Haiti After the Coup

Eighteen months of horror, backed by the U.S.

by Yves Engler

Z magazine, October 2005


0n July 6, MINUSTAH, the UN mission in Haiti, killed as many as 60 people in Cite Soleil, the country's largest and poorest slum. A labor/human rights delegation sponsored by the San Francisco Labor Council reported that residents claimed to have seen 23 bodies after the UN forces raid to kill "gang leader" Dread Wilme in the early morning. Doctors Without Borders reported that 26 people from Cite Soleil were treated for gunshot wounds hours after the raid; 20 of the injured were women and children. Eyewitnesses stated that the offensive overwhelmed the community and that it was not a "firefight," but a slaughter.

Primarily UN forces conducted the operation, with the notoriously brutal new Haitian National Police (HNP) taking a back seat according to witnesses (footage of this attack can be seen in the documentary Haiti: The Untold Story).

The same day UN forces attacked Cite Soleil, the HNP killed 10 in the slum of Bel-Air and 12 more 2 days later, according to Reuters. In August there were a series of grisly massacres after the police were seen distributing machetes. On August 20, Reuters reported that police and armed thugs chopped to death as many as 30 "bandits" in front of thousands of spectators at a soccer game.

Recent killings are the continuation of 18 months of horror for Haiti's poor that was unleashed with the overthrow of President Jean Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected officials by the U.S., France, and Canada. The National Lawyers Guild delegation visiting Haiti shortly after the February 29, 2004 coup reported that on March 7 morgue officials dumped 800 bodies and another 200 three weeks later. This is an extraordinary number in light of a morgue worker's report that the average is under 100 bodies per month. On October 15, 2004, Haiti-based U.S. journalist Kevin Pina reported, "The general hospital had to call the Ministry of Health today in order to demand emergency vehicles to remove the more than 600 corpses that have been stockpiled there."

Since the coup, structural violence has also increased. Skyhigh unemployment is up even further. A recent article in Alterpresse documented a huge rise in the cost of a dozen food staples, many of which have tripled in price, further impoverishing the poor. The human rights situation is so bad that the "head of UN peacekeeping operations says conditions in parts of Haiti are worse than in Sudan's devastated Darfur region" (June 28, 2005 Voice of America report).


The roots of the current situation begin in 1994, with Aristide's return to power by U.S. marines. This was hailed as a great democratic deed, yet the scent of previous destabilization campaigns lingered. The U.S. refused to disband and bring to justice the death squads they helped create when Aristide was first overthrown in 1991. As a pre-condition for his return, Aristide was compelled to reduce agricultural tariffs that increased the dumping of U.S. rice and chicken parts, thereby devastating the peasantry. Throughout the mid-1990s, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and other U.S.-backed groups funded anti-government organizations in the name of democracy enhancement."

At the turn of the millennium, the campaign to undermine Haiti's government shifted into higher gear because the constitution permitted Aristide to run for president again in 2000. Aristide, hated by Haiti's elite, was not trusted by the U.S. after he recognized Cuba and refused to support the privatization of all state owned companies; nor was his Lavalas movement, after it forced IRI out of the country in 1998 and ended U.S. police training.

The most recent phase of destabilizing Haiti was multifaceted. It included "civil society building," military and paramilitary interventions, an economic embargo that would cripple the hemisphere's poorest nation, a full-scale disinformation campaign by corporate media, and concerted diplomatic efforts to guarantee a regime change acceptable to the international community and a confused public.

Before Haiti's May 2000 parliamentary elections, the U.S. gave considerable support to non-Lavalas political parties and candidates. It didn't work. Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas won 80 percent of the 7,000 local and parliamentary elected positions. Initially, the Organization of American States (OAS) hailed the successful election. The OAS then reversed their earlier election assessment on the basis of a technicality, spurring the propaganda effort to discredit the elections and, by extension, Lavalas. The OAS claimed that the counting method used for eight Senate seats was "flawed." The Haitian constitution stipulates that the winner must get 50 percent plus one vote at the polls. The CEP (Coalition d'Election Provisional) determined this by calculating the percentages from the votes for the top four candidates, while the OAS contended that the count should include all candidates.

OAS concerns about the validity of the elections were disingenuous. They had worked with the CEP to prepare elections since 1999 and were fully aware of the counting method beforehand. The same procedure was used in prior elections, but they failed to voice any concerns until Lavalas's landslide victory. Besides, using the OAS method would not have altered the outcome of the elections. Nevertheless, the elections were now "flawed"-as the media repeated, even after Aristide convinced the seven Lavalas senators (one was from another party) to resign.

International "aid" groups claimed "flawed" May 2000 elections forced them to withhold assistance. Yet earlier, in July 1999, the UN news reported, "Haiti will not receive $570 million in aid from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank this year." Haiti, it appears, had not fully complied with the institutions' demands. With more than half of the government's budget coming from international assistance, its suspension was devastating. Significant international assistance was all but cut-off for the next four years-withheld ostensibly because of the political impasse created by the elections.

In September 2000 the Clinton administration decided to withdraw assistance for Haiti's November presidential elections because of "concerns" over the May elections. The real reason for withdrawing electoral assistance was that Gallup polls predicted a landslide victory for Aristide. Knowing they could not win, the political opposition boycotted the November 2000 presidential election. They then claimed public support for their boycott was proven by low voter turnout. On the contrary, Haitian officials and independent observers (but not the OAS, which followed the U.S. lead in refusing to send observers) reported that over 4 million voters (more than half the total population) registered, 60 percent of whom voted. These figures were better than the 2000 U.S. election and Aristide's 92 percent vote was proportionally almost double what George W. Bush received. Most Haitian media, owned by opposition supporters, nevertheless reported a low voter turnout, which was then diligently repeated by the international media.

The Bush administration responded to Aristide's overwhelming victory by inviting anti-Lavalas opposition figurehead and fringe party leader Leslie Manigat to George W. Bush's inauguration ceremony in Washington. Then in October 2001 Bush appointed neoconservative Roger Noriega as U.S. ambassador to the OAS. Noriega (who worked closely with the racist anti-Aristide Senator Jesse Helms) co-authored OAS Resolutions 806 and 822. These resolutions required Haiti's elected government to make decisions together with the opposition, giving non-elected parties an effective veto over resumption of foreign assistance to the Haitian government.

The November 2002 inauguration of the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), sponsored by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, intensified the destabilization campaign. The HDP's anti-Lavalas propaganda was and continues to be quoted regularly in the North American media. The HDP, with its powerful political connections (U.S. -Haiti Ambassador Timothy M. Carney was a founding board member) lobbied on behalf of Haiti's newly formed "civil society" Group of 184. IRI also helped establish G-184 by organizing a secret (later revealed) meeting in the Dominican Republic of representatives from business, student, and other groups that would spawn the group. When G-184 made its public debut, its spokesperson was Andy Apaid, Jr., owner of several Port-au-Prince sweatshops who was later linked to the funding and arming of anti-Lavalas death squads. Still, many North American NGOs that usually receive government money took up the anti-Lavalas mantra of this "civil society" grouping.

At the same time that the U.S. enforced an economic embargo and built the political opposition, armed thugs, mostly from the former military (that Aristide disbanded in 1995), tried to overthrow the government through violence. In October 2000, Guy Phillippe, who was trained by the U.S. military in Ecuador, and a handful of former Haitian soldiers fled the country after their plot was uncovered; on July 28, 2001 there were several attacks on police stations near the Haitian/Dominican border; on December 17, 2001 Guy Philippe was implicated in another coup attempt. This last one was perhaps the most serious, as a reported 39 armed attackers stormed the national palace, killing 4 people and briefly occupying the building. In July 2003 the country's main hydro-electric plant was attacked, leaving a number of employees dead.

As the armed attacks weakened the elected government, on January 31, 2003, Canada's secretary of state for Latin America and La Francophonie, Denis Paradis, played host to a high-level roundtable meeting dubbed the Ottawa Initiative on Haiti. The U. S., Canada, and France were represented at the meetings, but no one from Haiti's elected government was invited. According to an article in Quebec's L'Actualité Magazine, Aristide's departure, the need for a potential trusteeship over Haiti, and the return of Haiti's dreaded military were discussed.

Prior to the Ottawa meetings, - France and Canada had joined the U.S. destabilization campaign. They terminated aid to the Aristide government, instead dealing directly with Haitian NGOs mostly aligned with the minority anti-Aristide movement. Tens of millions of dollars poured into these U.S. -backed "civil society" groups.

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), a U.S.-based tax-exempt organization that claims to provide "targeted technical assistance to strengthen transitional democracies," played a prominent role in strengthening the opposition. IFES administrators told a University of Miami School of Law investigation, "We put Aristide in a bad situation" by uniting "all forces against Aristide." IFES staff, according to the Miami investigation, "want to take credit for the ouster of Aristide, but cannot 'out of respect for the wishes of the U.S. government' " - the government that gives IFES millions to operate.

In fall 2003 Haiti's state university was "brought to the boiling point by FEUH," a student group formed by IFES. On December 5, when the university's Rector Pierre Marie Paquiot had his legs broken, it was IFES that arranged to fly Paquiot out of Haiti, along with an IFES escort. Without any credible evidence, the rector and others blamed Lavalas for the violence, propelling G-184 protests and strikes.

By February 2004 the situation had degenerated to the point where an armed uprising was seen in a more favorable light. Guy Phillippe and dozens of other well-armed former soldiers swept across the country, killing police and others in their wake. There is evidence that the U.S. armed Philippe's thugs. Also, his political advisor, Paul Arcelin, "often attended IRI meetings in Santo Domingo," according to a July 17, 2004, Salon article.

After overrunning most of the country, the "rebels" were unable to take the capital. The millions of dollars poured into building a political opposition, the economic embargo, diplomatic pressure, and support for the armed thugs were not enough, so U.S. Marines were - sent in to force Aristide out. Two weeks later, Gerard Latortue, a Florida resident who - worked closely with IFES, was in- stalled as interim prime minister. Many members of the "interim government" had worked at one time for groups receiving U.S. -' government funding. While overseeing massive human rights violations, Latortue's government is reconstituting Haiti's feared military (created by the U.S. during the 1915-1934 occupation) by incorporating former soldiers into the police force. After lifting a 13-year arms embargo against Haiti, the Bush administration has, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, sold the installed government millions of dollars worth of arms. The presence of the unelected Latortue government has also loosened the pocketbooks of Western governments and international financial institutions that cut off aid because of the earlier "flawed" elections.

New elections are scheduled for November 2005, though Lavalas is refusing to participate unless the party's leader is allowed to return from exile and hundreds of political prisoners, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune are released from jail. Lavalas is also demanding an end to murderous police attacks against poor neighborhoods and peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the African Union, Cuba, and Venezuela refuse to recognize Latortue as prime minister, despite significant U.S. pressure to do so. North American solidarity activism is growing, especially in Canada where the Liberal government has taken the lead for a Bush administration busy in Iraq. In Haiti, resistance continues. Under significant threat of repression, demonstrations of thousands calling for the return of constitutional order and the release of political prisoners take place on a weekly basis. z


Yves Engler is the author of Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical.

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