An Unbroken Agony
Haiti, from Revolution to the
Kidnapping of a President
by Randall Robinson
Basic Civitas Books, 2007, paperback
As a punishment for creating the first free republic in the Americas
(when 13 percent of the people living in the United States were
slaves), the new Republic of Haiti was met with a global economic
embargo imposed by the United States and Europe. The embargo was
strengthened by a further demand from France for financial reparations
of roughly $21 billion (2004 dollars) as compensation from the
newly freed slaves for denying France the further benefit of owning
American economic sanctions against Haiti
would not end until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, nearly
sixty years after the founding of the free Haitian republic.
... As late as 1915, 111 years after the
successful slave revolt, some 80 percent of the Haitian government's
resources were being paid out in debt service to French and American
banks on loans that had been made to enable Haiti to pay reparations
In 1922, seven years into a nineteen-year
American military occupation of Haiti that resulted in 15,000
Haitian deaths, the United States imposed a $16 million loan on
the Haitian government to pay off its "debt" to France.
The American loan was finally paid off
in 1947. Haiti was left virtually bankrupt, its workforce in desperate
The Haitian economy has never recovered
from the financial havoc France (and America) wreaked upon it,
during and after slavery.
When I was elected President, it wasn't
strictly a political affair, it wasn't the election of a politician,
of a conventional political party. No, it was an expression of
a broad popular movement, of the mobilization of the people as
a whole. For the first time, the national palace became a place
not just for professional politicians, but for the people themselves.
The simple fact of allowing ordinary people to enter the palace,
the simple fact of welcoming people from the poorest sections
of Haitian society within the very center of traditional power-this
was a profoundly transformative gesture.
The December 1990 election ... made [Aristide] Haiti's first democratically
Dating back to Haiti's successful slave rebellion against France,
which culminated in the world's first free black republic in 1804,
no historian or scholar of consequence ever documented a single
meaningful instance of official American sympathy for Haiti's
long oppressed black poor.
American secretary of state, Cordell Hull, after the 1937 massacre
of 35,000 Haitians by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo
Trujillo is one of the greatest men in
Central America and in most of South America.
Before [Aristide] was elected the first time in 1990, Haiti had
two categories of citizenship, with one or the other kind indelibly
noted at birth on a newborn's birth certificate.
The first category was described in law
to include those who enjoyed certain basic unencumbered rights
of conventional citizenship, not unlike those enjoyed by people
living elsewhere in the region. In Haiti this category traditionally
was reserved for whites, mulattoes, and the city-born of means.
The second category of citizenship was
reserved for Haitians born in the countryside. Reserved, de facto,
for poor blacks (the majority of Haiti's people, including the
president, who had been born poor in rural Port Salut), the birth
certificate issued to the people in this category was stamped
at the top with the Kreyol words peyizan, for peasant, and moun
andeyo, for people from outside.
It was in Haiti that I first realized
how class lines may cut across color lines within a race, and
how dark people of the same nationality may scorn those below
them. Certainly the upper-class Haitians I observed at a distance
seems a delightful and cultured group. No doubt, many of the French
slave owners were delightful and cultured too - but slaves could
not enjoy their culture.
Unlike neighboring Caribbean islands where black and white children
may be found learning together in the same classroom, such scenes
are all but impossible to find in Haiti, arguably the Caribbean's
most racially segregated and class-riven society.
Denis Paradis, Canada's powerful secretary of state, January 2003
The rich are so rich there [Haiti], I've
visited a few rich places ... I'd never seen anything like that.
On February 7, 2003, the president raised the country's national
minimum wage from thirty-five gourds to seventy gourds (US$2)
The initiative touched off a firestorm
of protest. One of the most vigorous expressions of opposition
came over the public airways from Andy Apaid, a Syrian American
who operated several large sweatshops in Haiti.
While the Haitian people supported the president [Aristide] they
had twice elected by huge margins, the Haitian upper class and
the regenerative black remnants of the old Duvalierist military
dictatorship were implacably opposed to him and to the essential
democratic idea of his government.
The president was an idealist in the mold
of the republic's founder, Toussaint L'Ouverture, who fought and
defeated armies from Spain, England, and France in a partly successful
effort to win for black Haitians elemental human freedom as well
as economic and social equality. The resurgent Duvalierists, who
had traditionally provided the black iron veil of brute force
and public color to wealthy whites and mulattoes, were no more
interested in universal freedom for their fellow black Haitians
than were the racist elites with whom they were symbiotically
Before the president's election, Haiti,
on an operational level, could be likened to racialist South Africa,
in exchange for the trappings of state power, the dictator Francois
Duvalier and his black successors gave to the white and mulatto
upper class a free hand to exploit the huge black, largely illiterate
labor force in any way it saw fit. Black despots were indulged
with the summary power of life and death over the poor black majority.
In exchange, the white and mulatto business class was allowed
a camouflaged hiding place with carte blanche to create for itself
a cash flow virtually undiminished by wage or tax or ordinary
This was the Faustian bargain that Aristide
threatened with his stunning first election victory of December
16, 1990. His mandate, as he saw it, was to change Haiti fundamentally.
For it, he had only the structureless popular support of the newly
enfranchised poor black masses that had bought him to power.
Uncomfortable with what the president's
vision for Haiti could mean for their interests, both private
and public, the United States and France, from the beginning,
took up positions on the opposite side of the ideological divide,
putting themselves in the working company of a tiny, ruthlessly
Lecture on Haiti, January 2, 1893, Chicago
... The common people of Haiti are peaceful
enough. They have no taste for revolutions. The fault is not with
the, . . many, but with the educated and ambitious few. Governed
neither by love nor mercy for their country, they are not into
what depths she may be plunged. No president, however, virtuous,
wise and patriotic, ever suits them when they themselves happen
to be out of power.
I wish I could say that these are the
only conspirators against the peace of Haiti, but I cannot. They
have allies in the United States .... It so happens that we have
men in this country (the United States) who, to accomplish their
personal and selfish ends, will fan the flames of passion between
the factions in Haiti and will otherwise assist in setting revolutions
afoot. To this shame... men in high American quarters have boasted
to me of their ability to start a revolution in Haiti at pleasure.
They have only to raise sufficient money, they say, with which
to arm and otherwise equip the malcontents... to effect their
object .... To them, the welfare of Haiti is nothing; the shedding
of human blood is nothing; the success of free institutions is
nothing and the ruin of neighboring country is nothing.
You will ask me about the President of
Haiti. I will tell you. Whatever may be said or thought of him
to the contrary, I affirm that there is no man in Haiti who more
fully understands or more deeply feels the need of peace in his
... (and) instead of receiving the sympathy
and support of the American Press and people, this man has been
denounced as a cruel monster. I declare to you, than this, no
judgement of President Hyppolite could be more unjust and more
Over the course of 2003, the Bush administration broadened its
assault on Haiti into a crippling, multipronged campaign. In addition
to arming the Duvalierist insurgents and organizing Haiti's tiny,
splintered political opposition, the administration moved apace
to strangle Haiti, the poorest country in the 'Western Hemisphere,
into a state of economic, social, and political collapse.
Mark Weisbrot, The Nation magazine
The fix was in: The U.S. Agency for International
Development and the International Republican Institute[IRI] (the
international arm of the Republican Party) had spent tens of millions
of dollars to create and organize an opposition ... and to make
Haiti under Aristide ungovernable The whole scenario was strikingly
similar to the series of events that led to the coup against Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez in April 2002. The same U.S. organizations
were involved, and the opposition - as in Venezuela-controlled
and used the major media as a tool for destabilization. And in
both cases, the coup leaders, joined by Washington, announced
to the world that the elected president had "voluntarily
reigned"-which later turned out to be false.
Washington had an added weapon against
the Haitian government. Taking advantage of Haiti's desperate
poverty and dependence on foreign aid, it stopped international
aid to the government, from the summer of 2000 until the 2004
coup... he World Bank also contributed to the destabilization
effort by cutting off funding.
The Bush administration took measures ... to block four loans
of $146 million that had been fully approved by the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB) in 1998. The loans were targeted for projects
that would benefit the poor of Haiti in four critical areas-clean
drinking water, health, education, and roads. In anticipation
of the loan proceeds, the Haitian government had been forced by
the IDB, at the instigation of the United States, to pay $5 million
interest for loan money that the Haitian government would never
see a penny of.
The United States seemed to have done everything possible ...
to maximize the suffering of a people [Haitians] who, for the
first time in two hundred years, were living under a government
of their own clear choice. No one could think of an occasion when
the United States had gone so far out of its way to spoil for
a small, defenseless republic the simple observance of its own
national birthday, particularly when the country was not its enemy.
It was madness - a vengeful, scripted, slow-burn madness that
had sun unbroken for two hundred years.
Professor Charles Olgletree, Harvard Law School
Much of Haiti's current problems are directly
attributable to the exploitation and repression during France's
colonial rule, as well as the brutal, far-reaching measures imposed
on Haiti by the major powers in response to Haiti's declaration
of independence... Arguments supporting France's right to have
drained Haiti's treasury were not persuasive 200 years ago, and
they are not persuasive now.
Richard Gott, Guardian newspaper, January 17, 2007
The personal and public wealth of Britain
created by slave labour was a crucial element in the accumulation
of capital that made the industrial revolution possible ... the
demand for reparations is a serious position, similar to the claim
put forward by the nations of Holocaust survivors for the return
of property stolen by the Nazis. Black people whose forebears
were slaves, victims of that other Holocaust, are simply asking
for the stolen fruits of their ancestors' labour power to be given
back to their rightful heirs.
Over a century and a half, France not only appropriated the worth
of Haiti's enslaved population's toil but also forced Haiti to
pay reparations to France following the Haitian revolution. France's
real debt to Haiti thus amounts to the $21 billion France exacted,
in addition to the assessed value of the labor of the Africans
France enslaved in Haiti from the mid-seventeenth century to the
end of the slave revolt in 1804.
U.S. Representative Maxine Waters to Hazel Robinson (author's
wife) at Haiti's Independence Bicentennial, January 1, 2004
They're planning a coup [against Aristide]
you know. They're planning a coup. I've been going to receptions
at various hotels over the past few days.
They've been held by business types and
the convergence types and that is all the talk. They tried to
get me not to come-the State Department. CBC [Congressional Black
Caucus] members were planning to be here and State called them
and told them that it was too dangerous. That they couldn't ensure
their safety. That's why the caucus delegation canceled. The State
Department put a warning on their website telling people not to
come to Haiti now. They tried that with me. I told them that I
was coming. No matter what, I was coming.
Thomas Jefferson's son-in-law, Senator Eppes of Virginia, 1804
... to venture the treasury of the United
States that the Negro government [of Haiti] should destroyed.
Where the poor were concerned, the United States invariably opposed
the efforts of the poor's own governments, whenever and wherever
those governments tried in any serious or structured way to ameliorate
the poverty of their own people. If there has ever been a circumstance
in which the Americans did not take the side of the rich in efforts
to quash even modest reforms to help the poor, I do not know of
... In Haiti's case, the United States,
directly or indirectly through its Haitian collaborators, blocked
every path the poor, through their elected leaders, took to win
for themselves a less painful existence.
Pierre Aristide, a 77 year old illiterate man in Haiti, to Randall
I don't think Haiti is like other countries.
Here the rich people don't want the black people to have anything.
Has there ever been a national leader anywhere in the world who
tried to lift a people from poverty whom America did not oppose
or even vilify? I cannot name even one.
from Defending the Spirit, by Randall Robinson, 1988
How different he is from all that is said
about him in American papers, where he has been variously described
as a power-hungry lunatic and a communist. This public picture
of him which bears not the slightest resemblance to he man I know,
the inventive work of Brian Latelle, CIA Latin American station
chief. Latelle claimed in a report circulated in Congress that
Aristide had been treated for a mental illness (which he never
suffered) at a Canadian hospital (to which he had never been)
where he was treated by a certain doctor (who never existed).
Of course the report was thoroughly disproved, but by then the
thoroughly intended damage had been done.
Over the course of our lives, few of the
people we hear about in the media, will we ever know, or for that
matter, even meet. What we hear, that is, what little we get to
read or learn from television or radio, will constitute the whole
of what we get to know about the vast majority of those whose
names we recognize.
I read several newspapers a day. Although I have every logical
reason to question the correctness of some of what I read, I do
not. If I did, I would not continue reading newspapers.
Some truths, however, remain self-evident. Vicious dictators and
totalitarian autocrats, for instance, are not twice elected president
by overwhelming majorities in open, free, and fair elections.
Nor do dictators and totalitarians disband their armies, which
is what Aristide did in December 1994 scarcely two months after
returning from the first of his two exiles. Dictators expand their
It was Aristide's very sincerity (an odd trait in politics, where
pragmatism is coin of the realm) that led him afoul of those whose
strategic, economic, and political interests he challenged.
The United States fomented malicious mischief against Haiti while
we looked the other way, asked the wrong questions and received
the intentionally irrelevant answers.
The United States armed and trained in the Dominican Republic
the groups that rose against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand
... This provisional conclusion was reached
by the Investigation Commission on Haiti, formed by religious
persons, lawyers of several nations and created in 1991 by the
former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark.
None of Aristide's foes, including the armed rebels, ever argued
that he had committed an impeachable offense. No one could deny
that he was the fairly elected head of a constitutional democratic
His enemies simply wanted him out, knowing
that a new election (which Aristide welcomed) would only demonstrate
their own lack of public support. Thus they were prepared to scuttle
a democracy, a constitution, an elected parliament, a functioning
national government, to drive one man-Jean-Bertrand Aristide-out
of office, out of Haiti, indeed, out of the Western Hemisphere.
[Aristide] had begun to talk about and move publicly toward building
a more equitable relationship between the haves who'd always had
their way and the have-nots, who, in this slight figure of a man,
had found a voice. H. wanted to change Haiti and he set about
doing just that. is enemies however would stop at nothing to rid
the country of him and the aspirations of the millions he represented.
To this wholly illegal and antidemocratic
purpose, several forces cleaved as one-the armed rebels, the United
States of America, / France, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and
a new association of Haitian opposition splinter groups forged,
funded, and counseled by the International Republican Institute,
the Convergence Democratique, which would later morph into a subversive
organ known as Group 184,
Dr. Luis Barrios, a New York-based Catholic priest, speaking for
the Investigation Commission on Haiti, to an audience of journalists
who had crowded into a meeting room in the Renaissance Jaragua
Hotel in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, March 29, 2004
Our investigation so far has proven some
facts beyond a doubt, and established others as likely... First,
there is no doubt that the territory of the Dominican Republic
was used for training and arming the Haitian rebels, with the
knowledge of the national authorities (government of the Dominican
... It is clear that the Dominican Republic
was ... used by the United States to support the political opposition
in Haiti, which was linked to the violent opposition. Once a month,
the U.S. government's International Republic Institute held meetings
for the Haitian opposition leaders in Santo Domingo, [Dominican
[Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Dem-CA)] was troubled by the sharp
discrepancy between the widespread popular support expressed for
the president inside Haiti and the harshly disparaging picture
given of him to the outside world by American news organizations.
Indeed, Americans were being led to disremember that Aristide
had been elected lawfully-twice. Further, there were no charges
of malfeasance, either adjudicated or formally lodged against
him. Where Haiti was concerned, Americans in general were demonstrating
a growing taste for mob methods of political transition, methods
that Americans would never knowingly countenance for themselves
at home. It was as if the Haitian people, together with the 7,500
officials they had democratically elected, counted for nothing.
It had become painfully clear that to Americans, Haitians were
little more than valueless pieces on a game board. They could
be scuttled at the pleasure of the State Department, which expected
elected officials in poor black countries like Haiti to resign
on Washington's command the offices to which their own people
had elected them.
[Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Dem-CA)] was all but certain that
[Roger] Noriega, on instruction of Secretary of State Colin Powell
... had come from Washington to order President Aristide to exit
his office and leave the country.
In the case of Haiti, the United States and the powerful Haitian
insurrectionists it supported cared little or nothing about the
requirements of Haiti's democratic constitution. They wished only
to crush the reform-minded government of a democratically elected
president, and, with him, all hope in the years ahead for constitutional
democracy in Haiti.
Harold Pinter, English writer and 2005 Nobel Prize winner for
literature, in his Nobel lecture, December 2005:
Direct invasion of a sovereign state has
never in fact been America's favored method. In the main, it has
preferred what it has described as "low intensity conflict".
Low intensity conflict means that thousands of people die but
slower than if you drop a bomb on them in one full swoop. It means
that you can infect the heart of the country, that you establish
a malignant growth and watch the gangrene bloom. When the populace
has been subdued or beaten to death - the same thing - and your
own friends, the military and the great corporations, sit comfortably
in power, you go before the camera and say democracy has prevailed.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, book 'Eyes of the Heart'
What we are facing in Haiti is a form
of apartheid .... The polarizations are many: literate/illiterate;
rich/poor; black/white; male/female; those who have clean water
to drink/those who don't. In Haiti, where these polarities remain
so strong, swimming in the same water has both psychological and
social repercussions. You swim with people you are close to. If
you are a family, if you are a community, swimming together may
improve the quality of the relationship. Our experience has shown
that the water can help to melt the barriers between us, and wash
away the dirt of prejudice.
From birth, Americans are taught to believe that their nationality
is superior to all other nationalities. White Americans are socialized
subliminally to believe that they are superior en masse to the
members of other races. Of course, generalizations are always
dangerous and virtually impossible to sustain. Indeed, there are,
likely, millions of reflective white Americans for whom such generalizations
do not obtain. Most people irrespective of race, are not reflective
and do not think critically. They are lemmings obedient largely
to the tide and social fashion of the particular moment.
Most people irrespective of race, are not reflective and do not
think critically. They are lemmings obedient largely to the tide
and social fashion of the particular moment.
'Investing in Human Beings' [was a book that] laid out the [Aristide]
government's plan for ameliorating the country's gripping poverty.
It would be the first time in Haiti's two-hundred-year history
that an effort of this kind would be seriously attempted. The
plan envisioned developing the country from the ground up. "We
started at the base with the people;' the president had said.
The country had been divided into 365 rural sections, each to
have, minimally, a primary school, a health clinic, and a business
component, usually a cooperative of one sort or another, made
workable by small loans and microcredits. The three components
were to be mutually reinforcing. The black poor for the first
time were to be given hope and a well-described role in the economic
rescue of their country. Haiti had suffered from intractable illiteracy.
Under the plan, raising the national literacy rate was to be an
objective of primary importance.
Happy with things as they were (particularly
the nearly limitless availability of cheap, unlettered black labor),
the powerful white and mixed-race business community opposed the
plan on principle, as well as virtually all other programs that
the government undertook. Elites were discouraged by the invidious
social prohibitions of their class from judging any government
program on its merits alone. Race and class were the warped lenses
through which they myopically measured every policy, every attitude,
every living, laboring soul in Haiti. They were invariably heard
to say with bigoted consistency: You can't go there. You can't
meet them. You can't support that. You'd be helping the government.
For the government was not to be helped under any circumstance,
ever. This was the law of the landed, the moneyed, the white,
the light, the destructively privileged, the Pétion-Ville
socialite heard berating her black tile setter who, heaven forbid,
had placed the pretty ceramic square slightly awry: "You're
stupid! You smell! Kongo!"
Though Aristide represented the overwhelming
majority of the Haitian people, for the high-born he was little
more than a peyizan, a peasant from the outside.
For this small minority of privileged
Haitians, American support never faltered. Washington had done
everything in its power to guarantee the government's failure.
African Americans, by and large, never saw what was happening
in Haiti as a racial issue. Indeed, everything about the way that
Haitian society had been described to Americans in general made
it difficult to view Haiti's crisis in racial terms. Americans
were given to believe that Haiti was an all-black society and
that its wounds had been self-inflicted. What blacks do to one
another has never galvanized black Americans into broad public
action. Owing to blacks' long and lethal experience with slavery
and its continuing aftermath, what whites do to blacks, quite
understandably, preoccupies black Americans as an entire community.
Rich whites and mulattoes in Haiti did not make a public political
religion of their treatment of black Haitians in the way that
white South Africans had in invoking the name of God to justify
their treatment of South African blacks.
The white and mixed-race ruling class in Haiti hid behind its
black puppet dictators, so successfully that few in the outside
world knew that Haiti had countless powerful families and interests
that were not black.
Powerful American institutions, both public
and private, either wittingly or unwittingly, assisted wealthy
whites in Haiti in propagating this deception.
The vast majority of Americans, black and white, never knew that
American policies were largely the cause of Haiti's political
disintegration. Nor had they any idea of the extent to which those
policies rendered positive change for Haiti's black poor, from
the very first day Haitian democracy, virtually impossible.
A relatively few Americans knew what wealthy white Haitians were
doing to poor Haitians through their black surrogates in the years
between 1957 and the coup of February 29, 2004. With the unpublicized
support of the bourgeoisie, François (Papa Doc) Duvalier
and his dreaded macoutes killed an estimated 50,000 poor blacks
during his rule. His son, Jean-Claude, took up where his father
left off. Even after Jean-Claude's expulsion from the country
in February 1986, the slaughter of the pro-democracy black poor
Everyone in Haiti knew that the wealthy white families, from the
beginning, were working closely with the military to quash the
new democracy and restore the military dictatorship behind which
the rich, over the years, had amassed unseemly fortunes on the
backs of the black poor.
Conditions in Haiti were every bit as bad as they had ever been
in South Africa under apartheid. But few in America knew this.
From the start, Aristide tried to establish an authentic democracy
[in Haiti] that could put a dent in the country's wide socioeconomic
divide. From the start, the United States, France, the European
Union, the Haitian bourgeosie, the macoutes, FRAPH, Convergence,
and the American-armed rebels employed every imaginable tactic
to violently defeat the new democracy's overarching goal.
In November 2000, [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide was reelected for a
second term as president with 90 percent of the vote. In elections
held in May 2000, his party, Famni Lavalas, swept the national
and local elections with 75 percent of the vote.
In 2003, no one could remember an occasion where the United States
and its allies had mounted a more comprehensive campaign to cripple
a small, poor country than they had in the case of democratic
Haiti. No stone was left unturned. The United States sponsored
the antigovernment radio stations that spewed antidemocratic propaganda
around the clock. It sponsored rallies that called for the fall
of the democratic government and the establishment of a parallel
government of the U.S.-backed Convergence.
Aristide dismantled a vicious Haitian army that had killed tens
of thousands of the poor, only to be left with a national police
force that had been penetrated and compromised by the CIA.
By the fall of 2003, the United States and its local proxies had
closed in on the government from all sides, The U.S.-imposed embargo
had cut the government's budget in half, American-sponsored antigovernment
radio programming and rallies were proliferating. The national
police force was poorly equipped, ill-trained, and compromised.
Former FRAPH operatives, Duvalieristes, and cashiered army thugs
were training with American arms in the Dominican Republic and
had already struck across the border into Haiti several times.
Senator Christopher J. Dodd (Dem-CT)
He [Aristide] wasn't going to be beholden
to the United States, and so he was going to be trouble... We
had interests and ties with some of the very strong financial
interests in the country and Aristide was threatening them.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) is a nonprofit organization
funded by the American government and headquartered in Washington,
D.C. It operates in over sixty countries, ostensibly to help build
mechanisms for democracy. Though it claims to be nonpartisan,
it is commonly accepted that the practices, policies, and decisions
of the International Republican Institute are the practices, policies,
and decisions of the Bush administration, if not of President
George W. Bush himself.
In July 2004, five months after the coup d'etat, Max Blumenthal,
an American, wrote in July 2004
The role of figures like [Stanley] Lucas
in the coup [against Jean-Bertrand Aristide] 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 Senator Jesse Helms, Republican-North Carolina.
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
Blumenthal's observation falls somewhat
shy of the mark. With its $3 million per annum opposition-organizing
program in Haiti, the IRI, for all intents and purposes, was the
opposition to democracy in Haiti.
Stanley Lucas, scion of a wealthy Duvalierist
family, an implacable right-wing opponent of Aristide and a black,
was the leader of the International Republican Institute in Haiti.]
[Aristide] was the leader in his country of a groundbreaking social
cause - a cause he saw to be, in its essential ethic, moral. That
he was not a politician annoyed the Americans who desired to manage
and manipulate him. It was, however, that same visionary and relentless
quality of self-possession that endeared him to the Haitian poor
who had elected him president twice, and would have done so again,
given a chance.
... What maddened his rapacious local
enemies, as well as the United States, was the jarring fact that
the president of Haiti was anything but an ambitious, self-seeking,
rigmarole-spouting politician who could be "talked to"
and ultimately bought off.
... Having attempted and failed to compromise
him, Aristide's enemies - the United States, France, Canada, and
other European countries; wealthy white and self-defined non-black
Haitians; and power-hungry unelectable black Haitians - slandered
Haiti's democratically elected president as "insane dictatorial;
tyrannical; and corrupt."
... The man-caught recourseless and defenseless
in the American crosshairs, isolated under the hot glass reticle
of America's highpowered global disinformation gun-a president
of a country, who opened schools and clinics for the poor, who
brought new and real hope to millions, who opened his home on
Fridays, without fail, to scores of homeless and poverty-stricken
children-a man such as this, who, though little known to Americans,
was seen as a hero by the vast majority of his people.
The American television networks had been airing old footage shot
in natural light at the Port-au-Prince airport showing President
Aristide without his wife, shaking hands and making his way along
a line of government ministers before boarding a nearby commercial
aircraft. The networks represented the footage to be pictures
of the president's voluntary departure from Haiti. The three of
us knew immediately that the claim could not possibly be right.
The film that the networks aired was shot in natural light. The
president had departed the country with his wife in the early
hours of February 29. The plane in the film had commercial markings.
We already had learned from witnesses at the airport in Antigua
that the president and his wife were likely aboard a large white
aircraft with an unmarked fuselage. We would later learn that
there were no cameras at the airport to record the president's
departure from Haiti. Nor were any officials of his government
Why did the networks air footage they
knew to be a misrepresentation of the truth? Had Bush administration
officials asked them to use the misleading footage in an attempt
to corroborate the administration's claim that President Aristide
had "fled" Haiti? If the president's departure had indeed
been voluntary, why had there been no news network television
crews at the airport to film his departure when they had been
filming every second of the "uprising" up until then,
as had been the case previously when unelected Haitian dictators
were chased out of the country under American protection?
Save for a comparative few (e.g., Marguerite
Laurent, a Haitian American lawyer and president of the Haitian
Lawyers Leadership Network, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, and
Kevin Pina, a correspondent for Black Commentator) who were able
to look behind the incomplete, if not wholly erroneous, accounts
that world mass media were giving to various publics, only a discerning
handful of people had such questions occur to them. As a result,
the vast majority of Americans accepted the Bush administration's
story that President Aristide and his wife had "fled"
what Times Online of the United Kingdom was still calling "a
popular revolt" as recently as February 2006.
The Bush administration knew that when
it came to Haiti, which was commonly perceived to be uniformly
black and poor, it could do virtually anything that it wished,
without political or strategic consequences. In the eyes of the
administration, no one who counted would suffer in Haiti, and
no one who counted would care in the United States. Black Haitian
democrats had force of friends in America.
Colin Powell, the secretary of state,
and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, were among
the most respected people in America. More importantly, they were
black. If they didn't care about what was happening to Haiti's
democracy, why would an archly conservative white American president,
at whose small-minded pleasure they relished to serve, care After
all, the machinations of the two of them together were largely
the reason what was happening to Haiti was indeed happening.
In fairness, and for sake of perspective,
it is important to note that Americans generally did not care-Democrats,
Independents, Republicans. In fact, Americans ascribe importance
to no black country, whether democratic or not. For them, Haiti's
problems were anything but surprising, to say the least. America
had long been an unreflective racist social organism with an appetite
for the timely provision of fodder. Black, dysfunctional Haiti
had long been a favorite American fodder selection. African Americans,
scarcely better informed than white Americans about Haiti and
the world generally, had little choice but to interpret the Haitian
crisis as yet another mildly embarrassing outcome of black-on-black
folly, to which they responded by covering their eyes.
It was early Sunday afternoon on February 29. Less than twenty-four
hours earlier, [Ron Dellums had reported to Hazel that Colin Powell
had told him the rebels would be coming on Sunday to kill President
Aristide, and that the United States would do nothing to protect
kidnapped Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide - by phone
- to Randall Robinson, March 1, 2004
We're in Central African Republic. They
brought us to the Central African Republic... It was a coup. Tell
them for us - it was a coup.
In Haiti's two-hundred-year history, one is hard put to identify
a single episode of organized human suffering in which the United
States did not play a direct, collateral, or instigative role.
The story of the horrific death squad killings of FRAPH is no
different. Toto Constant himself attributes FRAPH's founding to
Colonel Patrick Collins, an officer of the United States Defense
Intelligence Agency. According to Constant, Colonel Collins approached
him following the first coup d'etat that ousted Aristide in 1991
and persuaded him to organize the front that in August 1993 became
It is not known when Guy Philippe first
boasted publicly that he would go to Port-au-Prince and kill Aristide
on Philippe's birthday, February 29. Nor is it known why he made
the boast. It is also not known that he, from the beginning, ever
intended to carry though with his threat. We do know, however,
as events were to unfold, that mounting a frontal attack on Port-au-Prince
would have produced a massive bloodbath and an international public
relations disaster for the United States, the country, acting
alone, that had directly and indirectly (via the International
Republican Institute), trained, armed, equipped, and likely commanded
The rebels' task was to terrorize the
countryside outside of Port-au-Prince-to hack, murder, burn, loot,
raze-to tear a fiery swath of destruction across the northern
half of Haiti. To create a televised spectacle of the swaggering
killers' unimpeded march from town to town, taking studious heed
to space their conquests so as to extend and maximize the news
media's coverage of what appeared to be the inexorable fall of
the democratic government, village by defenseless village.
It was to be a frightening, murderous,
well-planned, well-disguised diversion on which all attention
would be focused.
Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington called Aristide's
claim that he had been abducted "absurd... He was not kidnapped.
We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane
willingly, and that's the truth' The facts, however, do not support
In a telephone conference call after the coup involving Representatives
Charles Rangel, John Conyers, Maxine Waters, and myself, Prime
Minister P.J. Patterson told us that National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice had directly threatened Jamaica for offering
asylum to the Aristides. If any harm were to come to a single
American soldier in Haiti, Rice warned Patterson, Jamaica would
be held directly responsible, simply for allowing Aristide to
remain in the Caribbean region. The United States wanted Aristide
not only out of Haiti but out of the Caribbean. Halfway around
the world, in the Central African Republic under American and
French control, was about as far away from the region as they
could take him.
The United States behaved very differently
toward the Haitian military dictators who were forced from power
in 1994 after overthrowing Haiti's first democratic government
The dictators-General Raoul Cédras,
Colonel Roger Biambi, and Police Chief Michel François-were
flown out of Haiti (before an audience of television and print
journalists) on an American aircraft to nearby Panama, where the
three men continue to live comfortably.
After they departed, their homes in Haiti
were guarded by U.S. soldiers at U.S. taxpayer expense. General
Cedras's home was even rented by the U.S. government, thereby
ensuring a continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the military
dictator whose soldiers had been armed by the United States. The
general himself had been trained at the School of the Americas.
No pictures film exist of the Aristides being taken from the home
by American soldiers under cover of darkness. No pictures or ç
film exists of them boarding the U.S. aircraft that took them
eight thousand miles away to a landlocked African military dictatorship
under the sway of France.
A belief widespread in the Caribbean that the United States, acting
alone, had indeed, overthrown the government of a regional democratic
American officials had armed and directed the thugs, organized
an unelected and unelectable opposition, and choked the Haitian
economy into dysfunctional penury.
I remember thinking of less than salubrious roles that Colin Powell
and Condoleezza Rice had played in the dismantling of Haiti's
nascent democracy, and the dragooning of its democratically elected
president to a distant, perilously unstable place in the grip
of a military dictatorship.
In the tumultuous months that preceded the assault and abduction
in Haiti, the Aristide government had come to believe that its
problems with the United States were not grounded on any American
challenge to the legitimacy of Haiti's democracy. If anything,
President Aristide and Lavalas, his party, were too democratic
for the Bush administration's political palate. In the administration's
eyes, Aristide was a populist.
Historically, the United States had never
trusted foreign leaders who employed the ideas of populism in
their programs of governance. American distrust of Aristide and
his government grew with every new school, housing project, hospital,
and AIDS awareness front that he opened in the teeth of the U.S.-imposed
hemisphere-wide financial embargo that, months before the coup,
had brought Haiti's economy to a virtual standstill.
There were a number of twentieth-century precedents for what the
United States was presently doing to Haiti. In the early 1900s,
the United States had forced the Dominican Republic to give Washington
the power to collect customs revenues at the Dominican Republic's
major ports. In 1911, President William Taft sent the marines
to the Dominican Republic to protect the customs house. In 1916,
President Woodrow Wilson sent the marines a second time to take
over the government of the Dominican Republic. In 1915, U.S. troops
were sent into Haiti. For the next twenty years, Haiti's customs
revenues were turned over to the United States, The American occupation
of the Dominican Republic lasted until the end of 1924 and coincided
in part with President Wilson's occupation of Haiti.
In 1951, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was elected
president of Guatemala on a land reform platform. In addition
to accelerating the land reform program of his predecessor, Juan
Arévalo, Arbenz raised the minimum wage to $1.08 a day.
In response to Arévalo's more moderate program for land
reform, the World Bank cut off loans and the United States terminated
military assistance to Guatemala. In 1954, the United States intervened
directly and overthrew the democratically elected Arbenz government,
ostensibly to "combat communism" in the region.
Rosemarie E. Stewart, in her book 'The United States in the Caribbean'
In March 1954, the American secretary
of state, john Foster Dulles, was successful in having the Organization
of American States pass a resolution to the effect that the control
of the political affairs of any American state by the communist
movement would be regarded as a threat to the political independence
of the American States as a whole. With the passing of the resolution,
the Central Intelligence Agency was given the go-ahead to undermine
and topple the Guatemalan government [of Jacobo Arbenz, 1954].
It was commonly believed that the United States had overthrown
the Arbenz government to advance the business interests of a single
American company - the United Fruit Company, now called Chiquita
Aristide had annoyed Haiti's monied white and light-skinned upper
class much the same way that Arbenz by raising the minimum wage
and prosecuting land reform, had annoyed American business interests
in Guatemala half a century before. Transgressions of this sort
had traditionally provoked American hostility. As with Arbenz,
whether Aristide was democratic or not mattered little, if at
all. Wealthy Haitians wanted Aristide out. For the United States,
that had been all that really counted.
American decisionmakers only feign concern about world poverty.
And they sustain the lament only so long as the pretense and its
addictive, but useless, solutions are profitable, directly or
indirectly, to American private interests.
In a contest with America, the advantage had always been weighted
against the reformist Aristide. The Americans knew everything
that Aristide was endeavoring to accomplish while Aristide knew
little, at the start, of the manifold measures that the Americans
were taking, covertly and publicly, to undermine his efforts to
lift his country's poor.
Even after the methodically staged economic
strangulation, coup d'etat, and abduction, the world would have
to learn from officials of the Central African Republic that Bangui
had been chosen as a detention venue not by Aristide but by France
and the United States, countries whose officials had been saying
that Aristide himself had chosen to go to Bangui [capitol of the
Central African Republic].
Randall Robinson in a letter to his wife Helen
The French still own and run this place
[Central African Republic], just as they believe themselves, two
hundred years after the Haitian Revolution, to still own Haiti.
Clearly, the Americans, the French, the Canadians, the British,
the Australians and all the world's other white people regard
our Presidents, whether the are democratically elected or not,
as to presidents and our countries as toy countries.
The Americans, the French, the Canadians, the armed thugs, the
rich, the Convergence politicians - knew what couldn't be said
out loud for the public record: the "problem" was not
Aristide or Préval or anyone else the majority of Haiti's
people might elect to represent them. The "problem"
was the very idea of democracy itself.
Aristide understood his opponents, the putschists, well enough:
They fear the principle of one man, one vote. They don't fear
me; they fear the people. And they don't fear the people because
the people are violent, They fear the people because the people
are ready to vote.
Real democracy remains a long way off for Haiti. For how can
any reasonable observer contend to the contrary as long as foreign
powers, directly or indirectly, remain bent on preventing Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, Haiti's most widely respected humanist and democrat,
from returning home to his own country.
American newsmakers and newscasters ... were all born into a narcissistic
national culture of self-worshipers who take sustenance and reinforcement
from looking on those who look or live or think or ship differently
from themselves as inferior and thus worthy of ridicule, if not
a good thumping or, worse, eradication.
President Aristide, the democratically elected president of a
country of 8 million people, claimed that he and his wife were
kidnapped and taken to the Central African Republic by American
soldiers. After finding them in Bangui being held against their
will, I was certain that President Aristide had been telling the
truth about what the soldiers had done. That being the case, the
soldiers had committed an egregious wrong, at the very least,
in Aristide's case, and probably several domestic felonies in
his wife's case, owing to her being an American citizen.
Why did American news organizations fail
to investigate Aristide's allegations? This was one of several
questions that American journalists never bothered to raise or
There were other questions as well.
Why were the armed paramilitaries that
had torn a swath across the north of Haiti waiting in GonaIves
and not attacking Port-au-Prince at the time of the coup d'etat?
Why had the American public been given
to believe that the paramilitaries carried out the overthrow of
the democratic government when the paramilitaries were far from
Port-au-Prince at the time?
Where had the paramilitaries gotten the
American weapons, ammo, bulletproof vests, grenade launchers,
M50 machine guns, uniforms, boots, and steel pots?
What had the United States done to bring
the Haitian economy to its knees in the years, months, weeks,
and days before the night of the abduction of the president and
In the hours before their departure from
Haiti with the paramilitaries far to the north, why did the Aristides
work all day Saturday, February 28, to complete arrangements for
two television interviews with American journalists Tavis Smiley
and George Stephanopoulous, which were to be conducted on Sunday
at the National Palace, if the Aristides had already decided to
leave Haiti the day before?
With the paramilitaries in GonaIves and
the president under no immediate threat, why would the president
and his wife choose to go with the American soldiers halfway around
the world to the Central African Republic, instead of to Jamaica
or Venezuela or another nearby country where they knew officials
who would receive them?
Why were no pictures taken or film shot
of the Aristides leaving their home or boarding the unmarked American
Why were customs officials in Antigua
not allowed to board the plane or learn who was on it?
Why had the customs declaration, given
by the plane's American operators to Antiguan officials, been
altered from showing that there were fifty people onboard (which
accords with Frantz Gabriel's account) to showing that the plane
carried no passengers?
Why did Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
lie about President Aristide meeting with Caribbean officials
in Antigua when the president met with no one in Antigua-a country
the president hadn't known he was even in?
Why were the Aristides not permitted to
raise the plane's window shades that ground officials in Antigua
verified were drawn?
Why were the Aristides never told where
they were, or where they were being taken?
Why were the Aristides detained in the
Central African Republic (a detention I witnessed firsthand) if
they had chosen, of their own free will, to go there?
Why did Assistant Secretary of State Roger
Noriega lie about this on ABC's Nightline?
Why did the American newspapers and television
networks, which misleadingly described the role and whereabouts
of the paramilitaries before the coup, all but cease their coverage
of the Haitian crisis once the president and his wife had been
taken to the Central African Republic under suspicious circumstances?
Why was such intense American television
coverage given to antidemocratic paramilitary leaders like Guy
Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain, who were little more than
expendable American tools, and so little coverage given to the
real local force and American ally behind the coup, Andy Apaid,
a wealthy white American sweatshop owner the New York Times described
as "a wealthy Haitian businessman;' leaving the clear but
wrongheaded impression that Apaid was a black Haitian when he
was neither black nor Haitian?
The evidence decisively showed that the United States, with the
assistance of France, methodically undermined the political and
economic stability of Haiti before abducting its democratically
elected president and overthrowing its democratically elected
Owing to an extreme imbalance of power
and influence between the small middle-income democratic countries
of the Caribbean region and the large industrialized nations of
North America and western Europe, calls from Caribbean leaders
for an official investigation of the events of the early morning
hours of February 29, 2004, were ignored.
The people of the democratic Caribbean
were forced, due to their ironic proximity to democratic America,
to accept certain unpleasant realities.
As between the big and small (i.e., the
rich and poor) nations of the world, there exist no checks and
balances. No fair panel of last resort, no higher court before
which to petition for recourse, no hierarchy of enforceable rights,
no scheme of natural equity or fairness. As long as one member
nation of the global family of nations free to behave toward a
fellow member nation lethal impunity-to bully, to menace, to invade,
to destabilize politically or economically, to reduce to tumult-no
country, so threatened, can hope to enjoy the social and political
contentment that ought inherently to attend democratic practices.
Since Haitian slaves won their independence
from France in 1804, the United States has loomed over Haiti like
the sword of Damocles. The record of this abuse of power is well-known
to the steadfastly democratic, English-speaking Caribbean nations
that have little choice but to heed the chilling implications
of this for their own survival. Their leaders have learned the
hard way that, within their well-managed tropical island-states,
no election verdict, no constitutional custom or habit, no parliament's
decision, no ordinary citizen's commonplace democratic prerogative
is safe from an intrusive hegemonic America whose caprices and
policies are neither fairer, nor more predictable, nor more morally
conscionable than the vagaries of hurricanes.