Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Weekly Commentary - Haiti: Surviving the Saviors

Photo: A UN tank looms behind an obviously dangerous Haitian woman, Thony Belizaire/AFP © Getty

Since becoming the world's first independent black republic in 1804, born from history's only successful national slave rebellion, Haiti has suffered more than two centuries of abuse at the hands of Western powers. From France's initial crippling of the Haitian economy, to decades of U.S. military occupation, and subsequent support for the brutal Duvalier dictatorships, Haiti has long been a focal point for Western imperialism. Given this past, and the country's status as "the victim of [the] most US intervention[s] in the 20th century by a long shot," it is unsurprising that Haiti is the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.

It is a long-running storyline that continues largely unabated to the present.

In 1990, the Haitian poor majority experienced a brief period of actual hope, having voted into office Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest and proponent of liberation theology who had become well-known for his devotion to the Haitian masses. Turning to the present, some 17 years later, Aristide finds himself in forced exile in South Africa, the country's social ills continue unaddressed, and an unpopular UN force continues its military occupation of the country.

The question of how the Haitian people have gone in these past 17 years from joy to despair (and there and back again, several times over) is an instructive one, revealing at every turn Washington's continued insistence on crushing moves towards meaningful independence for the country.

From the moment of Aristide's 1990 election - Haiti's first ever popularly elected president - the U.S. "did what it could to undermine him and to funnel support to the Haitian military," an institution almost universally reviled in Haiti for its brutality and servile role to U.S. interests. In 1991, the military overthrew Aristide, triggering public denunciations from Washington that were difficult to take seriously given longstanding U.S. ties to the coup plotters. However, as the governing military regime plunged Haiti further into chaos, threatening the investment climate and swelling the number of Haitian refugees fleeing to the U.S. to escape the carnage, Washington threatened to invade the country in 1994 in order to reinstall Aristide.

Despite misgivings about U.S. motives, most Haitians were glad to see the U.S. take action, and heaped praise on the U.S. soldiers who oversaw the transition back to civilian government. As noted in The Progressive, the majority of Haitians wanted the U.S. "to come in and obliterate the Haitian army."

Whatever the initial feelings of euphoria, it was also clear that the U.S. exacted a heavy price from Aristide in return for his being permitted to reassume the Haitian presidency. As reported in the same piece, Washington pressured the Aristide government to:
...put its name to a "structural adjustment plan" of the sort usually advanced by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—namely, the cutting of gov­ernment bureaucracies and public programs, the privati­sation of publicly-owned utilities, the promotion of exports, and an "open-investment policy" that would slash tariffs and eliminate any import restrictions that might trammel investors, especially those of the foreign variety. Haitian-American scholar Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, speaking of the Paris agreements, complained that "the Haitian delegation to the World Bank signed away the economic independence of the country."
After serving out his presidency, and sitting out for a term as required by the Haitian constitution, Aristide was nevertheless again elected in 2000, buoyed by the new Lavalas political party, which he had founded to combat privatization and the role of international financial institutions.

In confronting the same powerful groups and nations as before, Aristide was again overthrown in 2004. In what he describes as his "modern kidnapping" by the U.S. military, Aristide was taken - without his consent or knowledge - to the Central African Republic; he remains in exile in South Africa, still unable to serve the remainder of his second term as president.

Shortly after Aristide's overthrow, a UN force (MINUSTAH) deployed in Haiti, initiating an indefinite occupation. Though a supposed example of "humanitarian intervention" aiming to bring stability to Haiti, MINUSTAH has demonstrated a servile attention to the U.S. (as well as Canadian and French) agenda by supporting the political and economic status quo in Haiti and failing to call for the return of the president-in-exile.

MINUSTAH's supposed role in halting violence in Haiti is also far from laudatory, indeed it often does quite the opposite, perpetuating carnage instead. According to a Harvard law report, "MINUSTAH has been the midwife" of the Haitian police in their serious human rights abuses, providing them with "the very implements of repression."

It is quite clear that the UN mission in Haiti is intended to pacify a restive population; indeed, the UN “peacekeeping” force’s behavior is hard to distinguish from that of an occupying army. On two separate occasions, July 6, 2005 and December 22, 2006, the UN troops entered the Port-au-Prince slum of Cité-Soleil in force and killed scores of bystanders. MINUSTAH appears to have intentionally targeted civilians with lethal shots to the head.

There is some evidence to indicate that the UN fired into civilian residential areas from helicopters during the July 6, 2005 attack. In the December 22, 2006 attack, UN forces denied the Haitian Red Cross entry to the area they were attacking and refused to permit the Red Cross to treat injured children.

Given the current buzz surrounding a potential "humanitarian intervention" in Darfur, the poor human rights record of the Haitian incarnation, as well as its servility to Western power, should not soon be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

There is a concern among Haitians that their history is subject to being sold out to the highest bidder – and therefore can be manipulated, specifically by the Aristide supporters. See Randall Robinson CSPAN Interview and Arstide's Haiti at: www.solutionshaiti.blogspot.com

Brian said...

Good article, the title says it all.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...like Aristide supporters faked this:

Drugs and Politics in Haiti

HIP - The US Drug Enforcement Agency's recent attempt to hunt down former policeman, paramilitary commander and presidential candidate Guy Philippe on drug charges can be traced back to a recent arrest in the town of Gonaives, Haiti.

Haitian police and Argentinean units of the UN arrested Wilfort Ferdinand, alias Ti Wil; on May 26 after he gave a lengthy interview on local radio station Radio Gonaives FM. Although news of Ferdinand's arrest received scant attention in the international press it was one of the top stories throughout Haiti the following day. Much of the reporting in the Haitian press focused on the shared history of Wilfort Ferdinand and Guy Philippe in leading paramilitary forces that helped to oust the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In early February 2004, Wilfort Ferdinand along with Butteur Metayer, Winter Etienne and Dieujuste Jeanty, led armed gangs to attack police stations in the Artibonite region in a bid to oust Aristide's government. They left a bloody trail in their wake including the summary execution of Aristide supporters in the streets of several cities. Their group, called the Artibonite Resistance Front, later joined with the small but well-armed paramilitary groups that invaded Haiti from the Dominican Republic under the leadership of Guy Philippe and former death squad commander Jodel Chamblain. Ferdinand and the others quickly claimed allegiance to Philippe and publicly referred to him as their "commander-in-chief" in press interviews.

Ferdinand appointed himself Chief of Police of Gonaives and Winter Etienne became the Chief of the Gonaives Port Authority, ruling Haiti's fourth largest city as a personal fiefdom following the ouster of Aristide on Feb. 29, 2004. Philippe shared the podium with Ferdinand in late March 2004 when US-installed prime minister Gerard Latortue was flown into Gonaives by US military helicopters accompanied by Davi d Lee, Canadian ambassador to the Organization of American States. During a mock celebration of Aristide's ouster, Latortue publicly praised the men as misunderstood "freedom fighters" while ambassador Lee nodded his head in approval.

During Ferdinand's interview on Radio Gonaives FM and just before his arrest on May 26, he repeated assertions he had made days earlier on another radio station in the capital. He claimed that he was being pressured by "certain members of the business community" to take up arms against the current government of President Rene Preval. He explained that these were some of the same business leaders that had financed their paramilitary operations against Aristide and ended with "I would rather commit suicide than raise arms against this government."

The day following Ferdinand's arrest, May 27, Guy Philippe was interviewed on Haitian radio station Signal FM where he took the accusations a step further. Without answering the question of pressure to take up arms against Preval, Philippe began to name names of business and political leaders who backed the paramilitary insurgency against Aristide's government by providing arms, ammunition and logistical support.

Philippe's list included members of what was then touted as the "peaceful opposition" in Haiti that led demonstrations in the capital and other cities demanding Aristide's resignation. High on the list was Andy Apaid the leader of the civil society organization called the Group 184.

Apaid had been extensively quoted in the international media at the time saying their movement was non-violent and had no connections to the paramilitary bands. Claire Marshall wrote for the BBC on Feb. 13, 2004, "One of the most prominent opposition platform spokesmen, Andy Apaid, wanted to make it clear that he did not approve of violent methods." Marshall continued, "Andy Apaid invoked the names of Martin Luther K ing and Mahatma Gandhi, saying that he wanted to try and lead the opposition in a form of peaceful protest." Philippe's disclosures exposed Apaid's duplicity and served to discredit the "peaceful opposition" movement against Aristide. It also highlighted the uncritical and favorable reporting given to it by the BBC and other major news organizations.

Philippe's list also included the leadership of several political parties that were part of a United States Agency for International Development funded program in the 90's and who recently ran candidates in UN-sponsored elections in Haiti. Among others fingered by Guy Philippe were Evans Paul of KID/Alyans, former senator Dany Toussaint of the MODEREH, Serges Gilles of PANPRA (note: FUSION currently) and Himmler Rébu of the GREH.

On June 1, Haitian police spokesman Frantz Lerebours, announced that they had discovered a kilo of "a white substance resembling cocaine" after searching the residence of Wilfort Ferdinand. On July 16, DEA agents executed a dramatic raid against Philippe's residence in the southern coastal town of Les Cayes and he has been on the run ever since.

"It's a good question of whether Philippe will actually be arrested," responded a source close to UN intelligence operations in Haiti who asked not to be identified. "The other option is that he may end up in a third country in a quiet exile like Michel Francois," he said in reference to a former police chief who led a military coup against Aristide in 1991. Francois was indicted by a Miami Grand Jury in 1997 for drug trafficking and currently resides in Honduras after that country's Supreme Court refused to extradite him. The official continued, "It would take a complete change in current policy for him to be allowed to remain in Haiti without being arrested. But stranger things have happened."