A review by Stephan Lendman, first published in Counter Currents, 17 April 2008
Peter Hallward is a UK Middlesex University Professor of Modern European Philosophy. He’s written many articles; authored several books; edited, contributed to and translated others; and has research interests in a broad range of areas, including recent and contemporary French Philosophy; contemporary critical theory; political philosophy and contemporary politics; and globalization and postcolonial theory. He also edits the Radical Philosophy journal of critical and continental philosophy.
Hallward’s newest book, “Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment,” is the subject of this review, and here’s what critics are saying. Physician and Haiti expert Paul Farmer calls it “the best study of its kind (offering) the first accurate analysis of recent Haitian history.” Noam Chomsky says it’s a “riveting and deeply-informed account (of) Haiti’s tragic history.” Others have also praised Hallward’s book as well-sourced, thorough, accurate and invaluable. This reviewer agrees and covers this superb book in-depth.
First, a brief snapshot of Haiti. The country shares the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It lies east of Cuba, west of Puerto Rico, and is about midway between south Florida and Venezuela. Haiti is small, around the size of Maryland in square miles, and has a population of about 8.8 million according to World Bank figures. It’s two-thirds mountainous, with the remainder consisting of great valleys, extensive plateaus and small plains. Port-au-Prince is the capital and largest city. The country has some oil, natural gas and other mineral wealth, but it’s main value is its human resource that corporate giants covet in an offshore cheap labor paradise for Wal-Mart’s “Always Low Prices.” The nation’s official name is the Republique d’Haiti.
Few people in all history have suffered as much as Haitians, and it began when Columbus arrived. From then to now, they’ve endured enslavement, genocidal slaughter as well as brutal exploitation and predation. Hope for change arose with Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s 1990 election, but it wasn’t to be. On February 29, 2004, a US-led coup d’etat shattered the dream for the second time. In the middle of the night, US Marines abducted Haiti’s President and flew him against his will to the Central African Republic. Today, Aristide remains in exile in South Africa, vows to return, and in an interview with the author says he’ll serve his people “from outside the structure of the state.” Haitians still overwhelmingly support him and want him back in any capacity.
Hallward recounts his story and the rise of his Lavalas movement. The book’s title is derived from its meaning – “avalanche” or “flood” as well as “the mass of the people” or “everyone together.” Aristide remains larger than life as its symbol and leader, but consider what he was up against – Haiti’s “rigid and highly polarized social structure (separating) a small and very concentrated elite from the rest of the population” and a good deal more. No independent Haitian government has a chance against it when allied with “neo-imperial intervention (power), elite and foreign manipulation of the media, the judiciary, (co-opted) non-governmental organizations,” and traditional Haitian politics in this impoverished land that’s totally dependent on outside aid for support.
Yet, a “remarkable political movement” arose in the mid-1980s to challenge the Duvalierist dictatorship. It drove its leader into exile, returned the country to military rule, and inspired a broad progressive coalition to challenge it for democratic reform. It made Jean-Bertrand Aristide Haiti’s President in February 1991, but only briefly. Seven months later, an army-led coup deposed him. It was widely condemned, and in 1994, he returned as President. He was then overwhelmingly reelected in 2000, removed again in 2004 but with a difference. Beyond his popular support, there was “widespread resignation or indifference, if not approval.”
What changed? Little more than perceptions and extreme manipulation to achieve them. Once again, Haiti’s elite and its Franco-American sponsors scored a major victory, while the vast majority of Haitians lost out. Hallward’s book recounts the story. He explains how Lavalas created a coalition of urban poor and peasants along with influential liberal elites: “cosmopolitan political dissidents, journalists, academics,” and even some business leaders seeking stability.
What happened between 1991 and 2004? Hallward portrays it as class conflict, as the age old struggle between concentrated wealth and the vast majority of Haiti’s poor. It “crystallized around control of the army and police,” because that’s where power lies. Aristide challenged the status quo and posed an intolerable threat to wealth and privilege – but not because he sought radical or quick reform. His ideas were “modest” and “practical” for “popular political empowerment” that made sense to most Haitians. He governed within the existing constitutional structure. He organized a dominant, united and effective political party for all Haitians. Most importantly, he did it after abolishing the nation’s main repressive instrument – the army.
Key to understanding 2004 is that real progressive change was possible after Aristide’s 2000 reelection with no “extra-political mechanism” (the army) to stop it. For Haiti’s ruling class (a tiny fraction of the population), that was intolerable. Aristide had to be removed, Lavalas crushed, and it set off a chain of events that culminated in 2004 in “one of the most violent and disastrous periods in recent Haitian history.” Ever since, repression has been intense in the face of persistent resilience against it.
Hallward recounts how Lavalas became weakened through “division and disintegration” – marked by “the multiplication of disjointed NGOs, evangelical churches, political parties, media outlets, private security forces” and relentless vilification of Haiti’s central figure, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. No one else had the charisma or ability to mobilize popular sentiment and by so doing “antagonize the rich.” Aristide wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a saint, but he was sincerely dedicated to helping the poor and representing all Haitians fairly and equitably. It’s why his support remains strong and why powerful internal and external forces brought him down and are determined never to allow him back. As a symbol of Lavalas, he remains an ever-present threat.
1791 – 1991: From the First Independence to the Second
According to Aristide, Haiti is the hemisphere’s poorest country “because of the rich (and its) 200 year plot.” Consider these facts:
— throughout its colonial and post-colonial history, Haiti’s tiny ruling class has had dominant social and economic control;
— the country’s distribution of wealth is “the most unequal in a region (that’s) the most unequal in the world;”
— 1% of Haitians control half the country’s wealth;
— in contrast, the vast majority (over 80%) “endure harrowing” poverty;
— three-fourths of the population live on less than $2 a day and over half (56%) less than $1 a day;
— 5% of the population owns 75% of the arable land; and
— a tiny 5% of elites control the economy, media, universities, professions and what passes for Haiti’s polity; six powerful families dominate the nation’s industrial production and international trade; they split along two lines: deeply conservative rural landowners (the grandons) and their military allies and the more differentiated “importers, exporters, merchants, industrialists, professionals, intellectuals, academics, jounalists” and others like them; in solidarity, they have contempt for the masses and hold onto privilege through exploitation and violence in a country where class exerts the most powerful influence and workers have no rights.
Under this type dominance and America’s iron grip, Haiti has been strip-mined for profits and its people neoliberally crushed. For decades, and especially since the mid-1980s, the country has undergone successive IMF-imposed structural adjustments. They cut wages and the size of the public sector workforce, eliminated tariffs to facilitate imports, directed agriculture to cash crops for exports, privatized public utilities and other state assets, and made Haiti “one of the most liberal trade regimes in the world,” according to Oxfam.
These “reforms” slashed Haiti’s per capita GDP from $750 in the 1960s to $617 in 1990, $470 in 1994, $468 in 2000, and down to $425 in 2004 – not counting the effects of inflation. In addition, agricultural production was halved by the late 1990s, and wages (even after inflation) dropped from $ 3 – 4 a day in the early 1980s to $1 – 2 a day by 2000. Haiti’s official minimum wage at most is $1.80 a day, but even people getting it “survive on the brink of destitution.” According to the IMF, that’s most of them with 55% of Haitians receiving a daily income of only 44 cents, an impossible amount to survive on.
Other country statistics are just as challenging and show how, without outside aid, the government can’t meet its peoples’ basic needs:
— unemployment and underemployment are rampant, and two-thirds or more of workers are without reliable jobs;
— structural adjustments decimated the rural economy and forced displaced peasants to cities for non-existent jobs;
— public sector employment is the lowest in the region at less than .7%;
— life expectancy is only 53 years; the death rate the highest in the hemisphere; and the infant mortality rate double the regional average at 76 per 1000;
— the World Bank places Haiti in its bottom rankings based on deficient sanitation, poor nutrition, high malnutrition, and inadequate health services;
— the country is the poorest in the hemisphere with 80% or more of the population below the poverty line; it’s also the least developed and plagued by a lack of infrastructure, severe deforestation and heavy soil erosion; a 2006 IMF report estimates Haiti’s GDP at 70% of its meager 1980 level;
— the country’s national debt quadrupled since 1980 to about $1.2 billion; half or more of it is odious; and debt service consumes about 20% of the country’s inadequate budget;
— half its population is “food insecure” and half its children undersized from malnutrition;
— more than half the population has no access to clean drinking water;
— Hatii ranks last in the hemisphere in health care spending with only 25 doctors and 11 nurses per 100,000 population and most rural areas have no health care access;
— it has the highest HIV-AIDS incidence outside sub-Sararan Africa;
— sweatshop wages are around 11 – 12 cents an hour for Haitians lucky enough to have work;
— UNICEF estimates between 250,000 to 300,000 Haitian children are victims of the country’s forced bondage or “restavec” system; it means they’re “slaves;”
— post-February 2004, repression is severe under a UN paramilitary (Blue Helmet) MINUSTAH occupation masquerading as peacekeepers; they were illegally sent for the first time ever to support a coup d’etat against a democratically elected president (with 92% of the vote); political killings, kidnappings, disappearances, torture and unlawful arrests and incarcerations are common forms of repression with more on that below; four years after the 2004 coup, the extent of human misery is overwhelming by all measures, yet the dominant media is silent and international community dismissive.
Nonetheless, while he remained in office, Aristide had remarkable accomplishments in spite of facing overwhelming obstacles. More on that below as well.
A free and independent Haiti is as threatening to the dominant social order now as on January 1, 1804 when French colonialism was defeated. It explains why crushing it is essential to preserve the country’s exploitive “legacy” with its “spectacularly unjust distribution of labor, wealth and power (characteristic of) the whole of the island’s post-Columbian history.”
Revolution provoked counter-revolution, and Hallward recounts it:
— economic isolation from which Haiti never recovered;
— French-imposed compensation (in 1825) of 150 million francs for loss of its slaves; it shackled the new nation and ended any hope for the country’s autonomy even though France later reduced the amount;
— debt repayment dependent on borrowing at extortionate rates; by 1900, payments took 80% of the nation’s budget until it was paid in full in 1947 – after nearly 125 years of debt slavery; a new form has now replaced it;
— after Haiti’s colonial race war ended, its post-colonial class conflict began; its 19th century ruling class became what it is today: “a parasitic clique of medium-sized and authoritarian landowners….importers, merchants and professionals;”
— imperialism victimized Haiti and continued into the new century; most consequential was Woodrow Wilson’s 1915 occupation that lasted until Franklin Roosevelt ended it in 1934; during the period, atrocities and war crimes were routine; the most infamous was the 1929 Les Cayes slaughter of 264 protesting peasants; US Marines killed them mercilessly, and when the occupation ended as many as 30,000 Haitians had died;
— at its end, a repressive Haitian army took over; generals ran the country, and “coup followed upon coup;”
— Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier then took power from a rigged 1957 election and during his tenure murdered 50,000 or more Haitians and terrorized the population;
— when he died in 1971, his son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) took over, maintained the family tradition, and did his father one better – he improved the country’s investment climate for its foreign patrons with punishing effects on the people;
— by the mid-1980s, even the international community no longer could tolerate his “undiluted brutality and venality;” protests began, he became a liability, was sent to a comfortable exile and (in 1986) replaced by the military;
— then came five repressive years under rule of the generals – Namphy (1986 – 88), Avril (1988 – 90) plus a few months under Leslie Manigat in 1988; later it was Cedras after the first Aristide coup; Haiti’s only female (provisional) president served for 11 months immediately preceding Aristide’s election; Ertha Pascal-Trouillot was the country’s chief justice and a wealthy member of its ruling class;
— the 1986 – 1990 period was so tumultuous that, temporarily, Haitian elites aligned themselves with charismatic priests like Jean-Bertrand Aristide; they didn’t crave reform; they wanted stability for a good business climate;
— Aristide, above others, embodied Haitians’ demands for social transformation; he combined “a concrete strategy for acquiring practical political power with the uncompromising inspiration of liberation theology” and was dedicated to the “active self-liberation of the oppressed;” yet he’s not a politician; he’s a dedicated to the poor organizer, activist and parish priest;
— in point of fact, liberation theology terrifies the ruling class even more than Marxist-Leninism or organized labor; under Lavalas, it’s the greatest threat to Haitian elites and US dominance;
— for Aristide, the “deadly economic infection called capitalism” represents profound social harm if not “mortal sin;” only social revolution can expunge it, yet Aristide renounces violence and only condones self-defense;
— repression under military rule was even harsher than earlier; after one year in office, Namphy and the generals “gunned down more civilians than Jean-Claude Duvalier’s government had done in 15 years;”
— by mid-1990, a new strategy was needed, something “less abrasive;” the year became “the single most important date in modern Haitian history;” preserving the status quo was key; Washington chose former World Bank official Marc Bazin to run in the December election; Lavalas candidate Aristide opposed him after intense pressure from fellow priests and supporters convinced him to run;
— with no organized party or campaign, Aristide won overwhelmingly with 67% of the vote in a heavy turnout of 80%; for the first time in Haiti’s history, the people chose the President, not the army or imperial powers; Washington was shocked by the result;
— Aristide took office in February, 1991 and proceeded cautiously; international lenders promised him aid; he enforced import fee collections and raised taxes on the rich; he minimized conflict with the military but purged its top commanders; political violence and state-sanctioned repression abruptly halted; and he went further but in small steps;
— he appointed a presidential commission to investigate extra-judicial killings; redistributed some fallow land; began a literacy program; cracked down on drugs trafficking; lowered food prices; and modestly increased the minimum wage;
— even moderation antagonized vested interests, including the church; it made Aristide “an intolerable challenge to the status quo;” more importantly, what he represented (not so much himself) was threatening;
— by fall, a coup was inevitable, and by late September his enemies were ready to act; they represented domestic and imperial opposition; on the night of September 30, 1991, Aristide was deposed.
1991 – 1999: The First Coup and its Consequences
By September 1991, the military understood that to contain Lavalas it had to terrorize its base in the slums. Late in the month as trouble was brewing, crowds gathered to defend the government, the army attacked them, and “shot everything in sight.” On the night of the coup, general Cedras took power, and at least 300 people were killed. It was the beginning of a three year reign of terror that would take about 5000 Lavalas lives.
The real power in Haiti at the time was Michel Francois, a longtime CIA asset, as well as the notorious “Anti-Gang” attache, Marcel Morissaint. A new “Haitian Resistance League” emerged as well to “balance the Aristide movement” and conduct “intelligence work against it.” Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was part of it, the notorious founder of FRAPH (in 1993) that terrorized Lavalas supporters.
The repression was so intense, the movement never fully recovered after the 1991 coup. Thousands were killed and many thousands more forced into exile or hiding for their safety, including the most visible Lavalas leaders.
Yet, post-coup conditions enabled Aristide to return to power in October 1994, but his critics say he compromised too much to do it. The evidence, however, shows otherwise even though, on return, Aristide was more diplomatic than confrontational.
Key to understanding his position was his dependence on America for help. Only Washington could end the military dictatorship, restore a democratically elected leader, and provide the kind of aid Haiti needed and/or allow international lending agencies to supply it. It meant sacrificing plenty in preference to getting nothing at all.
Here’s what Aristide agreed to:
— accepting the coup regime as co-equal and a “legitimate party” to negotiations,
— according its leaders an unconditional amnesty,
— and replacing (Prime Minister) Preval with an (elitist) acceptable alternative.
On July 3, 1993, Aristide signed the so-called Governors Island Accord that gave Cedras nearly everything he wanted. Nonetheless, he ignored the deal, conditions through mid-1994 worsened, and Washington proposed a new arrangement.
Lavalas was in tatters, Haiti’s military wasn’t needed, and the Clinton administration agreed to bring Aristide back but keep a tight grip on him. Why do it? As long as he needed US aid, he offered hope for a more stable business climate. He also agreed to US demands to share power, grant amnesty to coup-plotters, and let Washington develop, train and control a new police force. Most important, he agreed to structural adjustment terms and to be no deterrent to the country’s elite and international investors.
Aristide returned on October 12, 1994, took over as President, and served out his term until February 7, 1996. About 20,000 Marines came with him, cooperated closely with pro-coup families, protected FRAPH paramilitaries, and contained Haiti’s popular movement. The occupation’s damage was considerable, yet Aristide had no choice. Accomplishing anything was preferable to nothing in exile.
Nonetheless, on April 28, 1995, he took a major step. He dissolved the hated army altogether. Its significance was considerable and was done despite determined US and elite opposition. In all other respects, Aristide’s position was weaker than in 1991. Haiti’s administrative structures were in ruins and would take at least months to repair. In addition, his enemies “were neither marginalized nor disarmed….divisions had emerged among some of his supporters,” US troops had total control of the country’s security, and he had to administer neoliberal measures forced on him that were sure to provoke popular resentment.
Aristide’s only choice was to unconditionally agree to harsh economic measures or “insist on a combination of compliance and compensation.” He and Fanmi Lavalas (FL) chose the second option. His prime minister and others around him took the first. It showed Aristide acted as independently as possible, stood up for his people, yet, nonetheless, made painful concessions forced on him.
In exchange for $770 million in promised aid, he agreed to drastic tariff cuts, freeze wages, lay off about half (22,000) the civil service, and privatize all nine remaining public utilities. At the same time, he got concessions:
— new “rice sector support package” investment to improve water management, drainage, provision of fertilizers, pesticides, tools, financial services, and more;
— laid off civil employees would get a generous severance package, and in the end only 7000 layoffs occurred;
— utilities were to be sold but under a “democratization” of public assets plan stipulating their sale “must be implemented in a way (to) prevent increased concentration of wealth within the country;”
— part of the $770 million in donor aid would be for “social safety net” priorities: education for the poor, an adult literacy program, and special attention to young women’s schooling;
— provisions also empowered labor unions, grassroots organizations, cooperatives, community groups and they “demilitarize(d) public life;”
In short, Aristide agreed to painful concessions, but not unconditional surrender. He stumbled, however, by being too trusting. Although he negotiated in good faith, the other side didn’t. Washington and IFIs (international financial institutions) pressured him to abandon social provisions and threatened to halt aid entirely unless privatizations were done unconditionally.
Aristide resisted, threatened his officials with jail if they agreed to these terms, and all outside aid was suspended with devastating consequences. He was committed to his people, refused to privatize any state enterprise, and his successor Preval privatized only a couple in his first term.
By the June 1995 parliamentary elections and after the second-round September run-offs, conditions became complicated. A group associated with Lavalas won (the Plateforme Politique Lavalas – PPL), but its largest faction (Organisation Politique Lavalas – OPL) no longer supported Aristide. With Washington turning hostile, neither did the IFIs, USAID, the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), liberally funded technocrats, compliant NGOs, and it amounted to a combustive mixture. All these agencies were authorized to bypass the government, direct aid to elite interests, and undermine all Aristide initiatives.
Still, he pursued parts of his social program, including a compromise minimum wage increase that was still far below a livable amount. And even with it, the Campaign for Labor Rights noted that in 1998 “more than half (Haiti’s) 50 assembly plants (paid) less than the legal minimum” amount.
Aristide’s term expired in February 1996, his former prime minister Rene Preval was elected to succeed him, and he tried to steer a middle course between Aristide loyalists and the increasingly anti-Aristide OPL. It proved impossible with his pro-privatization prime minister, Rosny Smarth. Tensions between the two developed and headed for a split between committed and opportunistic Lavalassians. It came to a head later in the year when Aristide and his loyalists created an alternative political organization – Fanmi Lavalas (FL). Its purpose was to reestablish links between local Lavalas branches and its parliamentary representatives.
When 1997 legislative elections were held, several Aristide-allied candidates won decisively, the OPL rejected the outcome, Preval’s prime minister resigned, further privatizations were halted, but his government was left in limbo. The OPL obstructed his efforts and effectively paralyzed Preval for 18 months – until their terms expired in January 1999. New elections were then delayed until May 2000, and Preval was forced to govern by decree until Aristide was reelected to a second term in February 2001.
Until he abolished it in 1995, the army was the dominant apparatus for protecting elite privilege from open rebellion against it. Thereafter, a new Haitian National Police (PNH) force replaced it with Aristide battling elite and former army members for control. The latter prevailed since funding depended on US aid, and American troops, on arriving in Haiti, took great pains to preserve key FAdH (Haitian army) and FRAPH assets. The State Department and CIA also oversaw initial PNH recruitment and trained many police units at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. More than half of top police commissioners were recycled FAdH personal running a 6500-strength security force. In addition, its most powerful units (the 500-strong Presidential Guard and two 60 – 80 member SWAT-type units) were largely staffed by former army members.
For his part, Aristide had no control of the process. Nor could he prevent US efforts from keeping paramilitaries armed and dangerous, and it showed up in random street crime and violence that became very socially disruptive. Post-1994, these developments aided the elite and led to the second 2004 coup.
Before his 2000 reelection, however, the country was deeply polarized. Most members of the political class were aligned against FL, including ex-Duvalierists, ex-putchists and OPL members. They formed a pro-US, pro-army coalition of 200 political organizations called the Democratic Convergence (CD). Headed by former Port-au-Prince major Evans Paul, their ranks were from Haiti’s civil society – industrialists, bankers, importers, the media, intellectuals and co-opted NGOs. They, in turn, became part of another US-funded group – the Group of 184 (G-184), headed by industrialist Andy Apaid.
For its part, Fanmi Lavalas (FL) was relatively disciplined, had mass public support, and was very able to win and retain political power at all government levels. Its first test came in December 2000.
2000 – 2001: Aristide and the Crisis of Democracy
Aristide was twice elected Haiti’s President decisively – in 1990 with 67% of the vote and in 2000 with an overwhelming 92%. However, the circumstances around each one were quite different. In 1990, he won with an informal and eclectic coalition of peasant organizations, an urban poor-liberal elite alliance, and progressive church members. In 2000, FL was disciplined, united and won an overwhelming mandate with a (first time ever) working parliamentary majority.
For the elite, it was calamitous, and it let Aristide launch a significant social change initiative. His opponents, in contrast, needed a new destabilization and counter-mobilization strategy. It followed along familiar lines:
— paramilitary intervention much like the Nicaraguan Contras;
— intense economic pressure to bankrupt the government and halt its social programs;
— a legitimately-looking opposition, drawn from Haiti’s business and civil society; and
— a media disinformation campaign to portray the government as corrupt, authoritarian and undemocratic – much the way Hugo Chavez is now vilified.
All of it was designed to provoke government responses that could plausibly be called brutal and dictatorial, hope things might spin out of control, and give the opposition a chance to “step in and save the day.” FL didn’t oblige and kept them waiting four years.
Hallward calls the May 2000 legislative elections “arguably the most remarkable exercise in representative democracy in Haiti to date.” Unprecedented numbers registered and turned out to vote, and a comprehensive post-election assessment concluded “free, fair and peaceful elections (were held after) months of struggle and intimidation.” Turnout matched 1990 at around 65%. Fanmi Lavalas won overwhelmingly (locally and nationally) and swamped the anti-Aristide opposition. FL won:
— 89 of 115 mayoral positions;
— 72 of 83 (lower house) Chamber of Deputy seats; and
— 16 of 17 Senate seats and control of all but one of the Senate’s 27 positions.
It was no surprise why and a signal that no opposition could stand against Aristide in free, fair and open elections. FL had the only “coherent political program” offering improvements in health, education, infrastructure, peasant cooperatives, micro-financing, and a dedication to lift impoverished Haitians’ lives. Equally clear was a CD spokesman’s comment: “We will never, ever accept the results of these elections.” Neither would the US or France or the dominant echo-chamber media trumpeting how Haiti “failed to hold credible elections” – because the wrong party won. With truth nowhere in sight, the world heard a consistent theme – that “massive electoral fraud” tainted Haiti’s elections.
The presidential contest in November followed the same pattern, and “the dictator in question” won overwhelmingly with 92% of the vote. Fraud and violence were minimal, turnout was around 60%, FL now had three consecutive landslide (presidential) victories, and a defeated opposition determined they’d be no fourth one. They failed. More on that below.
Aristide’s victory was glorious but costly. Washington greeted it with “a crippling embargo on all further foreign aid.” Promised Inter-American Development Bank loans were also blocked – $145 million already agreed on plus another $470 million in succeeding years. The effect was so devastating that the UN Development Programme said the severity of mass destitution would take Haiti “two generations” to recover from “if the process….start(ed) now.” Other NGOs called year end 2003 conditions in the country “without precedent.”
Aristide had a choice, but it didn’t help. He agreed to negotiate, made concessions, yet the embargo was never lifted. Complicit with Washington, the CD extracted all they could but remained firm on their “essential” goal – ousting the Aristide government “by any means necessary.” Throughout his second term and its lead-up months, the CD rejected “every FL offer of new elections and of new forms of power-sharing.” One of its leading members summed up the mood – CD would only negotiate “the door through which Aristide (would) leave the palace, the front door or the back door.” Its post-January 2001 strategy was “option zero,” and these were its terms:
— be able to choose its own prime minister;
— authorize him to govern by decree; and
— neutralize Aristide, effectively force him to stand down, and have a three-member presidential council act as head of state in his place.
To highlight its position, the day Aristide was sworn in, the CD inaugurated its own parallel government. The world community barely blinked nor did the dominant media, as always blaming Aristide for Haiti’s problems.
2000 – 2003: Investing in Pluralism
From the time he gained prominence in the late 1980s,
Aristide was roughly treated. The Clinton administration was “profoundly hostile” to him, but George Bush neocons felt “genuine hatred” and showed it. One initiative was the “Democracy and Governance Program” to counter the “failure of democratic governance in Haiti.” Its strategy – “developing political parties, helping non-governmental organizations resist Haiti’s growing trend toward authoritarian rule, and strengthening the independent media.” In other words – back all efforts to crush Aristide and FL.
The extremist hard right International Republican Institute (IRI) was part of the scheme with its own special viciousness – “backing the most regressive, elitist, pro-military” Haitian factions plus allying with the CD and G-184 against Aristide and FL.
One of IRI’s strategic partners was the so-called 2002-formed, Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP). Its members represent a who’s who of American and Haitian elites, united with a singular aim – crushing Haiti’s “popular democracy” and returning the country to its pre-Aristide condition.
Haiti’s anti-goverment or “independent” media also had its role, especially radio because of the country’s high illiteracy rate. Throughout the 1990s and ahead of Aristide’s 2000 reelection, anti-Lavalas propaganda was sustained and vicious. It was so hostile that in late 2003, the National Association of Haitian Media (ANMH) banned Aristide from its member stations’ airwaves to prevent him from answering his critics.
The campaign against him was also helped when one of Haiti’s few independent journalists, Jean Dominique, was mysteriously murdered in April 2000, just weeks before the decisive May legislative elections. Dominique rankled the opposition for years, was the country’s most widely respected and influential radio voice, and strongly supported Lavalas and the poor. It’s no surprise he was silenced or any doubt who did it.
Without a countervailing voice, the dominant media’s specialty was unchallenged – round-the-clock anti-Lavalas propaganda all the time. So when small anti-Aristide demonstrations are held, like the one on May 28, 1999, they’re reported as a “tide of dissent.” In contrast, huge pro-Lavalas gatherings are downplayed or ignored.
At the same time, Haiti Progres (the country’s largest weekly publication) reported “a media campaign was also launched in the United States to split the Haitian community and undermine the support of the Congressional Black Caucus” and other pro-Lavalas advocacy groups. Its themes were familiar and consistent – FL government corruption, autocracy and complicity in human rights abuses. Earlier in the 1990s, the US media called Aristide “flaky, volatile, confrontational, demagogic, unpredictable, radical, tyrannical, a psychopath, Anti-American, anti-democratic,” and more. Then it got worse in his second term.
2001 – 2003: The Return of the Army
Economic pressure paralyzed Aristide’s government, yet it took brute force to unseat him, and the scheme advanced along familiar lines. While USAID, NED, IRI and others funded the CD and G-184, covert training and equipping a rebel army (called the FLRN) went on in neighboring Dominican Republic (DR). This, of course, is a CIA specialty, although no smoking-gun evidence reveals what, in fact, went on – so far.
However, it’s known that “contingency plans for an insurgency” were likely well advanced by the late 1990s. CIA operatives accompanied US occupation troops in 1994, and recruited and preserved FRAPH leaders, army personnel, and others to be used as an anti-Aristide paramilitary force. They went on the Agency’s payroll for the time their services would be needed. It arrived in late 2000, and consider who led it.
Three names were prominent:
— former Cap-Haitien police chief, dispassionate killer, member of Haiti’s army, and Augusto Pinochet admirer, Guy Philippe;
— former Macoute, FRAPH assassin and leader of the infamous “Raboteau massacre,” Emmanuel “Toto” Constant; and
— the similarly credentialed Louis Jodel Chamblain, described by a US intelligence official as a “cold-bloded, cutthroat, psychopathic killer” and perfect for what CIA had in mind.
In early 2001, they enlisted a group of disgruntled former FAdH personnel and began preparing an anti-Lavalas rebel force in the DR, long a loyal US client state. CIA and US Special Forces ran the operation in what’s been pretty standard US practice throughout the world for decades.
The insurgency began early in small steps:
— in July 2001 against the Haitian National Police Academy in Port-au-Prince and three police stations near the DR border in the Central Plateau; five police officers were killed and 14 others wounded;
— in December 2001 in a full-scale assault against the presidential palace; the Haitian National Police (PNH) were involved, armed commandos seized the palace for several hours, announced on radio that Aristide was no longer President, and five or six people were killed; popular response was quick; thousands of Lavalas supporters stormed out to protest, and the insurgency was quelled;
— other FLRN assaults were staged in 2002 – against police stations, FL activists, jails that were emptied, and more;
— in May 2003, 20 insurgents attacked Haiti’s largest power station in the Central Plateau killing two security guards; in June, an FL supporter was executed; in July, rebels killed four Interior Ministry members; other attacks continued through the summer and fall.
By early 2004, things were coming to a boil with “one and only one objective: the unconditional surrender of Lavalas.”
2001 – 2004: Aristide’s Second Administration
Aristide’s second term was even more challenging than his first. Haiti was nearly bankrupt, its social and economic programs severely compromised by extorted concessions, media propaganda was intense, and from his inauguration to ouster paramilitary pressure was building.
In spite of it and his damaging mistakes, Aristide’s accomplishments were remarkable:
— his government built and renovated health clinics, hospitals, dispensaries and improved medical services; Haitian medical students were trained in Cuba; a new Haitian medical school was established in Tabarre and provided free medical education for hundreds of Haitians; Cuba also sent Haiti about 800 doctors and nurses to supplement its meager 1000 or so total;
— education was targeted in addition to medical training in Tabarre; FL implemented a Universal Schooling Program; new primary and high schools were built, including in rural areas; thousands of scholarships were provided for private and church-run schools; schoolbooks, uniforms and school lunches were subsidized; a national literacy campaign was undertaken and from 1990 – 2003, illiteracy dropped from 65% to 45%;
— there were human rights and conflict resolution achievements, including criminal justice reforms; special children’s courts were established and the nation’s youths got real legal protection; measures were also adopted to reduce exploitation of children;
— for the first time, women got posts as prime minister, finance and foreign minister, chief of police and unprecedented numbers won parliamentary seats;
— the hated military was abolished as already mentioned;
— unprecedented free speech, assembly and personal safety were achieved;
— the minimum wage was doubled;
— land reform was initiated;
— thousands of jobs were created;
— new irrigation systems supplied farmers with water; rice yields (Haiti’s main staple crop) increased sharply;
— many thousands of Caribbean pigs were distributed to farmers;
— efforts were made to collect unpaid taxes from the rich and business elites;
— hundreds of community stores sold food at discount prices;
— for the first time ever, a Haitian government participated in discussions with Venezuela, Cuba and other Caribbean states to discuss US-limiting regional economic strategies, including cooperative trade; and
— low cost housing was built, and more in spite of enormous constraints, bare bones resources, the country nearly bankrupt, and an administration targeted for removal by overwhelming internal and external force.
In spite of overwhelming obstacles, the 1994 – 2003 decade was remarkable by any standard. “For the first time in its history, Haiti’s people were ruled by a government of their choosing, one that adopted their priorities as its own.” It made popular support for Aristide active, strong, and channeled through a network of “organisations populaire” (OPs) that played a central collective mobilizing role in the country. They provided an instrument for all kinds of social programs – education, construction, youth and cultural projects, sports, street cleaning, waste management, and more. It made FL “the single most important organized political force in the country” and also the main obstacle to elitist dominance. It made the movement and what it represents, far more than Aristide, the real 2004 putschist target.
2001 – 2004: The Winner Loses?
In spite of its strength and resilience, FL had its faults and suffered the consequences. Its relative informality made it vulnerable to “opportunistic” infiltration by members of the “conventional political class” as well as former Macoutes, soldiers and criminal gang leaders. Some FL politicians also used their positions for personal gain and implicated the government in damaging scandals.
Further, the very strength of its support meant the opposition had to undermine the organization from within. Ways included money and weapons to neighborhood gangs to change sides and turning the state’s own security forces (the USGPN Presidential Guard) against the President. Aristide’s last Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, believed by year end 2003, few national security force members could be trusted because they’d been corrupted by “members of civil society.” In addition, some Aristide supporters became disillusioned by his fruitless negotiating strategy and for not being more decisive in the crucial pre-coup weeks.
The CD took full advantage, were able to buy off some of the FL hierarchy, and “paint a lurid picture of a government mired in drugs, embezzlement” and human rights abuses. Post-coup, there was even talk of a “Noriega-style indictment of Aristide (to) rid the US of their turbulent priest once and for all.” When the idea faded for lack of proof and Aristide’s willingness to cooperate with DEA while still President, old corruption and embezzlement charges resurfaced. Although bizarre and outlandish against a self-effacing priest, Aristide’s opponents tried to tarnish him with charges of appropriating state funds for private gain, living in palatial luxury at his private home, and stealing tens of millions of dollars to do it.
More damaging were charges of Haiti’s “worsening human rights situation.” In the 2001 – 2004 period, reports from human rights groups like NCHR (Haiti’s highest profile one), CARLI, and CEDH read like a CD script to provide ammunition for promoting regime change. Post-coup, however, these same groups seemed not to notice mass state-sponsored killings that accompanied and followed Aristide’s ouster.
Along with others, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was notably egregious, given its reputation that’s decidedly undeserved. In its 2001 report, it described 2000 as a year of “mounting political violence” and blamed it on Aristide supporters. It repeated the accusation in 2002, and in 2003 said that “worsening human rights conditions, mounting political turmoil, and a declining economy marked” (Aristide’s government). “Human rights conditions remained poor (with) police violence, arbitrary arrests, and wrongful detention, among other problems” – clearly condemning Aristide for what the opposition caused. In contrast, in 2004, HRW didn’t even mention Haiti in its annual report, but two weeks before the February coup it issued a press release blaming the government for the worst of the violence preceding it. Shamelessly, HRW blamed the victim and let the villain off scot-free.
Amnesty International (AI) was much the same. In the violent post-coup period, (directed at FL), AI and HRW muted their criticism and framed it in the continuing “cycle of violence and impunity that has plagued the Caribbean republic for so many years.” What more could the putschists ask for? They couldn’t buy better assessments.
Compared to tens of thousands killed under the Duvaliers, the generals and post-coup Latortue government, Aristide abhored violence, wouldn’t tolerate political killings, and on their own, the PNH at most caused a handful of them in his second term. Yet HRW and AI equated the period to the worst state-sponsored violence in modern Haitian history, then ignored the whole human rights question in 2006 when it raged out of control.
A particularly damaging and equally untrue Aristide accusation was that he relied on violent gangs, called “chimeres,” to maintain power, intimidate opponents, and control the country. The press bought it, and even the London Independent (two weeks before the 2004 coup) reported “Aristide’s Thugs Crush Hopes of People’s Revolution with Beatings and Intimidation.” This and similar accounts painted Aristide as reinventing himself as a Macoute, yet it was outlandishly false.
In a country plagued by violence, unreported was why, and by and against whom. Haitians are desperately poor. Even those with jobs hardly earn enough to survive. The only way the country’s factory owners can maintain the system is through intimidation, and they rely on the military and PNH as their enforcers.
In contrast, Aristide abhors violence and not a single opposition leader was killed or disappeared during his tenure, either time. Whenever pro-government forces turned violent, it was largely in self-defense, a practice Aristide condoned. At the same time, during Aristide’s second term, substantial PNH elements turned against him and were beyond his control. There’s no proof whatever, that FL, at any time, initiated, supported, or directed any form of violence. The media reported otherwise.
In addition, FL could gain nothing from violence. The country had an estimated 210,000 firearms with the vast majority of them in ruling class hands. Yet even if Aristide controlled them, his position was firm, and it stemmed from his liberation theology position. He insisted on peaceful reconciliation with his enemies. Had he wished, millions of Haitians would have instantly supported a popular uprising and sent his opponents packing.
However, ignoring realpolitik pressed Aristide in a corner, made him negotiate from weakness, and in the process, disenchant members of his original following. CD took full advantage.
Concessions like punishing structural adjustments took their toll. They alienated opportunistic FL supporters, and two of the country’s high-profile peasant organizations (Tet Kole Ti Peyizan and KOZE-PEP) called them “anti-populaire” and condemned how they harmed Haiti’s farmers. Yet most in the FL camp stayed loyal in spite of claims to the contrary. They were with Aristide at the beginning, stayed to the end, and still support FL today. So do the vast majority of Haitians. Aristide could mobilize them like no one else, that made him a threat, still does, and is the reason elitists insist he stay out of the country and region, hoping that out of sight is out of mind. Not then and not now.
2003 – 2004: Preparing for War
Hallward calls the February 2004 coup “consistent with the long-standing pattern and priorities of imperial foreign policy….a scandal….never inevitable….not irreversible….and (importantly) a failure.” How so on the last point? Because the perpetrators “failed to accomplish their main objective” – eliminating Lavalas as an “organized political force.” The February 2006 presidential election showed its resilience and began “a new phase in the Lavalas project” with miles to go nonetheless to achieve it. More on that below.
The second Aristide coup differed from the first. The imperial alliance needed support on the left as well as the right. It meant co-opting “progressive” NGOs along with stage-managed student protests. In addition, some militant (street gangs) and organizations sympathetic to FL had to be won over. Finally, in the end, it took US Marines to do what what Haitian proxies couldn’t on their own.
Consider the importance of NGOs in a country like Haiti where estimates are that there are more of them per capita (from 10,000 to 20,000 total number in 1998) than anywhere else in the world. Their role is essential because of what they provide – about 80% of public services for food, water, health care, education, sanitation, and more. Equally crucial is their source of funding with at least 70% of it from USAID – a key imperial project agent. Its efforts are to pacify the country, create a secure investment climate, and assure most benefits flow to US interests.
Using NGOs as a tool makes it more appropriate to call them “other-governmental,” not “non-governmental.” They, in fact, put a respectable face on imperial harshness and to that degree are counterproductive. They mostly serve the powerful, not the people, and in the end (most often) have little to show for their efforts.
Some of them, in fact, played an open political role at the time of the 2004 coup in spite of disguising their partisanship behind a seemingly neutral or principled facade. Groups like Action Aid (against worldwide poverty), Christian Aid (for the same purpose), and Catholic Relief Services (“to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas”) are three notable examples. There are many others, and they make wonderful propaganda.
A notable Haitian-based one is Batay Ouvriye (BO) – a “small, quasi-clandestine network of labor activists.” It claims to be on the left, but does more for the right. As the February 2004 approached, BO aligned with anti-FL forces to denounce the “outright criminal” Aristide government as the “main agent of corruption.” It called FL anti-labor and anti-poor, was bought off to do it, and belatedly admitted getting $100,000 from USAID. Hallward says they did more to tarnish Lavalas than any other group.
Students did their damage as well. One “progressive” pro-coup group called them the turning point in the anti-FL campaign. They began protesting in the fall of 2003 about “lack of services and lack of university autonomy” and faced off against Haitian police. The scheme is very familiar.
In an effort to destabilize Lavalas, the IRI and G-184 found willing student recruits – with considerable time and money doing it and new groups created for the purpose. Leaders were chosen and bought off with money and visas to America and France in exchange for organizing protests. They were also trained in what to do. It was perfect. In exchange for a modest investment, the putschists bought an ideal cover – “idealistic young democrats” to denounce Aristide and FL and make great copy in the mainstream press.
Yet imagine the irony – they attacked a movement and President who did more for Haitian education than any other head of state in the country’s history. They found a pretext to do it when the university’s rector was removed in July 2002 even though his term had expired. Protests against it were staged, but were small and ineffective.
Not so a year later in December 2003 when a student rally supporting the G-184 turned ugly. Brawls between pro and anti-government protesters broke out, up to two dozen students were injured, the event was blown out of proportion but it worked, and some anti-Lavalas elements called the event the defining moment of FL’s demise. They dubbed it “black Friday,” but what actually happened wasn’t clear cut. Aristide and Prime Minister Neptune condemned the violence, some witnesses blamed it on students, not police, and the actual amount of it was low and never spun out of control. Nonetheless, the damage was done, and the opposition and dominant media took full advantage.
Even so, by late January 2004, it was clear that more than demonstrations were needed to topple the government. Further, pro-government rallies dwarfed anti-government ones. In early February, it was time for stronger measures with a fury that had been building in Gonaives in the northwest and across the DR border.
2004: The Second Coup
From summer 2001, paramilitary attacks assaulted the Aristide government, but were minor hit-and-run affairs. By fall 2003, however, things changed. They became more regular and intense and spread from the Central Plateau to Petit Goave (in the south) and Cap-Haitian (in the north). So far, however, insurgents lacked a reliable neighborhood base. Up to mid-2003, they had none in Port-au-Prince (in the south) but managed success in Gonaives (in the northwest). Then they scored a success in the capital as well.
In mid-July, one Cite Soleil-based gang leader and his lieutenant were bought off with money (in the tens of thousands) and promises of visas. They were well-armed, supported by anti-FL police elements, and posed a direct challenge to pro-Aristide groups, but still not enough to unseat the government.
In Gonaives, however, on February 5, 2004, an “alliance of criminals, death-squadders and former soldiers” (called the Cannibal Army) launched the final operation (in the words of one rebel leader) to “liberate Haiti from the dictator Aristide:”
— they overwhelmed the Gonaives police force in a three hour gun battle;
— burned the station and released about 100 inmates;
— torched homes of the mayor and other FL officials;
— took a new name – the Revolutionary Artibonite Resistance Front;
— on February 7, they undertook their most important engagement – ambushing an inept police counterattack, killing seven officers;
— they now had total control of the city, took Hinche (in central Haiti) on February 16 and Cap-Haitien (in the northeast) on February 22.
The CD and dominant media trumpeted Haiti’s impending liberation and created myths about why it approached – the Aristide dictatorship, criminal gangs portrayed as liberators, the CD never inciting violence, and Haiti’s elites determined to achieve a “political” and “democratic” solution. Of course, these claims were lies with victims called oppressors and dark forces portrayed as liberating ones. All the while, however, the insurgency didn’t proceed smoothly.
Despite their resources and backing, aside from Gonaives, Hinche and some Central Plateau villages, rebels were challenged by a resilient and well-organized resistance. Almost every time, an alliance of police and pro-FL activists sent the aggressors packing. On February 9, Lavalassians regained control almost everywhere. On February 10, rebels retreated to their Gonaives stronghold. Across the Central Plateau, Haitians recognized them as the return of the hated army.
Then later in February, well-armed insurgents “steamroller(ed) their way quite easily across most of northern Haiti.” The government, in turn, concentrated on defending Port-au-Prince, and Aristide still hoped for a negotiated solution. It was wishful thinking.
As events unfolded, Aristide’s retreat and refusal to issue a national call to arms sealed his fate. Rebels cut off the road from the capital to Cap-Haitien, halted food convoys to the north, fuel ran out in the city, electricity failed, hospitals closed, and conditions became desperate. Things were heading for a showdown, and by late February only Lavalas partisans could be trusted to protect the government. At the same time, pressure was building for Aristide to resign, but he persisted in seeking a negotiated solution.
In mid-January, he agreed to CARICOM’s proposal to accept an opposition prime minister, hold new elections, take further measures to disarm his supporters, and reform the police. The opposition ignored him, and the effort fell flat. It was followed by a February 21 Roger Noreiga proposal in his role as the ruthlessly duplicitous regional Assistant Secretary of State. It gave everything to the opposition and called for Aristide’s unconditional surrender. Even so, to quell violence, Aristide accepted it, yet even that conciliatory gesture was rejected.
The whole process was a charade, and Noriega revealed it by canceling final negotiations and ending any chance for settlement short of an Aristide resignation. The French were quite happy to go along and for good reason.
It stemmed from a 2003 Aristide call for France to repay the massive sum it extorted in 1825 compounded by a modest amount of annual interest. But at 5% up to 2003, it amounted to $21 billion dollars and clearly rankled the Chirac government. By September 2003, members of its embassy had a full-time anti-Aristide job, and except for the US, no other country so enthusiastically wanted him out.
By fall 2003, France rejected Aristide’s request and called it based on “hallucinatory accounting.” The French Socialist Party agreed, denounced the Aristide “dictatorship” and called for his resignation. After that, Aristide was too preoccupied with his survival to press the issue, and post-coup in April, his successor Latortue called the claim “illegal, ridiculous and was only made for political reasons. The matter is closed.” More on this (made-in-USA) appointee below.
In the meantime on February 20, Colin Powell said the US wouldn’t “object if Aristide agreed to leave office early.” US Ambassador Carney called Aristide “toast,” and Haiti’s President told CNN on February 26 that an international community token gesture would have stopped the insurgency in its tracks. A single call from Powell would have done it. However, on February 25, the Franco-US alliance blocked the last-ditch CARICOM Security Council proposal to save the government. Then on February 28 (hours before the coup), the White House press secretary blamed Aristide for “the deep polarization and violent unrest….in Haiti.” It was about to come to a head at the hands of US troops.
By late February, Aristide was severely weakened, his position tenuous, and his government only controlled greater Port-au-Prince. On the night of February 28 into the early morning February 29 hours, it ended. The Franco-US alliance falsely claimed he resigned. Aristide vehemently denied it. In fact, insurgents couldn’t unseat him, so US Marines were sent to do it.
Throughout February, Aristide repeatedly insisted he’d serve out his term and had no intention of resigning. In CNN February 26 and 27 interviews, he again reaffirmed his intention to stay and would only step down when his term expired on February 7, 2006. As late as 1AM February 29, he told no close allies he’d leave office – not his chief legal counsel, his press secretary or even his wife.
US claims that it was voluntary are false and consider the circumstances. The scheme:
— was arranged in total secrecy;
— it happened in the middle of the night into the early morning pre-daybreak Sunday hours;
— there were no cameras, reporters or independent witnesses; and
— it’s inconceivable Aristide would choose the Central African Republic (CAR) as his refuge location; it’s a repressive police state closely aligned to France, and on arrival he was held under house arrest and denied access to the media, telephone and all contact outside the country;
— – numerous other inconsistencies also went unanswered and the dominant media didn’t asked.
When he finally got a chance to explain, Aristide told CNN and others he was “taken by force by US military.” They and Haitian security forces surrounded his home and threatened him with massive and immediate violence “to push me out and (against his will) sign a letter stating that “I have been forced to leave to avoid bloodshed.” To his disgrace (post-coup) in mid-April, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan produced a Report on Haiti to endorse the official Franco-American storyline in every respect.
It was false and deceptive. For one thing, Aristide wasn’t threatened by Haitian rebels. They were at least a week away from assaulting Port-au-Prince, and with mass FL support, they knew it might be impossible to succeed if they tried. Rebel commander Philippe, in fact, told reporters that at best they hoped to blockade the city, then “wait for the right time.” He later admitted that the “rebellion” was largely a made-for-media bluff to scare Aristide into thinking their small force (around 300 in total) was strong and unstoppable.
In contrast, Aristide’s real threat was from US Ambassador Foley and French Ambassador Burkard. They likely knew what Hallward explained – that if Aristide held on for another week or so “his government might well have been able to regain control of the situation. There was no popular revolution (or) crisis of leadership.”
US and French hawks knew time was running out and they had to act. They tried threatening phone calls into the early February 29 hours. They didn’t work. “Aristide wouldn’t budge, and Foley (ran) out of options….Time was desperately short.” It was harder concealing “the obvious links between the political and military wings of the US-backed opposition,” and some sources said “the French in particular were starting to panic, and were now determined to force the issue at all costs.”
Foley apparently agreed and “settle(d) for plan B: direct US abduction.” At the same time, with time running out, no one else could be relied on, so orders went out for US Marines to finish the job and do it fast. With Aristide’s commitment to non-violence, their job was easier. But Hallward believes his choice was strategically sound. Had he chosen to stay and fight, there’d have been a bloodbath, and Aristide would have committed suicide. By leaving and avoiding it, he exposed his conspirators and gave Lavalas a chance to “regroup and prevail in a longer-term struggle.”
Even so, things got ugly. When word got out about his abduction, supporters took to the streets and vented their rage. Gas stations and banks were torched and USAID and CARE property stolen. Downtown shops were also looted. At the same time, opposition forces struck back and in the first few post-coup days killed between 300 and 1000 persons. They and Bel Air, La Saline and Cite Soleil residents (Lavalas loyalists) were the real coup targets, and their suffering had only begun.
2004: Revenge of the Haitian Elite
In the short term, the coup succeeded, but getting rid of Aristide was a diversion. The real aim was “to break once and for all the movement sustained by many dozens of pro-Lavalas ‘organisations populaires.’ ” To prevent another Lavalas president, it would require:
— in the short term, forming a pseudo-government of exclusive elitist members with plenty of foreign money and military power backing them; a campaign of anti-Lavalas organization aggression, especially in their slum area strongholds; and manipulating the electoral process to divide and conquer the opposition.
— in the longer term, integrating Haiti into a stable neoliberal regional order; adopting “untrammeled privatization” and structural adjustments; increased reliance on foreign aid for elitists’ interests, not poor Haitians; further reliance on co-opted NGOs; increased supervision of security forces; and more. These measures would reinforce class barriers and let Haitian industrialists and foreign investors get on with their imperial project.
Efforts in that direction began immediately, as in 1991 overt armed resistance was quickly suppressed, and putschists aimed to target their enemies as harshly as they dared. They dared plenty, and things turned ugly fast. Innocent victims were fair game while high-profile FL figures or anyone seen as a threat were hunted down and either fled or were jailed. Many went into hiding. Others reached exile.
Throughout the country, rebel thugs got free reign to terrorize and kill, did plenty of both, and did it openly in the streets. Hundreds ended up dead or missing. The state Port-au-Prince morgue was swamped with bodies, far more than it could handle, and on March 7 had to dump or bury 800 corpses – many with their hands tied behind their backs and bags placed over their heads.
Bodies turned up everywhere, in the streets, washed up on beaches, abandoned to pigs as food, and volunteers were still collecting them around Cite Soleil through the end of 2005. Anyone associated with Lavalas was fair game, but that could be anyone because its support was so strong and still is.
US Marines controlled the capital and within days 2000 foreign troops joined them – not to protect the public but to “soften up ‘hostile’ neighborhoods by clearing away their last remaining defenses” to defend against rebel attacks. Killings were commonplace to wipe out resistance, create an atmosphere of fear, and solidify the new ruling government’s authority.
Democracy was nowhere in sight, and its establishment was farcical on its face. This was the process:
— on February 29, Haiti’s Supreme Court chief justice, Boniface Alexandre, was sworn in as in as interim president ignoring the constitutional requirement for the legislature to ratify his appointment and that he became an illegitimate coup d’etat appointee;
— on March 3, a temporary “Tripartite Council” was nominated – comprised of one unauthorized Lavalas representative, the opposition, and the international community to assure the group was pro-elitist;
— the “Council’s” job, in turn, was to appoint another one – a seven-person Conseil des Sages (Council of the Wise) made up of nearly all anti-Lavalassians;
— this group then chose an acceptable prime minister and imported a Floridian (for the past 20 years) for the job – Gerard Latorture, a neoliberal economist and former UN functionary who could be relied on as a loyal elitist ally. Like no other recent official in the job, Latortue held absolute power for the next two years, his government excluded all FL supporters, and he achieved wondrous results for his backers:
— Haiti’s literacy program was abandoned immediately;
— subsidies for schoolbooks and meals were canceled;
— agrarian reform was reversed allowing former landlords to reclaim their land;
— income tax collections (from the elites) were suspended for three years;
— price controls and import regulations were ended to benefit agribusiness, harm local production, and Haitian businessmen raised food prices up to 400%;
— the new Tabarre university was shut down;
— despite pledged $1.2 billion in donor aid, none of it went for job creation, production or public works beneficial to poor Haitians; in a country with 70% or more unemployment, one of Latortue’s first acts was to fire several thousand public sector employees forcing them into destitution with little means to survive;
— he also ended the careers of thousands of elected officials by closing down the government and replacing it with unelected hand-picked successors;
— trial judges were also dismissed and replaced with more acquiescent ones; and
— overall he served the powerful and abandoned any pretense of social investment for the most desperately impoverished people in the hemisphere.
Besides a suitable government, the other priority was security – reestablishing a “more army-friendly” Haitian National Police (PNH), in lieu of a more expensive Haitian army that wasn’t needed. Doing it, however, meant reactivating the old death-squad network that would work just as well but it had to be done discretely.
Once established, every credible human rights organization visiting the country in 2004 and 2005 came to the same conclusion – the kind of thugs recruited waged an open “campaign of terror in the Port-au-Prince slums.” They served as Haiti’s largest and most brutal gang and had free reign to operate.
One of their most pressing tasks was arresting and imprisoning loyal Lavalassians. By late 2006, Haiti’s jails overflowed with them and pro-Lavalas neighborhood residents. The capital’s squalid penitentiary held four times its capacity, and only a fraction of them committed a crime. Most of them were grassroots FL supporters or OP members. One was former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, another was Rene Civil, one of Haiti’s most respected activists. Still another was Father Gerard Jean-Juste who spent 26 years in exile working with Haitian refugees in Miami, then returned to Haiti after Aristide’s 1991 election.
Imprisoning the opposition had its limits, however. It stretched the capacity to do it to the maximum. As prisons overflowed, anti-Lavalas efforts unleashed unprecedented levels of persecution, and a UN paramilitary force supplied heavy weaponry to supplement the more conventional kinds the PNH used.
2004 – 2006: Repression and Resistance
Hallward divides it into three phases:
— an initial all out assault on FL activists followed by about two more months of similar tactics;
— then an April 30, 2004 Security Council-authorized (Blue Helmet) MINUSTAH occupation force to take over from an initial Multinational Interim Force (MIF); it began its first of successive six-month deployments in June with this supposed mandate – to employ “less abrasive” tactics such as “pseudo-legal” arrests and “punitive imprisonment” in lieu of public executions; it’s portrayed as “neutral” even though it’s thuggish; and after an initial lull in violence, it’s been as brutish as street gangs with high-powered weapons for added firepower; its mission is also illegal for being the first time ever Blue Helmet force supporting a coup d’etat against a democratically elected President;
— a third 2004 phase began in late summer/early fall under the “retrained, rearmed and reinforced” PNH with plenty of MINUSTAH backup.
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the coup, Haitian resistance remains strong, and brutish force is matched against it. It results in indiscriminate killing in Lavalas strongholds like Cite Soleil and an early example in Bel Air on the 13th (September 30) anniversary of the 1991 coup. Over 10,000 rallied to commemorate it, were shot at by police, up to 10 people were killed and many others wounded. Repressive incursions into neighborhoods followed with Bel Air a frequent target.
The reason is its remarkable resilience, unflinching support for Aristide, and proximity to the edge of the downtown’s commercial center, national palace and police headquarters. Bel Air also learned how to defend itself, and its “comites de vigilance” led resistance against pre-Aristide military dictatorships. This combination of “poverty, solidarity and strength” made it essential to subdue. In the fall of 2004, repeated PHN/MINUSTAH incursions arrested dozens of people and shot many others. On October 11 alone, 130 people were jailed, and repression continued for months. It hasn’t stopped.
No one knows the full toll that keeps mounting. But one study was startling. It was by Wayne State University, School of Social Work researchers Athena Kolbe and Royce Hutson. For the period February 2004 to December 2005, they used coordinate sampling and personal interviews to document the following in the greater Port-au-Prince area:
— an estimated 8000 killings;
— 35,000 sexual assaults;
— about 21% of killings by the PHN;
— another 13% by the demobilized army; and
— still another 13% by paramilitary gangs like the Little Machete Army.
The report documented kidnappings, extrajudicial detentions, physical assaults other than rape, death threats, physical ones, and still others of sexual violence. Investigators concluded that “crime and systematic abuse of human rights were common in Port-au-Prince” involving criminals but also “political actors and UN (Blue Helmet) soldiers.” It also stressed an overwhelming need on the ground for attention to “legal, medical, psychological, and economic consequences of widespread human rights abuses and crime.” The study ended in December 2005, but rampant abuses continue daily in pro-Lavalas areas.
Cite Soleil is a frequent target. It’s a Port-au-Prince slum, an FL stronghold, and with 300,000 residents is the largest neighborhood in the country by far. It may also be the poorest, most congested, and without even a pretense of infrastructure. Yet it shows a determined capacity to defend itself. In the ensuing post-coup months, hundreds were killed trying, the slaughter continues against Lavalas sympathizers, and UN Blue Helmets are the main perpetrators. Even so, and despite months of “open warfare” on Cite Soleil streets, MINUSTAH’s attempt to subdue the community was no more successful than earlier PHN and co-opted street gang efforts. By late summer 2005, a dreaded moment for pro-coup forces approached – electing a new Haitian president.
The process was scheduled for October 2005, then November, and after four delays, took place on February 7, 2006 – at a time Jean-Bertrand Aristide was still the country’s democratically elected President but in exile in South Africa with no ability to run or claim his office.
Fanmi Lavalas was to be excluded or at best “integrated” into the process like a more conventional political party, but its leaders had other plans. They would only participate with Father Jean-Juste as their candidate, a much beloved man like Aristide and a staunch supporter of Haiti’s legitimate President. To prevent his running, however, masked police came to his bi-weekly children’s soup kitchen. They beat and arrested him, then held him for weeks at the national penitentiary under appalling conditions. He was released in November, arrested again, and then allowed to go to Miami in January 2006 for urgently needed medical treatment.
At the same time, many Lavalassian OPs urged Rene Preval to run, offered full support if he would, got him to accept at the last minute, and caught the whole political establishment by surprise as a result. It let FL abstain from participating while encouraging its members to support a man representing Lavalas continuity with his Lespwa alliance. It worked like a charm, shocked the opposition, and in a free, fair and open election made Preval unbeatable. Yet a group of nine CD leaders were determined to try – at least if they could force a second round to pool their votes around one Preval opponent and do what they do best – arrange things so their man won regardless of how people voted and try any stunt to do it.
They controlled voter registrations and tried to limit them. Whereas the previous Preval administration provided over 10,000 locations, Latortue set up less than 500 in carefully chosen sites to disadvantage pro-Lavalas neighborhoods. In addition, compared to about 12,000 polling stations in 2000, only 800 were allowed in 2006, again with the same tactic employed. Pro-Lavalas strongholds like Cite Soleil and poor rural areas had none.
Nonetheless, turnout was huge – on a par with 1990 and 2000 at around 65%, with many thousands coming miles to vote and enduring long lines to do it. By February 9, with one-fourth of the votes counted, Preval was comfortably ahead at around 62% against his main opponent with 11%. Yet, when results were announced on February 11, they were predictable.
With the Latortue government in charge, they rigged the election, controlled the process, picked the winner and still lost. Thousands of valid Preval ballots went missing or were dumped, and there was little effort to conceal it. Others were mysteriously blank and still more were judged invalid. The near-final tally – Preval’s huge majority evaporated to 49.6%, then was lowered on February 13 to 48.7%, making a second round necessary if the result held.
The response on Port-au-Prince streets and around the country was outrage, and it changed things. On February 15, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) decided to divide the “blank” ballots proportionally among the candidates. It was enough to nudge Preval above the 50% mark and provide him a first round victory. In point of fact, independent observers judged he got between 62% and 70% of the votes, and considering that he tallied 88% in 1996, those figures were likely too low.
Looking back since 1990, the “single most obvious feature of Haitian politics” was undeniable: populist candidates (Aristide or Preval) won each time – overwhelmingly with Aristide getting 92% in 2000 and he’d likely match it if he chose and were allowed again to run.
The 2006 victory was profoundly important, but as would be seen, equally compromised. It emphatically rejected the 2004 coup, yet got Preval to govern tactfully and timidly. More on that below.
By summer 2006, international donors pledged $750 million in aid. Initially, Preval announced plans for significant amounts of social investments. He also got commitments from Venezuela and Cuba (in spring 2007) in health care, electricity, other infrastructure and low-cost oil. Around the same time, he announced initiatives in education, literacy, road-building and tourism.
All the while, he had little room to maneuver. He was constrained by not having a legislative majority. He had it in Haiti’s Senate but not in the lower Chamber of Deputies that was controlled by a pro-coup – pro-army majority. Even worse was the constant pressure he faced from dominant elitists and the long shadow of Washington always in the wings.
It made Preval extremely cautious, and it showed in his prime ministerial appointment – elitist Jacques Edouard Alexis to lead an eclectic cabinet having five CD members. The result – almost nothing of consequence was accomplished in his first year of office and, even so, the opposition wanted Alexis replaced by a still more “acceptable” alternative.
Preval was indeed hamstrung and it showed in his actions. He’s done little for social change, and by spring 2007 was prepared to announce a new round of privatizations, including selling off Haiti’s telecommunications company. One year into his second term, a Haiti Progres editor “conclude(d) that so far the government has done nothing at all.” Preval was either “diplomatic” or “indecisive” on Lavalas election demands of “justice for (coup) victims, release of political prisoners, return of exiles, (and ending) militarized assault(s) on the popular neighborhoods.”
Point of fact – Preval cut a deal with the devil. To win a first round victory (even though he won overwhelmingly), he agreed to painful concessions. Many prominent FL leaders, including Yvon Neptune, judged his indecisiveness damaging and “indefensible.” Some Lavalassians called his Lespwa coalition “nothing” and would only be supported if it moved “in the right direction.”
In fall 2006, it did the opposite when Preval and Alexis yielded to US and elitist pressure for more direct action against activist neighborhoods. To counter pro-Aristide/Lavalas rallies in Cite Soleil, they authorized a full-scale December Blue Helmet assault that “missed its targets but left around twenty innocents dead.” More incursions followed with many more deaths. So far, Preval was colluding with the enemy instead of representing the people who elected him. Moreover, three years post-coup, some movement veterans believe conditions are “more discouraging than ever before.”
Hallward notes that by March 2007, “there was little popular enthusiasm for a government whose hands were so firmly and so obviously tied by international constraints.” Yet its existence is impressive proof that efforts to crush Lavalas haven’t succeeded, and (even though near-impotent), “Preval’s own fidelity to Lavalas remains strong. Whoever succeeds him (assuming a comparable election) will in all likelihood share a similar fidelity.” Lavalas, even in disarray, “remains the most powerful political force in the country.” It endures in spite of immense repression, is less dependent on one charismatic leader, is “less contaminated by opportunists (and has) fewer illusions about what must be done next.”
At the time of his reelection, Aristide and FL were so popular, they threatened the old order with real progressive change. They had to be contained, and they were by a coalition of “first world diplomats, IFI economists, USAID consultants, IRI, (NED and) CIA (functionaries), media specialists, ex-military personnel, (security forces), NGO(‘s),” and more who declared victory on February 29, 2004. They ousted the people’s government and “discredited the most progressive (one) in Haiti’s history.” And they used a familiar formula to do it:
— starving the government of aid;
— applying enormous economic pressure and obliging it to adopt unpopular policies like cutting public services and jobs;
— tainting the government’s democratic legitimacy by equating it with former dictatorships;
— controlling security forces and co-opting opportunistic elements of the popular movement;
— forcing the government to be defensive against paramilitary attacks and calling it intolerant of dissent;
— presenting government opposition as diverse and inclusive and calling oppressors victims and victims oppressors;
— getting dominant media support to vilify the government as intractable, authoritarian, and led by a despot;
— overall, turning truth on its head and getting the world community to sign on to it and then stay mute in the face of intense repression; and
— pressuring Aristide and Lavalas to make damaging compromises and mistakes.
In contrast, it’s quite reasonable to blame Aristide for being too “tolerant,” too “conciliatory,” too “complacent,” and too “lenient” with opponents and opportunists who took full advantage. His supporters might argue he failed to act with enough “vigor” and “determination” as they “were entitled to expect.” FL also became “too inclusive, too moderate, too indecisive, (and) too undisciplined” after gaining an overwhelming mandate. Aristide more often was willing to negotiate with his enemies than mobilize his supporters to challenge them. He steadfastly rejected violence and resolutely wanted peace and conciliation.
Yet in spite of what happened, Hallward is hopeful. He believes Aristide’s era “opened the door to a new political future.” Lavalas was an experiment against the established order, and Aristide led it with a minimum of resources, no outside support, and intense opposition. The 2006 election and the three preceding it (in 1990, 1995 and 2000) show that Haitians “consistently and overwhelmingly” voted for “much the same principles and much the same people.” In the long run, toppling Lavalas a second time may work no better than the first.
If presidential elections are held in 2010, Hallward believes Lavalas may likely win a fifth time and solidify its legitimacy further. It’s no small factor that eight years under George Bush has encouraged progressive elements throughout the region, and it may pay off ahead for Haitians.
Lavalas has also begun to address its own limitations, to be less dependent on Aristide’s charisma, to purge its manipulative opportunists and to build greater strength and resilience from a more solid base. Hallward refers to elements within Lavalas “emerg(ing) from the crucible of repression stronger than before,” and it’s encouraging to believe they’ll build on it. Haiti first won independence through force of arms, it took a decade to do it, and Haitians did it on their own. Prevailing again won’t be with weapons, it will take much longer, and it will require a remobilized Lavalas along with a renewed “emancipatory politics within the imperial nations themselves.” After 500 years, Haiti’s struggle continues and hope sustains it.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Global Research News Hour on RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests.