams, current director of the NSC's democracy and
human rights arm (his official title, I believe, is High Priest
of Incredible Irony) even went on PBS to explain why even
though Aristide was democratically elected, that doesn't make
him a legitimate democratic leader. The same arguments, now
recognized as coarse propaganda when read from transcripts
from the 1990's, are being treated as sage wisdom even by
liberals when they are heard uttered by the very same people
It is easy to see, then, why those of us who see this recent
U.S. coup for what it is are feeling a little disoriented.
If we knew what was good for us, we would simply allow ourselves
to be lulled to sleep by the constant drumbeat of anti-Aristide
propaganda and strident U.S. dismissals of Aristide's audacious
claims that when U.S. troops showed up in the middle of the
night to threaten him with death if he didn't resign and flee
into exile, that action constituted a coup d'etat. That's
a key component of the debate being missed by our intrepid
fourth estate - Aristide's story and the Bush Administration's
story are the same. It's just that Bushco doesn't see what
Aristide is complaining about. He should be thankful, apparently,
that we don't just kill him and be done with it.
Now that Aristide is out of the country, Roger Noriega has
taken to the press to harangue Guy Phillippe's "ragtag band"
of murderers and rapists, calling on them to lay down their
arms. This performance isn't directed at the rebels, of course,
it's just designed to get this image of a tattered and disorganized
rabble into the national discourse, and indeed it has. The
major papers are already referring to the rebel army - lavishly
financed, heavily armed, and better equipped than most of
the legitimate armies in the region - as a "ragtag band,"
just like Not-So-Great Uncle Roger told them to.
To get some perspective on the monstrosity of the current
situation in the Caribbean theatre, I turned, naturally, to
David Lynch. In Mulholland Drive, there is a scene that stands
out as one of the greatest scenes filmed in my lifetime. There
are a lot of you, I'm sure, who don't like Lynch, and I see
where you are coming from on that, even though I admit I am
a fan. However, even if you can't bring yourself to watch
the whole thing again, pick it up at the Video Americain next
time you're there and take it home just to watch the Club
Silencio scene. You know the one I mean. No hay banda. There
is no band.
For those who haven't seen the film (I'm about to spoil
the best scene) late in the movie the heroine goes to a club
late at night, where we hear a band playing a lively tune.
But the MC, a rather frightening-looking fellow, soon appears
on stage to inform us that the song we are hearing, though
clear and precise as any live performance, is nothing but
a recording. "No hay Banda," he explains. "There is no band."
The MC clears the stage and makes way for a beautiful female
singer alone at a microphone. Looking out on the crowd with
tenderness and vulnerable, raw emotion, the woman sings a
beautiful, romantic tune. We notice the marked difference,
now, between the recording of the band and this live performance.
One can feel the very soul of the vocalist pouring forth,
the purity of her secret heart fueling the sweet perfection
of her solo. "Yes," we think. "This is what a live performance
sounds like." But when the woman drops to the floor as if
dead, the song continues - we have been duped again.
Of course, by now, watching the scene for the tenth time,
I know she isn't singing. But the emotion the image brings
me is so real, so true, and so full of light that even now
I still want desperately to believe that the voice I hear
is the voice of that vulnerable, fragile beauty looking out
at me from that crimson stage. The illusion seduces me, nurturing
my hopes and calming my fears. It reaffirms my worth as a
person, and justifies my belief in a world that makes sense,
where good always triumphs over evil, and love, even from
a heart that is flawed and broken, truly conquers all.
But it is a lie.
The consequences of believing in an illusion differ, of
course, based on the context both of the illusion and of the
belief. I can feel my heart soar each time I watch that spectacular
performance at Club Silencio and suffer no real consequence,
except a sense of loss and betrayal when I see that haunting
beauty drop to the floor as her haunting melody carries on
However, Lynch's Club Silencio is jarring for a subtler
reason as well as the obvious one - it calls into question
just how much of what we have seen, assumed at the time to
be reality, has been nothing but a mirage. There is nothing
comforting about facing such a question - the grander the
illusion, the greater the price of disillusionment.
But greater still is the price of continuing in darkness,
of refusing to see what has become obvious to anyone who would
care to look. The Bush Administration is a lawless and criminal
band of thugs and lunatics bent on destroying anyone who gets
in their way, and until enough of us have the courage to face
the cliff over which we are about to tumble, they will press
on with impunity, toward our common doom.
There is no ragtag band of rebels in Haiti. There is only
an American-trained mercenary army, bought and paid for with
American taxpayer dollars, carrying M-16's and M-60's and
grenades and all the best instruments of torture and mayhem
that money can buy.
No hay banda. There is no band. But beneath the illusion,
there is a reality for which we will ultimately be held responsible.
The bullet that is entering a child's head… right now… was
paid for with your tax money. The knife being used to flay
open a man's abdomen and expose his intestines is stamped
I have written in the past of the need to wake up from that
singular American illusion that all is well in the world,
except perhaps the jealousy of the lazy, discontented few
who have been left behind by the Big Bright Green Pleasure
Machine; that our privileged way of life can continue indefinitely
in its current form. The clock is ticking on that awakening,
Dear Reader, and when George W. Bush and his illegitimate
administration overthrew the same legitimate government that
had been toppled by his father before him, our time grew shorter,
and shorter still.
George, you are allegedly a lover of the Spanish language.
So let me leave you, Mr. President, with this phrase, to do
with what you will.
No hay Banda, Mr. Bush. There is no band. But in November
you and yours will have to face the music nonetheless.