"The Uses of Haiti" - Intro To 3rd Edition
Announcing the third edition of “ The Uses of Haiti,” by Paul Farmer, M.D.
To be published in August, 2005
$19.95, postage $4.00
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The Uses of Haiti
By Paul Farmer, M.D.
Foreword by Jonathan
Introduction by Noam Chomsky
Afterword by Larry Birns and Jessica Leight,
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Haiti—Life Since the Coup
As the first anniversary of the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide came and passed, not a word emerged from the Bush administration explaining, defending, or apologizing for the role it had played in the violent unseating of the first of only two democratically elected presidents in Haiti’s troubled history. Nor has the U.S. seen fit to publicly criticize the egregious excesses of the rump government led by interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, which Washington had invested shortly after it had brought on Aristide’s February 29, 2004 flight into exile.
There is a growing international awareness of Latortue’s indulgent treatment of the anti-Aristide armed gangs and ex-militia which had spearheaded the final weeks of the anti-Aristide rebellion, which eventually led to his ouster. As Haitian authorities continue to persecute pro-Aristide Haitians, the Bush administration could not appear less concerned, a fact that a UN Security Council delegation saw for itself in its April 2005 visit to the country. The violence perpetrated by such groups—who were described as a gang of “thugs” by former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during the waning days of the Aristide administration—as well as the repeated basic human rights violations sanctioned by Latortue—who subsequently praised Powell’s “thugs” as “freedom fighters”—was not sufficient to prompt a word of rebuke from the State Department. Instead, it maintained the time-honored tradition underlying U.S. policy toward Haiti: periodic interventions to crush any overly democratic manifestations on the part of the populace, followed by long periods of either benign or malign neglect. Similarly, Washington set patently lower standards and expectations when it came to issues of social justice and quality of life in regard to the black republic than for any other Latin American country. As a result, Washington’s continued laid-back approach to this tormented land has mainly meant for Haiti’s suffering population, at best, faux democracy rather than the real thing.
In the six months prior to the coup, the Haitian “democratic” opposition was led primarily by two unrepresentative and elite-dominated political coalitions with overlapping memberships, the Democratic Convergence and the Group of 184. Both bodies were single-mindedly driven by the desire to oust Aristide by any means. The president’s liberation gospel and energetic attacks on Haiti’s traditionally oligarchic political system had generated widespread odium against him among the elite. Ultimately, with generous backing from the U.S. embassy and the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute, via the National Endowment for Democracy, these opposition groups, long on cash but short on votes, began to organize for a power grab through supposedly non-violent anti-Aristide demonstrations that became increasingly venomous as the months swept by without a political resolution.
An already explosive political stalemate between the government and the opposition noticeably worsened starting in September 2003, when anti-Aristide forces turned to a violent street strategy while holding firm to their intransigent policy of non-negotiation with the president. Haiti’s desperate struggle to preserve its hard-won democracy was given low priority by the State Department. Secretary Powell evinced an almost Delphic languor in the face of fierce daily melées in the gutters of Port-au-Prince, despite the potential disastrous impact on the U.S. if tens of thousands of impoverished Haitian rafters were to wash up on Florida’s shores seeking refuge. Moreover, to further disable his ability to govern, the Bush administration embargoed the sale of riot control equipment to the besieged and cash-strapped Aristide regime, seriously crippling its ability to control civil unrest through non-lethal means.
In the violent final three-week period leading up to Aristide’s ouster, Washington also tightened its policy of economic asphyxiation which continued a freeze on tens of millions of dollars in previously pledged international aid to Port-au-Prince. This vindictive stance against Aristide was only the culmination of a misguided, if not a misanthropic, strategy that had dominated Washington’s relations with Haiti since Aristide’s first inauguration in 1991. Egged on by now retired Senator Jesse Helms’ unqualified hatred for Aristide, first the Clinton and then the Bush administrations not only aborted disbursement of desperately needed economic assistance pledged by the U.S., but also imposed a series of untenable political conditions on the Haitian leader, and then persuaded Canada, the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as the international lending agencies, to join in the aid cut-off.
Aristide repeatedly agreed to all of the onerous conditions demanded of him, including power-sharing with what proved to be an unyielding opposition that refused to participate in any of the various mechanisms designed to pave the way for new elections, most notably the formation of a new electoral council. Though only one word from Washington—the opposition’s ultimate ideological patron—would have been more than sufficient to soften the Group of 184’s obdurate non-negotiation position, no such suasion was forthcoming. On the contrary, the State Department took no action to address the rapidly deteriorating economic, political, and security conditions on the island, utterly unaffected by the fact that the hemisphere’s most vulnerable democracy was at total risk.
Aristide’s Foreign and Domestic Enemies
As political instability in Port-au-Prince worsened, armed fugitives from the era of military rule (1991-1994), individuals such as ex-police chief Guy Philippe and FRAPH death squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain (who were among those whom had just been sprung from jail by their confederates or had crossed over the border with the Dominican Republic), launched a final phase of their insurrection in early February 2004. Against only resistance from Aristide’s ragtag forces, they took control of the entire country save the capital. The thin firewall between these violent gangs and sweatshop millionaire businessman André Apaid, Jr., the leader of the so-called “non-violent” opposition Group of 184, rapidly evaporated when the latter, a dual U.S. and Haitian citizen, urged the armed rebels in the northern city of Gonaïves to keep their weapons. He pointedly observed that “armed resistance” was a legitimate action.
It was at this moment that the purportedly non-violent opposition’s sinister political strategy emerged. It hoped to take by force what it had failed to achieve at the ballot box since it lacked anything near the numerical strength to win an election. Thus the opposition’s elitist leaders—who had long despised Aristide for his radical message and his hero status among Haiti’s long-neglected poor—refused to alter their strategy of non-negotiation with Aristide by any means, thereby vouchsafing the eventual destruction of his presidency. Meanwhile, there was not a whisper of dissention coming from Washington regarding this nefarious strategy. Without the resources to professionalize its intimidated, outnumbered and chronically disloyal police force, the now unprotected Aristide government rapidly unraveled as the rebels advanced on Port-au-Prince for their final three-week offensive.
At the same time, Washington was maintaining its carefully calculated posture of inaction, allowing the situation in Haiti to deteriorate into a freefall. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, then-White House advisor Otto Reich, and Noriega’s assistant Daniel Fisk, all former protégés of ex-Senator Helms—Aristide’s most deadly foe—were said to have made a series of off-the-record remarks to the press that, despite Powell’s statements to the contrary, the Bush administration would in fact countenance “regime change” in Haiti.
Powell, meanwhile, publicly clung to the bankrupt formula that an agreement between Aristide and the opposition was a mandatory precondition for any deployment of an outside peacekeeping force. This was a green light for the political opposition to continue stalling as the armed rebels approached the gates of the presidential palace. At this point, the pressure on Aristide became unbearable. Ultimately, it was U.S. embassy officials as well as a detachment of Marines stationed there, who ordered the discharge of Aristide’s private U.S. security force, leaving him alone at the Port-au-Prince airport. There, a U.S. embassy-chartered jet was waiting to whisk him to the then-unknown destination of the Central African Republic. At that point, State Department spin doctors, inspired by Powell’s account, promulgated a sanitized version which presented Aristide as almost eagerly opting for resignation and exile. His departure coincided with the belated arrival the same day of U.S. peacekeeping forces.
Within days of the president’s ouster, the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince took a lead role in hand-picking the government that would replace him on an interim basis with Latortue as acting prime minister. Almost from the start, Latortue’s gross ineptitude became apparent to Haitians and the international community alike. For example, his bumbling response to Tropical Storm (later Hurricane) Jeanne in September 2004, a natural tragedy that accounted for the deaths of several thousand on the island and cost tens of millions of dollars in property loss, was perhaps the most dismal of his numerous failures. While Jeanne was raging, Latortue and his confederates lacked the competence to take even the rudimentary step of establishing an emergency national radio grid over which they could broadcast calls to the populace to seek higher ground in order to escape the flooding. This abdication of responsibility alone justified the many calls made for his and his colleagues’ resignations.
Even more damaging, Latortue, joined by Bernard Gousse, his tarnished justice minister and one of the most condemnable figures now holding power in Haiti, have directed an increasingly violent campaign aimed at squashing dissent and exorcising Aristide’s Lavalas party from the Haitian political process. Beginning with Latortue’s earliest days in office, members of Aristide’s Lavalas Party—rather than renegade ex-police and known military assassins—became his principal target. Latortue’s relentless anti-Aristide rhetoric from the start was aimed at constructing an airtight case against Lavalas’ participation in the scheduled October and November 2005 general elections. Gousse did this primarily by incarcerating a wide swath of distinguished Aristide leaders and supporters, usually on trumped-up charges, or none at all.
The victims of these purges included the country’s most highly revered priest, Father Gerard Jean-Juste (who was later freed after weeks of public outcry), former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune (whose March 2005 hospitalization by UN forces prompted further calls for his release), Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, Senator Yvon Feuille, and Deputy Rudy Herivaux. The Latortue government was also guilty of gunning-down pro-Aristide street protestors without even the pretense of professional restraint on the part of the authorities, all the while making the captious charge that Aristide himself was orchestrating the ongoing demonstrations from South Africa, where he remains in exile. For such sedulous abuses, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), with Barbados breaking rank, has refused to restore normal relations with the Latortue regime until a free and fair election is staged. Additionally, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is but one of a number of international and regional bodies that have moved to condemn the government-sanctioned transgressions now occurring throughout Haiti with near-daily regularity. As one international human rights monitor observed, “the contrast between the Haitian government’s eagerness to prosecute former Aristide officials and its indifference to the abusive record of certain rebel leaders could not be more stark.”
Based on Latortue’s affability toward the ex-military and police, known for their long history of terrorizing ordinary Haitians, one must conclude that the interim prime minister would have few problems with trying to reconstitute the brutal Haitian army at a later date. These same forces were responsible for most of the more than 6,000 civilian fatalities dating back to the era of military rule from 1991-1994.
In recent months, Latortue has dealt with the problem of alienated former military personnel by pledging to compensate almost 6,000 of them with individual bonuses of $5,000, regardless of how murderous their records were, for having been demobilized by Aristide in 1995. This process would involve a disbursement of about $29 million, a huge sum for Haiti. While most Haitians still have no access to clean water or jobs and barely survive on an average of less than a dollar per day, Latortue is hard-pressed to justify paying such a huge amount to one of Haiti’s most reprehensible groups of human rights violators.
Simultaneously, it can be expected that both Latortue and U.S. authorities will help advance the electoral prospects of Haiti’s business-led conservative groups, headed by the island’s unscrupulous André Apaid, Jr., as well as Leslie Manigat, a conservative former international lending agency official whose democratic credentials have been severely compromised by his ebullient opportunism.
The U.N.’s Mixed Record in Haiti
At first, the U.N.’s Secretary General Kofi Annan, along with Canadian, French and U.S. officials, either turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Latortue regime, or went so far as to shower favoritism on his hapless extra-constitutional government. In general, the OAS and the U.N., along with Canada and France, have fully supported the Bush administration’s highly skewed vision of island realities, based on the commonly-held misconception that Aristide had presided over a “failed state,” and had to be replaced. While they prated on about the “democratization” of the hemisphere, none of their officials were prepared to dispatch peacekeepers in a timely fashion to protect Aristide’s constitutional rule, nor made any attempt to free up frozen foreign aid pledged to the country. These mean-spiritied decisions helped to rule out any prospects for Aristide’s political survival and the country’s meager democratic structure to be preserved.
The killing of two U.N. peacekeepers in March 2005 by ex-members of Haiti’s military transformed the attitude of the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH, and its civilian overseers. These deaths offered further confirmation of the high cost the international community would have to pay for its lack of a clear design for going the necessary distance to guarantee a secure Haiti along with the installation of a genuine democratic system. Less than a week after the de facto February 29, 2004 coup against Aristide, the Brazilian government declared that it would volunteer to lead MINUSTAH and allocate 1,100 of its own troops to form its core. MINUSTAH’s commander assumed control of the operation in June.
On November 29, 2004, the U.N. Security Council announced that the peacekeepers would extend their stay until June 2006, although this date was disputed by China, but it took several months more before the force reached its authorized strength of 7,400 troops and national police. Brazil’s stated mission for its presence in Haiti was to provide support for the decisions of the Security Council and to aid the Haitian people. “It is natural for Brazil to be in Haiti,” said a Brazilian embassy source at the time. “There was no alternative to involvement [there].” However, a number of independent observers have argued that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s reasons for his country’s leadership role in fact could not be more self-centered, stemming from his desire to advance Brazil’s standing internationally. In a quid pro quo with Washington, he had hoped on obtaining U.S. backing for Brazil’s bid for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat.
MINUSTAH’s Achievements and Failures
In spite of its seemingly straightforward role as “peacekeeper,” the presence as well as the performance of the MINUSTAH force (particularly initially), was criticized on a number of grounds. Given that Haiti’s current regime was not elected, but imposed, some critics have contended that, by authorizing a peacekeeping force to Haiti which acted almost exclusively in liaison with the Latortue regime, the United Nations was implicitly condoning an illegitimate cabal. Fundamentally, MINUSTAH up to now has been serving less to implement a peaceful resolution to a serious political crisis than to help inaugurate a post-Aristide era in which a way would be found whereby the Lavalas party would be disqualified from participating in the 2005 presidential balloting, either by being banned outright or by its refusing to participate for security reasons. Needless to say, if Lavalas is allowed to field candidates with safety, it will almost certainly win by a landslide—something the Bush administration would find intolerable. At the present time, Lavalas has decided not to participate in the elections because of the non-stop harassment and intimidation directed at its members, ending up with many of its partisans being assassinated.
Until the tragic incident in Gonaives and at another location in which two U.N. peacekeepers lost their lives, MINUSTAH had been reluctant to face down the ex-militia who remain armed with automatic weapons. Instead, the U.N. force at first preferred to take on sketchily armed slum dwellers in gritty pro-Aristide neighborhoods. Moreover, for several months MINUSTAH commanders and their political supervisors in New York assumed a noticeably complacent approach towards Latortue’s mounting human rights toll, failing to voice sufficient outrage over the government’s glaring abuses—particularly those of Gousse—or to urgently speak out for the full application of the U.N. mandate. On several occasions, U.N. forces even joined with the local regime’s uniformed brigands in military operations that cost the lives of innocent Aristide supporters.
Last August, Annan selected Juan Gabriel Valdès as his special representative to Haiti. Valdès had been a distinguished Chilean former foreign minister and his country’s U.N. ambassador who earlier had been recalled by Santiago because of his opposition to the U.S. war in Iraq. After a disturbingly slow start, Valdés finally began to speak out against the Latortue regime’s excesses.
In the crucial areas of demobilization and containment, U.N. military commanders initially declared that their mission’s instructions did not include the neutralization of armed gangs, despite the fact that MINUSTAH’s original mandate called for the disarmament and the establishment of a stable environment required for new elections. Such a declaration of extreme caution at a time when armed rebel factions threatened the very fabric of the already tattered Haitian state, demonstrated MINUSTAH’s initial relative disengagement from the country’s harsh political realities. The situation somewhat improved after the peacekeepers became acculturated to Haiti’s exotic habitat and commenced to be more operational and professional.
In the initial absence of a sufficient degree of political will and commitment behind the international peacekeeping force, as well as confusion over the scope of its task, there was no guarantee that an increase in MINUSTAH’s force level would successfully invigorate its capacity. Without such an expanded commitment, the risk is that the Port-au-Prince regime will continue to crumble and that Latortue and his confederates, particularly Justice Minister Gousse, should properly be seen as caricatures of good governance—smug, arrogant, insensitive to instances of corruption and ultimately a source for lawless behavior.
The façade of legitimacy furnished by the U.N.’s role in Haiti could very well continue to be used as a smokescreen for ongoing repression by the likes of Gousse, who has operated a reign of terror against those he perceives as his political enemies. This can only further discredit the U.N.’s already circumscribed efforts and further confirm the deprivation and poverty that Haiti’s poor continue to suffer—while at the same time possibly triggering a new surge of “boat people” desperate to reach Florida’s shores.
Larry Birns and Jessica Leight
Larry Birns is the director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). Educated at Bates, Columbia and Oxford, he taught and lectured for fifteen years at a number of U.S. and British universities before serving as a public affairs official, senior grade, with the U.N.’s Economic Commission on Latin America. He is the author of over 350 articles and papers on U.S.-Latin American relations. Jessica Leight serves as a COHA Research Fellow and was chief of its Haiti and Venezuelan sections. A Yale University researcher, she is the author of multiple articles on Venezuela and Haiti; her works have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Service Journal, the Baltimore Sun, the St. Louis Dispatch, and the Sunday Guardian, among many other publications.