Haiti's Year of Repression
by Ashley Smith
International Socialist Review
In February 2004, the United States orchestrated
a coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide, the democratically elected
president of Haiti. U.S. Marines occupied the country for the
third time in the last one hundred years, during the 200th anniversary
of Haiti's revolution to become an independent Black republic.
Soon after, the U.S. handed oversight of the occupation to the
George W. Bush promised, just as he did
in Iraq, that the U.S. and the UN would bring democracy, stability;
and respect for human rights. Two recent studies, one from Harvard
Law School and another from the University of Miami Law School,
prove the opposite; the coup regime backed by the UN rules the
country through state terror.
In the University of Miami report, lawyer
Thomas Griffin writes,
"The police, backed by UN forces,
routinely carry out indiscriminate and unprofessional killing
operations. The undisciplined army is back protecting the rich
and attacking the poor. The justice system is twisted against
poor young men, dissidents and anyone calling for the return of
the constitutional government. Prisons fill with young men who
are arrested without warrants and are denied due process. Partisanship
and corruption occupy the electoral council's attention, leaving
little hope for free and fair elections."
The UN occupation and its puppet regime
have thus thrown Haiti into chaos, further immiserated the country's
poor majority, and repressed dissent and resistance of any kind.
Following a familiar script, the U.S. is pressuring the UN to
intensify its police operations in the run up to this fall's parliamentary
and presidential elections. The U.S. hopes the elections will
put a democratic veneer on the garrison state it is building in
The U.S. has long wanted to rid itself
of Jean Bertrand Aristide. He led a democratic movement, called
Lavalas, which overthrew the U.S. ally and dictator Jean-Claude
Duvalier in 1986. He advocated reform for the urban poor and peasantry
and denounced U.S. imperialism, the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), and the neoliberal plans they had imposed on the country.
Aristide went on to win Haiti's first free and fair presidential
election in 1990, with over two-thirds of the vote.
The United States, Haiti's ruling class,
and the Haitian Army (FADH) collaborated to overthrow him in a
1991 coup. The military dictatorship murdered 6,000 people, sent
hundreds of thousands into hiding, and drove tens of thousands
to become refugees, many of whom the U.S. detained at Guantánamo
Bay or forcibly returned to Haiti to face persecution.
In 1994, the U.S. invaded and occupied
Haiti to stem the refugee crisis. Aristide was restored to power
on the condition that he abandon his mild reform program. For
the most part, Aristide accepted the conditions, adopting neoliberal
economic policies. Aristide also gave up the three years he lost
of his term to the coup, and stepped down from office in 1995.
In 2000, Aristide's party swept the national elections and he
again ran for president, trouncing all contenders with over 90
percent of the vote.
While Aristide continued to rule as a
neoliberal, he still gave speeches denouncing imperialism and
even demanded that France repay $21 million it had forced Haiti
to pay for its independence in 1804.
Another U.S. coup
Fed up with Aristide's nationalist rhetoric,
the U.S., along with Canada and France, orchestrated a classic
destabilization campaign. They used the pretext of irregularities
in the 2000 election to impose an aid embargo on the poorest nation
in the Western Hemisphere, throwing it into economic free fall.
The U.S. hoped to force Aristide into a deal with the opposition,
the Democratic Convergence and Group of 184. The U.S. backed these
formations, which brought together former allies of Aristide with
Duvalierists and key figures from the Haitian ruling class, such
as sweatshop magnate Andy Apaid.
But when this attempt failed, the U.S.
staged a coup to install an obedient regime. The U.S. trained
Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a CIA asset and former leader of the death
squad FRAPH, as well as a convicted murderer; Guy Philippe, a
former Haitian Army officer and police chief known for his brutality;
and an assortment of ex-military allies at a Dominican military
base called San Cristobar. Philippe was trained by U.S. Special
Forces in Ecuador in the early 1990s. The U.S. also supplied the
paramilitary groups with new M- 1 6s funneled through the Dominican
Republic. These forces swept across Haiti in February and threatened
to overthrow the Lavalas government.'
After three weeks, on February 29, the
U.S. sent marines into Port-au-Prince to "bring order and
stability to Haiti,"' Bush claimed. U.S. forces coerced Aristide
into a helicopter after informing him that they could not guarantee
his "safety;" and whisked him away to the Central African
Republic, releasing him to eventual exile in South Africa. While
Aristide claimed he was kidnapped at gunpoint, the U.S. insisted
that "at President Aristide's request, the United States
facilitated his safe departure from Haiti."' With Aristide
gone, the death squads went on a killing spree against the pro-Aristide
poor, especially in Port-au-Prince, where they murdered well over
1,000 people, whose corpses overflowed the city's morgue.
Puppet regime and UN occupation
The U.S. quickly appointed a Council of
Wise Men from the Haitian elite who helped select the new government.
They chose a former UN diplomat, Gerard Latortue, who had been
living in Florida for the last couple of decades, to become prime
minister. While the U.S., France, Canada, and the UN immediately
bestowed their blessings on the regime, the Caribbean Community
that unites governments throughout region has refused to recognize
Latortue as Haiti's prime minister or even allow the coup regime's
representatives to attend their meetings.
In one of his first official acts, Latortue
praised the death squads that had toppled Aristide as "freedom
fighters." But the U.S. and Latortue could not rely on these
gangsters to impose order on the country. Moreover, the Haitian
National Police (PNH) was in disarray and Aristide had disbanded
the FADH back in 1995.
Consequently, the U.S. turned to the UN
as its vehicle for control. The Security Council passed a unanimous
resolution to supply troops for a peacekeeping operation entitled
United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). As retired
General Wesley Clark said after a recent inspection, the "UN
is trying to do our work for us there."' President Lula of
Brazil volunteered to head up the UN operation to win support
from the U.S. to gain a seat on the UN Security Council. His appointed
General Augusto Heleno made the mission's aims clear when he declared
that "we must kill the bandits, but it will have to be the
bandits only, not everybody."'
After starving Aristide's government of
funds, the U.S., France, and Canada, along with the IMF and the
World Bank, quickly promised over $1 billion in aid to the coup
regime. While much of these funds have yet to materialize, Latortue
has used what money he has received to arm the police force and
make payments on Haiti's growing debt. Latortue's first priority
was to rebuild the police to enforce order. He promised to pay
5,000 former FADE soldiers $5,000 each and hire 1,000 of these
to lead the PNH. To arm this repressive force, U.S. Under Secretary
for Arms Control John Bolton authorized the transfer of more than
2,600 weapons, in open violation of the fourteen-year arms embargo
But this may only be the tip of the iceberg.
In a report issued by the Small Arms Survey, the internationally
respected arms control expert Robert Muggah argues that the U.S.
sold more than 9,000 weapons and one million rounds of ammunition
to the new government. Muggah estimates the value of the shipment
at close to $7 million. Predictably, the U.S. has disputed Muggah's
study, but it has announced that it aims to lift its embargo and
is considering selling Haiti an additional $1.9 million in arms
in the coming year.
Latortue's son has been implicated in
several media reports in privately arranging arms purchases. In
one case, a Haitian-American arms dealer, Joel Deeb, told the
British Independent that Youri Latortue paid him a letter of credit
for $500,000 to purchase arms. He claimed that because of the
arms embargo, the deal had not been consummated. The coup regime
has also spent the money in the usual obscene pattern, servicing
its debt to various countries and international financial institutions.
Moreover, in an astonishing insult to the country's impoverished
population, Haiti will have to repay the UN for the occupation,
which is costing $25 million a month)'
While Latortue has been wheeling and dealing
in arms, repaying loans, and racking up new debt, the Haitian
people's needs have been ignored. The chaos precipitated by the
U.S. coup, combined with last year's hurricanes that destroyed
the city of Gonaive and the surrounding agricultural lands, has
reduced the rural and urban poor to desperation and chronic food
insecurity. "This government doesn't have any social policy,"
Haitian activist Camille Chalmers told reporters. "The poor,
the peasants, might as well not exist. The conditions of people
have worsened dramatically in the last year. It is an explosive
UN complicity with coup repression
To control the nation, the coup regime
has turned to its reconstituted and rearmed PNH in alliance with
the UN troops. Together they have repressed the population and
targeted any dissent, especially from supporters of Aristide's
party Fanmi Lavalas.
The coup regime has had the PNH arrest
and jail more than 700 Lavalas activists without even charging
them with a crime. As of December 2004, only 22 of the 1,041 prisoners
in the national penitentiary had been convicted of a crime.
In the highest profile case, the PNH seized
the elected prime minister, Yvon Neptune, in 2004 and have held
him for months on allegations that he ordered a massacre that
year. But, because they have little evidence to substantiate their
case, they have not formally charged him. In fact, Louis Joiner,
the independent UN expert on human rights, has concluded that,
"there was no massacre."" To protest his unjust
imprisonment, Neptune is now on his second hunger strike and near
By contrast, the regime has released hundreds
of military and death squad leaders and reversed their convictions
of human rights abuses. Haiti's courts overturned the conviction
of coup leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain for his involvement in the
1993 assassination of Lavalas supporter Antoine Izmery. They also
quashed the conviction and jail sentences issued in 2000 to Chamblain
and dozens of other death squad leaders for their roles in the
1994 Raboteau massacre that left over twenty dead, dozens more
beaten, and their homes burned to the ground.
The PNH and the UN have targeted a few
uncooperative death squad leaders. For example, they stormed a
stronghold of Remissainthe Ravix, killed him, and dispersed his
death squad. But such cases are the exception. For the most part,
the PNH has integrated many former death squad leaders and military
personnel into its ranks and have collaborated with others to
terrorize the poor and Lavalas supporters.
Far from interfering with this process,
the Harvard Law School study states, "MINUSTAH [United Nations
Stabilization Mission] in Haiti has effectively provided cover
for the police to wage a campaign of terror in the Port-au-Prince
slums."" To justify this persecution, the coup regime
and the UN say they are pursuing Lavalas gangs. Aristide's government
no doubt made questionable alliances with gangs called Chimères,
but the UN and the coup regime's attempt to paint all Lavalas
supporters as gangsters is without foundation. Moreover, given
the terror unleashed by the coup, it is unsurprising that people
would have armed themselves in self-defense.
Using the alibi of controlling violent
gangs, the combined forces of the UN, the PNH, and the death squads
regularly storm into Cite Soleil and other poor neighborhoods
in Port-au-Prince. They have set up checkpoints around several
of these neighborhoods to prevent demonstrations. Essentially,
they have turned them into jails.
The death squads target street children
who have historically supported Aristide and Lavalas. Activist
Michael Brewer told investigators that the paramilitary units
"justify the murders of these boys by referring to them as
'vagabonds' and say that they are 'cleaning the streets.' There
are dump zones where the decomposing bodies of little boys can
be found any day of the week.""
The PNH, paramilitary units, and gangs
have also engaged in mass rapes to punish Aristide supporters.
Lyn Duff writes that there is "a growing number of girls
and young women who human rights investigators say have been victims
of mass rape committed by members of the disbanded military and
their compatriots who patrol the countryside and Haiti's cities,
hunting down supporters of Haiti's fledgling pro-democracy movement."
Lavalas has responded to this terror with demonstrations demanding
an end to the occupation and the return of Aristide as the democratically
elected president of the country. On September 30, Latortue's
police fired on over 10,000 protesters marching through Port-au-Prince,
killing several and wounding many more.
The UN has denounced these pro-democracy
demonstrators as a violent threat to the state. Juan Gabriel Valdés,
the UN secretary general's special representative to Haiti, declared,
"What we have seen in this country during the last month
or two has been a resurgence of brutal violence organized probably
to provoke a process of political destabilization." He went
on to explain that he was "under extreme pressure from the
international community to use violence.""
UN troops and the PNH have obeyed and
attacked a series of pro-democracy demonstrations. On February
29, the PNH backed up by UN troops fired on thousands demonstrating
on the one-year anniversary of the coup, killing five activists
and wounding dozens. Since then, the PNH has attacked several
more demonstrations, including another mass match on April 27.
Undeterred by the repression, another 10,000 marched on May 18.
Journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina estimates
that over the last year the coup regime, with UN and U.S. backing,
has killed 3,000 people and driven 100,000 into hiding.
The Bush administration, despite these
obvious human rights violations, has refused to give Temporary
Protective Status (TPS) to Haitian refugees and immigrants, which
would allow them to remain in the U.S. until it is safe for them
to return. The U.S. has in fact increased the number of detentions
and deportations of Haitians. One activist in the U.S. told the
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, "they stop Haitians on the street,
in the malls where they work, everywhere. I guess we're easy to
be spotted, because we are Black. They take them and send them
back to Haiti. "
Taking a lead from Bush, the Dominican
Republic has expelled over 4,000 Haitian workers. The more than
1.5 million Haitians who work in the Dominican Republic are treated
as second-class citizens and used as cheap labor in the country's
Through this repression, the U.S. aims
to prevent the poor and Lavalas, which is still the largest and
most popular parry in Haiti, from organizing opposition to the
coup and occupation. The U.S. is intent on staging a demonstration
election in October or November to give a democratic cover to
its regime change.
The idea of having an election under such
conditions is farcical. As the Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network
declares, "there can be no fair and free elections in Haiti
while it is under occupation by foreign forces and Haiti's fair
and freely elected and constitutionally appointed government officials
are all ousted from office, in exile, in prison or have been killed.
The coup regime has so far bungled even
the most basic preparations for the election. Even though they
are legally mandating all 4.5 million eligible voters to register,
they have only gotten 113,000 people to do so. Disgusted with
the situation, the president of the Provisional Electoral Council
resigned, dismissing the coming election as a "burlesque
comedy. " The council, which is assigned to organize the
vote, now has no functioning administration and is such a mess
that donor countries are withholding pledges of $61 million to
fund the election .
Lavalas has announced that it will continue
to protest and will boycott the upcoming elections unless the
coup regime releases its political prisoners, ends its terror
against the poor and Lavalas activists, and allows President Aristide
to return to Haiti. "We have organized quietly to tell people
not to register for this election," said one woman at a pro-Lavalas
meeting in Petionville. "We don't go to the demonstrations
because the police might kill us, and this is the only way left
to us to protest the coup." Without Lavalas, the only national
political party with any kind of popular backing, the election
will have no legitimacy.
Sections of the Haitian ruling class have
gotten nervous about the incompetence of the coup regime. Reginald
Boulos, president of the Haiti Chamber of Commerce, met with Condoleezza
Rice during the Florida meetings of the Organization of American
States. Afterward, he exclaimed, "I told her that the transition
is failing. I told her unless major action is taken that we will
not have a climate of security and the election process will not
go far. "
The Miami Herald reported that a member
of the Council of Wise Men, Ariel Henry, called the coup
regime "a failure." They write,
"he added that the council will soon issue an ultimatum to
Latortue: bring the country under control in 30 days or resign.
" With the entire operation at risk of failure, a Washington
Post editorial called on the U.S. to deploy marines to oversee
the election. The Post wrote, "If Haiti is to be secured
or is to hold a democratic election, it will need the help of
at least a few hundred American fighters. The sooner they go the
easier their task will be. "
In response to the crisis, the U.S. has
made it very clear that it will push through the elections and,
for now, that it will not send in the marines. U.S. ambassador
to Haiti James Foley stated "the U.S. believes strongly that
elections not only need to take place this year, but will take
The U.S., with its forces stretched thin
managing the occupation of Iraq, continues to press the UN and
its Brazilian commanders to enforce order in Haiti. Ambassador
Foley criticized the UN for not being aggressive enough in helping
Haitian police confront gangs . The UN has agreed to extend its
peacekeeping mission through the election period.
One international observer explains the
conundrum faced by the United States:
"This is the international community's
worst nightmare. If the numbers of those participating in these
elections do not rise to credible levels, it will give Aristide
and his supporters the argument that this was a national referendum
on his ouster. This will make it impossible for the next government
to rule. They won't have a credible mandate, and all we may have
succeeded in doing [in supporting Aristide's ouster] is opening
the door for future instability. We have to wonder when the next
Haitian government will actually finish a full term in office
without having to rely upon severe repression."
The coup regime is reconstructing the
old Duvalieriest system of a repressive police force and client
death squads to enforce a neoliberal economic agenda that sells
Haitian labor to multinationals. In an ominous sign, Latortue
has announced plans to increase the size of the police force from
4,000 to 30,000 officers in the coming months. The U.S. would
like to cover this Duvalierism with a veneer of democracy. If
the election fails, however, the U.S., through the vehicle of
the UN, stands ready either to back some form of dictatorship
or take the country over as a colonial protectorate.
Haiti's right to self-determination
The U.S. coup and UN occupation demonstrate
that neither can intervene to liberate a nation. But that is not
at all clear to even those who have criticized the coup and occupation.
For example, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which has published
blistering criticism of the U.S. and UN, is actually calling for
the UN to control the PNH and the death squads. They write "it
is patently clear that the time has come to transfer MINUSTAH
into an occupying force ...in order to end the malignant threat
posed by leaders of the former Haitian armed forces"
This is tantamount to asking the fox to
guard the henhouse. The U.S. has used the UN as a vehicle to legitimize
its coup and oversee the repression of the poor. Brazil's most
important daily newspaper, Foiha de Sao Paoo, hit the nail on
the head when they wrote that "UN forces under Brazilian
command, play the role of a substitute army offering military
support for repressive police operations and judicial prosecution
.... The Brazilian government has played the role of hired gunman
of the United States."
Activists should defend Haiti's right
to self-determination, demand an immediate end to the occupation,
call for complete cancellation of the country's debt, and require
the U.S., France, Canada, and the UN to flood the country with
money, food, and materials with no conditions attached. However
grim the current moment appears, the Haitian masses have proven
their capacity to fight for their liberation, from their slave
revolution that defeated the Spanish, British, and French Empires
to their successful toppling of the Duvalier dictatorship in the
1980s. Only Haitians, backed by international solidarity against
U.S. imperialism, can rebuild their social movements and reconstruct
their society and politics in their own interests.
Ashley Smith is on the editorial board
of the ISR. He is the author of 'Aristide's Rise and Fall,"
ISR 35, May-June 2004, available at http://www. isreview. org/
Index of Website