What Happened in Haiti?

Where Past is Present

by Paul Farmer, March 12, 2004

from the book

Getting Haiti Right This Time

The U.S. and the Coup

Noam Chomsky, Paul Farmer, Amy Goodman

Common Courage Press, 2004, paper


On the night of February 28, 2004, Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide was forced from power, in part by an armed uprising of former members of the military, disbanded in 1995. Aristide claimed he was kidnapped and did not know where he was being taken until the very end of a 20-hour flight, when he was informed that he and his wife would be landing "in a French military base in the middle of Africa." He found himself in the Central African Republic.

Whenever Haiti does intrude into America's consciousness, people like me-old Haiti hands who have lived and worked here and written about the place over the years-are consulted on "the current crisis." The current crisis isn't something that started in January 2004: it has been going on for the past couple of decades and longer. I've found, however, that if you try to discuss the roots of the problem, journalists and policymakers are likely to cut you off, saying: "Let's not dwell on the past. What should be done about Haiti's future?"

Nonetheless, a quick review of Haiti's history is indispensable to understanding the current muddle. We begin the eighteenth century, when a slave colony on Haiti, then called Santo Domingo, became France's most valuable colonial possession. According to historians, Santo Domingo stands out as perhaps the most brutal slave colony in human history. It was the leading port of call for slave ships during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and a third of new arrivals died within a few years of reaching the colony. On the eve of the French Revolution, the bit of real estate now dismissed as a failed state was producing two-thirds of Europe's tropical produce. Many of France's beautiful coastal cities, including Bordeaux, are monuments to the slave trade. These facts are already forgotten outside Haiti.

Haitians remember: they consider themselves living legacies of the slave trade and the bloody revolt, starting in 1791, that finally removed the French. Over a decade of war followed, during which France's largest expeditionary force was sent to quell the rebellion. As the French containment operation flagged, the Haitian slave general Toussaint Louverture, victorious in battle, was invited to a parley. No parley ensued: Toussaint was kidnapped and taken away to a prison in the mountains of France; he died there of exposure and tuberculosis. Every Haitian schoolchild knows by heart his last words: "In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep. Among those whose imaginations were fired by these events was William Wordsworth, who addressed Toussaint:

Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There's not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man's unconquerable mind.

Wordsworth was wrong about allies. The slaves in revolt had few friends, and the war continued in Haiti, with Europe's chief colonial powers-France, England and Spain-caught up in the fray. November 1803, the former slaves won what proved to be the war's final battle and on January 1, 1804 declared the independent republic of Haiti. It was Latin America's first independent country and the only nation ever born of a slave revolt. Virtually all of the world's powers sided with France against the self-proclaimed Black Republic, which declared itself a haven not only for all runaway slaves but also for indigenous people (the true natives of Haiti had succumbed to infectious disease and Spanish slavery well before the arrival of the French). Hemmed in by slave colonies, Haiti had only one non-colonized neighbor, the slaveholding United States, which refused to recognize Haiti's independence. As one US senator from South Carolina put it, speaking from the Senate floor in 1824, "Our policy with regard to Hayti [sic] is plain. We never can acknowledge her independence .... The peace and safety of a large portion of our union forbids us even to discuss it."

Haiti's leaders were desperate for recognition, since the only goods the island had to sell were sugar, coffee, cotton, and other tropical produce. In 1825, under threat of another French invasion and the restoration of slavery, Haitian officials signed what was to prove the beginning of the end of any hope of autonomy: King Charles X agreed to recognize Haiti's independence only if the new republic paid an indemnity of 150 million francs and consented to the reduction of import and export taxes for French goods.

It may be impossible to put a price on the toll taken by slavery-the destruction not only of lives and families, but of cultures and languages-but the same cannot be said about "the French debt." One hundred fifty million gold francs amounts to about half a billion US dollars in the most conservative estimate, without attempting to calculate 175 years of interest and inflation. Unusually, reintroducing slavery was not legal at the time, even under French law. The "debt" that Haiti recognized was incurred by the slaves' having deprived the French owners not only of land and equipment but of their human "property." The threat of force made it more akin to extortion than compensation.

By any account, the impact of the debt repayments which continued until after World War II was devastating. Assessments by Haitians are severe: anthropologist Jean Price Mars, referring to the Haitian leaders who yielded to French threats, complained in 1953 that their "incompetence and frivolity... made a country whose revenues and outflows had been balanced up to then into a nation burdened with debt and j trapped in financial obligations that could never be satisfied."

French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher argued that "imposing an indemnity on the victorious slaves was equivalent to making them pay with money that which they had already paid with their blood." Even those who profited from the deal knew that Haiti's economy was being dealt a lethal blow.

When capital moves up a steep grade of inequality-from a war-devastated colony of former slaves to one of the world's most powerful nations-the greater happiness of the greatest number is not being served; rather, those who have little to spare are forced to give up essentials so that others can add to their luxuries. Such transfers from the poor to the rich continue to this day, with some of the international financial institutions serving as cheerleaders for analogous-albeit more subtly practiced-processes.

In the late nineteenth century, the United States eclipsed France as a prevailing force in Haitian affairs. A US military occupation (1915-1934) brought back corvée labor and introduced aerial bombing, two symptoms of the vast disparity in power between occupier and occupied. Officials sitting at desks in Washington, D.C. created institutions that Haitians would have to live with. For example, the Haitian army that today claims to have the country "in its hands" and seeks to be reestablished was created not by Haitians but by an act of the U.S. Congress. From its founding during the US occupation until it was demobilized by Aristide in 1995, the Haitian army has never known a non-Haitian enemy. Internal enemies, however, it had aplenty.

This state of affairs-military-backed governments, dictatorships, chronic instability, repression, the heavy hand of Washington over all-continued throughout the 20th century. When I first traveled to Haiti in 1983, the Duvalier family dictatorship had been in place for a quarter of a century. There was no free press-and no dissent, to be sure, from radios or newspapers; no politicians declaring themselves the heads of parallel governments. The Duvaliers and their military dealt with all such threats ruthlessly, while the judiciary and the rest of the world looked the other way. Haiti was already the poorest country in the Western world, and those who ran it argued, with a certain sociological confidence, that force is required to police deep poverty.

By the mid-1980s, however, the hunger, despair, and disease that are the lot of most Haitians was beyond management, even by force. Baby Doc Duvalier, named "President for Life" at age 19, fled the country in 1986. A first attempt at democratic elections, in 1987, led to a massacre at the polling station. An army general declared himself in charge. In September 1988, the mayor of Port-au-Prince-himself a former military officer-paid a gang to burn down a downtown Roman Catholic church while it was packed with people attending mass. At the altar was none other than Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, nemesis of the dictatorship and the army and a proponent of liberation theology. This stream of Catholic thought had been sweeping Latin America with its injunctions that the Church proclaim "a preferential option for the poor." It had its adversaries: Pope John Paul II, for one, and President Ronald Reagan. Members of Reagan's brain trust, participating in a 1980 meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico, declared liberation theology less Christian than Communist and recommended that "U.S. policy must begin to counter (not react against).., the 'liberation theology' clergy."

Aristide's rise from slum priest to presidential candidate took place against a backdrop of right-wing death squad activity and threatened military coups. He rose quickly in the eyes of the Haitians, but his stock plummeted with the United States and its press. The New York Times, which relies heavily on informants who speak English or French instead of only Haitian Creole, had few kind words for the priest: "Among the business community, pessimistic reactions run stronger," ran a news story published three days prior to Haiti's first elections. "He is a cross between Ayatollah and Fidel,' one downtown businessman said in a typical assessment of Father Aristide from those in the entrepreneurial class. 'If it comes to a choice between the ultraleft and the ultra-right, I am ready to form an alliance with the ultra-right." Such coverage gave the impression that it might be a tight race. But Haitians knew that Aristide would easily win any democratic election, and on December 16, 1990, the priest won 67% of the popular vote in a field of 12 candidates.

The United States might not have been able to prevent Aristide's landslide victory, but there was much they could do to undermine him. The most effective method, adopted by the first Bush administration, was to fund the opposition-its poor showing at the polls was no reason, it appears, to cut off aid to them-and the military. Declassified records now make it clear that the CIA and other US organizations helped to create and fund a paramilitary group called FRAPH, which rose to prominence after the September 1991 military coup that ousted Aristide. Thousands of civilians were killed outright and hundred of thousands fled onto the high seas and across the border to the Dominican Republic.

Whether it was the refugee question or a change of heart in foreign policy-Bill Clinton mentioned the Haitian refugees in many of his campaign speeches-Aristide became, in October 1994, the first exiled Latin American president to return to office, with a little over a year left in his term. Although the 1994 US military intervention was authorized by the United Nations and indisputably stopped bloodshed and restored constitutional rule, other forces were at play: the restoration of Aristide was basically a United States show. Then, seven weeks after Aristide's return, Republicans took control of the US Congress. From that day forth, influential Republicans worked to block or burden with conditions aid to impoverished, strife-torn Haiti.

The aid through official channels was never very substantial. Counted per capita, the US was giving Haiti one-tenth what it was distributing in Kosovo. Claims heard recently from the mouths of former ambassadors and the second Bush administration-that hundreds of millions of dollars flowed to Haiti are correct, though misleading. Aid did flow, just not to the elected government. A great deal of it went to non-governmental organizations and to the anti-Aristide opposition. A lot went to pay for the UN occupation and Halliburton support services. US organizations like the International Republican Institute and even the US Agency for International Development funneled hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars to the opposition. The cuts in bilateral aid and the diversion of monies to the opposition meant there could be, in a country as poor as Haiti, little effort to build schools, health care infrastructure, roads, ports, telecommunications, or airports.

When the anti-Aristide opposition cried foul over a handful of contested parliamentary seats in the 2000 election, the US quickly acted to freeze international aid as well. Take, for example the case of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loans. These loans-one for health care, another for education, one for potable water, and one for road improvement: areas of greatest need in Haiti, the timeliness of which would seem obvious to anyone-had been approved by the Haitian government and by the Bank's board of directors. The loans were then delayed for "political reasons." Haiti held local and parliamentary elections in May 2000, and eight parliamentary seats-out of approximately 7,500 posts filled that day-were disputed, even though all went to those with the greatest number of votes (those unhappy with the results demanded a run-off). Sources both Haitian and American confirmed to me that it was the United States that asked the Inter-American Development Bank to block the loans until these electoral disputes had been resolved. Since seven of the Senators in question resigned in 2001, and the other's term expired shortly thereafter, that should've been the end of the aid freeze. Instead, it continued throughout Aristide's tenure.

The IDB later claimed that this funding freeze occurred as the result of a consensus reached by the Organization of American States in something called "the Declaration of Quebec City." Interestingly enough, the Declaration is dated April 22, 2001, and the letter from the United States representative to the IDB asking that the loans not be disbursed was dated April 8, 2001. To quote the conclusion of one of the rare journalists to find this scandal worthy of inquiry, "it would seem that the effort became concerted after it was made."

International financial institutions have time and again engaged in discriminatory and probably illegal practices towards Haiti. According to the Haiti Support Group, "Haiti's debt to international financial institutions and foreign governments has grown from US$302 million in 1980 to US$1.134 billion today. About 40% of this debt stems from loans to the brutal Duvalier dictators who invested precious little of it in the country. This is known as 'odious debt' because it was used to oppress the people, and, according to international law, this debt need not be repaid." There has been relative silence in the press and among human rights groups on this score.

The story gets worse. In order to meet the renewed demands of the IDB, the cash-strapped Haitian Government was required to pay ever-expanding arrears, many of them linked to loans paid out to the Duvalier dictatorship and to the brutal military regimes of 1986-1990. In July 2003, Haiti sent over 90% of all its foreign reserves to Washington to pay these arrears. Yet as of today, less than US$4 million of the four blocked loans mentioned above has flowed to Haiti in spite of many assurances to the contrary from the IDB.

This startling echo of illegal practices in the nineteenth century-for the IDB payments will strike both lawyers and the Haitian poor as reminiscent of France's indemnity shakedown-is of a piece with many other discriminatory practices towards Haiti and its people. You'd think this might be newsworthy: the world's most powerful nations joining forces to block aid and humanitarian assistance to one of the poorest. But for three years this story was almost impossible to place in a mainstream journal of opinion. It was not until March 2004 that one could read in a US daily the news that the aid freeze might have contributed to the overthrow of the penniless Haitian government. In its one and only investigative piece about the three-year-long aid embargo, the Boston Globe finally stumbled upon the facts:

WASHINGTON-For three years, the US government, the European Union, and international banks have blocked $500 million in aid to Haiti's government, ravaging the economy of a nation already twice as poor as any in the Western Hemisphere.

The cutoff, intended to pressure the government to adopt political reforms, left Haiti struggling to meet even basic needs and weakened the authority of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who went into exile one week ago. Today, Haiti's government, which serves 8 million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million-less than that of Cambridge, [Massachusetts] a city of just over 100,000. And as Haitians attempt to form a new government, many say its success will largely depend on how much and how soon aid will flow to the country... Many of Aristide's supporters, in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.

The Aristide Question

The view that the United States and France undermined Aristide is not a fringe opinion. Nobel Laureate and former president of Costa Rica Oscar Arias wrote in the Washington Post that, "in the case of Haiti, not only was the struggling democracy cut off from outside aid but an armed insurrection of former military and death-squad leaders was in the end endorsed by the US and French governments." The Caribbean nations grouped under CARICOM and the African Union have called for a formal investigation of Aristide's removal, and Gayle Smith, an Africa specialist on the National Security Council staff under President Bill Clinton, observed that "most people around the world believe that Aristide's departure was at best facilitated; at worst, coerced by the US and France."

Why such animus towards Haiti's leader from American and French officialdom? Answering this question helps reframe the one that is always asked by the press. Journalists never ask, for example, how much 150 million gold francs are worth today or what their loss might have meant for a struggling tropical economy. They ask, rather, "Is Aristide a good guy or a bad guy?" Certainly, Aristide is the sort of person who would and did say, "France extorted this money from Haiti by force and you should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, primary health care, water systems, and roads." Aristide is also the sort of person who will do the math on the French debt, adding in interest and adjusting for inflation. He came up with a startling figure: France owes Haiti US$21,685,135,571.48 and counting, at five percent annual interest.

This figure was scoffed at by some French, the whole affair seen as some sort of comical farce mounted by their disgruntled former subjects; others in France, it's increasingly clear, were insulted or angered when the point was pressed in diplomatic and legal circles.

Aristide pressed the point. The figure of $21 billion was repeated again and again. The number 21 appeared all over the place in Haiti, along with the word "restitution." On January 1, 2004, during Haiti's bicentennial celebrations, Aristide announced he would replace a 21-gun salute with a litany of 21 points about what had been achieved in spite of the embargo and what would be done when restitution was made. The crowd went wild. The US and French press by and large dismissed his comments as silly, even though lawyers saw the case as not without legal merit.

It's hard to have even a brief conversation about Haiti without Aristide's personality coming up. What's more, it's usually easy to tell within minutes how one's interlocutor feels about him. Haiti is almost always referred to as polarized, but this is not true in every sense. Most Haitians have a lot in common: poverty, disease, mistrust of the great powers. Haiti's elections and polls, even recent ones, show that the poor majority still support Aristide. What's polarized are the middle classes and the traditional political elites-which together seem to constitute what human rights groups and political analysts term "civil society," a grouping that for some ineffable reason does not include the poor majority. Equally polarized are people like me: non-Haitians who concern themselves with that country's affairs for a whole host of reasons. Among those who can read and write, among the chattering classes, there is no more divisive figure than Aristide.

Given all the coups and assassination attempts and spectacular crimes mentioned above-given all the complexity what is the standard storyline in the mainstream press? That Aristide had the chance to be "Haiti's Mandela," but instead "cruelly disappointed" his supporters who then defected in droves. Nothing could be further from the truth, as even a superficial review of the facts will show. First, Haiti is not South Africa. There can be no lofty figure who survives terrible mistreatment in order to lead his nation into the sunlit uplands of democracy because in order to preside over such transitions, or even to survive them, leaders have to be able to deliver on campaign promises. Haiti's legendary poverty makes this impossible without repatriated resources or access to credits and assistance. Aristide knew this, hence his attempts to free up development assistance for health, roads, water, and primary education. When outside assistance was blocked by Washington and Aristide's first strategy failed, the restitution of the French debt was moved to the fore.

This broader background helps explain why the two superpowers in the Caribbean region-the United States and France-are united on Haiti, if not on Iraq.

None of this is new, as even a cursory review of the past decade or so shows. On the eve of his 1990 election, under the banner headline "Front-Running Priest a Shock to Haiti," we read in the New York Times that "the former Salesian priest, long known for his strident brand of liberation theology, has sent profound shock waves through many of the sectors of this society that have traditionally made or broken presidents since Haiti's independence in 1804. From the business community, the army, and the Catholic and Protestant churches to Voodoo priests and rural landowners, sentiment is strongly, if not uniformly, set against him." In other words, everyone was always against Aristide-except the poor majority.

Between the coup that followed Aristide's inauguration and his return to Haiti, the coverage and debates were the same. Our nation's "paper of record" is especially revealing. On September 22, 1994, the New York Times ran a front-page piece about Aristide entitled "The Mouse That Roared." From it, we get a keen sense of Aristide as irritant: "The Clinton crowd has had to work hard to justify him to lawmakers who were unnerved by the October 1993 closed-door CIA briefing to Congress, in which the intelligence agency offered information-later proven false-that Father Aristide had received psychiatric treatment at a Montreal hospital in 1980. Senator Jesse Helms, Republican of North Carolina, left the briefing and branded him a 'psychopath'-a slur it has been hard for Father Aristide to get over."

It would be convenient for the traditional elite and other allies and overseas funders if Aristide, who has indeed been forced to preside over unimaginable penury, were to be abandoned by his own people. But what of suppressed Gallup polls, conducted with the hope of showing that Aristide is no longer popular? In fact, these 2002 polls indicate that Aristide is far and away Haiti's most popular and trusted politician. What is to be done about the Haitian voters who, to the horror of their elites and to the Republican right, keep voting for Aristide?

In truth, the protégés of Senator Jesse Helms have had more say in Aristide's fate than have the Haitian electorate. Aristide claims he had no idea where he was being taken on the night of February 28, 2004 until minutes before landing at, he was told, "a French military base." He found himself in the Central African Republic, a place he'd never visited before. Although US officials stated initially that he had been "taken to the country of his choice," Aristide's version of events surely seems more plausible. The Central African Republic is a country in not much more than name. About the size of Texas and with a population of only three million, it is subject to French military and economic interests. It is also, in spite of natural resources (diamonds, gold, oil, timber, and uranium) that any Haitian might envy, one of the world's poorest countries and highly unstable. A March 2003 BBC story reported that the capital, Bangui, was the world's most dangerous city. The United States has issued a travel advisory banning its citizens from traveling to the Central African Republic; our embassy there was closed two years ago. The Central African Republic "government" seized power in a military coup a little over a year ago.

When the poorly-briefed Aristide walked off the plane and across the tarmac, he found a single journalist waiting. What did he have to say after a 20-hour flight during which he did not know where he was bound? First, he thanked the Africans for their hospitality, and then he said only the following: "I declare in overthrowing me they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace, but it will grow back because the roots are Louverturian."

It's no surprise that Aristide would echo Toussaint Louverture, who is one of his heroes. In one of the few measured and informed pieces written about the current Haitian crisis, Madison Smartt Bell, writing in Harper's Magazine, linked the past to the present, as Haitians readily do:

Toussaint did not live to see the result of his struggle: the emergence of Haiti as an independent black state, founded by slaves who had broken their own chains and driven off their masters. After his deportation to France, the torch he'd carried was passed to Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a man of more ferocious spirit, whose watchword was Koupe tet, boule kay- "Cut off heads and burn down houses." Papa Doc Duvalier had systematically associated himself and his regime with the spirit of Dessalines, as he deployed Dessalinien tactics on his own people: ruthless application of overwhelming force. Aristide seemed more attracted to the spirit of Toussaint, who had a real distaste for useless bloodshed, political and diplomatic skills to match or surpass his remarkable military talent, a delicately evolved sense of Haiti's relationship with the surrounding colonial powers, a devout Catholicism able to coexist with the Vodou [sic] he also practiced, and a social vision, based on harmonious cooperation among the races, a good two hundred years ahead of his time.

Bell observes that, in the end, "Toussaint was undone by foreign powers, and Aristide also had suffered plenty of vexation from outside interference." Since Bell's essay was published, Aristide is, like Toussaint, in something of a French prison.

The Who's Who

Who are the other players in these high-stakes games, games in which history weighs so heavily? For many years it's been the same cast of characters on both sides of the sea. Starting with the US dramatis personae helps to make things clearer on the Haitian side. The current Bush administration has put in charge of Latin American diplomacy two men who have been at it for a long time; their views are well-documented. As the "Special Presidential Envoy to the Western Hemisphere," Otto Reich is the United States' top diplomat in the region even though he has never survived a House or Senate hearing; he was appointed by Bush during a Congressional recess. In the 1990s, Reich was a lobbyist for industry (among his current deals: selling Lockheed-Martin fighter planes to Chile), but prior to that he had a long record of government service. In a recent New Yorker profile of Reich, William Finnegan gives us more background on his curriculum vitae:

Reich first went to work for the Reagan Administration at the Agency for International Development, in 1981. As the civil war in Nicaragua heated up, he moved to the State Department, where, from 1983 to 1986, he headed a Contra-support program that operated out of an outfit called the Office of Public Diplomacy. The office arranged speeches and recommended books to public libraries, but it also leaked false stories to the press-that, for instance, the Sandinista government was receiving Soviet MiG fighters, or was involved in drug trafficking. A declassified memo from one of Reich's aides to Patrick Buchanan, the White House communications director, boasted about the office's "White Propaganda" operations, including op-ed pieces prepared by its staff, signed by Contra leaders or academics, and placed in major newspapers. (Reich's spokesman denied this.) The office employed Army psychological-warfare specialists, and worked closely with Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, at the National Security Council.

During the course of the Iran-Contra investigation, the US Comptroller General concluded that Reich's office had "engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities." But by then Otto Reich had been named US Ambassador to Venezuela, where he laid the groundwork for future efforts to destabilize President Hugo Chavez. Mind you, these are not all covert efforts: less than a year ago, Reich was on record hailing a coup against the left-leaning Chavez, urging the State department and opinion-makers-including the New York Times-to support "the new government." The Times complied. There was only one problem with this plan: the Venezuelan majority failed to fall into step. There was not adequate public support, in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America, for the coup, and so Chavez remained in his seat, Following Aristide's ouster, Chavez has promised that, should the US government try anything similar in Venezuela again, they will meet with two responses: an interruption in Venezuelan oil and another "hundred years' war" from all Latin Americans who respect self-determination and sovereignty.

When the Bush administration sent a certain Roger Noriega as its envoy to "work out" the Haitian crisis in February 2004, not everyone knew who he was, for Noriega's career has flourished in the back of Senate committees. For the better part of a decade, Noriega worked for Jesse Helms and his allies. Although it is no secret that Noriega has had Aristide in his sights for years, none of this history made it into the mainstream media until recently. Then things became clearer. On CNN on March 1, after Aristide's departure from Haiti, Congresswoman Maxine Waters "accused Undersecretary of State for Latin America Roger Noriega-whom she called 'a Haiti hater'-of being behind the troubles there." The CNN report continued: "Noriega was a senior aide to former Senator Jesse Helms, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee was a backer of longtime dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and an opponent of Aristide."

When I share these biographical details and the names of other people who are driving these policies-I refer to Otto Reich, Jesse Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Elliot Abrams, John Poindexter, Bush père and fits- and then mention Iran-Contra, Honduras, Venezuela, the Declaration of Quebec City, liberation theology, and the International Republican Institute, the Haiti story starts to hang together. Haiti policy is determined by a small number of people who were prominent in either Reagan's or George H.W. Bush's cabinets. Most are back in government today after an eight-year vacation in conservative think tanks, lobbying firms, and the like. Elliot Abrams, convicted of felony during the Iran-Contra hearings, serves on the National Security Council; Reagan's national-security advisor John Poindexter is now heading the Pentagon's counterterrorism office; John Negroponte, former Ambassador to Honduras, is now Ambassador to the United Nations. Jeane Kirkpatrick is on the board of the International Republican Institute, a prime source of funds for the political opposition to Aristide and, credible sources suggest, for the demobilized army personnel who provided the muscle for the Haitian opposition in early 2004. The far right of the US Republican party has been the key determinant of Haiti policy.

What about US Secretary of State Colin Powell? The Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, writing of events in Haiti, offers the following summary: "Powell's vision for Latin America is now indistinguishable from that of his junior hemispheric policymaking ideologues, Noriega and Reich. The battle for the Secretary of State's soul has ended in a rout for those who had highly regarded the man they thought he was, in contrast to the man he turned out to be."

On the Haitian side, naming the players is again a relatively easy exercise because they fall into a small set of categories. To sum up the opposition, you have Haiti's business elite, including those who own the Haitian media, and the former military and paramilitary- the very persons who were involved in the 1991-94 coup. Many were in jail for murder, drug trafficking, and crimes against humanity, and now every single one of them is free.

Among those released by the rebels is former General Prosper Avril, a leader of the notorious Presidential Guard under both François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Avril seized power by a coup d'etat in September 1988; he was deposed by another coup in March 1990. A US District Court found that Avril's regime had engaged in "a systematic pattern of egregious human rights abuses." It found him personally responsible for enough "torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" to award six of his victims US$41 million in compensation. His victims included opposition politicians, union leaders, scholars, and even a doctor trying to practice community rural medicine. Avril's repression was not subtle: three torture victims were paraded on national television with faces grotesquely swollen, limbs bruised, and clothing covered with blood. He also suspended thirty-seven articles of the Constitution and declared a state of siege.

The US started protecting Avril shortly after the 1994 restitution of Haiti's elected leaders. In November, Secretary of State Warren Christopher relayed to the US Ambassador intelligence reports that the "Red Star Organization," under Mr. Avril's leadership, was "planning [al harassment and assassination campaign directed at the Lavalas Party and Aristide supporters. The campaign is scheduled to commence in early December 1995"-right before the election that would allow Aristide to become the first president in Haitian history to peacefully hand over power to another elected civilian. This information was not passed on to the Haitian authorities, and that same month an assassination attempt was made against prominent Lavalas legislators. In December the Haitian police team investigating the case sought to arrest Mr. Avril at his home. A US Embassy official admitted that he had visited Avril the day before the arrest; immediately after the Haitian police arrived at Avril's house, US soldiers arrived. They tried to dissuade the Haitian police from making the arrest, and it was only after Haiti's president intervened personally on the police radio that the police were able to enter Avril's house. By the time they entered the premises he had fled to the neighboring residence of the Colombian ambassador. Police searching Avril's house found military uniforms, illegal police radios, and a cache of weapons.

Avril escaped to Israel but later returned to Haiti, where his international support and feared military capacity deterred further arrest attempts. He founded a political party, which has never fielded candidates for elections but was nevertheless invited by the International Republican Institute to participate in developing an opposition to Aristide. In May 2001, after US troops had withdrawn from Haiti and while Avril was at a book signing away from his home and his guns, the Haitian police finally seized the opportunity to execute Avril's arrest warrant. The successful arrest was greeted with applause by the vast majority of Haitians and by human rights and justice groups in Haiti, the United States, and Europe. Amnesty International asserted that the arrest "could mark a step forward by the Haitian justice system in its struggle against impunity," and that "the gravity of the human rights violations committed during General Avril's period in power, from his 1988 coup d'etat to his departure in March 1990, cannot be ignored." France's Committee to Prosecute Duvalier concluded that "the General must be tried."

On December 9, 2003, the investigating magistrate in the case of the Piatre Massacre, a March 1990 attack in which several peasants lost their lives, formally charged Avril in the case. He was in prison awaiting the termination of pre-trial proceedings when freed on March 2, 2004-the day after Aristide was deposed.

The list goes on. Rebel leader Guy Philippe is also a former soldier who received, during the last coup, training at a US military facility in Ecuador. When the army was demobilized, Philippe was incorporated into the new police force, serving as police chief in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas and in the second-largest city, Cap-HaItien. During his tenure, the United Nations International Civilian Mission learned that dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed, mainly by police under the command of Philippe's deputy. The US Embassy has implicated Philippe in drug smuggling during his police career. These crimes, committed in large part by former military incorporated into the police force, are often pinned on Aristide even though he sought to prevent coup-happy human rights abusers from ending up in these posts in the first place.

Philippe fled Haiti in October 2000 when Haitian authorities discovered him plotting a coup, together with a clique of fellow police chiefs. Since that time, the Haitian government has accused Philippe of masterminding terrorist attacks on the Haitian Police Academy and the National Palace in July and December 2001, as well as lethal hit-and-run raids against police stations in Haiti's Central Plateau over the past two years.

In February 2004, Philippe's men bragged to the US press that they had executed Aristide supporters in Cap-HaItien and Port-au-Prince, and many have indeed been reported missing. Philippe's declaration-"I am the chief, the military chief. The country is in my hands"-triggered the following response from Oscar Arias: "Nothing could more clearly prove why Haiti does not need an army than the boasting of rebel leader Guy Philippe last week in Port-au-Prince, The Haitian army was abolished nine years ago during a period of democratic transition, precisely to prevent the country from falling back into the hands of military men." On March 2, 2004, Philippe told the Associated Press that he would use his new powers to arrest constitutional Haiti's prime minister, Yvon Neptune, and he proceeded to lead a mob in an attack on Neptune's residence. Philippe has been quoted as saying that the man he most admires is Augusto Pinochet.

Louis-Jodel Chamblain was a sergeant in the Haitian army until 1989 or 1990. He reappeared on the scene in 1993 as one of the founders of the paramilitary group FRAPH. Formed during the 1991-94 military regime, FRAPH was responsible for numerous human rights violations before the 1994 restoration of democratic governance. Chamblain organized attacks against democracy supporters, issued FRAPH identity cards, and obtained official recognition for FRAPH from the dictatorship. Among the victims of FRAPH under Chamblain's leadership was Haitian Minister of Justice Guy Malary, ambushed and machine-gunned to death with his bodyguard and a driver on October 14, 1993. According to an October 28, 1993 CIA intelligence memorandum, "FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant, and Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on the morning of 14 October to discuss plans to kill Malary." (Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, the leader of FRAPH, is now living as a free man in Queens, New York.)

In September 1995, Chamblain was among seven senior military and FRAPH leaders convicted in absentia and sentenced to forced labor for life for their involvement in the September 1993 extrajudicial execution of Antoine Izmery, a well-known pro-democracy activist. In November 2000, Chamblain was convicted in absentia in the Raboteau massacre trial. In late 1994 or early 1995, Chamblain went into exile to the Dominican Republic in order to avoid prosecution. He was regularly spotted in public by Haitian expatriates and international journalists.

All of these biographies have been a matter of public record for years, but one could mark the day-1 marked it as February 28, as the coup was unfolding-that the New York

Times and other newspapers began offering a bit more background on the men who now control Latin America's oldest and most volatile nation. These sketches give an idea, too, of why the Haitian people were enthusiastic about demobilizing the army. Writing in the Washington Post, Oscar Arias underlined the degree of popular support for demilitarization: "Since Aristide said that he could not abolish the army without the support of the Haitian people, the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress commissioned an independent polling firm to gauge popular support for the idea. The results were stunning: 62 percent of Haitians were strongly in favor of abolition and only 12 percent were against."

As for the traditional political elite, surely they're a mixed bag? Some have wanted to live in the National Palace, Haiti's executive mansion, since the time it was occupied by Papa Doc. Some are more marginal but just as destructive. When recently you saw one man destroying artwork on display in Port-au-Prince, you could read that he was a "pastor from the Party of God." In fact this man, a perennial presidential candidate, is delighted to burn, in full view of international cameras, precious objects linked with voodoo and other aspects of Haitian culture.

Who are these people? What unites them beyond their hatred of Aristide? They've all been around a long time but were not permitted to speak out or form political parties during the Duvalier or military dictatorships. One penetrating analysis, by an academic named Robert Maguire, noted that "we should remember that from the first day of Aristide's term, the opposition set up a provisional government. My own observation then was that things in Haiti had changed. This never would have been permitted before. It was a sign that Haiti seemed to be becoming a more tolerant place." Again, this is another social fact missed by the mainstream human rights groups.

The leaders of the Haitian "civil society" groups include U.S.-born André Apaid, the founder of a television station and owner of Alpha Corp., a garment manufacturer that was prominently featured in news reports about Disney's sweatshop suppliers. Aristide's relentless push to raise the minimum wage above 72 gourdes a day-about $1.60-cut into the massive profits of the offshore assembly industry, since its principal resource is the desperate joblessness of the Haitian population. The US Congress has passed a measure to build new garment factories in Haiti and encourage American companies to contract out more sweatshop labor-an answered prayer for Apaid.

As for the owners of the media in Haiti, they behave as owners often do when surrounded by the poor, the famished, and by chimères, described in the foreign press as armed thugs working for the Aristide government. But who are the chimères? Again, Madison Smartt Bell provides a better answer to this question than what we read in journalistic accounts or human rights reports:

Before that term was coined, Haitian delinquent youths were called maleleve ("ill brought up") or, still more tellingly, sansmaman ("the motherless ones"). They were people who'd somehow reached adulthood without the nurture of the traditional lakou-communities that the combined forces of poverty and globalization had been shattering here for the last few decades. That was what made them so dangerous. The Chime were indeed chimeras; ill fortune left them as unrealized shadows. With better luck they might have been human beings, but they weren't. These were the people Aristide had originally been out to salvage; "Tout moun se moun" was his earliest motto ("Every man is a man").

Coup d'Etat as a Source of Amusement

This human salvage operation exploded in February 2004 as "rebels" continued to "take cities." I work in these towns and know the rebels' modus operandi. They came in, shot the there acknowledge that no Haitian authorities were involved in the choice of Aristide's destination.

Many more questions remain unanswered. We know that US funds overtly financed the opposition. But did they also fund, even indirectly, the rebellion that so prominently featured high-powered US weapons only a year after 20,000 such weapons were promised to the Dominican Republic army? Senator Christopher Dodd is urging an investigation of US training sessions of 600 "rebels" in the Dominican Republic and also wants to investigate "how the International Republican Institute spent $1.2 million of tax payer money" in Haiti. Answering these and related questions will require an intrepid investigative reporter willing to take on hard questions about US policies in Latin America.

Oscar Arias concludes that, "were the international community now to stand by as the rebels reinstated the army, it would surely destroy the seeds of peace and self-rule that have been planted with great sacrifice by the Haitian people." But about the return of the military, there can be little doubt. The man sworn as Haiti's new prime minister announced in his first public statement that Aristide's order to replace the military with a civilian police force violated Haiti's constitution; he promised to name a commission to examine the issues surrounding its restoration. The de facto prime minister also named a former general to his new government.

More guns and more military may well be the time-honored prescription for policing poverty, but violence and chaos will not go away if the Haitian people's hunger, illness, poverty, and disenfranchisement are not addressed.

Paul Farmer page

Getting Haiti Right This Time

Index of Website

Home Page