Who will rid me of this man?
excerpted from the book
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
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
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
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
... 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
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
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.