What is happening in Haiti?
Who are these 'rebels' who removed Aristide?
On February 29th, 2004, the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was removed from power by a right-wing paramilitary force with ties to the US. Flown out of the country on a US chartered plane, Aristide is now in exile in the Central African Republic.
It appears the civil institutions have crumbled, and the capital city Port-au-Prince has experienced spasms of violence. More than a thousand American marines and hundreds of French, Canadian and Chilean troops have landed in the capital. American diplomats are trying to install a prime minister of their choice in the country.
Aristide departed in murky circumstances with allegations that he was 'kidnapped' by US marines. The 15 nation Caribbean Community - CARICOM - has called for a United Nations investigation. On Thursday, March 4th, CARICOM was joined by South Africa. The Black Congressional Caucus has also expressed concern at the behavior of the administration. This past Thursday, Representative Barbara Lee accused the administration of systematically destabilizing and undermining democracy in Haiti.
The 'rebels' are led by three men: Guy Philippe
, Jodel Chamblain
and Jean Tatoune
. All three are convicted human rights violators. Human rights organizations have called for their arrest. (For example, Amnesty International says: "The fact that the massacres, extrajudicial executions or torture for which they were initially brought to justice took place a number of years ago does not remove the need for perpetrators to be held accountable".) Invading from the their base in the Dominican Republic, they have swept across the Northeast of the country, quickly overwhelming the country's small police force. The rebel forces comprise only a few hundred men but seem to be well armed. The political opposition of the country is separate but consists largely of wealthy businessmen.
Who is Aristide?
Jean-Paul Aristide started out as a priest in a small rural church. He was a liberation theologist and spent many years working with impoverished people and calling for democratic reform. He was swept into power in December 1990 on the back of a grassroots movement -- the first democratically elected leader following years of dictatorship. His first government had many impressive achievements but in 7 months, he was removed from power in a US backed coup. He was reinstated by Clinton in 1994. Unfortunately, by this time the popular organizations that had brought him to power had been decimated. Aristide was forced to accept a notorious 'structural adjustment' package with many concessions to open foreign investment and the business sector. These policies further impoverished the country.
What is the role of the US in the coup?
There is much circumstantial evidence linking the US to the current coup. First, there are Aristide's allegations that he was kidnapped by US marines. These allegations have been taken seriously in the international community and also in the US Congress with many calling for an independent investigation. Second, as explained below many of the leaders of the current coup were involved in the 1991 coup and have been linked to the US. Third, it is well known that people in the state department such as Robert Noriega (assistant secretary of state for Western Hemispheric affairs) loath Aristide and have been calling for his ouster for several years. Fourth, the US systematically starved the Aristide government of funds. For example the Bush administration recently withheld $650 million in aid, despite the fact that Haiti is the poorest nation in the hemisphere. Finally, although Aristide disbanded the Haitian army in 1995, the rebels seem to be very well armed. Where did they get their arms and funds?
What about the coup in 1991 and the US intervention in 1994?
After the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1985, the US began funding conservative forces in Haiti to facilitate 'democracy building'. After the election of Aristide, a terrorist organization FRAPH was set up and over the next three years, it murdered 3000 Aristide supporters. A number of these groups became the governing authorities after the coup. As people were slaughtered in Port-au-Prince, refugees began to flee to the US. The Bush administration turned them back from the shores of the US. In response to the coup, the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed an embargo on Haiti. However, this embargo was systematically undermined by the US. This was said to be 'fine-tuning the embargo to improve democracy.'
The founder of FRAPH Emmanuel Constant later revealed on CBS 60 minutes that he had been paid by the CIA to start the organization (He now lives in New York). The New York Times revealed the military leaders of the coup were also on the payroll of the CIA. Further, it was found that Guy Philippe was trained by US special forces in Ecuador.
In 1994, Aristide was restored to power by Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, by this time the coup had already destroyed the institutions that sustained the grassroots democracy. Moreover, Clinton made Aristide's return contingent on his accepting neoliberal 'reforms' and implementing structural adjustment policies favorable to US business.
Who was Duvalier? What is the history of the US-Haiti relationship?
The republic of Haiti was established in 1804 after the first successful slave rebellion in history overthrew the French colonizers. Thomas Jefferson was horrified and refused to recognize the republic. Haiti was not recognized till 1862. Between 1849 and 1913, the US Navy intervened in Haiti 24 times, in order to 'protect American lives and property when Negro laborers got out of control'. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson authorized a brutal invasion of the country. His assistant secretary of state explained: 'they are an inferior people' unable 'to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French'. Peasants were dispossessed and the US set up plantation agriculture which led to the virtual re-establishment of slavery. Rebellions were crushed violently and thousands of 'natives' were killed. As Major Smedley Butler explained, his troops 'hunted the Cacos like pigs'. The Marines were withdrawn 20 years later, but in 1956 Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) staged a military coup. He was later succeeded by his son Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) in 1971. The Duvaliers, set up a murderous dictatorship. However, they allowed US corporations to repatriate their profits, denied labor rights, removed customs taxes and attracted investment from the US. So, despite human rights horrors, they were supported by Washington. In 1985, a popular rebellion toppled the Duvalier regime; Duvalier was flown out in a US Air Force jet. After 5 years of military rule, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president by an overwhelming majority in December 1990. He was able to reduce corruption and trim the state bureaucracy. However, in 7 months, he was removed from power in a coup backed by the CIA and the Bush administration.
The relationship of the US and Haiti illustrate persistent themes in US foreign policy. "The resources of a country should be used to further US corporate interests." The US never hesitates in supporting pliable dictators: Duvalier(Haiti), Mobutu(Zaire), Pinochet(Chile), Islam Karimov(Uzbekistan), Mohammed Reza Pehlavi(Iran), Suharto(Indonesia), King Gyanendra(Nepal), Hosni Mubarak(Egypt), Franco(Spain) are a few examples. Some of these, like Suharto, are guilty of genocide ...others merely of repression and despotism. When faced with the failure of covert operations, the US has never hesitated in applying direct violence whether this be at the cost of millions of lives as in Indochina or at the cost of hundreds of thousands as in Iraq.
What is strange is that most of the US population has experienced either static or declining living standards after 1970: all the violence above benefits a small privileged elite. The ethical aspects of this policy are puzzling.
Where can I find more information?
Please visit the weblog of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice http://hcs.harvard.edu/~hipj/blog. You will find more information on Haiti and links to articles. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Haitian News sources: