The Untold Story Of Aristide's Haiti Departure
The Untold Story Of Aristide's Departure From Haiti
One Man's Democracy, Another Man's Chains
Kevin Pina – Black Commentator Associate Editor
A recounting of recent events in Haiti is reminiscent of a statement written by an American Marine private during the first U.S. occupation of Haiti that began in 1915 and lasted nineteen years. The homesick marine wrote:
All is well for me here. I have taken well to my duties in Haiti but I still can’t believe how they let the niggers have the run of the place.''
Haitians running Haiti?
Now let’s fast forward to last December 31, 2003 as Luigi Einaudi of the Organization of American States (OAS) is ushered into the lobby of the Hotel Montana for Haiti’s bicentennial celebrations. While checking into the luxury hotel he makes this comment in front of several witnesses: “The real problem in Haiti is that the international community is so screwed up and divided that they are letting Haitians run Haiti.” When questioned about his objectivity given his attendance at the opening of the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), a Washington think-tank funded and supported by right-wing Haitians opposed to President John Bertrand-Aristide, he becomes defensive and denies he had been there at all. After it is pointed out to him that there are photos on the organization’s website of him with HDP Director James Morrell he quips, “Maybe I was there, I don’t remember, but I really think Morrell is a kook.” The exchange turns to the question of Otto Reich’s role as “fixer” for the Bush Administration in Haiti, at which time Einaudi grows red in the face and visibly angry, shouting, “You are ignorant, you don’t know what you are talking about,” as he makes a mad dash for the Hotel’s elevator.
It is duly noted that Mr. Einaudi has since gotten his wish. Haitians no longer run Haiti.
The Golden Rule of U.S. sponsored Democracy: He Who Owns the Gold Makes the Rules
The forced ouster of Haiti’s president on February 29, 2004 begins with the economic and political isolation of Aristide’s party, known as Lavalas, following the national elections of May 21, 2000. Aristide’s predecessor, President Rene Preval, delays the elections several times. Preval’s stated purpose is to insure proper voter registration. The opposition accuses him of delaying the national elections to coincide with the upcoming presidential elections. The opposition and several “undisclosed diplomatic sources” claim this is being done to give Lavalas candidates the advantage of “riding on Aristide’s coattails.”
Preval finally relents despite his continuing concerns over inadequate time for voter registration and security preparations for polling stations throughout the country. The elections are finally held on May 21, 2000 and initially praised as the “most free and fair election in Haitian history” by the U.S. State Department and the Organization of American States (OAS). When it becomes clear that the Lavalas party has won by a landslide, despite the absence of Aristide’s mythical coattails, these very same forces discredit the results of the elections.
After initially praising the process of the elections, the OAS later claims that Lavalas purposely miscalculated the vote to favor seven of their senatorial candidates. It is interesting to note that the OAS, and several non-governmental organizations contracted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are at the same time deeply involved in overseeing and monitoring these elections. They are included and present during discussions by Haiti’s Provisional Election Council when it determines the method to tabulate the final results. OAS representative Orlande Marville, another apostle of the HDP and the “kook” James Morrell, eventually leaks an internal memo criticizing the ballot counting methods to the press rather then quietly negotiating a solution. The OAS shows its hypocrisy when it turns a blind eye to President Alberto Fujimori’s brazen electoral fraud in Peru the same year. In Haiti, the OAS double standard results in Lavalas ultimately forcing the seven contested senators to resign and creating a timetable for new elections as a formula for compromise.
Why Should I Play if My Rich Uncle’s Gonna Pay Anyway?
Any political compromise is categorically rejected by the Haitian “political opposition” as it becomes more emboldened and entrenched due to increasing funding and nurturing through programs sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Union (EU). The opposition and their allies use the issue of the seven contested senate seats to question the validity of the entire election of May 2000. What is conveniently ignored, especially today, is that these elections filled more then 7500 national, municipal and local positions of government largely due to a huge investment of money and human resources by the United States and the international community. They got the democratic process they demanded of Haiti but when the results finally sink in, they do their best to distance themselves and finally take to actively supporting a minority “political opposition” to sully the results. This policy trajectory justifies suspending all direct international assistance and loans to the government of Haiti. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the majority political party, Lavalas, to implement strategies to alleviate the conditions of extreme poverty among the country’s poor majority – the party’s popular base.
In November 2000, Aristide is re-elected president of Haiti after a terror campaign of mysterious drive-by shootings and bombings rock the capital. Despite the violence and the political opposition’s decision to boycott the election, independent international observers rescue their validity by pronouncing the vote free and fair despite a low turnout. The press gives ample attention to the detractors of this election but are conspicuously silent on the three weeks of terror that preceded it.
Following this period, most international press attention focuses on the negatives of the Aristide government. The Lavalas party’s land reform for the peasants and universal literacy programs are ignored and dismissed as insignificant by the outside world. Financial and political isolation begins to take its toll. This becomes a period in which anything positive about Lavalas appears to be censored while anything that damages the credibility of the Haitian government is magnified. In this political climate, even former “leftist” allies of Lavalas, so-called Haitian human rights organizations and members of Haiti’s press, justify accepting tours to the United States – paid for by the U.S. State Department. During these tours they are encouraged to develop contacts with the alternative media and the United States “Left” as they preach the evils of Aristide and Lavalas to a largely uninformed American audience.
The political and financial isolation of Aristide and Lavalas following the May 2000 elections also opened new and unprecedented levels of support for the “political opposition” from the U.S. and their partners in the international community. Although this “political opposition” was incapable of winning at the polls, the U.S. and the international community provide legitimacy to their Haitian surrogates by giving them the option to paralyze the country with a veto over any political compromise that will break the stalemate over the elections. The final attempt to force the opposition to make a reasonable compromise with Aristide is a power sharing solution brokered by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in early February 2004. The opposition, which clearly sees no advantage in negotiation as long as the U.S. and the EU continue to support their intransigence, once again rejects compromise.
The Death Insurance Policy
Two years prior to CARICOM’s last ditch effort to save democracy in Haiti, new and ominous reports emerge of killings by paramilitary forces comprised of former death squads and disbanded military using the Dominican Republic as a safe haven. At the same time, Haiti’s small but powerful economic elite is slowly rehabilitated as the legitimate leadership of the opposition to Lavalas. Andre Apaid, a wealthy owner of many sweatshops in Haiti, is suddenly touted as an indigenous Gandhi fighting the evil dictatorship of Aristide while the press and much of the Haitian left conveniently refrain from questioning the conditions he imposes upon his own employees. With U.S. and EU support, Apaid is ultimately able to turn out thousands of demonstrators demanding Aristide’s resignation. The real power behind these numbers soon becomes apparent. Apaid’s “movement” evaporates into next to nothing following Secretary of State Colin Powell’s disingenuous statement in mid-February 2004 that Washington will not accept removing Aristide through unconstitutional means. In the blink of an eye, what was touted in the press as tens of thousands, mobilized by Apaid to demand Aristide’s resignation, is reduced to a raucous and violent crowd of several hundred. While Apaid organizes the opposition demonstrations on the ground, it is always the U.S. State Department that holds the power of life or death over Haiti’s fledgling democracy and Aristide's presidency. Powell’s words soon turn hollow as those now infamous "undisclosed officials" in Washington are heard from once again. This time they claim that only a change in the way Haiti is run, and that includes the possibility of Aristide stepping down, will solve Haiti's "political crisis."
It is at this moment that the aforementioned paramilitary forces in the Dominican Republic are suddenly “discovered” in Haiti by the corporate media amid significant fanfare. While President Aristide and his spokesmen were left to shout at the wind about deadly armed incursions by these same forces for more than two years, corporate media organizations suddenly cough up nice salaries, per diems and expense accounts in February 2004 to provide the “rebels” with unprecedented media coverage. These well-armed and trained forces in Haiti are led by a former Haitian military officer, Guy Phillipe, accused of human rights abuses by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and labeled a drug trafficker by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the spring of 2001. Phillipe’s fellow ringleader is Jodel Chamblain, the infamous former second in command of the dreaded paramilitary death squad, the Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH). FRAPH was trained by the CIA and unleashed upon the Haitian population in the aftermath of the violent military coup against Aristide in 1991. This band of former military and death squad killers now wreaks havoc in the north of Haiti – the ultimate threat and justification for the U.S. government to remove the country’s democratically elected president.
Dressing the Stage to Orchestrate the Fall
The media’s grand entrance and belated discovery of the paramilitary forces from the Dominican Republic ushers in what is generously described by many observers in Port au Prince as “superb theater.” Foreign embassy after foreign embassy publicly pleads with their citizens to flee Haiti as the “rebels surround the capital.” Suddenly, fifty U.S. marines fly into Haiti dressed in full battle gear, ostensibly to check on security preparations at the U.S. Embassy. Representatives of the U.S.- and EU-backed opposition to Aristide take to the airwaves with daily pronouncements that an exit strategy has already been prepared for the president and it is just a matter of time before his eventual departure. Then there is the frightened reaction of the masses of Lavalas partisans who erect elaborate and deadly barricades at all entrances to Port au Prince and, finally, throughout the main thoroughfares of the capital itself. It becomes clear to most observers on the ground that the so-called rebels never stand a chance of entering the capital despite U.S. claims to the contrary. Supplies of diesel gasoline, which is needed to run the mighty turbine generators that provide electricity to the capital, begin to dwindle as nightly blackouts combine with the sporadic gunfire of determined Aristide partisans to create an atmosphere of fear and tension. The drama reaches epic proportions, as the U.S. demands all of its citizens to abandon Haiti and, for some unknown reason, suspends all commercial airline flights to the capital. All of this despite the fact that not a single foreign national ever receives so much as a scratch during this period, nor is there ever any threat whatsoever to the now seemingly sacred tarmac of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The stage is now set to provide a plausible pretext to remove Haiti’s elected president. All that’s needed is one more turn of the screw to bring on the final act.
Friends in Struggle: Venezuela and South Africa Force Washington’s Hand
The second week of February 2004 President Aristide made a public pronouncement that he would never resign his elected authority, invoking the image of the fallen democrat Salvador Allende of Chile by announcing he was “willing to die in office.” The following week it appeared Washington had all the pieces in place to take him out including the final gambit of a “rebel” paramilitary army surrounding Port au Prince. In Washington it was thought this was more than enough to pressure Aristide into voluntarily resigning his office and fleeing Haiti. More important was that all of Washington’s window dressing would give the impression of yet another embattled dictator of Haiti falling upon his own sword. The State Department needed just a little more time to close the noose around Aristide’s neck. The plan was to allow Phillipe and Chamblain’s forces to move closer to the capital and clash with defending Lavalas partisans, thus making the scenario complete for the gullible international press. Unfortunately, this calculation depended upon a weakened and docile president of Haiti, paralyzed and incapable of defending himself. Reality caught U.S. planners by surprise and led to what history will recall as one of the greatest scandals of U.S.-sponsored democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In the days preceding Aristide’s overthrow a press report surfaces that causes panic in the U.S. State Department. An undisclosed Venezuelan diplomat is quoted as saying his government is prepared to provide unilateral assistance to the Haitian government under the terms of the Rio Treaty and the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States. At about the same time a credible source working in the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince leaks word of intercepted phone calls of advisors close to Aristide who are “actively procuring additional arms and ammunition to re-supply the Haitian National Police. These same advisors discussed releasing existing stockpiles of arms to local auxiliary forces aligned with Lavalas.” This new information means that Aristide and his advisors were actively pursuing means to defend his government by force of arms, and that the image the U.S. State Department promulgated of a defeated president reconciled to his fate would no longer play with the media. It was determined that they had to act fast before Aristide regrouped for the final showdown.
While the United States watches Venezuela closely for any move on the part of the Chavez government to aid Aristide, CARICOM quietly negotiates with a second friendly nation to provide arms, ammunition and riot control gear for the Haitian police. The Republic of South Africa, whose President Thabo Mbeki was one of the highest ranking international dignitaries to attend Haiti’s bicentennial celebrations, agrees to send 150 R1 rifles, 5 000 bullets, 200 smoke grenades, and 200 bullet-proof vests to re-supply Haiti’s embattled police. The U.S. Marines enter Aristide’s residence with overwhelming force and put him on a plane the very moment a Boeing 747 filled with this equipment is refueling on a tarmac in Kingston, Jamaica, less than 300 miles away.
Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson later admits the plane was refueling in Jamaica before heading on to Haiti, but that it had been stopped after Aristide's departure. A far cry from the image presented by the governments of Washington, Paris and Ottawa of a defeated leader resigned to his fate, it is now clear that Aristide was prepared to fight to the end to continue his democratic mandate and the right of Haitians to run Haiti. The U.S. Marines intervened to insure this would never happen.