The U.S. War Against Haiti
Haiti Action Committee, March
The year 2004 marks 200 years of Haitian
independence. In 1791, 400,000 Africans enslaved in Haiti rose
up against French colonial rule. Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared
Haiti a free nation in 1804, culminating the world's only successful
revolution of enslaved people. From the beginning, Haiti found
itself isolated and besieged. The United States led a worldwide
boycott against Haiti and refused to recognize the new nation
until 1864, fearing that its freedom would pose a danger to the
U.S. system of slavery. In 1825, the Haitian people were forced
to assume a debt to France of 90 million gold francs (equivalent
to $21.7 billion today) as "reparations" to their former
"owners", in return for diplomatic recognition and trade.
To make the first payment, Haiti closed all its public schools
in what has been called the hemisphere's first case of structural
Not much has changed. Today, as Haitians
attempt to create an alternative to debt, dependence and the indignity
of foreign domination, the attacks continue. Since the election
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2000, the United States
has moved to sabotage Haiti's fledgling democracy through an economic
aid embargo, massive funding of elite opposition groups, support
for paramilitary coup attempts, and a propaganda offensive against
the Aristide government. While the Bush Administration imposes
its rule over Iraq, attempts to topple the elected government
of Venezuela, ignites yet another anti-Castro campaign against
Cuba, and undermines civil liberties here at home, the U.S.-led
assault on Haiti has gone largely unnoticed. Hidden from the headlines
for years, this campaign has now become an open effort to destroy
a progressive, popularly elected government.
ECONOMIC EMBARGO: TARGETING THE HAITIAN
Since 2000, the Bush Administration has
effectively blocked more than $500 million in international loans
and aid to Haiti. This included a $146 million dollar loan package
from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) intended for healthcare,
education, transportation and potable water. Under the terms of
the loan agreement, Haiti paid fees and interest totaling more
than $5 million long before seeing any money. Since December 2001,
the Haitian gourde has lost 69% of its value and Haiti's foreign
reserves have shrunk by 50%, largely due to the embargo.
Under intense pressure from the Congressional
Black Caucus, Caribbean nations and solidarity groups worldwide,
the Bush Administration finally signed an agreement brokered by
the Organization of American States (OAS) to release the funds
in September 2002. The I Haitian government was asked to pay $66
million in arrears before receiving any loans. These arrears are
for debts incurred primarily by Haiti's U.S.-supported dictatorships
and military juntas. It took nearly a year, filled with delays
and excuses, before the IDB took concrete steps to distribute
any of the funds. It is worth noting that throughout the bloody
Duvalier regime and the military juntas that followed, economic
aid flowed freely.
In addition, the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund have once again imposed onerous loan conditions
on Haiti. In one attempt to meet IMF requirements, the Haitian
government eliminated subsidies on gasoline prices. The price
of gas doubled, transportation costs shot up 60%, and the cost
of living skyrocketed.
Under the best of circumstances Haiti
faces enormous challenges: the legacy of colonialism and slavery,
a history of military rule, harrowing polarization of wealth,
grinding economic poverty, lack of infrastructure, a badly damaged
environment, and two centuries of education denied to the majority.
The unconscionable embargo made the situation even worse. A few
examples paint a grim picture. Haitians' access to potable water
has decreased significantly, particularly in Port-au-Prince. The
government has been unable to maintain rural road networks. As
a result, rural clinics have noted a steep rise in trauma cases
resulting from road accidents. Infectious disease outbreaks are
on the rise, as the diminished public health care system struggles
to respond. Blocking humanitarian aid in this manner has clearly
been a crime against the people of Haiti.
UNDERMINING THE DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED
While obstructing aid and loans, the U.S.
has spent millions to fund the "Democratic Convergence,"
an opposition group conceived of and orchestrated by the International
Republican Institute (a Reagan Administration program to "advance
democracy"). The Convergence has no coherent social, political
or economic program. Instead, it advocates continuation of economic
sanctions, the return of the military (disbanded by Aristide in
1995), and the violent overthrow of the Haitian government. Since
2000 the Convergence has refused to participate in any electoral
process for the obvious reason that it has almost no popular support.
In national polling in Haiti, the total vote for the dozen or
so parties that make up the Convergence has never been more than
12%. U.S. support for this small, destructive group shows disdain
for the will of the democratic majority in Haiti.
Unable to win power through elections,
the Convergence has organized a series of "strikes"
in an attempt to undermine and eventually oust the Aristide government.
These are carbon copies of the management-led oil industry strikes
in Venezuela aimed at toppling the democratically elected government
of Hugo Chavez. In Haiti, foreign-owned businesses like Domino's
Pizza and Shell Gas, as well as banks, gas stations, and some
specialty shops, supported the "strikes". The vast majority
of Haiti's populace, however, kept their marketplaces open despite
threats of violence. During recent "strikes", market
women and tap-tap drivers held up five fingers in defiance, to
signify their determination that Aristide should complete his
VIOLENT PARAMILITARY ATTACKS
In the face of widespread popular support
for Aristide and his Lavalas Party, anti-Aristide forces have
turned to violent paramilitary attacks, leading many Haitians
to fear another U.S.-backed coup d'etat. Groups of former Haitian
military have received arms, training and shelter within the Dominican
Republic with the clear knowledge of U.S. authorities. In the
early morning hours of July 28, 2001, commandos dressed in military
uniforms attacked five police stations in Haiti, including the
police academy in Freres. The director of the police academy was
executed and four other police officers were murdered during the
On December 17, 2001, 30 commandos with
heavy weaponry attacked and took over the national palace. They
announced that Aristide was no longer the President, and attempted
to coerce the palace security to join them in a coup d'etat. The
gunmen were eventually fought off by the Haitian police, and by
thousands of civilians who took to the streets to defend their
government when they heard that a coup was in progress. Some of
the assailants escaped to the Dominican Republic, where they were
In late 2002 and in 2003, former military
groups carried out cross-border attacks in towns along the Dominican
border, murdering police officers, Lavalas officials and civilians,
and terrorizing the population.
On May 7, 2003, 20 men identifying themselves
as former Haitian military attacked the hydroelectric power plant
at Peligre. One of the largest buttress dams in Latin America,
Peligre provides most of Haiti's electricity. The commandos tortured
and then murdered two security guards and set fire to the control
room, causing immediate power outages around the country. The
paramilitary group held several staff members from the nearby
Partners in Health hospital at gunpoint and later stole their
ambulance. In commenting on the attack, hospital director Dr.
Paul Farmer said, "As you know, this is not the first time
our medical staff has been the victim of these 'contras.' In December,
they used the same threats and the same language, accusing (quite
accurately) Aristide of dismantling the army and our own team
of being anti-military (also accurate enough). And recall that
the so-called human rights groups in Port-au-Prince informed the
Miami Herald that this harassment did not even happen: it was
merely 'pro-government propaganda'."
Why has this destructive campaign against
the Haitian people been allowed to continue without a resounding
response from the progressive community here in the United State?
A key factor has been the highly organized
and persistent campaign to discredit and defame the Aristide government
internationally. The steady drumbeat of criticism in articles
from a compliant corporate media has been echoed by some prominent
human rights organizations. Unfortunately, this campaign has sown
doubt about President Aristide's legitimacy and progressive credentials
in the minds of people who might otherwise defend a democratically
elected government committed to social change. These doubts and
charges need to be seriously addressed and answered.
"Our government and the international
financial institutions should not continue to raise the political
bar in order for Haiti to receive basic humanitarian assistance.
It is unacceptable to simply stand by and watch a season of misery
inflict pain, suffering and death on human beings right here in
our own neighborhood."
Representative Barbara Lee
HUMAN RIGHTS: A LOOK AT THE RECORD
Haiti has made dramatic progress in the
area of human rights over the past eight years. After 200 years
of Haitian history, state-sponsored terrorism is no longer part
of the daily lives of Haiti's citizens. In 1995, with near universal
support from the Haitian people, Aristide disbanded the Haitian
military, perhaps the single greatest advance in Haiti since independence.
Clearing away the prime historic instrument of state repression
has allowed the Haitian people to enjoy a level of freedom of
speech and assembly unprecedented in Haitian history.
Today over 200 radio stations operate
freely in Haiti. Far from being silenced, opposition politicians
dominate the media in Haiti; wealthy Haitians who do not support
Aristide own most stations and newspapers and Convergence members
are often interviewed on government-run Haitian National Television.
The Convergence, briefly and illegally, even set up a "parallel
government" until, in the words of Haiti Progres, "it
collapsed under the weight of its own ridiculousness."
The long-term work of building an independent
judiciary system in Haiti began with the restoration of constitutional
order in 1994. It will take years to train a new generation of
lawyers and judges. Victims' groups insist that the prosecution
of coup-period violence is paramount to the defense of human rights
and establishment of a state of law in Haiti. The government of
Haiti has committed significant resources to these prosecutions.
The Raboteau trial in 2000, in which 16 former soldiers and paramilitaries
were convicted of the coup-period massacre of residents in the
Raboteau neighborhood of Gonaives proved that Haiti's justice
system can carry out complex, controversial prosecutions. Hoping
to build on the success of this case, lawyers for the government
are working with women's organizations and victims' groups to
build a case against the military for the use of rape as a political
weapon during the coup period.
Still, critics of the Aristide government-including
international organizations such as Reporters without Borders,
the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and Amnesty International-point
to what they call a deteriorating human rights situation in Haiti
marked by violence against opponents of the government, and harassment
of journalists. Often they attribute these acts to "pro-Lavalas"
mobs, a catchall description which, given the popularity of Lavalas,
encompasses most of the population. But there is no evidence that
any political violence receives direction from the state. As President,
Aristide has consistently condemned acts of violence by all parties,
and has been vocal in his calls for the peaceful resolution of
conflicts. On several occasions the government has arrested prominent
supporters accused of crimes, even in the face of popular protest.
No one would deny the existence of political
violence in Haiti today. The situation on the ground between supporters
and opponents of the current government is highly volatile. Armed
attacks against the government, and the call of the political
opposition for the violent overthrow of the government provoke
fear and violence in turn. In this situation, ordinary citizens
feel they are under attack and must defend themselves and their
International coverage of human right
violations in Haiti ignores this overall context-and the attention
given is highly selective. Cases that involve opposition politicians
receive widespread coverage. But two commando-style assaults on
the elected government, the murder of a Lavalas justice of the
peace, and the deaths of pro-government demonstrators at the hands
of government opponents have been met with deafening silence-and
in some cases the outright denial that these acts have taken place.
Furthermore, in many cases the opposition has deliberately distorted
the facts in order to make political use of human rights violations.
The reality is that Haiti has largely
eliminated the human right violations of the dictatorship period
and is now struggling with the human rights problems of a fledgling
democracy. While political violence continues egged on by the
United States' attempts to destabilize the Haitian government-there
is no pattern of systematic state repression. There have been
cases of use of excessive force by police and security forces.
But more frequently the police are faulted for incompetence due
to lack of experience and shortages of personnel and funds. There
are profound weaknesses in the judicial system, which was in the
hands of Duvalierists for decades prior to 1994. Many in the grassroots
movement have denounced attempts by the Convergence to use the
judicial system as a vehicle for falsely charging and detaining
leaders of popular organizations. In addition, there has been
slow progress in criminal investigations into some of the most
prominent human rights cases. Faced with these complex issues,
the government of Haiti is making a determined effort towards
constructing an independent judiciary in Haiti.
HAITI TODAY: A PROGRESSIVE SOCIAL AND
In spite of the sustained attack on Haiti
by the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. government, some U.S.-based
critics on the left accuse the Aristide government of selling
out to the forces of economic globalization. While ignoring dramatic
advances under Aristide, they point to plans for a "free
trade zone" on the Dominican border or to the ending of the
gas price subsidies as signs that Lavalas has abandoned its progressive
These critics completely disregard Haiti's
reality. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,
has a 70% unemployment rate and now confronts a brutal U.S.-orchestrated
embargo. Haiti, like every other developing nation in the world,
has no choice but to negotiate with international lenders to secure
investment, release loans and create new jobs. The fact remains:
the United States is attacking Haiti's government and popular
organizations not because Haiti is a compliant partner, but precisely
because it represents an alternative to globalization and corporate
domination. ' Rather than sit in judgment, activists and friends
of Haiti need to mobilize to end the U.S. embargo. In the process
we will help to give Haiti the space it needs to carry out its
own sovereign agenda.
Since 1994 the Haitian people - and government
have borne intense pressure to adopt neoliberal economic policies,
such as the opening of markets to U.S. goods, austerity programs
and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. In Haiti these
policies are known as plan lanmo or the "death plan".
When Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994, the U.S. officials expected
that Haiti's public enterprises (the telephone, company, electrical
company, airport, port, three banks, a cement factory and flour
mill) would be quickly sold to private corporations, preferably
to U.S. multinationals working in partnership with the Haitian
elite. In the last months of his first term as President, Aristide
refused to move forward with privatization, calling instead for
a national dialogue on the issue. It was at this point that $550
million in promised international aid stopped flowing. Despite
this pressure, only the flour mill and the cement plant have been
The Haitian government has made major
investments in agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure.
While international funds for large road construction projects
have been blocked, the Government of Haiti has undertaken smaller
road projects, linking the countryside to city and enabling farmers
to get their food to market. Public marketplaces have been rebuilt
in many rural and urban communities. Despite strong opposition
from the business sector, on February 7, 2003, Aristide doubled
the minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes a day. This wage hike affects
the more than 20,000 people who work in Port-au-Prince assembly
factories, which contract with major U.S. corporations such as
Wal-Mart and Disney.
Education and healthcare have been high
priorities during both Aristide administrations. Haiti is currently
implementing a Universal Schooling Program aimed at giving every
child an education. More schools were built in Haiti from 1994
2000 than between 1804 and 1994-many in rural areas where no schools
existed previously. In 2001, Aristide mandated that 20% of the
national budget be dedicated to education. Other measures aimed
at increasing access to education include a 70% government subsidy
of schoolbooks and uniforms, and expanded school lunch and school
bus programs. Since there are not yet nearly enough public schools
for all of Haiti's children, the Haitian government provides hundreds
of thousands of scholarships for children to attend private schools.
Haiti's rate of illiteracy currently stands
between 55% and 60%. In the summer of 2001, the Haitian government
launched a national literacy campaign. The Secretary of State
for Literacy has printed 2 million literacy manuals, and trained
thousands of college and high school students as literacy workers.
The students committed to teach throughout the country for the
next three years. Working with church and voudouizan groups, popular
organizations and thousands of women's groups across the country,
the government has opened 20,000 adult literacy centers. Some
320,000 people are currently in literacy classes; the majority
are women. Many of these centers, opened in poor urban and rural
areas, are resto-alphas which combine a literacy center and a
community kitchen, providing low-cost meals to communities in
DEFENDING CHILDREN'S RIGHTS
An estimated 400,000 young . children,
primarily girls, work as domestics in Haitian house- . holds.
The majority of these children come from rural Haiti and are sent
to the cities by their parents in hopes that they will _ receive
food, education and shelter in exchange for their labor. _ Often,
in addition to long hours and hard work, these restaveks are subject
to abuse, violence _ and neglect. In May 2003, Haiti passed legislation
prohibiting _ trafficking in persons, and banning the provision
of the labor code which formerly sanctioned child domestic labor.
The bill followed a law enacted in October 2001, which banned
all forms of corporal punishment against children. In addition,
Haiti is taking specific measures to ensure that restavek children
get an education. Government scholarship funds for the 2003-2004
school year will target restavek children, and President Aristide
has called on all families who have restavek children living in
their homes to send them to school.
These advances were dismissed by the U.S.
State Department, which, in a particularly cynical move, placed
Haiti in the category of "least compliant countries"
in relation to the trafficking of persons. The State Department
report ignored the recent legislation, as well as other Haitian
government measures against trafficking-including stepped up border
patrols and the creation of a special police unit to protect minors
against all forms of abuse. The report failed to acknowledge Haiti's
Universal Schooling Program, even though the State Department
cited increased school enrollment in other countries as a significant
preventive measure against trafficking.
The government of Haiti has focused its
national healthcare program on improving maternal and pre-natal
health conditions. In 2002, the School of Midwifery was renovated,
as were the maternity wards of eight public hospitals. Tragically,
funds from the IDB for a project to decentralize and reorganize
the Haitian health care system were blocked for four years.
Through a cooperative relationship with
Cuba, 800 Cuban healthcare workers now work in rural areas of
Haiti. An additional 325 Haitians are in training in Cuba, and
in return they have committed to work in public health on their
return to Haiti. Two hundred Haitians are also studying at a new
medical school in Haiti, which is part of the Aristide Foundation
for Democracy. A school for nursing is slated to open in fall
2004. In a country with fewer than 1,000 doctors, the striking
increase in healthcare workers, both Cuban and Haitian, is having
a dramatic impact.
International experts have lauded Haiti's
government-led initiative to coordinate AIDS treatment and prevention.
After a long debate over how best to ensure the rights and welfare
of Haitian participants, Haiti joined an important three-country
AIDS vaccine trial. In 2002, the UN Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria
and Tuberculosis chose Haiti as one of the first three recipients
of grants. The two-year, $18 million grant will finance a broad
spectrum of work to treat and prevent AIDS in rural and urban
areas, including the provision of anti-retroviral treatment to
some AIDS patients. Some of these funds will support the groundbreaking
work of Partners in Health at the Central Plateau hospital founded
by Dr. Paul Farmer, which provides AIDS treatment and medication
to patients free of charge.
The possibility of life-saving treatment
has a direct impact on the willingness of people to be tested
for HIV, which is critical to any AIDS prevention campaign. Twenty
new HIV testing centers will open around the country during the
next two years. In the words of First Lady Mildred Aristide, who
oversees the government's AIDS program, the testing centers are
critical so that "Haitians-women in particular, who have
been most vocal in wanting to know their HIV status-can become
active agents of prevention, information and education-passing
that onto to their children.
Clearly, these programs represent a progressive
agenda, initiated under the most trying conditions. They give
hope to the people of Haiti, as demonstrated by the massive popular
support that continues to be manifested for the Aristide government.
And they are the reason that the United States government has
targeted the government of Haiti. The current U.S. destabilization
campaign continues a centuries-long assault on the world's first
black republic. As the people of Haiti prepare to commemorate
the bicentennial of their independence, they deserve solidarity
and support, not harassment. Let Haiti Live.
HAITI CALLS FOR RESTITUTION
In 1825 France forced Haiti to assume
a debt of 90 million to "compensate" French plantation
slaveowners for their "financial losses" in exchange
for France's recognition of Haiti's independence. It took Haiti
close to 100 years to pay off this debt. Haiti was unable to fund
schools, health care, or infrastructure and the logging of its
tropical forests was accelerated, setting the stage for the current
Today, on behalf of the people of Haiti,
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has requested that France restitute
to the Haitian people this "debt" money- 21.7 billion
dollars in today's currency. France has formally recognized slavery
to be a crime against humanity and many of its legislators have
verbally recognized the legitimacy of Haiti's request. Yet, in
an echo of the ugly "l825" past, the French government
has rejected the request and placed Haiti on a list of "undesirable"
countries not to be visited.
As Haiti starts the celebration of its
bicentennial, we ask you to support the Haitian people in their
claim for restitution. Restitution will help pave the road toward
true economic rebuilding, and send a clear message that the financial
and human damages inflicted by colonial powers must be rectified,
not just in Haiti, but throughout the world.