Democratic Underground  

No Hay Banda
March 6, 2004
By Raul Groom

"No 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 by force.

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 humor.

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 of 2004.

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 in 2004.

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 without her.

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 "U.S. Army."

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.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article
Democratic Underground Homepage