Regime Change in Haiti
Aristide's removal points
to a regional destabilization
by Greg Guma
Toward Freedom magazine,
The first time the US intervened in Haiti,
not many people noticed. Few journalists were on hand in 1915,
and most newspapers were willing to accept the official version.
According to President Woodrow Wilson, establishing a protectorate
was part of a grand effort to halt a radically evil and corrupting
revolution, support the slow process of reform, and extend his
policy of the open door to the world.
But that was just the cover story. Actually,
Wilson saw the island nation as a geo-strategic pawn in the build
up to World War I; specifically, he was worried that Germany might
take advantage of the local political turmoil to establish a military
base in the hemisphere. He also had other, even stronger economic
reasons to seize control of the country.
Haiti was an endangered investment property.
The National City Bank controlled the country's National Bank
and railroad system, and sugar barons viewed the country's rich
plantations as promising takeover targets. Unfortunately for investors
and entrepreneurs, the nation had been through seven presidents
in four years, most of them killed or removed prematurely. The
rural north was under the control of rebels, the Cacos, a movement
adopting its name from the cry of a native bird. Although widely
portrayed as just another group of murderous bandits, the Cacos
were essentially nationalists who were attempting to resist the
control of France, the US, and the small minority of mulattos
who dominated the economy.
During the early years of the occupation,
the Cacos continued to resist, under the leadership of their own
Sandino, an army officer turned guerrilla leader named Charlemayne
Peralte. Murdered by an American Marine in 1919, Peralte became
a symbol for the democracy movement of the late 1980s that ultimately
led to the election of the liberation theology priest Jean Bertrand
Then, in the 1990s, it happened again.
Seven months after his 1991 election, Aristide was overthrown
in a military coup. It took three years, but by 1994 Haiti's plight
was big news. The coverage was highly selective, however, never
mentioning CIA support for those who conducted the coup or the
Haitian military's involvement in drug trafficking. Prior to the
US occupation, the media was also suspiciously silent about, as
Aristide put it, a sham embargo that squeezed the poor but exempted
businesses. Although an oil embargo was imposed, fuel was easily
smuggled into the country from the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile,
a smear campaign against Aristide was launched.
After considerable hesitation, another
US occupation began. But just as President Wilson had veiled his
autocratic actions on behalf of US economic interests with rhetoric
about stability and democracy, President Clinton talked about
upholding democracy. In fact, the central objective of the 1990s
occupation was to maintain effective control of the country until
Aristide's term expired. Media coverage tended to obscure the
obvious: the US, never comfortable with Aristide, had entered
into an agreement with the Haitian military for national co-management
until the next elections.
Looking back, most policy-makers and analysts
still insist that the US entered Haiti years before only to restore
stability. Few journalists even mention that some sort of revolution
was underway; even those who do invariably describe the situation
as chaotic. According to conventional wisdom, the US remained
in Haiti for 19 years in the early 20th Century because the Haitian
people could not effectively govern themselves or sustain democratic
institutions. They weren't ready in 1915 and, some skeptics claimed,
they still weren't in the 1990s.
At a September 1994 rally, Ross Perot
echoed this popular prejudice in his own know-nothing style. "Haitians
like a dictator," he announced, "I don't know why."
The implication, underscoring his opposition to US intervention,
was that he also didn't care what happened there, and neither
should most people.
The Bush administration may have counted
on a similar reaction when it embraced a violent uprising against
Aristide beginning in late 2003, or even after it reportedly forced
him to sign a resignation letter on at 2 a.m. on Sunday, February
29. According to the "ex-president," he was kidnapped
at gunpoint, and flown without his knowledge to the Central African
Republic. This should not be so hard to believe, since Aristide
never had the current administration's support, and his inability
to maintain order in an atmosphere of US-backed destabilization
provided an excellent pretext for another exercise in "regime
In early February, a "rebel"
paramilitary army crossed the border from the Dominican Republic.
This trained and well-equipped unit included former members of
The Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), a
disarming name for plain clothes death squads involved in mass
killing and political assassinations during the 1991 military
coup that overthrew Aristide's first administration. The self-proclaimed
National Liberation and Reconstruction Front (FLRN) was also active,
and was led by Guy Philippe, a former police chief and member
of the Haitian Armed Forces. Philippe had been trained during
the coup years by US Special Forces in Ecuador, together with
a dozen other Haitian Army officers. Two other rebel commanders
were Emmanuel "Toto" Constant and Jodel Chamblain, former
members of the Duvalier era enforcer squad, the Tonton Macoute,
and leaders of FRAPH.
Both armed rebels and civilian backers
like G-184 leader Andre Apaid were involved in the latest plot.
Apaid was in touch with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in
the weeks leading up to Aristide's overthrow. Both Philippe and
Constant have past ties to the CIA, and were in touch with US
On February 20, US Ambassador James Foley
called in a team of four military experts from the US Southern
Command, based in Miami, according to the Seattle Times. Officially,
their mandate was to assess threats to the embassy and its personnel.
Meanwhile, as a "precautionary measure," three US naval
vessels were placed on standby to go to Haiti. One was equipped
with Vertical takeoff Harrier fighters and attack helicopters.
At least 2000 Marines were also ready for deployment.
After Aristide's kidnapping, however,
Washington made no effort to disarm its proxy paramilitary army,
now slated to play a role in the transition. In other words, the
Bush administration had no plans to prevent the killing of Lavalas
and Aristide supporters in the wake of the president's removal.
In covering the crisis, corporate media ignored both history and
the role played by the CIA. Instead, so-called rebel leaders,
commanders of death squads in the 1990s, were recognized as legitimate
The Bush administration effectively scapegoated
Aristide, holding him solely responsible for a worsening economic
and social situation. It sounds very much like the run up to the
2003 California recall movement that replaced Grey Davis with
the GOP's new star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In truth, Haiti's economic
and social crisis was largely caused by the devastating economic
reforms imposed by the IMF since the 1980s. Aristide's 1994 return
to power was conditioned on his acceptance of IMF economic "therapy."
He complied, but was blacklisted and demonized anyway.
Canadian economist Michel Chossudovsky
charges that Bush hopes to "reinstate Haiti as a full-fledged
US colony, with all the appearances of a functioning democracy."
The objective is to impose a puppet regime in Port-au-Prince and
establish a permanent US military presence in Haiti. The US Administration
ultimately seeks to militarize the Caribbean basin.
And why would it want to do that? Hispaniola
(the island that contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic) is
a gateway to the Caribbean basin, strategically located between
Cuba to the North West and Venezuela to the South. US military
forces on the island can help to sustain political pressure on
both Cuba and Venezuela, while also becoming part of a larger
As Haiti lurches backward, the US is preparing
for what intelligence operatives call "a second bite at the
cherry" in Venezuela. Unhappy with President Hugo Chavez,
the Bush administration has been slowly turning up the heat since
entering the White House. The first big step was a coup in April
2002. But the US-friendly Pedro Carmona Estanga was ousted from
power within two days, after dissolving parliament and scrapping
the constitution, and Chavez was brought back.
Since then, Chavez has repeatedly charged
that the US administration and CIA are funding various opposition
moves to overthrow his government. One of the more obvious telltale
signs is that Venezuelan nationals, recruited with promises of
fast-track US citizenship, have been training at the US Army School
of Americas (SOA), renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation (WHISC). From there, they relocate to camps
at Iquitos in the northern jungles of Peru, under the direction
of the US Southern Command.
The backdrop is Venezuela's status as
the fourth largest oil-exporting country in the world, and currently
the third largest source of US oil imports. This has made it a
major cash cow for Phillips Petroleum and ExxonMobil; Chevron
Texaco and Occidental Petroleum also have significant investments.
As in Haiti, it is now a matter of waiting
for the correct pretext, most likely to be provided by more opposition-inspired
violence. US Air Force and Navy contingents on Aruba (Dutch Antilles)
are ready to provide logistic and material back-up, and a US Navy
hospital ship is reportedly on standby to take a position off
the northern coast at first signal of the balloon going up.
At the same time, the Pentagon has been
quietly consolidating the military occupation of Ecuador, accelerating
the completion of military bases and an espionage center, as well
as the training of elite counterinsurgent units. The moves are
reportedly preparations for a new stage of Plan Colombia ,"multinational,"
intervention against the country's main rebel groups, the FARC
and ELN. Opposition leader Miguel Moran of the Tohalli movement
charges that the whole country has become a US base.
The Manta naval and air base is located
on the Pacific shore within one hour's flight time from the Colombian
border. It directs key mercenary operations under contract to
Dyncorp., a private military company (PMC) that is developing
logistics centers and coordinating "anti-terror" training
of the Ecuadorian police. In July 2000, Manta became a main center
of electronic espionage in South America, using Pentagon satellite
technology. The base currently houses at least 160 US officers
and 231 Dyncorp. employees, almost all former soldiers.
Washington is reportedly preparing to
unleash skirmishes inside Colombian territory, with Ecuador performing
a function similar to Honduras in Reagan's war against the Sandinistas
in Nicaragua -- US aircraft carrier in an undercover war.
In 2002, Dyncorp. was hired by the Pentagon
to fumigate coca fields under Plan Colombia. But it is also in
charge of logistics, aviation and administrative services, and
offers computer technology services at Manta. According to Colonel
Jorge Brito, an Ecuadorian military strategist, Dyncorp. staff
have diplomatic immunity, but carry out espionage.
A confidential covenant between Dyncorp.
and the Aeronautics Industries Directorate of the Ecuadorian Air
Force was exposed last November. According to military sources
cited by Quito's El Comercio newspaper, the arrangement was hidden
from the National Defense Council. The deal makes both soldiers
and Dyncorp. employees part of the US diplomatic mission to the
country. With that status, they don't pay taxes or duties, use
vehicles without plates, and must be judged by US courts if they
get in trouble.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the number of
security agencies, soldiers, and contractors assigned to Ecuador
by the US have dramatically increased. In 2001, US funding for
its Quito embassy was $2 million. The next year it jumped to $25
million, and reached $37 million in 2003.
In short, Haiti has provided a useful
test for the administration's emerging regional strategy of undermining
troublesome regimes while touting its commitment to democracy.
As a side benefit, it also provided a useful short-term diversion
from Iraq and the economy, and, so far at least, charges that
clandestine US operations stimulated Haiti's unrest and even removed
a democratically-elected president have been easy to deny.
Greg Guma is the editor of Toward Freedom,
an international newsletter based in Vermont and the author of
books such as Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What
We Can Do and The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.
He has written about Haiti since visiting the island nation in
1977, including a documentary on the DVD collection Haiti Rising
(Green Valley Media).