Democracy Enhancement: part II
The Case of Haiti
from a talk by
Z Magazine, July / August 1994
... the Reagan-Bush Administrations reluctantly adopted "prodemocracy
policies as a means of relieving pressure for more radical change,"
and "inevitably sought only limited, top-down forms of democratic
change that did not risk upsetting the traditional structures
of power with which the United States has long been allied"
(Thomas Carothers of the Reagan State Department). The leading
idea is revealed in the documents of USAID's democracy project,
which stress that the U.S. supports "processes of democratic
institutional reform that will further economic liberalization
objectives" -- that is, entrenchment of the service role.
The reference to "the traditional structures of power
with which the United States has long been allied" has to
undergo the usual translation. The phrase "United States"
refers to the "traditional structures of power" at home.
This is among the elementary truths that are to remain unspoken,
along with the fact that the policies for the service areas merely
adapt a conception of democracy that is to apply to the home societies
as well. Here the general public "must be put in its place,"
as Walter Lippmann explained in his progressive essays on democracy
long ago. The "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders" are
to be only "interested spectators of action," not "participants."
Their sole "function" in a democracy is to choose periodically
among the leadership class (elections). Also unspoken is the fact
that the "responsible men" who manage the democratic
society gain that status by virtue of their service to "the
traditional structures of power." There is a very broad consensus
in the intellectual community, and of course the business world,
that the "ignorant and incapable mass of humanity" must
not be allowed to disrupt policy formation (Woodrow Wilson's Secretary
of State Robert Lansing), that planners must be "insulated"
from politics, in World Bank lingo.
The "prodemocracy policies" in the service areas
long antedate the Reaganites, and have little to do with the Cold
War, apart from ideological cover. Accordingly, they should be
expected to persist, as they do. Among the cases reviewed in Part
I, the most striking is Colombia, which has become the leading
human rights violator in the hemisphere and the recipient of more
than half of total U.S. military aid and training, sent on its
way with the usual acclaim for Colombia's democratic achievements
as state terror mounts -- all rising to new heights under Clinton.
"Human Rights enhancement" marches on in parallel.
In Part I, I reviewed Clinton's steps to evade congressional efforts
to impose human rights conditions on military aid and trade privileges
for Indonesia and China, and the concept of "human rights"
itself, crafted to evade atrocities that contribute to profit.
In the weeks since, the China story took its predictable course.
"President Clinton's decision to renew China's trade benefits
was the culmination of a titanic clash between America's global
economic interests and its self-image as the world's leading advocate
of human rights," Thomas Friedman's lead article opened in
the New York Times, reporting the surprising outcome. Clinton
did not merely endorse the Bush Administration policies that he
had caustically denounced during the presidential campaign, but
went well beyond them, deciding "to delink human rights"
completely from trade privileges.
The Indonesia case sheds further light on the "titanic
clash." As discussed in Part I, Clinton joined his predecessors
and colleagues abroad in ensuring the welfare of the Indonesian
tyrants and murderers and the foreign corporations that benefit
from their rule, blocking and evading congressional restrictions
on military assistance. The issue was quite narrow: whether to
refrain from direct participation in Indonesian atrocities at
home and abroad. There was no thought of proceeding beyond, to
some action to deter some of the worst crimes of the modern era.
The review in Part I was perhaps unfair in not mentioning
that world leaders do recognize some limits, and have indeed considered
sanctions against Indonesia. In November 1993, on behalf of the
nonaligned movement and the World Health Organization (WHO), Indonesia
submitted to the UN a resolution requesting an opinion from the
World Court on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons. In
the face of this atrocity, the guardians of international morality
leaped into action. The U.S., U.K., and France threatened Indonesia
with trade sanctions and termination of aid unless it withdrew
the resolution, as it did. Traditional clients understand very
well when a message from the powerful is to be heeded.
Citizens of the free world were again fortunate to have the
information readily available to them; in this case, in the Catholic
Church press in Canada.
Freedom of information can go only so far, however. On June
10, the World Court was scheduled to take up the WHO request for
an opinion, despite a furious campaign by the U.S., U.K., and
their allies to prevent this outrage. The matter is of some importance.
Even consideration of the issue by the Court would be a contribution
to the cause of nonproliferation; even more so a decision that
use of nuclear weapons is a crime under international law -- hence
by implication, possession as well. As of mid-June, I have found
no word on the matter, though the nonproliferation treaty is a
topic of lead headlines, particularly the threat posed to its
renewal in 1995 by North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons program.
I barely mentioned one of the clearest tests of the Clinton
vision on "democracy enhancement": Haiti. The case serves
well to illustrate the "prodemocracy policies" of the
Reagan-Bush years, as Carothers accurately describes them. We
may ask, then, how things changed as the New Democrats took command
1. The Legacy of History
Even the briefest glimpse of Haiti's torment leaves impressions
that do not easily fade, beginning with the scene of desolation
on approaching the international airport. It is hard to remember
that through the 18th century the island was the richest and most
profitable of the Western colonies, and like today's Bangladesh,
had struck the European conquerors as a virtual paradise. The
Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince, dominating a large square,
is flanked by the headquarters of the military command and, at
a slight remove, the equally-dreaded police. The symbols of authority
and violence stand in impudent mockery of the misery that lies
below them -- "confirming the permanence of power, a reminder
to the people of their smallness in regard to the state, a reminder
to the executioners of the omnipotence of their chief," in
the worlds of Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot, expressing
the logic of the Duvalierists, Papa Doc and Baby Doc, who ruled
with brutal violence for 30 years.
In the markets and slums below, it is barely possible to make
one's way down alleys of mud and filth through teeming masses
of people clad in rags. Women struggle past with huge burdens
on their heads, children try to sell any miserable object, an
occasional cart is dragged through mud that is inches deep and
puddles left by recent rains. Flies swarm over a handful of vegetables
and what might pass for fish. Peasants who have trudged down from
the mountains on ancient trails sit by their paltry offerings,
sleeping in the relics of shacks that line the alleys. In the
depths of Third World poverty, one rarely finds a scene so noxious
When I visited briefly a year ago, before the renewed terror,
some people in the marketplace were willing to speak in the presence
of a translator who was known and trusted, but only in circumlocution.
The eyes of the security forces are everywhere, they intimated
by their gestures more than their words. These were uniform: hunger,
no work, no hope -- unless, somehow, President Aristide returns,
though few dare to articulate the phrase beyond hints and nods.
Some do, with remarkable courage, even after police torture and
the threat of worse. It is not easy to believe that such courage
can long survive, even if the people do.
U.S. relations with Haiti are not a thing of yesterday, and
show no sign of fundamental change. They go back 200 years, to
the days when the Republic that had just won its independence
from Britain joined the imperial powers in their campaign to quell
Haiti's slave rebellion by violence. When the rebellion nevertheless
succeeded, the U.S. exceeded all others in the harshness of its
reaction, refusing to recognize Haiti until 1862, in the context
of the American civil war. At that moment, Haiti was important
for its strategic location and as a possible dumping ground for
freed slaves; Liberia was recognized in the same year, for the
same reasons. Haiti then became a plaything for U.S.-European
power politics, with numerous U.S. interventions culminating in
Woodrow Wilson's invasion of Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
where his warriors -- as viciously racist as the Administration
in Washington -- murdered and destroyed, reinstituted virtual
slavery, dismantled the constitutional system because the backward
Haitians could not see the merits of turning their country into
a U.S. plantation, and established the National Guards that held
both countries in their grip after the Marines finally left.
Wilson's thuggery has entered history in two different versions:
here and there. In the U.S., the events figure in the amusing
reconstructions entitled "history" as an illustration
of U.S. "humanitarian intervention" and its difficulties
(for us). Haitians have somewhat different memories. "Most
observers agree that the achievements of the occupation were minor;
they disagree only as to the amount of damage it inflicted,"
Trouillot writes under the heading "unhealed sores."
The damage included the acceleration of Haiti's economic, military,
and political centralization, its economic dependence and sharp
class divisions, the vicious exploitation of the peasantry, the
internal racial conflicts much intensified by the extreme racism
of the occupying forces, and perhaps worst of all, the establishment
of "an army to fight the people." "The 1915-1934
U.S. occupation of Haiti," he writes, "left the country
with two poisoned gifts: a weaker civil society and a solidified
A year ago, after enduring almost two years of renewed state
violence, grassroots organizations, priests in hiding, tortured
labor leaders, and others suffering bitterly from the violence
of the security forces expressed marked opposition to the plan
to dispatch 500 UN police to the terrorized country, seeing them
as a cover for a U.S. intervention that evokes bitter memories
of the Marine occupation. If ever noted, such reactions may be
attributed to the fact that "even a benevolent occupation
creates resistance...among the beneficiaries" (Harvard historian
David Landes, writing about the Marine occupation). Or to the
deficiencies of people who need only a new culture and more kind
tutelage of the kind he provided as director of the USAID mission
in 1977-79, Lawrence Harrison writes in a "think piece"
on Haiti's problems in which the U.S. military occupation merits
only the words: "And some of the Marines abused their power."
Poor and suffering people do not have the luxury of indulging
in fairy tales. Not uncommonly, their own experience gives them
a grasp of realities that are well concealed by the intellectual
culture. The usual victims can not so easily dismiss the record
of U.S. power, which leaves little doubt that U.S. military intervention
in Haiti would be the death knell for any form of democracy that
"risks upsetting the traditional structures of power with
which the United States has long been allied." Haitians who
have lost all hope for restoration of democracy might support
a military intervention that could, perhaps, reduce terror and
torture. But that is the most that can be realistically expected.
The military occupation left the island under U.S. control
and largely U.S.-owned. The killer and torturer Trujillo took
over the Dominican Republic, remaining a great friend until he
began to get out of hand in the 1950s. In Haiti, Washington reacted
with some ambivalence to the murderous and brutal dictatorship
of "Papa Doc" Francois Duvalier, finding him a bit too
independent for its taste. Nevertheless, Kennedy provided him
with military assistance, in line with his general program of
establishing firm U.S. control over the hemisphere's military
and police as they undertook the task of "internal security"
that he assigned them in a historic 1962 decision. Kennedy also
provided aid for the Francois Duvalier International Airport in
exchange for the Haitian vote to expel Cuba from the OAS. When
"Baby Doc" Jean-Claude took over in 1971, relations
rapidly improved, and Haiti became another "darling"
of the business community, along with Brazil under the neo-Nazi
generals and other right-thinking folk. USAID undertook to turn
Haiti into the "Taiwan of the Caribbean," forecasting
"a historic change toward deeper market interdependence with
the United States," Trouillot observes. U.S. taxpayers funded
projects to establish assembly plants that would exploit such
advantages as enormous unemployment (thanks in part to USAID policies
emphasizing agroexport) and a workforce -- mainly women, as elsewhere
considered more docile -- with wages of 14 cents an hour, no unions,
ample terror, and the other usual amenities. The consequences
were profits for U.S. corporations and their Haitian associates,
and a decline of 56% in wages in the 1980s. In short, if not Taiwan
exactly, Haiti was an "economic miracle" of the usual
Haiti offered the Reaganites yet another opportunity to reveal
their understanding of democracy enhancement in June 1985, when
its legislature unanimously adopted a new law requiring that every
political party must recognize President-for-Life Jean-Claude
Duvalier as the supreme arbiter of the nation, outlawing the Christian
Democrats, and granting the government the right to suspend the
rights of any party without reasons. The law was ratified by a
majority of 99.98%. Washington was deeply impressed, as much so
as it was when Mussolini won 99% of the vote in the March 1934
election, leading Roosevelt's State Department to conclude that
the results "demonstrate incontestably the popularity of
the Fascist regime" and of "that admirable Italian gentleman"
who ran it, as Roosevelt described the dictator. These are among
the many interesting facts that might be recalled as neo-Fascists
now take their place openly in the political system that was reconstructed
with their interests in mind as Italy was liberated by American
forces 50 years ago. Curiously, all this escaped attention during
the D-Day anniversary extravaganza, along with much else that
is too enlightening.
The 1985 steps to enhance democracy in Haiti were "an
encouraging step forward," the U.S. Ambassador informed his
guests at a July 4 celebration. The Reagan Administration certified
to Congress that "democratic development" was progressing,
so that military and economic aid could continue to flow -- mainly
into the pockets of Baby Doc and his entourage. It also informed
Congress that the human rights situation was improving, as it
was at the time in El Salvador and Guatemala, and today in Colombia,
and quite generally when some client regime requires military
aid for "internal security." The House Foreign Affairs
Committee, controlled by Democrats, had given its approval in
advance, calling on Reagan "to maintain friendly relations
with Duvalier's non-Communist government."
To justify their perception of an "encouraging step forward"
in "democratic development," the Reaganites could have
recalled the vote held under Woodrow Wilson's rule after he had
disbanded the Haitian parliament in punishment for its refusal
to turn Haiti over to American corporations under a new U.S.-designed
Constitution. Wilson's Marines organized a plebiscite in which
the Constitution was ratified by a 99.9% vote, with 5% of the
population participating, using "rather high handed methods
to get the Constitution adopted by the people of Haiti,"
the State Department conceded a decade later. Baby Doc, in contrast,
allowed a much broader franchise, though it is true that he demanded
a slightly higher degree of acquiescence than Wilsonian idealists,
Mussolini, and New Dealers. A case could be made, then, that the
lessons in democracy that Washington had been laboring to impart
were finally sinking in.
These gratifying developments were short-lived, however. By
December 1985, popular protests were straining the resources of
state terror. What happened next was described by the Wall Street
Journal with engaging frankness: after "huge demonstrations,"
the White House concluded "that the regime was unraveling"
and that "Haiti's ruling inner circle had lost faith in"
its favored democrat, Baby Doc. "As a result, U.S. officials,
including Secretary of State George Shultz, began openly calling
for a `democratic process' in Haiti." Small wonder that Shultz
is so praised for his commitment to democracy and other noble
The meaning of this call for democracy was underscored by
the scenario then unfolding in the Philippines, where the army
and elite made it clear they would no longer support another gangster
for whom Reagan and Bush had expressed their admiration, even
"love," not long before, so that the White House "began
openly calling for a `democratic process'" there as well.
Both events accordingly enter the canon as a demonstration of
how we "served as inspiration for the triumph of democracy
in our time" in those wondrous years (New Republic).
Washington lent its support to the post-Duvalier National
Council of Government (CNG), providing $2.8 million in military
aid in its first year, while the CNG, "generously helped
by theU.S. taxpayer's money, had openly gunned down more civilians
than Jean-Claude Duvalier's government had done in fifteen years"
(Trouillot). After a series of coups and massacres, Reagan's Ambassador
explained to Human Rights investigators that "I don't see
any evidence of a policy against human rights"; there may
be violence, it is true, but it is just "part of the culture."
We can only watch in dismay and incomprehension.
Haitian violence thus falls into the same category as the
atrocities in El Salvador at the same time, for example, the massacre
at El Mozote, one of the many conducted by U.S.-trained elite
battalions -- and one of the few to be admitted to History, after
exposure by the UN Truth Commission. Given their origins in U.S.
planning, these routine atrocities must also be "part of
the culture." Or perhaps "There is no one to blame except
the gods of war," as Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New
York Times observed, reviewing the "fair-minded" account
by Mark Danner which "aptly denotes" the "horrifying
incident" as "a central parable of the cold war"
for which blame is shared equally by Salvadorans on all sides,
murderers and victims alike. In contrast, atrocities organized
and directed by the Soviet Union always seemed to have more determinable
origins, for some reason.
2. The Democratic Interlude
Haiti's happy ascent towards Taiwan was deflected unexpectedly
in December 1990, when a real problem arose, unlike the terror
and virtual enslavement of workers that are just "part of
the culture." Washington made a serious error, allowing a
free election in expectation of an easy victory for its candidate,
Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official. To the surprise of outside
observers, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected with two-thirds
of the vote (Bazin was second with 14%), backed by a popular movement,
Lavalas, which had escaped the notice of the rich folk. Outside
of properly educated circles, one question came to the fore at
once: What would the U.S. and its clients do to remove this cancer?
President Aristide held office from February to September,
when his government was overthrown by a military coup, plunging
the country into even deeper barbarism than before. There are
two versions of what happened in the interim. One is given by
various extremists who see Aristide as the representative of a
"remarkably advanced" array of grass-roots organizations
(Lavalas) that gave the large majority of the population a "considerable
voice in local affairs" and even in national politics (Americas
Watch); and who were impressed by Aristide's domestic policies
as he "acted quickly to restore order to the government's
finances" after taking power when "the economy was in
an unprecedented state of disintegration" (Inter-American
Development Bank). Other international lending agencies agreed,
offering aid and endorsing Aristide's investment program. They
were particularly impressed by the steps he took to reduce foreign
debt and inflation, to raise foreign exchange reserves from near
zero to $12 million, to increase government revenues with successful
tax collection measures (reaching into the kleptocracy), to streamline
the bloated government bureaucracy and eliminate fictitious positions
in an anti-corruption campaign, to cut back contraband trade and
improve customs, and to establish a responsible fiscal system.
These actions were "welcomed by the international financial
community," the IADB noted, leading to "a substantial
increase in assistance." Atrocities and flight of refugees
also virtually ended; indeed the refugee flow reversed, as Haitians
began to return to their country in its moment of hope. The U.S.
Embassy in Haiti secretly acknowledged the facts. In a February
1991 State Department cable, declassified in 1994, the number
two person in the Embassy, Vicky Huddleston, reported to Washington
on "the surprisingly successful efforts of the Aristide government,...quickly
reversed after the coup" (reported by Dennis Bernstein for
Pacific News Service).
Sophisticates in Washington and New York could understand
that all of this is illusion. As Secretary of State Lansing had
explained: "The experience of Liberia and Haiti show that
the African race are devoid of any capacity for political organization
and lack genius for government. Unquestionably there is an inherent
tendency to revert to savagery and to cast aside the shackles
of civilization which are irksome to their physical nature. Of
course, there are many exceptions to this racial weakness, but
it is true of the mass, as we know from experience in this country.
It is that which makes the negro problem practically unsolvable."
A more acceptable version of Aristide's months in offices
is offered by New York Times Haiti correspondent Howard French.
He reported after the coup that Aristide had governed "with
the aid of fear," leaning "heavily on Lavalas, an unstructured
movement of affluent idealists and long-exiled leftists"
whose model was China's Cultural Revolution. Aristide's power
hunger led to "troubles with civil society." Furthermore,
"Haitian political leaders and diplomats say, the growing
climate of vigilantism as well as increasingly strident statements
by Father Aristide blaming the wealthier classes for the poverty
of the masses encouraged" the coup. "Although he retains
much of the popular support that enabled him to win 67% of the
popular vote in the country's December 1990 elections, Father
Aristide was overthrown in part because of concerns among politically
active people over his commitment to the Constitution, and growing
fears of political and class-based violence, which many believe
the President endorsed Relation to fact aside, the analysis provides
some lessons in Political Correctness. Two-thirds of the population
and their organizations fall outside of "civil society."
Those involved in the popular organizations and in local and national
politics are not among the "politically active people."
It is scandalous to tell the plain truth about the responsibility
of the kleptocracy for "the poverty of the masses."
"Fears of political and class-based violence" are limited
to the months when such violence sharply declined, its traditional
perpetrators being unable, temporarily, to pursue their vocation.
These lessons should be remembered as Washington moves to
construct a "civil society" and "democratic political
order" for this "failed state" with its degenerate
culture and people, quite incapable of governing themselves.
In reality, the two versions of what happened during the democratic
interlude are closer than it may seem on the surface. The "remarkably
advanced" array of popular organizations that brought the
large majority of the population into the political arena is precisely
what frightened Washington and the mainstream generally. They
have a different understanding of "democracy" and "civil
society," one that offers no place to popular organizations
that allow the overwhelming majority a voice in managing their
own affairs. By definition, the "political leaders"
of such popular organizations have only "meager" democratic
credentials, and can therefore be granted only symbolic participation
in the "democratic institutions" that we will construct
in accord with our traditional "prodemocracy policies."
So the government and media have been instructing us since the
coup removed the radical extremist Aristide and his Maoist clique.
These simple truths account for much of what has happened
in Haiti since Aristide's election. Trouillot concludes his study
by observing that "In Haiti, the peasantry is the nation."
But for policymakers, the peasantry are worthless objects except
insofar as they can advance corporate profits. They may produce
food for export and enrich local affiliates of U.S. agribusiness,
or flock to the city to provide super-cheap labor for assembly
plants, but they have no further function. It is therefore entirely
natural that USAID, while providing $100 million in assistance
to the private sector, should never have provided a penny to the
leading popular peasant organization, the Peasant Movement of
Papaye (MPP); and that former USAID director Harrison should see
no special problem when MPP members are massacred by the military
forces and should dismiss with contempt its call for moves to
reinstitute the popularly elected President who was committed
to "bottom-up" rather than "top-down" democracy.
Similarly, it is hardly surprising that USAID should have
denounced the labor reforms Aristide sought to institute and opposed
his efforts to raise the minimum wage to a princely 37 cents an
hour. Nor should we find it odd that USAID invested massively
in the low wage assembly sector while wages sharply declined and
working conditions fell to abysmal levels, but terminated all
efforts to promote investment as the democratically elected government
took office. Rather, USAID reacted to this catastrophe by dedicating
itself still more firmly to providing the Haitian business community
with what it called "technical assistance in labor relations,
development of a business oriented public relations campaign,
and intensified efforts to attract U.S. products assembly operations
to Haiti." Given the unfortunate democratic deviation, USAID's
task, in its own words, was to "work to develop sustainable
dialogue between the government and the business community";
no comparable efforts for workers and peasants were needed when
Haiti was run by U.S.-backed killers and torturers. All of this
conforms well to USAID's conception of "processes of democratic
institutional reform" as those that "further economic
Similarly, there is no reason to be surprised that U.S. elites
suddenly began to show a sensitive concern for human rights and
democracy just as human rights violations precipitously declined
and democracy (though not in the preferred "top-down"
sense) began to flourish. Amy Wilentz observes that during Aristide's
brief term, Washington suddenly became concerned with "human
rights and the rule of law in Haiti." "During the four
regimes that preceded Aristide," she writes, "international
human-rights advocates and democratic observers had begged the
State Department to consider helping the democratic opposition
in Haiti. But no steps were taken by the United States to strengthen
anything but the executive and the military until Aristide won
the presidency. Then, all of a sudden, the United States began
to think about how it could help those Haitians eager to limit
the powers of the executive or to replace the government constitutionally."
The State Department "Democracy Enhancement" project
was "specifically designed to fund those sectors of the Haitian
political spectrum where opposition to the Aristide government
could be encouraged," precisely as "prodemocracy policies"
dictate. The institutions and leaders that merited such support
are just the ones that survived the military coup, also no surprise.
3. After the Coup
Wilentz reports further that immediately after the September
30 coup, the State Department apparently "circulated a thick
notebook filled with alleged human rights violations" under
Aristide -- "something it had not done under the previous
rulers, Duvalierists and military men," who were deemed proper
recipients for aid, including military aid, "based on unsubstantiated
human-rights improvements." Toronto Star reporter Linda Diebel
adds details. A "thick, bound dossier" on Aristide's
alleged crimes was presented by the coup leader, General Cedras,
to OAS negotiators. On October 3, U.S. Ambassador Alvin Adams
summoned reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, and
other major U.S. journals to private meetings where he briefed
them on these alleged crimes, reportedly presenting them with
the "dossier" -- which, we may learn some day, was compiled
by U.S. intelligence and provided to its favorite generals. The
Ambassador and his helpers began leaking the tales that have been
used since to demonstrate Aristide's meager democratic credentials
and his psychological disorders.
The approved version is reflected by coverage of human rights
abuses after the coup. As shown in a study by Boston Media Action,
while the military were rampaging, the press focussed on abuses
attributed to Aristide supporters, less than 1% of the total but
the topic of 60% of the coverage in major journals during the
two weeks following the coup, and over half of coverage in the
New York Times through mid-1992. During the two-week period after
the coup, Catherine Orenstein reports, the Times "spent over
three times as many column inches discussing Aristide's alleged
transgressions [as] it spent reporting on the ongoing military
repression. Mass murders, executions, and tortures that were reported
in human rights publications earned less than 4% of the space
that the Times devoted to Haiti in those weeks." A week after
the coup, the Washington Post accused Aristide of having organized
his followers into "an instrument of real terror," ignoring
the 75% reduction in human rights abuses during his term reported
by human rights groups.
While attention was directed to the really important topic
of the "class-based violence" of Aristide and the popular
movements, the U.S.-trained military and police were conducting
their reign of terror, "ruthlessly suppressing Haiti's once
diverse and vibrant civil society," Americas Watch reported.
Though "Washington's capacity to curb attacks on civil society
was tremendous, this power was largely unexercised by the Bush
administration," which "sought to convey an image of
normalcy" while forcefully returning refugees. The terror
is functional: it ensures that even if Aristide is permitted to
return, "he would have difficulty transforming his personal
popularity into the organized support needed to exert civilian
authority," Americas Watch observed in early 1993, quoting
priests and others who feared that the destruction of the popular
social organizations that "gave people hope" had already
undermined the great promise of Haiti's first democratic experiment.
The coup and ensuing terror revived the flow of refugees that
had lapsed under Aristide. The Bush Administration ordered the
Coast Guard and Navy to force them back, or to imprison them in
the U.S. military base in Guantanamo until a court order terminated
the shocking practices there. During the presidential campaign,
Clinton bitterly condemned these cruel policies. On taking over
in January 1993, he at once tightened the noose, imposing a still
harsher blockade. Forceful return of refugees continued in violation
of international law and human rights conventions. Clinton's increased
brutality proved to be a grand success. Refugee flow, which had
reached over 30,000 in 1992, sharply declined under Clinton's
ministrations, to about the level of 1989, before the sharp decline
The official story is that these are "economic refugees,"
not victims of political persecution who would be eligible for
asylum. The onset of poverty can be quite precisely dated: to
the date of the coup. During Aristide's term, refugee flow was
slight, skyrocketing after the coup though economic sanctions
were minimal. These oddities are noted by the indispensable journal
Haiti Info published in Port-au-Prince, in a discussion of a cable
circulated to high officials by U.S. Ambassador William Swing.
The 11-page cable, full of racist slanders, alleges that "the
Haitian left manipulates and fabricates human rights abuses as
a propaganda tool" and is "wittingly or unwittingly
assisted in this effort" by human rights organizations and
the civilian monitors of the UN and OAS missions; all "comsymps"
in the terminology of an earlier day. The Embassy dismissed with
a sneer the reports of "the sudden epidemic of rapes"
on the grounds that "For a range of cultural reasons (not
pleasant to contemplate), rape has never been considered or reported
as a serious crime here." The testimony of a man that his
wife was raped and that he was badly beaten under police custody,
corroborated by a foreign nurse, is dismissed because he chose
asylum in Canada (granted at once), avoiding the U.S. Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS) -- a transparent admission of
iniquity. Clinton's Embassy attributes problems in Haiti to "a
high level of structural, or endemic, violence," which, again,
is just "part of the culture." Like the poverty that
causes refugee flight, the "structural" factors causing
violence had an unexplained 8-month gap: during Aristide's tenure
even his most vehement opponents, the USAID-supported "human
rights" advocates who moved quickly into power after the
coup, could compile only 25 cases of "mob violence"
and four crimes that could be considered political, a tiny fraction
of the terror before, not to speak of the atrocities that followed
Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, comments
that the cable reveals the "extreme antipathy for Aristide"
in the Embassy and its "willingness to play down human rights
abuses to prevent a political momentum to build for [Aristide's]
return." It "reflects a dislike and distrust of Aristide
that has been widely felt in the Administration -- though voiced
only privately," Times correspondent Elaine Sciolino adds.
In reality, the dislike is quite public and widely reported, along
with the fact that it has sent a very clear message to the Haitian
rulers, military and civilian.
As the Embassy cable was released, an experienced INS asylum
officer in Haiti went public with his charges that thousands of
"egregious cases of persecution" were rejected by the
Haitian INS office, where the "entire process" of asylum
review "had been politicized" and under 1% of legitimate
petitions were accepted by racist and contemptuous officials;
similar accounts have been documented by human rights organizations,
who have also denounced the very idea that petitioners should
have to identify themselves to the murderers by appearing at the
INS office. At the same time, a "Top Secret" memo of
the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba was leaked. Addressed to the
Secretary of State, the CIA, and the INS, the document complains
about the lack of genuine claims of political persecution in Cuba,
contrary to policy needs. The usual silence prevailed.
Meanwhile refugees from Cuba receive royal treatment while
Haitians are returned to terror. That is nothing new. Of the more
than 24,000 Haitians intercepted by U.S. forces from 1981 to Aristide's
takeover in 1991, 11 were granted asylum as victims of political
persecution, in comparison with 75,000 out of 75,000 Cubans. In
these years of terror, Washington allowed 28 asylum claims. During
Aristide's tenure, with violence and repression radically reduced,
20 were allowed from a refugee pool perhaps 1/50th the scale.
Practice returned to normal after the military coup and the renewed
terror. As always, human rights are understood in purely instrumental
terms: as a weapon to be selectively deployed for power interests,
The democratically elected President will be acceptable to
Washington and elite opinion generally only if he abandons his
popular mandate, ceding effective power to the "moderates"
in the business world. The "moderates" are those who
do not favor slaughter and mutilation, preferring to see the population
driven to agroexport and the low-wage assembly sector. They constitute
"civil society," in the technical sense. Since the coup,
the U.S. has demanded that Aristide agree to "broaden the
government" in such a way as to place the "moderates"
in power. Insofar as he refuses to transfer power into these proper
hands, he is an "extremist" whom we can hardly support.
While these are the basic terms of respectable discourse,
the spectrum is not entirely uniform. It ranges from the far right,
which is honest and outspoken in its call for dismantling Haitian
democracy, to the more nuanced versions of the liberal Democrats.
Taking a stand in the middle, George Bush calls for abandoning
Aristide because "he has become unreliable" and even
"turned on our president the other day" (May 1994).
Aristide should be dumped because his "undemocratic behavior...included
fostering violence against his opponents," according to another
noted pacifist who has distinguished himself particularly for
his dedication to legality and democratic principle (Elliott Abrams).
Moving toward the liberal end, a Clinton official explained
in the last days of 1993 that "We're not talking about dumping
Aristide or about military power-sharing. But we have two adversaries
who don't want to compromise and we have to find enough of a middle
to make a functioning democracy," marginalizing the extremists
on both sides. The elected President should be "restored
to power, at least nominally," World Peace Foundation president
and historian Robert Rotberg added; but also at most nominally,
as all understand. The Washington director of the Inter-American
Dialogue, Peter Hakim, urged in May 1994 that "the US ought
to separate out the notion of protecting human rights, and reestablishing
some semblance of society in Haiti, from restoring Aristide to
power." "So it is only honest for the United States
to tell Father Aristide that he has little hope of returning to
power without making large political compromises," as the
Times editors phrased the common understanding a few weeks later.
In short, the traditional "prodemocracy policies."19
The basic idea was outlined by Secretary of State Warren Christopher
during his confirmation hearings. Christopher "expressed
support for Father Aristide," Elaine Sciolino reported, "but
stopped short of calling for his reinstatement as President. `There
is no question in my mind that because of the election, he has
to be part of the solution to this,' Mr. Christopher said. `I
don't have a precise system worked out in my mind as to how he
would be part of the solution, but certainly he cannot be ignored
in the matter'. With this ringing endorsement of democracy, the
Clinton Administration took charge.
Across the spectrum, it is taken for granted that we have
both the right and the competence to "establish some semblance
of society" in Haiti, whose people are so retrograde as to
have developed a "remarkably advanced" array of grass-roots
organizations that gave the majority of the population a place
in the public arena. Plainly, they desperately need our tutelage.
4. The Clinton Compromise
To much acclaim, Washington finally succeeded in compelling
Aristide to transfer authority to the "moderates." Under
severe pressure, in July 1993 the Haitian President accepted the
U.S.-UN terms for settlement, which were to allow him to return
four months later in a "compromise" with the gangsters
and killers. He agreed to appoint as Prime Minister a businessman
from the traditional mulatto elite, Robert Malval, who is "known
to be opposed to the populist policies during Aristide's seven
months in power," the press announced with relief, noting
that he is "generally well regarded by the business community,"
"respected by many businessmen who supported the coup that
ousted the President," and seen as "a reassuring choice"
Shortly after these happy developments took place, UN/OAS
observers reported, with little notice, that they were "very
concerned that there is no perceptible lessening of human rights
violations," and a few weeks later, reported an increase
in "arbitrary executions and suspicious deaths" in the
weeks following the UN-brokered accord, over one a day in the
Port-au-Prince area alone; "the mission said that many of
the victims were members of popular organizations and neighborhood
associations and that some of the killers were police," wire
Expected to be a transitional figure, Malval resigned at the
year's end. His presence did, however, serve a useful role for
Washington and its media, diverting attention to a "political
settlement" while attacks on the popular organizations and
general terror mounted, Aristide's promised return was blocked,
and new initiatives were put forth to transfer power to traditional
power centers ("broadening the government"). Malval's
presence also offered the press a great method to bring out Aristide's
unreasonable intransigence. He couldn't even come to terms with
"his handpicked Prime Minister," a phrase that ritually
accompanied the name "Robert Malval." In a typical exercise,
Howard French opened a report of Malval's resignation by writing:
"Three days after formally resigning, the handpicked Prime
Minister of Haiti's exiled President lashed out this weekend at
the man who appointed him" -- hammering home the message
in the fashion that became so routine as to be comical. Malval
described Aristide as an "erratic figure" with a "serious
ego problem," French continued, referring to his commitment
to restore the democratically-elected government.
As the date for Aristide's scheduled October 30 return approached,
atrocities mounted high enough to gain some attention, though
no action. Amidst reports of "terrifying stories" of
terror, murder, and threats to exterminate all members of the
popular organizations, the Clinton Administration announced that
the UN Mission "will rely on the Haitian military and police
to maintain order" -- that is, on the killers. "It is
not a peacekeeping role," Secretary of Defense Aspin explained:
"We are doing something other than peacekeeping here."
Meanwhile, the press emphasized the concerns of U.S. officials
that Aristide "isn't moving strongly to restore democratic
rights," from his exile in Washington. "Even as the
situation has grown worse, foreign diplomats have increasingly
blamed Father Aristide for what they say is his failure to take
constructive initiatives," Howard French wrote, using the
standard device to disguise propaganda as reporting.
The stage was set for ignoring the October deadline, as the
U.S. stood helplessly by, unable to bring the uncompromising and
violent extremists on both sides to accept "democracy."
Reviewing these mid-1993 developments, Ian Martin, who directed
the OAS/UN mission from April through December 1993, writes that
one basic problem was U.S. insistence on adding "a mostly
American military component to the negotiators' proposals."
Aristide's call for reducing the Haitian army to 1000 men was
rejected. "The Haitian high command, for its part, sought
U.S. assistance to ensure the army's future." The generals
trusted the U.S. and "mistrusted the U.N. and the proposal
for the Canadians and French, both more committed supporters of
Aristide than the United States, to take the lead in the police
contingent. The U.S. hoped to preserve the military -- an institution
it had often assisted and in fact had created for purposes of
internal control during the American occupation of 1915-34."
Haitian army "resistance was encouraged whenever they perceived
that the United States, despite its rhetoric of democracy, was
ambivalent about that power shift" to the popular elements
represented by Aristide. There was no shortage of such occasions.
The crucial signal, Martin and others agree, came on October
11, when the USS Harlan County was scheduled to disembark U.S.
and Canadian troops at Port-au-Prince. The military organized
"a hostile demonstration of armed thugs," Martin observes,
and "instead of waiting in the harbor while the Haitian military
was pressured to ensure a safe landing, the Harlan County turned
tail for Guantanamo Bay," leaving officials of the UN/OAS
mission "aghast"; they "had been neither consulted
nor informed of the decision by President Bill Clinton's National
Security Council to retreat." "The organizers of the
Haitian protest could hardly believe their success," Martin
continues. The leader of the paramilitary organization FRAPH,
responsible for much of the terror, said that "My people
kept wanting to run away, but I took the gamble and urged them
to stay. Then the Americans pulled out! We were astonished. That
was the day FRAPH was actually born. Before, everyone said we
were crazy, suicidal, that we would all be burned if Aristide
returned. But now we know he is never going to return." The
military got the message too, loud and clear.
Perhaps they were even notified in advance. New York Daily
News correspondent Juan Gonzalez learned of the October 11 port
demonstration the day before at a Duvalierist meeting attended
by U.S. Embassy personnel. The following day, he asked in print:
"How can two Daily News reporters who have only visited Haiti
on a few occasions learn beforehand of secret plans to sabotage
the landing of our troops, while our vaunted officialdom claims
it was caught flat-footed?" How indeed.
Another possible line of communication is suggested in a report
by Father Antoine Adrien, former head of Aristide's religious
order in Haiti and a close associate. Just before the ship"turned
tail," he informed the Catholic Church press that Haitian
military officers had not only attended training school in Fort
Benning, Ga., in 1992, but that "some were there as recently
as the previous week" -- October 1993. "How are you
going to tell those people they have no backing in the United
States?," Father Adrien asked. That Haitian army officers
received training in the U.S. after the coup was confirmed in
an internal Pentagon document, including eight officers who started
courses in early 1992. The program they joined is designed to
expose "future leaders of foreign defense establishments"
to "American values, regard for human rights and democratic
institutions," according to the Defense Secretary's report
to the President for 1993. Earlier graduates include the leading
killers in Haiti, Central America, and elsewhere.
What lay behind the decision to turn tail was explained by
Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocombe, who "boasted
at a cocktail party that by turning back the U.S.S. Harlan County,
he had helped save the United States from a `small war',"
the Times reported six months later: "He vowed that the Pentagon
would not risk American soldiers' lives to put `that psychopath'
back in power."
While messages were coming through to the military, the Haitian
people were deprived of the one voice they longed to hear. "Senior
Clinton administration officials are embroiled in a fight over
whether to allow...Aristide to broadcast into the junta-ruled
country using airborne U.S. military transmitters," Paul
Quinn-Judge reported in May 1994. The USIA is opposed, fearing
that "the plan may violate international law," always
a prime concern in Washington. USIA was also concerned that such
broadcasts "would provide Aristide with an uncomfortably
direct means to communicate with Haitians, who elected him by
an overwhelming margin in 1990." His oratory has been known
to "create problems," a classifed USIA memorandum of
May 23 noted, asking whether "we wish to have the responsibility
for having given him the means to broadcast whatever he chooses
to Haiti." He might even challenge the U.S. publicly "the
first time we refuse to air something." It wouldn't even
suffice to have him submit his scripts in advance, because of
the "highly nuanced language and context" of a radio
broadcast; who knows what thoughts this devious creature might
convey by his tone of voice? "Debate over the idea...underscores
the continuing ambivalence and nervousness with which some senior
officials view Aristide," Quinn-Judge observed.
After the military coup, the OAS instituted a toothless embargo,
which the Bush Administration reluctantly joined, while making
clear that it was not to be taken seriously. The reasons were
explained a year later by Howard French: "Washington's deep-seated
ambivalence about a leftward-tilting nationalist whose style diplomats
say has sometimes been disquietingly erratic" precludes any
meaningful support for sanctions against the military rulers.
"Despite much blood on the army's hands, United States diplomats
consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle
rhetoric...threatened or antagonized traditional power centers
at home and abroad." Aristide's "call for punishment
of the military leadership" that had slaughtered and tortured
thousands of people "reinforced a view of him as an inflexible
and vindictive crusader," and heightened Washington's "antipathy"
towards the "clumsy" and "erratic" extremist
who has aroused great "anger" because of "his tendency
The "vital counterweight" is therefore to hold total
power while the "leftward tilting nationalist" remains
in exile, awaiting the "eventual return" that Bill Clinton
promised on the eve of his inauguration. Meanwhile, the "traditional
power centers" in Haiti and the U.S. will carry on with class
struggle as usual, employing such terror as may be needed in order
for plunder to proceed unhampered. And as the London Financial
Times added at the same time, Washington was proving oddly ineffective
in detecting the "lucrative use of the country in the transhipment
of narcotics" by which "the military is funding its
oil and other necessary imports," financing the necessary
terror and rapacity -- though U.S. forces seem able to find every
fishing boat carrying miserable refugees. Nor had Washington figured
out a way to freeze the assets of "civil society" or
to hinder their shopping trips to Miami and New York, or to induce
its Dominican clients to monitor the border to impede the flow
of goods that takes care of the wants of "civil society"
while the embargo remains "at best, sieve-like."
Meanwhile Washington continued to provide Haitian military
leaders with intelligence on narcotics trafficking -- which they
naturally used to expedite their activities and tighten their
grip on power. It is not easy to intercept narcotraffickers, the
press explained, because "Haiti has no radar," and evidently
the U.S. Navy and Air Force lack the means to remedy this deficiency.
Under Clinton, matters only got worse. An April 1994 report
of Human Rights Watch/Americas documents the increasing terror
and State Department apologetics and evasions, condemning the
Administration for having "embraced a murderous armed force
as a counterweight to a populist president it distrusts."
On February 4, 1992, the Bush Administration lifted the embargo
for assembly plants, "under heavy pressure from American
businesses with interests in Haiti," the Washington Post
reported, with its editorial endorsement; the lobbying effort
was assisted by Elliott Abrams, Human Rights Watch noted. For
January-October 1992, U.S. trade with Haiti came to $265 million,
according to the Department of Commerce.
As Clinton took over, the embargo became still more porous.
The Dominican border was left wide open. Meanwhile, U.S. companies
continued to be exempted from the embargo -- so as to ease its
effects on the population, the Administration announced with a
straight face; only exemptions for U.S. firms have this curious
feature. There were many heartfelt laments about the suffering
of poor Haitians under the embargo, but one had to turn to the
underground press in Haiti, the alternative media here, or an
occasional letter to learn that the major peasant organization
(MPP), church coalitions, labor organizations, and the National
Federation of Haitian Students continued to call for a real embargo.
Curiously, some of those most distressed by the impact of
the embargo on the Haitian poor were the most forceful advocates
of a still harsher embargo on Cuba, notably liberal Democrat Robert
Torricelli, author of the stepped-up embargo that the Bush Administration
accepted under pressure from the Clintonites. Evidently, hunger
causes no pain to Cuban children, another oddity that passed unnoticed,
along with the U.S.-Haiti trade figures.
Clinton's tinkering with the embargo also passed without comment
here, though the facts are known, and occasionally even leak through,
as in a tiny Feb. 13 Reuters dispatch in the New York Times reporting
efforts of human rights advocates to convince the President to
observe the embargo. "US imports from Haiti rose by more
than half last year ," the Financial Times reported
in London, "thanks in part to an exemption granted by the
US Treasury for imports of goods assembled in Haiti from US parts."
U.S. exports to Haiti also rose in 1993. Exports from Haiti to
the United States included food (fruits and nuts, citrus fruit
or melons) from the starving country, which increased by a factor
of 35 from January-July 1992 to January-July 1993. The federal
government was among the purchasers of the baseballs imported
from Haiti (duty free), stitched by women who work 11 hour days
with a half-hour break in unbearable heat without running water
or a working toilet, for 10 cents an hour if they can meet the
quota (few can), using toxic materials without protection so that
the U.S. importer can advertise proudly that their softballs are
"hand-dipped for maximum bonding." The manufacturers
are the wealthy Haitian families who supported the coup and have
gained new riches during the embargo, along with others profiting
handsomely from the black market, such as the fuel supplier for
the U.S. embassy. The "assembly zone" loophole, criticized
by U.S. labor unions and at the UN Security Council by France
and Canada in January, was extended by the Clinton Administration
on April 25, 1994, four days after announcing that it would seek
to tighten UN sanctions; the latter announcement was reported.
On the same day, the U.S. Coast Guard returned 98 refugees to
military authorities, 18 of them at once arrested.
"The Clinton administration still formally declares its
support for Mr Aristide, but scarcely disguises its wish for a
leader more accommodating to the military," the Financial
Times reported, while "European diplomats in Washington are
scathing in their comments on what they see as the US's abdication
of leadership over Haiti."
In his January 1994 testimony to Congress on "Threats
to the U.S. and Its Interests Abroad," the Director of the
CIA predicted that Haiti "probably will be out of fuel and
power very shortly." "Our intelligence efforts are focused
on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo and monitoring
its impact," and "any indication of an imminent exodus."
The "Threats to the U.S." were contained with the usual
selectivity and skill. "Exodus" from the charnel house
was effectively blocked, while the press reported an "oil
boom" as "diplomats expressed amazement at the extent
of the trafficking" organized by the Haitian and Dominican
armies and the former assured reporters that "The military
is not concerned about fuel shortages; it has plenty.
The Clinton Administration has scarcely departed from the
prescriptions outlined by the Washington Post and New York Times
as it came into office. The preferred solution, John Goshko explained
in the Post, would "delay indefinitely" the return to
Haiti of the "radical priest with anti-American leanings"
whose "strident populism led the Haitian armed forces to
seize power," and would "allow Bazin or some other prime
minister to govern in his place." Bazin was then prime minister
under army rule, but was having problems, because although "well-known
and well-regarded in the United States," unfortunately "the
masses in Haiti consider him a front man for military and business
interests." A replacement would therefore be needed to represent
the interests of the moderates. In the Times, Howard French indicated
the scale of the required delay: "In the past, diplomats
have said the Haitian President could return only after a substantial
interim period during which the country's economy was revived
and all its institutions, from the army itself to the judiciary
to health care and education, were stabilized." That should
overcome the danger of Aristide's "personalist and electoralist
politics." But unfortunately, the troublesome priest has
been recalcitrant: "Father Aristide and many of his supporters
have held out for a quick return," undermining the moderate
As understood on all sides, the "delay" need not
be too long. Aristide's term ends in 1996, and he is barred from
running again. By then military terror should have sufficiently
intimidated the population and demolished popular organizations
so that "free elections" can be tolerated, as in the
Central American terror states, without too much fear of any threat
to "civil society" from the rabble.
5. The May 1994 Reversal
Plans proceeded on course into early 1994. By then, the cynicism
and brutality of U.S. policy had become too blatant for the usual
cover-up, particularly after Clinton's point man Lawrence Pezzullo
revealed in congressional testimony that the plan that the Administration
had touted as the product of negotiations among Haitian democrats,
denouncing Aristide for his intransigence in rejecting it (it
made no provision for his return), had in fact been produced by
the State Department, which brought to Washington selected Haitians
to ratify it, among them Duvalierist collaborators of the murderous
police chief Col. Francois. Something new was needed.
Pezzullo was replaced by William Gray, a more credible voice.
In May Clinton instituted a new and more humane refugee policy,
which "will mean the forcible return of 95 percent of boat
people instead of 100 percent," a Human Rights Watch Haiti
analyst observed, pointing out that "The US policy excludes
people who are not high profile but are persecuted nonetheless."
The new policy is just "window dressing," the national
refugee coordinator of Amnesty International added.
But 5% of the boat people fleeing persecution is beyond what
the United States can be expected to handle. It will "devastate
Florida," a Republican congressional staff member complained.
Explaining a few days later why the U.S. might have to invade,
"Mr. Clintonsaved his strongest warning for what he described
as `the continuous possibility' that Haitians left poor and desperate
under military rule would join in a `massive outflow' and seek
refuge in the United States," the Times reported; the terms
"poor and desperate" convey the doctrine that these
are economic refugees. Overcrowded and destitute, the United States
plainly cannot bear the burden of accepting refugees or even housing
them until their claims of persecution are rejected; and surely
it has no historical responsibilities in the matter. The President
piteously pleaded with other countries to help us in our plight.
Curiously, the anguished debate over this issue missed the
obvious candidate: Tanzania, which had just then accommodated
hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, and could surely come to the
rescue of the beleaguered United States by accepting a few thousand
more black faces.
On May 21, an embargo was announced which, for the first time,
may have some serious intent. The "assembly plant" exemption
was quietly removed, and the Dominican border was (at least briefly)
closed. The long-known involvement of the Haitian military in
narcotrafficking was also officially reported. "We're not
going to say, `Let the masses and the middle class suffer, but
the very wealthy don't have to pay a price," a senior Administration
official stated. "Even Wealthy Haitians Starting to Feel
Pinched," a Times headline read, again letting out the real
story of the efforts to "restore democracy" during the
2 1/2 years since the coup. Government statements and press reports
tacitly conceded what had always been clear: that the U.S. has
the means, far short of military intervention, to restore democracy
in Haiti, but had no intention of doing so, and still does not.
What has always been required is a clear declaration of intent
to restore democracy, but that cannot be given, because there
is no such intent. The military and their civilian allies understand
that perfectly well.
In the following weeks, the U.S. banned commercial air flights
and financial transactions, while leaving crucial loopholes open.
Personal assets of the coup supporters were not frozen, so they
can withdraw funds from U.S. bank accounts at will and transfer
money to banks abroad, Administration officials acknowledged --
a matter that may be academic, the chair of the Congressional
Black Caucus, Kweisi Mfume, observed, since "the dictators
of Haiti have long ago moved their assets in anticipation of this."
The sanctions also permit the families that have long dominated
the economy to hold on to the monopoly of the food trade that
is a major source of their wealth, including the Mevs family,
which is building "a huge new oil depot here to help the
army defy the embargo," French reported, adding that "Washington's
hesitancy in taking firm action against the business elite and
the army is a result of a long history of close ties and perceived
common interests," if not fear of "a spate of embarrassing
revelations made by Haitians in reprisal for a crackdown."
After sanctions were finally imposed in May 1994, a U.S. diplomat
conceded that the continuing failure to move against the richest
families has left "a perception out there of sending mixed
messages and having double agendas." Other diplomats and
Haitian experts agree that the decision not to target key civilian
supporters of the coup is yet another mixed signal, noting particularly
the relief granted the Mev, Brandt, Acra and Madsen families,
who "still have a role to play," a U.S. Embassy source
informed the press, though they have made no effort to disguise
their support for the coup. Washington is "imposing sanctions
designed to strangle the country into restoring Aristide at the
same time they are telling the people who backed the coup and
are in business with the military in keeping Aristide out that
they are free to lead their privileged lives," another diplomat
said. Haitian Senators who lead the anti-Aristide movement were
not denied their permanent U.S. resident status, including Bernard
Sansaricq, who played a leading role in installing the puppet
civilian government with its new "president" Emile Jonassaint,
appointed to replace Aristide.
Meanwhile, the serious work of undermining the basis for democracy
continues unhampered. By the time Clinton took office, as Americas
Watch reported, the terror had already decimated the popular organizations
that would allow Aristide "to exert civilian authority,"
even if he were eventually permitted to return. As Clinton finally
agreed to sanctions 16 months later, Douglas Farah reported in
the Washington Post that "the army and its allies have damaged
democratic institutions and grass-roots organizations that had
begun to grow in Haiti to such an extent that they would take
years to rebuild even if Haiti's military leaders surrendered
power, according to diplomats and human rights monitors."
"The Duvalierist system will continue, with or without the
return of Aristide," the leader of a now-clandestine pro-Aristide
group said, a judgment endorsed by "a veteran human rights
worker" who prefers anonymity "because of numerous threats
against his life." "The Duvialierists have many fine
days ahead of them in this country," he said: "People
are losing their ability to make things happen here, and it will
take many years to reverse that under the best of circumstances."
Even nonpolitical community organizations have been repressed,
thousands of community leaders have been driven into hiding along
with hundreds of thousands of others, while over 4000 have been
murdered outright. The "massive terrorism," Farah reports,
is "aimed at dismantling the last vestiges of organized support"
for Aristide, while the civilian allies of the army and police
in FRAPH have "become a very efficient machine of repression,"
which will remain the only authority even if Aristide were to
return, the same human rights worker comments. Members of the
popular organizations interviewed in hiding have "applied
for political asylum at the U.S. Embassy and been denied.
To ensure a smooth transition to the intended post-coup system,
with the "moderates" in charge and the Duvalierists
preserving order, FRAPH and USAID-funded groups linked to it are
establishing a monopoly of social services, so that "the
poor who are compliant and docile get health services," a
Haitian doctor explains. This is the "soft side" of
counterinsurgency, on the model of Guatemala and other terror
states. Meanwhile we are to ponder the question of whether Haitians
"can muster the maturity and cohesiveness to forge a working
democracy" (Howard French), or whether we must labor for
decades in a (perhaps vain) effort to overcome the defects --
cultural, if not genetic -- that had been discerned by Wilson's
Secretary of State and Carter's USAID director in Haiti.
As the Bush Administration prepared to hand over the reins,
a senior UN official observed that its dislike of Aristide was
an open secret: "Two lines about Haiti co-existed at the
time. There was the line about `return to democracy,' which was
for public consumption. And then there was a second line, spoken
privately within the administration. And the Haitian military
knew it perfectly well." A year later, after the Harlan County
affair gave birth to FRAPH, a French military adviser updated
the picture: "Do you know what the real problem is? The Americans
don't want Aristide back, and they want the rest of us out"
-- "the rest of us" being Canada, France and Venezuela,
the other three of "Aristide's so-called Four Friends."
That this judgment is exactly right has been apparent throughout.
It should be clear, however, that the issue is not Aristide personally.
The problem is the forces he represents: the lively and vibrant
popular movements that swept him into office, greatly alarming
the rich and powerful in Haiti and their American counterparts,
and teaching lessons in democracy that have to be silenced, for
who can tell what minds they might reach?
June 14, 1994