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 them...

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 to France.

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 straits.

The Haitian economy has never recovered from the financial havoc France (and America) wreaked upon it, during and after slavery.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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 elected president.

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.

Langston Hughes

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) a day.

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 engaged.

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 utilities remittances.

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 antidemocratic minority.

Frederick Douglass
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 country.

... (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 undeserved.

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 it.

... 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 Robinson

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 armies.

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 Aristide...

... 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 government.

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 Republic.

... 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 Republic].

[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 continued unabated.

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 divisive tactics.

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 present.

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 him.

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 FRAPH.

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.

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 Powell's claim.

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 in 1991.

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 neighbor [Haiti].

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 Brands.

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 answer.

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 his wife?

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 plane?

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 government.

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.

Haiti page

Home Page