The Other Regime Change
[Haiti and the International Republican
Did the Bush administration allow
a network of right-wing Republicans to foment a violent coup in
by Max Blumenthal
http://dir.salon.com/, July 16,
On Feb. 8, 2001, the federally funded
International Republican Institute's (IRI) senior program officer
for Haiti, Stanley Lucas, appeared on the Haitian station Radio
Tropicale to suggest three strategies for vanquishing Haiti's
president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. First, Lucas proposed forcing
Aristide to accept early elections and be voted out; second, he
could be charged with corruption and arrested; and finally, Lucas
raised dealing with Aristide the way the Congolese people had
dealt with President Laurent Kabila the month before. "You
did see what happened to Kabila?" Lucas asked his audience.
Kabila had been assassinated.
IRI's communications director, Thayer
Scott, in an interview with Salon, characterized Lucas' radio
remarks as "a comparative analysis of countries that embrace
democracy and those that do not."
Whatever the case, Lucas and IRI, a nonprofit
political group backed by powerful Republicans close to the Bush
administration, did more than talk. Throughout the last six years,
IRI, whose stated mission is to "promote the practice of
democracy" abroad, conducted a $3 million party-building
program in Haiti, training Aristide's political opponents, uniting
them into a single bloc and, according to a former U.S. ambassador
there, encouraging them to reject internationally sanctioned power-sharing
agreements in order to heighten Haiti's political crisis. Moreover,
Lucas' controversial personal background and his ties to Haitian
opposition figures with violent histories -- including some who
participated in a coup against Aristide in February -- raise questions
about whether IRI's Haiti program violated its own guidelines
and those of its funders.
The recent political turmoil in Haiti
and in Venezuela (where the Bush White House tacitly supported
a coup against President Hugo Chavez in 2002, and where IRI also
has a murky history of involvement) reflect a troubling pattern
in the Bush administration's prevailing approach to the export
of "democracy." When George W. Bush entered the White
House in 2001, he adopted a policy of studied neglect toward Haiti,
scaling back President Clinton's policy of direct engagement while
appointing veteran anti-Aristide ideologues to key State Department
positions. Meanwhile, the well-connected, smooth-talking Lucas
acted as the Haitian version of Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile
who helped neoconservatives in Washington promote the war against
Saddam Hussein. Like Chalabi, Lucas ingratiated himself with powerful
Republicans sympathetic to the concept of regime change in his
native country and lobbied for increased funding to the opposition
groups he advised and helped train.
Impeccably dressed and charming, as a
young man Lucas gained renown as a Caribbean judo champion and
well-connected socialite. He is the scion of a pro-Duvalier Haitian
landowning family from the town of Jean Rebel. According to Amnesty
International and a longtime Jean Rebel resident now in the U.S.
who spoke on condition of anonymity, in 1987 Lucas' cousins Leonard
and Remy organized a machete-wielding mob to hack to death 250
peasants protesting for land redistribution outside their ranch.
IRI's Scott dismisses the massacre as an "urban legend."
At the time of the massacre, Lucas was
active in plans to crush Haiti's nascent democracy movement. According
to Kim Ives, who has known Lucas since 1986 and is editor of the
independent Haitian weekly Haiti Progres, during a chance encounter
in 1988 in Port-au-Prince, Lucas told him he was training Haitian
soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics. "I'd always pictured
him as more of a playboy than anything," Ives recounted.
"That was the first time I realized he was a serious player
involved with the soldiers preparing to put down the popular uprisings
According to Bob Maguire, a leading Haiti
expert at Trinity College and former State Department official,
Lucas' personal history raises serious questions about IRI's integrity.
"Having this guy as your point person for Haiti, with this
kind of background, is just incredibly provocative," says
Maguire. "If your organization wants to have a useful, balanced
program, how could you have this guy as your program officer?"
The role of figures like Lucas in the
coup suggests a complex web of Republican connections to Aristide's
ouster that may never be known. What is clear, though, is that
the destabilization of Aristide's government was initiated early
on by IRI, a group of right-wing congressmen and their staffers
by imposing draconian sanctions, training Aristide's opponents
and encouraging them in their intransigence. The Bush administration
appears to have gone along, delegating Haiti policy to right-wing
underlings like the assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere,
Roger Noriega, a former staffer to Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Not
only did Noriega collaborate with IRI to increase funding to Aristide's
opponents, but as a mediator to Haiti's political crisis he appears
to have routinely acquiesced with the opposition's divisive tactics.
In February 2004, as insurgents went on
the offensive and Haiti began descending into chaos, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld outlined the Bush administration's view of the
situation at a Feb. 10 press briefing: "Everyone's hopeful
that the situation, which tends to ebb and flow down there, will
stay below a certain threshold ... we have no plans to do anything."
Two weeks later, an international delegation was unable to broker
a compromise; Aristide agreed to a power-sharing peace deal, but
the rebels declined. With the insurgency sweeping toward the capital
on Feb. 28, top Bush officials convened, but rather than send
in troops to protect Aristide's government, they reversed their
official position of support, asking Aristide to leave the country
immediately under U.S. stewardship. Haiti's elected leader left
on a plane the following day in the company of U.S. diplomats,
bound for exile in the Central African Republic.
To be sure, Aristide was a corrupt, problematic
leader -- but since his ouster, the situation in Haiti appears
to have deteriorated to a point lower than at any moment during
his tenure. The looting that followed Aristide's departure has
cost Haitian businesses hundreds of millions of dollars; most
of the Haitian national police force's weapons and equipment were
stolen and over half of its officers quit; and the price of rice,
essential to the diet of Haiti's poor, has more than doubled in
the last four months. Moreover, recent reports describe rampant
human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings filling the power
For the majority of Haitians who live
on one meal and less than a dollar a day, regime change has only
brought more violence, chaos and starvation.
The right-wing campaign to oust Aristide
has its roots in the GOP's longstanding support for pro-U.S. dictators
in Haiti. In 1971, President Nixon restored U.S. military aid
to the brutal regime of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, whom he
considered an anticommunist counterweight to Cuba. The Duvalier
regime eventually crumbled beneath a wave of popular opposition
in 1986; a procession of GOP-backed puppets and military dictators
followed, until the charismatic Aristide won Haiti's first democratic
election in 1990. But Aristide was overthrown a year later by
FRAPH, a CIA-backed junta led by Raoul Cedras, a Haitian army
officer trained by the U.S. Army and openly supported by prominent
Washington conservatives like Helms.
When Aristide fled Haiti in 1991, he was
given sanctuary in Washington by sympathetic liberal politicians
and intellectuals, especially members of the Congressional Black
Caucus, who were eager to show solidarity with the first democratically
elected leader of the world's oldest black republic. In 1994,
under intense pressure from congressional Democrats, President
Clinton returned Aristide to power by military force. Though Aristide
accepted onerous economic reforms as a condition of his return,
his legacy as a liberation-theology preaching slum priest thrust
to power by Haiti's poor masses fueled a perception among conservatives
that he was the next Fidel Castro.
The GOP secured a majority in Congress
in 1994. Soon afterwards Helms, who chaired the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee; his counterpart in the House, Ben Gilman,
R-N.Y.; and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss,
R-Fla. (now considered a potential successor to former CIA Director
George Tenet) passed a stream of bills ordering U.S. troops out
of Haiti, terminating a host of infrastructure-building initiatives
there and imposing an embargo on lethal and nonlethal weapons
to the Haitian national police force. Helms even presented a now-discredited
CIA document on the Senate floor in 1995 claiming Aristide was
With conditions deteriorating, Aristide
clung to power using a mixture of firebrand rhetoric and repression,
surrounding himself with cronies and hiring armed gangs to intimidate
his opponents. Meanwhile, confronted with a Clinton White House
that preferred to hold its nose to Aristide's corruption and focus
on building Haiti's fragile democracy, a coalition of Republicans
used IRI as a Trojan horse. From the beginning of its Haiti program,
in direct contradiction of many of its own guidelines, IRI embraced
reactionary political elements far more antidemocratic than Aristide.
IRI was created by Congress in 1983. It
has an approximately $20 million annual budget granted by its
bureaucratic parent, the National Endowment for Democracy, the
U.S. Agency for International Development, and conservative corporate
and philanthropic groups. But past IRI activity highlights an
agenda for regime change far from democratic in its methods, from
organizing groups that participated in a 2002 coup attempt in
Venezuela, to hosting delegates from right-wing European parties
at a September 2002 conference in Prague to rally support for
war on Iraq. Its Haiti program is the brainchild of its vice president,
Georges Fauriol, who is a member of the Republican National Committee
and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. At CSIS,
a conservative Washington think tank, Fauriol worked closely with
Otto Reich, a hawkish Iran-Contra figure who served as the Bush
administration's special envoy to the Western Hemisphere until
his resignation this June. Fauriol, who rejected an interview
request, has worked as a Latin America expert for CSIS since the
days when Duvalier ruled Haiti.
By 1992, while the U.S.-friendly Cedras'
FRAPH death squads rampaged through Haiti's slums and slaughtered
Aristide supporters by the thousands, IRI hired Haitian national
Stanley Lucas to head its operations there. Though elections had
already been nullified by Cedras, IRI spokesman Scott says the
group's work in Haiti at the time consisted of "election
monitoring." Lucas himself rejected an interview request.
For IRI's Washington backers, Lucas meant
unparalleled access to the key anti-Aristide figures on Haiti's
political scene. By 1998, when IRI's "party-building"
program officially began, Lucas spearheaded the training of an
array of small parties at IRI meetings in Port-au-Prince. IRI's
Scott characterized the seminars as benign lessons in "Democracy
Indeed, Lucas and IRI's involvement with
some of Aristide's most unsavory enemies suggested an altogether
different agenda. Among invitees to IRI's seminars were members
of CREDDO, the personal political platform of Gen. Prosper Avril,
the former Haitian dictator who ruled with an iron fist from 1988
to 1990, declaring a state of siege and arbitrarily torturing
his opponents. Avril wrote about IRI's meetings in his 1999 memoir,
"The Truth About a Singular Lawsuit," describing a truce
he signed "under the auspices of IRI" with his former
torture victim Evans Paul. Thanks in part to the rapprochement,
Paul became the de facto spokesman for the coalition of parties
trained in 1999 by Lucas and IRI: the Democratic Convergence.
Despite IRI's efforts to create a credible
opposition to Aristide, the Convergence proved a lame horse; the
party was blown out by Aristide's popular Lavalas party in the
2000 local and parliamentary elections. Yet questionable vote
counting prompted the Clinton administration to block over $400
million in multilateral loans to Haiti. As economic conditions
deteriorated there, Convergence changed its tactics. In addition
to boycotting the 2000 presidential elections, between 2000 and
2002 Convergence rejected 20 proposed power-sharing compromises
designed to ease Haiti's political crisis. In 2003 the party formed
an ersatz transitional government to challenge Aristide's legitimacy,
and its relationship with IRI and Washington Republicans grew
According to IRI's Scott, from 1998 to
2002, IRI bolstered Convergence with "less than $2 million."
In 2000, $34,994 of that money was granted to IRI from NED to
junket Convergence leaders to several meetings in Washington designed
"to open channels of communication" with "relevant
policy makers and analysts." IRI met Convergence leaders
again in February 2002 in the Dominican Republic with a delegation
of congressional Republicans including Caleb McCarry, a staunchly
anti-Aristide staffer on the House Foreign Relations Committee
who, according to a former senior State Department official, "worked
hand in glove with Lucas to tie funding to the opposition."
Secretary of State Colin Powell advised
the continuation of Clinton's Haiti policy -- Aristide had eventually
"corrected" the election results -- calling for increased
international aid, but his diplomatic efforts were stymied by
Convergence's rejectionism -- and by a White House that seemed
determined to move Haiti policy in an opposite direction. By 2002,
Bush had eliminated the State Department position of special Haiti
coordinator and removed the national security advisor from daily
involvement with Haiti. He also appointed Helms' ideological heir,
Noriega, first as the U.S. ambassador to the OAS, and later to
assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, in turn
strengthening the influence of IRI.
Meanwhile, IRI's Lucas began to sabotage
the U.S. ambassador, Brian Dean Curran, a career diplomat and
Clinton appointee who had evidence that Lucas was undermining
diplomatic efforts to resolve Haiti's political crisis. Seeking
to weaken Curran politically, Lucas spread destructive rumors
about his personal life, according to a close associate of Curran's
who asked to remain anonymous. A journalist with access to U.S.
diplomats in Haiti offered a similar account. Curran's associate
also said that Lucas threatened Curran and another embassy official,
claiming they would be fired "as soon as the real U.S. policy
is enacted." IRI refused to discuss Lucas' interactions with
Curran or embassy officials.
In response to Lucas' freebooting, Curran
demanded that USAID block him from participating in IRI's Haiti
program. During a March 10, 2004, Senate hearing on Haiti, Sen.
Chris Dodd, D-Conn., pressed Noriega for details of Lucas' involvement.
"The approval of this new grant was conditioned on the IRI
[Haiti] director, Stanley Lucas, being barred from participating
in this program for a period of time because the U.S. ambassador
in Haiti had evidence that he was undermining U.S. efforts to
encourage Haitian opposition cooperation with the OAS efforts
to broker a compromise. Is that not true as well?" Dodd asked
"Yes, sir," Noriega conceded.
Dodd continued: "Is Stanley Lucas
"As far as I know, he is still part
of the program," Noriega said. According to IRI's Scott,
Lucas was barred for only four months by USAID.
Lucas' continued role frustrated Curran;
he resigned in July 2003. In his farewell address in Port-au-Prince,
Curran remarked, "There were many in Haiti who preferred
not to listen to me, the president's representative, but to their
own friends in Washington, sirens of extremism or revanchism on
the one hand or apologists on the other," Curran said. "They
don't hold official positions. I call then the 'chimeres' [a Haitian
slang term for "political thugs"] of Washington."
By the time of Curran's departure, IRI's
Haiti program was flush with a $1.2 million grant from USAID for
2003 and 2004. According to IRI's Scott, "roughly $200,000"
of that grant was used to junket over 600 Haitian opposition figures
to the Dominican Republic and the U.S. to meet with IRI. With
IRI's help, they formed a new coalition called Group of 184 representing
the "civil society" wing of the opposition. IRI currently
hosts Group of 184's home page on its Haiti policy Web site, which
features photos of anti-Aristide demonstrations in Port-au-Prince
last March. And Scott acknowledged that "IRI played an advisory
role in Group of 184's formation."
Group of 184's power brokers were divided
into two camps: its majority constitutional wing, which emphasized
protests and diplomacy as the path to forcing Aristide out, and
a hard-line faction quietly determined to oust Aristide by any
means necessary. The constitutionalists were represented by Group
of 184's spokesman and most prominent member, Andre Apaid Jr.,
a Haitian-American of Lebanese descent who controls one of Haiti's
oldest and largest sweatshop empires. The hard-liners were led
by Wendell Claude, a politician who was hell-bent on avenging
the death of his brother Sylvio, a church minister burned to death
by a pro-Aristide mob after the coup in 1991.
While the constitutional wing mounted
a series of anti-Aristide street protests through late 2003, provoking
increasing unrest, Claude and the hard-liners hatched plans for
a coup. They tapped Guy Phillippe, a U.S.-trained former Haitian
police chief with a dubious human rights record. He was to lead
a band of insurgents consisting almost entirely of exiled members
of FRAPH death squads and former soldiers of the Haitian army,
which Aristide had disbanded in 1995. For three years, they camped
in Perenal, a border town in the Dominican Republic, using it
as a staging point for acts of sabotage against Aristide's government,
including a July 2001 hit-and-run attack on the Haitian police
academy that killed five and wounded 14.
Lucas appears to have had at least casual
contact with the insurgents. In an interview by cellphone from
Haiti, Phillippe said he and Lucas grew up together and that Lucas
is a longtime family friend. And though Phillippe said he met
with Lucas late last year in the Dominican Republic, he maintained
the meeting was not political: "He [Lucas] was helping organize
a democratic opposition. I really don't know about his job because
I never would talk about politics with him."
Others describe more formal ties between
IRI and the insurgents. Jean Michel Caroit, chief correspondent
in the Dominican Republic for the French daily Le Monde, says
he saw Phillippe's political advisor, Paul Arcelin, at an IRI
meeting at Hotel Santo Domingo in December 2003. Caroit, who was
having drinks in the lobby with several attendees, said the meeting
was convened "quite discreetly." His account dovetailed
with that of a Haitian journalist who told Salon on condition
of anonymity that Arcelin often attended IRI meetings in Santo
Domingo as Convergence's representative to the Dominican Republic.
IRI's Scott fervently denies involvement
with the insurgents. "IRI has never dealt with Guy Phillippe
or the leaders of other violent groups," he says. During
Senate hearings on Haiti this March, Sen. Dodd probed Secretary
Noriega about links between Lucas and Phillippe, and he, too,
issued a denial: "I have never heard that [Lucas and Phillippe
were associated in any way], and to my knowledge, it wouldn't
be the case. It certainly wouldn't be acceptable."
Besides violating its own stated guidelines,
IRI also may have broken the rules of its chief funder, USAID,
which forbids grantees from working with "undemocratic parties"
that do not "eschew the use of violence to overthrow democratic
institutions" or "have endorsed or sponsored violence
in the past."
In February 2004 the insurgents attacked,
crossing into Haiti and laying siege to its second largest city,
Cap-Haitien. Rather than send troops to stop them, the Bush administration
sent Noriega on Feb. 18 to attempt to stanch the violence with
a power-sharing deal between Aristide and the opposition, which
was represented by Group of 184's Apaid. That afternoon, Noriega
presented the proposal to Aristide, accompanied by his general
counsel, Ira Kurzban. "Within two hours," Kurzban said,
Aristide agreed to the proposal.
But when Noriega sat down with Apaid that
evening, he handled him with kid gloves. "Once we explained
to Noriega the situation in Haiti, he understood. I cannot say
that he pushed us," said Charles Baker, Apaid's brother-in-law
and a Group of 184 board member who was briefed on the meeting
"This guy's an American citizen,"
Kurzban said of Apaid, who was born in New York. "You don't
think if the U.S. wanted to put pressure on him, they couldn't
put pressure on him? So it's like, OK, Andy,' with a wink and
a nod, 'Take another couple of days to decide.'" Needless
to say, Apaid rejected the compromise.
The following day, Phillippe and a band
of 200 insurgents armed with vintage rifles and M-16's (some of
which, according to Le Monde's Caroit, were provided by the U.S.-armed
Dominican military) captured Cap Haitien and began their advance
On Feb. 28, Bush's top foreign policy
officials, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza
Rice and Colin Powell, held a teleconference meeting and, according
to the Washington Post, decided to press for Aristide's ouster.
The next day, with Haiti's police in full retreat and the insurgents
bearing down on Aristide's residence, U.S. Embassy officials presented
Aristide with a stark choice: stay in Haiti without protection
or accept a U.S.-chartered plane into exile. He took the plane.
The following day, Phillippe marched into the capital, greeted
cheering supporters and boasted to foreign reporters that he was
According to the Post, Bush was not involved
in the decision to press for Aristide's ouster nor was the president
aware a decision had been made to ferry Aristide into exile. When
Aristide was flown out of the country on Feb. 29, Bush had to
be awakened from his slumber by a late-night phone call from Rice
to inform him. It was only then that he authorized the deployment
of U.S. Marines to quell the violence in Haiti.
Aristide's corruption and authoritarianism
may have justified his ouster in the eyes of his opponents, but
now that he is gone, is Haiti any better off?
The answer, at present, is that by giving
anti-Aristide figures in Washington and Haiti a free hand, the
Bush administration has created a situation worse than the one
it inherited -- and one reminiscent of Iraq after the fall of
Saddam. In the wake of Aristide's departure, widespread looting
erupted across Haiti; well-armed thugs terrorized businesses and
ravaged the country's public infrastructure. Virtually every prison
in the country was emptied, freeing both common criminals and
human rights violators -- including Stanley Lucas' notorious cousin,
Many Haiti experts, including Trinity
College's Maguire, project the next elections there will be held
sometime in the next two years. For now, Haiti's president is
Gerard Latortue, a former World Bank official hailed by Florida
Gov. Jeb Bush in a March 23 Washington Post editorial for his
"integrity and selfless service." Yet with no domestic
constituency, Latortue has had to kowtow to Phillippe and the
insurgents, whom he has publicly called "freedom fighters."
Like another Bush-installed leader -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai,
whose shaky administration relies on U.N. peacekeeping forces
concentrated in his country's capital -- Latortue's government
wields little authority: According to a June 15 press release
from the nonpartisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington,
in addition to many hundreds of Aristide supporters murdered inside
Port-au-Prince itself, convicted criminals, former paramilitary
leaders and other vigilantes retain effective control of most
of the Haitian countryside.
And, as it did with European governments
on Iraq, the Bush administration's Haiti policy has provoked a
diplomatic crisis in the Caribbean basin: Over four months after
Aristide's departure from Haiti, the 15-nation Caribbean Community
still refuses to recognize Latortue's government, and in June
the OAS opened an investigation into Aristide's ouster. U.S. troops
handed over control of the peacekeeping mission in Haiti to the
U.N. on June 20.
"One has to be very concerned with
the country's direction," says Maguire. "An awful lot
of people who have been discredited in the past for abusing power
and people have been climbing back into government. So far there
is no sign that the new government or the U.S. will confront these
An April press release from the independent
Haitian factory workers' union, Batay Ouvriye, made an urgent
"There is no person legitimately
in charge anywhere. A whole series of upstarts have taken advantage
of this situation to set themselves up as the authorities, as
chiefs, and, in the process, the people are really suffering.
THIS SITUATION CANNOT CONTINUE!"