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HAITI: Washington was behind `coup’ says Aristide
“The Haitian constitution is working”, US President George Bush told the media on March 1. It might seem an odd way to describe a country overrun by armed thugs and, now, foreign troops, and whose elected president has been kidnapped and spirited away. But what Bush meant was that the Haitian constitution is now working to the benefit of Washington's elite.
Haiti is the fourth poorest country in the world. Fifty per cent of the country's wealth is owned by just 1% of the population. There is 70% unemployment and average life expectancy is comparable to that of Indigenous Australians. Infant mortality is the highest in the western hemisphere.
According to a March 1 Medialens report, US corporations control Haiti’s sugar, bauxite, textiles, electronics and toy industries. US mega-corporations pay Haitian workers as little as 11 cents an hour.
Haitians are not poor by accident: it is a direct result of US exploitation of the country. Washington was willing to topple a president to preserve their poverty.
As the “gateway to the Caribbean”, Haiti is geo-politically important to Washington. From the time the US invaded in 1915 to the 1990s, the US has controlled Haiti.
From the 1930s to 1985, Washington indirectly governed through the dictators it sponsored: Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, followed by his son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. They ensured Haiti continued to provide cheap, disposable labour to US corporations. Trade unions were smashed, the minium wage driven down and communists were persecuted.
In the mid-1980s, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry headed a Senate investigation that revealed extensive links between the Haiti dictatorship and drug traffickers, but avoided directly indicting the CIA, who many believed responsible.
In 1990, radical priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Movement upset the apple cart, winning elections with a massive 67.5% of the vote. The US-backed opposition candidate came second with just 14.2%. Aristide, a proponent of liberation theology, promised a new Haiti that would put its people before the profits of US corporations. Within seven months, he was overthrown in a US-backed coup.
Mass murder followed the coup. At least 1000 people were killed in the first two weeks alone, as the coup plotters were determined to wipe out the Lavalas Movement and its supporters.
The leaders of the paramilitary Front for the Advancement of Haiti (FRAPH), which carried out the killings, were former CIA employees. One, Emmanuel Constant, admitted to The Nation in 1994 that they were given explicit direction and funding from the CIA.
After the coup, the Organization of American States imposed an embargo and sanctions on Haiti — the US immediately declared 800 of its firms exempt. According to Noam Chomsky, US trade increased in the embargo period.
In 1994, the US made a deal with Aristide. After agreeing to implement neoliberal economic policies, he was allowed to return, backed by 20,000 US troops. The US military showed little enthusiasm for righting past wrongs. According to Human Rights Watch, they impeded investigations into the slaughter of the previous three years by removing vital documents.
Aristide's substantial concessions, including agreement to implement International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs, certainly cost him much of the loyalty of Haiti’s already impoverished people
Under the austerity programs, Haiti’s economic situation has considerably worsened. Prices increased by 40% in 2001-2002, while the minimum wage halved.
However, Aristide’s “reforms” were not enough to pacify the US imperialist elite, which continued to fund and support many of the leaders of the 1991 coup.
Their first excuse to attack Aristide came after the 2000 elections, in which the parliamentary opposition disputed the results in a number of seats. Although the alleged fraud would not have altered Aristide’s landslide election victory, international condemnation was quick and punitive. An aid embargo was imposed, costing the desperately poor country $500 million in loans.
When, in early February, armed gangs began attacking the police and taking control of cities, the stage was set for a US intervention.
Although Washington and its tame media are trying to imply that there is clear difference between the “armed rebels” that have rampaged through Haiti for the last month and the parliamentary opposition, there are clear connections between the two.
At the core of the “rebel” gangs is an army that crossed the border from the Dominican Republic in early February, led by FRAPH commanders Guy Philippe, Jodel Chamblain and Constant. The army was equipped with US-made M-16 rifles.
The so-called Democratic Convergence is a coalition of small parties, that, together with the Group of 184 Civil Society Organisations (G-184) has formed the Democratic Platform of Civil Society Organisations and Opposition Political Parties.
At the head of G-184 is one of the biggest sweatshop owners in Haiti, US-born Andre Apaid junior. His Alpha Industries supplies corporations such as IBM and Remington. He has been embroiled in scandals in the last two years for paying his 4000 workers around half the minimum wage, which is US$1.50 a day.
Apaid has links to Philippe, and has funded his army. In a telling incident in northeast Haiti, reported by <http://www.labourstart.com>, on March 1, members of Philippe’s gang attacked striking workers at the request of the employer.
Behind it all are the US National Endowment for Democracy, which has been openly funding the parliamentary opposition for years, the CIA, which appears to have been covertly training and funding the paramilitary, and the US government. US Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Apaid just days before Aristide “left”.
`I was kidnapped’
As the government began to lose control to Philippe’s army, the US did nothing. An attempt in late February to stitch up a “compromise deal” that would have forced new elections was initiated by the Carribean Community (CARICOM), but rejected by the Haitian opposition after the US and France distanced themselves from it.
The US State Department on February 29 suddenly announced that Aristide had “resigned”, claiming that the US had “facilitated his safe departure”.
By the next day, however, the story began to unravel. Two members of the US Congress, Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters, and TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson told the media that they had spoken with Aristide. He told them that he had been kidnapped by US troops and regarded the US military's actions as a ``coup”. The State Department immediately denied the charge.
On March 5, Aristide gave a lengthy phone interview to a Haitian journalist working at a radio station in California. Describing the US government’s actions as “terrorism disguised as diplomacy”, he said that US soldiers had come to him at 3am on February 29.
They had told him that expected reinforcements for his US guard had been cancelled, and “foreigners and Haitians terrorists alike, loaded with heavy weapons, were already in a position to open fire on Port-au-Prince. And right then, the Americans precisely stated that they will kill thousands of people and it will be a bloodbath.”
Aristide explained that he knew “this was no bluff” as palace was surrounded by “white men armed to the teeth”.
“There was going to be a bloodbath”, he said, “because we were under an illegal foreign occupation which was ready to drop bodies on the ground”. He was then forced to sign a resignation letter and leave.
As soon as Aristide had been safely whisked away, US, French, Canadian, Brazilian and Chilean troops arrived to “stabilise” the country, attempting to declare the crisis over. They were “warmly welcomed” by Philippe.
Although Haiti’s supreme court chief justice Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as acting president, the real power in the country clearly lies with the thousands of foreign troops.
The 15 governments that belong to CARICOM have called on the United Nations to investigate Aristide’s overthrow, and declared that they will not participate in the multinational task force, but would provide humanitarian aid.
France, with extensive business interests of its own in Haiti, appears to have played a key role in deciding when to move against Aristide. The March 5 Washington Post reported the French newspaper Le Monde’s claim that French “diplomatic suggestions” that Aristide should resign convinced Washington.
Now that the armed thugs have done their job, Washington is trying to distance itself from them. On March 2, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told the media, “the rebels need to go home. And I want to be quite clear that that’s our position.”
According to the March 3 New York Times, White House spokesperson Scott McLellan backed this by saying that they would only deal with “the business people, civic leaders and politicians who make up the nonviolent opposition to Mr Aristide and the Lavalas party.”
The people of Haiti, of course, did not rate a mention.
From Green Left Weekly, March 10, 2004.