Haiti After the Coup
Eighteen months of horror, backed
by the U.S.
by Yves Engler
Z magazine, October 2005
0n July 6, MINUSTAH, the UN mission in
Haiti, killed as many as 60 people in Cite Soleil, the country's
largest and poorest slum. A labor/human rights delegation sponsored
by the San Francisco Labor Council reported that residents claimed
to have seen 23 bodies after the UN forces raid to kill "gang
leader" Dread Wilme in the early morning. Doctors Without
Borders reported that 26 people from Cite Soleil were treated
for gunshot wounds hours after the raid; 20 of the injured were
women and children. Eyewitnesses stated that the offensive overwhelmed
the community and that it was not a "firefight," but
Primarily UN forces conducted the operation,
with the notoriously brutal new Haitian National Police (HNP)
taking a back seat according to witnesses (footage of this attack
can be seen in the documentary Haiti: The Untold Story).
The same day UN forces attacked Cite Soleil,
the HNP killed 10 in the slum of Bel-Air and 12 more 2 days later,
according to Reuters. In August there were a series of grisly
massacres after the police were seen distributing machetes. On
August 20, Reuters reported that police and armed thugs chopped
to death as many as 30 "bandits" in front of thousands
of spectators at a soccer game.
Recent killings are the continuation of
18 months of horror for Haiti's poor that was unleashed with the
overthrow of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and thousands of
other elected officials by the U.S., France, and Canada. The National
Lawyers Guild delegation visiting Haiti shortly after the February
29, 2004 coup reported that on March 7 morgue officials dumped
800 bodies and another 200 three weeks later. This is an extraordinary
number in light of a morgue worker's report that the average is
under 100 bodies per month. On October 15, 2004, Haiti-based U.S.
journalist Kevin Pina reported, "The general hospital had
to call the Ministry of Health today in order to demand emergency
vehicles to remove the more than 600 corpses that have been stockpiled
Since the coup, structural violence has
also increased. Skyhigh unemployment is up even further. A recent
article in Alterpresse documented a huge rise in the cost of a
dozen food staples, many of which have tripled in price, further
impoverishing the poor. The human rights situation is so bad that
the "head of UN peacekeeping operations says conditions in
parts of Haiti are worse than in Sudan's devastated Darfur region"
(June 28, 2005 Voice of America report).
The roots of the current situation begin
in 1994, with Aristide's return to power by U.S. marines. This
was hailed as a great democratic deed, yet the scent of previous
destabilization campaigns lingered. The U.S. refused to disband
and bring to justice the death squads they helped create when
Aristide was first overthrown in 1991. As a pre-condition for
his return, Aristide was compelled to reduce agricultural tariffs
that increased the dumping of U.S. rice and chicken parts, thereby
devastating the peasantry. Throughout the mid-1990s, the International
Republican Institute (IRI) and other U.S.-backed groups funded
anti-government organizations in the name of democracy enhancement."
At the turn of the millennium, the campaign
to undermine Haiti's government shifted into higher gear because
the constitution permitted Aristide to run for president again
in 2000. Aristide, hated by Haiti's elite, was not trusted by
the U.S. after he recognized Cuba and refused to support the privatization
of all state owned companies; nor was his Lavalas movement, after
it forced IRI out of the country in 1998 and ended U.S. police
The most recent phase of destabilizing
Haiti was multifaceted. It included "civil society building,"
military and paramilitary interventions, an economic embargo that
would cripple the hemisphere's poorest nation, a full-scale disinformation
campaign by corporate media, and concerted diplomatic efforts
to guarantee a regime change acceptable to the international community
and a confused public.
Before Haiti's May 2000 parliamentary
elections, the U.S. gave considerable support to non-Lavalas political
parties and candidates. It didn't work. Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas
won 80 percent of the 7,000 local and parliamentary elected positions.
Initially, the Organization of American States (OAS) hailed the
successful election. The OAS then reversed their earlier election
assessment on the basis of a technicality, spurring the propaganda
effort to discredit the elections and, by extension, Lavalas.
The OAS claimed that the counting method used for eight Senate
seats was "flawed." The Haitian constitution stipulates
that the winner must get 50 percent plus one vote at the polls.
The CEP (Coalition d'Election Provisional) determined this by
calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates,
while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates.
OAS concerns about the validity of the
elections were disingenuous. They had worked with the CEP to prepare
elections since 1999 and were fully aware of the counting method
beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but
they failed to voice any concerns until Lavalas's landslide victory.
Besides, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome
of the elections. Nevertheless, the elections were now "flawed"-as
the media repeated, even after Aristide convinced the seven Lavalas
senators (one was from another party) to resign.
International "aid" groups claimed
"flawed" May 2000 elections forced them to withhold
assistance. Yet earlier, in July 1999, the UN news reported, "Haiti
will not receive $570 million in aid from the World Bank and the
Inter-American Development Bank this year." Haiti, it appears,
had not fully complied with the institutions' demands. With more
than half of the government's budget coming from international
assistance, its suspension was devastating. Significant international
assistance was all but cut-off for the next four years-withheld
ostensibly because of the political impasse created by the elections.
In September 2000 the Clinton administration
decided to withdraw assistance for Haiti's November presidential
elections because of "concerns" over the May elections.
The real reason for withdrawing electoral assistance was that
Gallup polls predicted a landslide victory for Aristide. Knowing
they could not win, the political opposition boycotted the November
2000 presidential election. They then claimed public support for
their boycott was proven by low voter turnout. On the contrary,
Haitian officials and independent observers (but not the OAS,
which followed the U.S. lead in refusing to send observers) reported
that over 4 million voters (more than half the total population)
registered, 60 percent of whom voted. These figures were better
than the 2000 U.S. election and Aristide's 92 percent vote was
proportionally almost double what George W. Bush received. Most
Haitian media, owned by opposition supporters, nevertheless reported
a low voter turnout, which was then diligently repeated by the
The Bush administration responded to Aristide's
overwhelming victory by inviting anti-Lavalas opposition figurehead
and fringe party leader Leslie Manigat to George W. Bush's inauguration
ceremony in Washington. Then in October 2001 Bush appointed neoconservative
Roger Noriega as U.S. ambassador to the OAS. Noriega (who worked
closely with the racist anti-Aristide Senator Jesse Helms) co-authored
OAS Resolutions 806 and 822. These resolutions required Haiti's
elected government to make decisions together with the opposition,
giving non-elected parties an effective veto over resumption of
foreign assistance to the Haitian government.
The November 2002 inauguration of the
Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), sponsored by the Washington-based
Brookings Institution, intensified the destabilization campaign.
The HDP's anti-Lavalas propaganda was and continues to be quoted
regularly in the North American media. The HDP, with its powerful
political connections (U.S. -Haiti Ambassador Timothy M. Carney
was a founding board member) lobbied on behalf of Haiti's newly
formed "civil society" Group of 184. IRI also helped
establish G-184 by organizing a secret (later revealed) meeting
in the Dominican Republic of representatives from business, student,
and other groups that would spawn the group. When G-184 made its
public debut, its spokesperson was Andy Apaid, Jr., owner of several
Port-au-Prince sweatshops who was later linked to the funding
and arming of anti-Lavalas death squads. Still, many North American
NGOs that usually receive government money took up the anti-Lavalas
mantra of this "civil society" grouping.
At the same time that the U.S. enforced
an economic embargo and built the political opposition, armed
thugs, mostly from the former military (that Aristide disbanded
in 1995), tried to overthrow the government through violence.
In October 2000, Guy Phillippe, who was trained by the U.S. military
in Ecuador, and a handful of former Haitian soldiers fled the
country after their plot was uncovered; on July 28, 2001 there
were several attacks on police stations near the Haitian/Dominican
border; on December 17, 2001 Guy Philippe was implicated in another
coup attempt. This last one was perhaps the most serious, as a
reported 39 armed attackers stormed the national palace, killing
4 people and briefly occupying the building. In July 2003 the
country's main hydro-electric plant was attacked, leaving a number
of employees dead.
As the armed attacks weakened the elected
government, on January 31, 2003, Canada's secretary of state for
Latin America and La Francophonie, Denis Paradis, played host
to a high-level roundtable meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative
on Haiti. The U. S., Canada, and France were represented at the
meetings, but no one from Haiti's elected government was invited.
According to an article in Quebec's L'Actualité Magazine,
Aristide's departure, the need for a potential trusteeship over
Haiti, and the return of Haiti's dreaded military were discussed.
Prior to the Ottawa meetings, - France
and Canada had joined the U.S. destabilization campaign. They
terminated aid to the Aristide government, instead dealing directly
with Haitian NGOs mostly aligned with the minority anti-Aristide
movement. Tens of millions of dollars poured into these U.S. -backed
"civil society" groups.
The International Foundation for Electoral
Systems (IFES), a U.S.-based tax-exempt organization that claims
to provide "targeted technical assistance to strengthen transitional
democracies," played a prominent role in strengthening the
opposition. IFES administrators told a University of Miami School
of Law investigation, "We put Aristide in a bad situation"
by uniting "all forces against Aristide." IFES staff,
according to the Miami investigation, "want to take credit
for the ouster of Aristide, but cannot 'out of respect for the
wishes of the U.S. government' " - the government that gives
IFES millions to operate.
In fall 2003 Haiti's state university
was "brought to the boiling point by FEUH," a student
group formed by IFES. On December 5, when the university's Rector
Pierre Marie Paquiot had his legs broken, it was IFES that arranged
to fly Paquiot out of Haiti, along with an IFES escort. Without
any credible evidence, the rector and others blamed Lavalas for
the violence, propelling G-184 protests and strikes.
By February 2004 the situation had degenerated
to the point where an armed uprising was seen in a more favorable
light. Guy Phillippe and dozens of other well-armed former soldiers
swept across the country, killing police and others in their wake.
There is evidence that the U.S. armed Philippe's thugs. Also,
his political advisor, Paul Arcelin, "often attended IRI
meetings in Santo Domingo," according to a July 17, 2004,
After overrunning most of the country,
the "rebels" were unable to take the capital. The millions
of dollars poured into building a political opposition, the economic
embargo, diplomatic pressure, and support for the armed thugs
were not enough, so U.S. Marines were - sent in to force Aristide
out. Two weeks later, Gerard Latortue, a Florida resident who
- worked closely with IFES, was in- stalled as interim prime minister.
Many members of the "interim government" had worked
at one time for groups receiving U.S. -' government funding. While
overseeing massive human rights violations, Latortue's government
is reconstituting Haiti's feared military (created by the U.S.
during the 1915-1934 occupation) by incorporating former soldiers
into the police force. After lifting a 13-year arms embargo against
Haiti, the Bush administration has, according to the Geneva-based
Small Arms Survey, sold the installed government millions of dollars
worth of arms. The presence of the unelected Latortue government
has also loosened the pocketbooks of Western governments and international
financial institutions that cut off aid because of the earlier
New elections are scheduled for November
2005, though Lavalas is refusing to participate unless the party's
leader is allowed to return from exile and hundreds of political
prisoners, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune are released
from jail. Lavalas is also demanding an end to murderous police
attacks against poor neighborhoods and peaceful pro-democracy
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the
African Union, Cuba, and Venezuela refuse to recognize Latortue
as prime minister, despite significant U.S. pressure to do so.
North American solidarity activism is growing, especially in Canada
where the Liberal government has taken the lead for a Bush administration
busy in Iraq. In Haiti, resistance continues. Under significant
threat of repression, demonstrations of thousands calling for
the return of constitutional order and the release of political
prisoners take place on a weekly basis. z
Yves Engler is the author of Canada in
Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and
Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical.
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