Haiti 1986-1994

Who will rid me of this man?

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum


What does the government of the United States do when faced with a choice between supporting: (a) a group of totalitarian military thugs guilty of murdering thousands, systematic torture, widespread rape, and leaving severely mutilated corpses in the streets ... or (b) a non-violent priest, legally elected to the presidency by a landslide, whom the thugs have overthrown in a coup? ... But what if the priest is a "leftist"?

During the Duvalier family dictatorship-Francois "Papa Doc", 1957-71, followed by Jean-Claude "Baby Doc", 1971-86, both anointed President for Life by papa-the United States trained and armed Haiti's counter-insurgency forces, although most American military aid to the country was covertly channeled through Israel, thus sparing Washington embarrassing questions about supporting brutal governments. After Jean-Claude was forced into exile in February 1986, fleeing to France aboard a US Air Force jet, Washington resumed open assistance. And while Haiti's wretched rabble were celebrating the end of three decades of Duvalierism, the United States was occupied in preserving it undcr new names.

Within three weeks of Jean-Claude's departure, the US announced that it was providing Haiti with $26.6 million in economic and military aid, and in April it was reported that "Another $4 million is being sought to provide the Haitian Army with trucks, training and communications gear to allow it to move around the country and maintain order.' Maintaining order in Haiti translates to domestic repression and control; and in the 21 months between Duvalier's abdication and the scheduled elections of November 1987, the successor Haitian governments were responsible for more civilian deaths than Baby Doc had managed in l5 years.

The CIA was meanwhile arranging for the release from prison, and safe exile abroad, of two of its Duvalier-era contacts, both notorious police chiefs, thus saving them from possible death sentences for murder and torture, and acting contrary to the public's passionate wish for retribution against its former tormenters. In September, Haiti's main trade union leader, Yves Richard, declared that Washington was working to undermine the left before the coming elections. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the country side to identify and reject the entire left as "communist". though the country clearly had a fundamental need for reformers and sweeping changes. Haiti was, and is, the Western Hemisphere's best known economic, medical, political, judicial, educational, and ecological basket case.

At this time Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a charismatic priest with a broad following in the poorest slums of Haiti, the only church figure to speak out against repression during the Duvalier years. He now denounced the military-dominated elections and called upon Haitians to reject the entire process. His activities figured prominently enough in the electoral campaign to evoke a strong antipathy from US officials. Ronald Reagan, Aristide later wrote, considered him to be a communist. And Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs, Elliott Abrams, saw fit to attack Aristide while praising the Haitian government in a letter to Time magazine during the election campaign.

The Catholic priest first came to prominence in Haiti as a proponent of liberation theology, which seeks to blend the teachings of Christ with inspiring the poor to organize and resist their oppression. When asked why the CIA might have sought to oppose Aristide, a senior official with the Senate Intelligence Committee stated that "Liberation theology proponents are not too popular at the agency. Maybe second only to the Vatican for not liking liberation theology are the people at Langley [CIA headquarters]."

Aristide urged a boycott of the elections, saying "The army is our first enemy." The CIA, on the other hand, funded some of the candidates.


The elections scheduled for 29 November 1987 were postponed because of violence. the rescheduled elections held in January, the candidate favored by the military government was declared the winner in balloting widely perceived as rigged, and in the course of which the CIA was involved in an aborted attempt of unknown nature to influence the elections.

There followed more than two years of regular political violence, coup attempts, and repression, casting off the vestiges of the Duvalier dictatorship and establishing a new one, until, in March 1990, the current military dictator, General Prosper Avril, was forced by widespread protests to abdicate and was replaced by a civilian government of sorts, but with the military still calling important shots.

The United States is not happy with "chaos" in its client states. It's bad for control, it's bad for business, it's unpredictable who will come out on top, perhaps another Fidel Castro. It was the danger of "massive internal uprisings" that induced the United States to inform Jean-Claude Duvalier that it was time for him to venture a life of struggle on the French Riviera, and a similar chaotic situation that led the US Ambassador to suggest to Avril that it was an apt moment to retire; transportation into exile for the good general was once again courtesy of Uncle Sam.

Thus it was that the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince pressured the Haitian officer corps to allow a new election. Neither the embassy nor Aristide himself at this time had reason to expect that he would be a candidate in the election scheduled for December although he had already been expelled from his religious order, with the blessings of the Vatican, because, amongst other things, of "incitement to hatred and violence, and a glorifymg of class struggle". Aristide's many followers and friends had often tried in vain to persuade him to run for office. Now they finally succeeded, and in October he became the candidate of a loose coalition of reformist parties and organizations.

On the eve of the election, former US Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, visited Aristlde and asked him to sign a letter accepting Marc Bazin, the US-backed and funded candidate, as president should Bazin win. Young reportedly said there was fear that if Aristide lost, his followers would take to the streets and reject the results. Young was said to be acting on behalf of his mentor, former president Jimmy Carter, but presumably the White House also had their finger in the pie, evidencing their concern about Aristide's charisma and potential as a leader outside their control.

Desplte a campaign marred by terror and intimidation, nearly a thousand UN and Organizatlon of American States (OAS) observers and an unusually scrupulous Haitian general insured that a relatively honest balloting took place, in which Aristide was victorious wlth 67.5 percent of the vote.


The Catholic priest had long been an incisive critic of US foreign policy because of Washington's support of the Duvalier dynasty and the Haitian military, and he was suspicious of foreign "aid", commenting that it all wound up in the pockets of the wealthy. "Since 1980, this amounted to two hundred million dollars a year, and these were the same ten years during which the per capita wealth of the country was reduced by 40 percent! "


Seriously hampered by the absence in Haiti of a strong traditional left, and confronted by a gridlocked parliament that constitutionally had more power than the president, Aristide didn't succeed in getting any legislation enacted. He did, however, initiate programs in literacy, public health and agrarian reform, and pressed for an increase in the daily wage, which was often less than three dollars, a freeze on prices of basic necessities, and a public-works program to create jobs. He also increased the feeling of security amongst the population bv arresting a number of key paramilitary thugs, and setting in motion a process to eliminate the institution of rural section chiefs (sheriffs), the military's primary instru ment of unfettered authority over the lives of the peasants.

In office, though not the uncompromising revolutionary firebrand many anticipated, Aristide frequently angered his opponents in the wealthy business class, the parliament, and the army by criticizing their corruptness. The military was particularly vexed by his policies against smuggling and drug trafficking, as well as his attempt to de-politicize them. As for the wealthy civilians-or as they are fondly known, the morally repugnant elite-they did not much care for Aristide's agenda whereby they would pay taxes and share their bounty by creating jobs and reinvesting profits locally rather than abroad. They were, as they remain, posi tively apoplectic about this little saintly-talking priest and his love for the (ugh) poor.


Jean-Bertrand Aristide served less than eight months as Haiti's president before being deposed, on 29 September 1991, by a military coup in which many hundreds of his supporters were massacred, and thousands more fled to the Dominican Republic or by sea. The slightly-built Haitian president who, in the previous few years, had survived several serious assassination attempts and the burning down of his church while he was inside preaching, was saved now largely through the intervention of the French ambassador.


Within a week of Aristide's overthrow, the Bush administration began to distance itself from the man, reported the New York Times, "by refusing to say that his return to power was a necessary pre-condition for Washington to feel that democracy has been restored in Haiti." The public rationale given for this attitude was that Aristide's human rights record was questionable, since some business executives, legislators and other opponents of his had accused him of using mobs to intimidate them and tacitly condoning their violence. Some of Haiti's destitute did carry out acts of violence and arson against the rich, but it's a stretch to blame Aristide, whatever his attitude, given that these were enraged people seeking revenge for a lifetime of extreme oppression against their perceived oppressors, revenge they had long been waiting for.

A year later, the Boston Globe could editorialize that the Bush administration's "contempt for Haitian democracy has been scandalous ... By refusing to acknowledge the carnage taking place in Haiti, the administration has all but bestowed its blessing on the putschists."


The CIA's Clients

1. From the mid-1980s until at least the 1991 coup, key members of Haiti's military and political leadership were on the Agency's payroll.


2. In 1986 the CIA created a new organization, the National Intelligence Service (SIN). The unit was staffed solely by officers of the Haitian army, widely perceived as an unprofessional force with a marked tendency toward corruption. SIN was purportedly created to fight the cocaine trade, though SIN officers themselves engaged in the trafficking, and the trade was aided and abetted by some of the Haitian officials also on the Agency payroll.

SIN functioned as an instrument of political terror, persecuting and torturing Father Aristide's supporters and other "subversives", and using its CIA training and devices to spy on them; in short, much like the intelligence services created by the CIA elsewhere in the world during the previous several decades, including Greece, South Korea, Iran, and Uruguay; and created in Haiti presumably for the same reason: to give the Agency a proper ly trained and equipped, and loyal, instrument of control.


3. Amongst the worst violators of human rights in Haiti was the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), actually a front for the army. The paramilitary group spread deep fear amongst the Haitian people with its regular murders, public beatings, arson raids on poor neighborhoods, and mutilation by machete. FRAPH's leader, Emannuel Constant, went onto the CIA payroll in early 1992 and, according to the Agency, this relation ended in mid-1994. Whatever truth lies in that claim, the fact is that by October the American Embassy in Haiti was openly acknowledging that Constant-now a born-again democrat-was on its payroll.

The FRAPH leader says that soon after Aristide's ouster an officer of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Col. Patrick Collins, pushed him to organize a front that could balance the Aristide movement and do intelligence work against it. This resulted in Constant form ing what later evolved into FRAPH in August 1993. Members of FRAPH were working, and perhaps still are, for two social service agencies funded by the Agency for International LDevelopment, one of which maintains sensitive files on the movements of the Haitian poor.


If Washington's heart had really been set on the return to power of Father Jean Bertrand Aristide, the CIA could have been directed to destabilize the Haitian government any time during the previous three years, using its tried and trusted bribery, blackmail, and forged documents, its disinformation, rumors, and paranoia, its weapons, mercenaries, and assassinations, its multinational economic strangleholds, its instant little armies, its selective little air assaults imbuing the right amount of terror in the right people at the right time ... the Agency had done so with much stronger and more stable governments; governments with much more public support, from Iran and Guatemala, to Ecuador and Brazil, to Ghana and Chile.

Much of what was needed in Haiti was alreadv in place, beginning with the CIA's own creation, the National Intelligence Service, as well as a large network of informants and paid assets within other security forces such as FRAPH, and knowledge of who the reliable military officers were. US intelligence even had a complete inventory of Haitian weaponry.

The failure of Clinton to make use of this option is particularly curious in light of the fact that manv members of Congress and some of the administration's own foreign policy specialists were urging him to do so for months.5~ Finallv, in September 1994, officials revealed that the CIA had "launched a major covert operation this month to try to topple Haiti's military regime ... but so far the attempt has failed". One official said the effort "was too late to make a difference". The administration, we were told, had spent months debating what kind of actions to undertake, and whether they would be legal or not.

Or they could have made the famous "one phone call". Like they meant it.



"The most violent regime in our hemisphere" ... "campaign of rape, torture and mutilation, people starved" ... "executing children, raping women, killing priests" ... "slaying of Haitian orphans" suspected of "harboring sympathy toward President Aristide, for no other reason than he ran an orphanage in his days as a parish priest" ... "soldiers and policemen raping the wives and daughters of suspected political dissidents-young girls, 13, 16 years old-people slain and mutilated with body parts left as warnings to terrify others; children forced to watch as their mothers' faces are slashed with machetes" ...

Thus spaketh William Jefferson Clinton to the American people to explain why he was leaking to "restore democratic government in Haiti".


... U.S. armed forces began arriving in Haiti 19 September to clear the way for Aristide's arrival in mid-October. The Americans we welcomed with elation by the Haitian people, and the GIs soon disarmed, arrested, or shot dead some of the worst dangers to life and limb and instigators of chaos in Haitian society. But first they set up tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns to block off the street leading to the residential neighborhoods of the morally repugnant elite, the rich beir Washington's natural allies.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide's reception was a joyous celebration filled with optimism However, unbeknownst to his adoring followers, while they were regaining Aristide, they may have lost Aristidism. The Los Angeles Times reported:

In a series of private meetings, Administration officials admonished Aristide ro put aside the rhetoric of class warfare ... and seek instead to reconcile Hairi's rich and poor. The Administration also urged Aristide to stick closely ro free-market economics and to abide bv the Caribbean nation's constitution-which gives substantial political power to the Parliament, while imposing tight limits on rhe presidency.... Adminisrration officials have urged Aristide to reach out to some of his political opponents in setting up his new government ... to set up a broad based coalition regime.... the Administration has made ir clear to Aristide that if he fails to reach a consensus with Parliament, the United States will not try to prop up his regime.

Almost every aspect of Aristide's plans for resuming power-from taxing the rich to disarming the military-has been examined by the U.S. officials with whom the Haitian president meets daily and by officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other aid organizations. The finished package clearly reflects their priorities.... Aristide obviously has toned down the liberation theology and class-struggle rhetoric that was his signature before he was exiled ro Washington.

Tutored by leading Clinton administration officials, "Aristide has embraced the principles of democracy [sic], national reconciliation and market economics with a zeal that Washington would like to see in all leaders of developing nations.''

Aristide returned to Haiti 15 October 1994, three years and two weeks after beig deposed. The United States might well have engineered his return under the same terms- much better of course-two to three years earlier, but Washington officials kept believing that the policy of returning refugees to Haiti, and when that was unfeasible, lodging them in Guantanamo, would make the problems go away-the refugee problem, and the Jean Bertrand Aristide problem. Faced ultimately with an Aristide returning to power, Clinton demanded and received-and then made sure to publicly announce-the Haitian president's guarantee that he would not try to remain in office to make up for the time lost in exile. Clinton of course called this "democracy", although it represents a partial legitimization of the coup. As can be deduced from the above compilation of news reports, this was by no means the only option Aristide effectively surrendered.

His preference for the all-important position of prime minister-who appoints the cabinet-was Claudette Werleigh, a woman very much in harmony with his thinking, but he was forced to rule her out because of strong opposition to her "leftist bent" from political opponents who argued that she would seriously hurt efforts to obtain foreign aid and investment. Instead, Aristide wound up appointing Smarck Michel, one of Washington's leading choices. At the same time, the Clinton administration and the international financial institutions (IFIs) were carefully watching the Haitian president's appointments for finance minister, planning minister, and head of the Central Bank.

Two of the men favored by Washington to fill these positions had met in Paris on 22 August with the IFIs to arrange the terms of an agreement under which Haiti would receive about $700 million of investment and credit. Tvpical of such agreements for the Third World, it calls for a drastic reduction of state involvement in the economy and an enlarged role for the private sector through privatization of public services. Haiti's international function will be to serve the transnational corporations by opening itself up further to foreign investment and commerce, with a bare minimum of tariffs or other import restrictions and offering itself, primarily in the assembly industries, as a source of cheap export labor- extremely cheap labor, little if any increase in the current 10 to 25 cents per hour wages, distressingly inadequate for keeping body and soul together and hunger at bay; a way of life promoted for years to investors by the US Agency for International Development and other US government agencies. (The assembly industries are regarded by Washington as important enough to American firms that in the midst of the sanctions against Haiti, the US announced that it was "fine-tuning" the embargo to permit these firms to import and export so they could resume work.)

The agreement further emphasizes that the power of the Parliament is to be strength ened. The office of the president is not even mentioned. Neither is the word "justice".

As of this writing (late October 1994), Aristide's dreams of a living wage and civilized working conditions for the Haitian masses, a social security pension system, decent education, housing, health care, public transportation, etc. appear to be little more than that- dreams. What appears to be certain is that the rich will grow richer, and the poor will remain at the very bottom of Latin America's heap. Under Aristide's successor-whomever the United States is already grooming-it can only get worse.

Aristide the radical reformer knew all this, and at certain points during September and October he may have had the option to get a much better deal, for Clinton needed him almost as much as he needed Clinton. If Aristide had threatened to go public, and noisily so, about the betrayal in process, spelling out all the sleazy details so that the whole world could get beyond the headlined platitudes and understand what a sham Bill Clinton's expressed concerns about "democracy" and the welfare of the Haitian people were, the American president would have been faced with an embarrassment of scandalous proportion.

But Aristide the priest sees the world in a different light:

Let us compare political power with theological power. On the one hand, we see those in conrrol using ihe traditional tools of politics: weapons, money, dictatorship, coups d'etat, repression. On the other hand, we see tools that were used 2,000 years ago solidarity, resistance, courage, determination, and the fight for dignity and might, respect and power. We see transcendence. We see faith in God, who is justice. The question we now ask is this: which is stronger, political power or theological power? I am confident thar the latter is stronger. I am also confident that the two forces can converge, and hat their convergence will make the critical difference.

Killing Hope