Haiti Q & A

[The 2004 Coup Against Aristide in Haiti
& Canada's Involvement]

by Diego Hausfather and Nikolas Barry-Shaw

ZNet, Jun 4, 2005

Haiti has once again fallen victim to a U.S.-orchestrated coup d'etat, and this time the Canadian government is deeply complicit.


What's happened in Haiti since Feb. 29 2004?

After the democratically elected government was overthrown, the rebels and the newly formed police have been on a killing spree; thousands of poor peasants and slum dwellers have been massacred in "a pattern of repression" against "those close, or perceived to have been close, to ... Fanmi Lavalas (FL)", the political party that held power prior to Feb. 29, 2004, according to Amnesty International.

In the month after the coup d'état, the morgue reported 900 additional deaths above the usual level, many of them violent, while the Catholic Church's Peace and Justice Commission estimated that 500 people were killed in the capital of Port-au-Prince. On October 15, 2004, the general hospital had to call the Ministry of Health to send emergency vehicles to remove the more than 600 corpses that had accumulated there over the previous 2 weeks.

Rape is once again being wielded as a political tool to prevent women from speaking out against the coup d'etat and the subsequent repression.

Political freedom has been severely restricted since the coup; Journalists critical of the interim government have been killed or threatened by the paramilitaries and radio stations have been shut down.

Peaceful demonstrations calling for the return of democracy and an end to the repression have frequently been met with police bullets.

Leading FL politicians, Lavalas activists and poor people perceived to support Lavalas are routinely arrested without a warrant and then packed into the overcrowded jails, where prisoners are abused and denied the right to see a judge. Prisoners also lack access to adequate food, potable water, or healthcare. The Catholic Peace and Justice Commission estimates that there are at least 700 political prisoners in Haiti today.

Many people have become internal refugees, fleeing to the mountains or to Port-au-Prince, as a result of the campaign of killing, repression, and intimidation.


Didn't President Aristide resign?

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was confronted by US Marines with a letter of resignation prepared for him by the State Department and given two choices: sign the letter and leave with them on a jet to an unknown location or stay in Haiti, in which case the Marines would not provide him with any protection and he would be left at the mercy of the rebels.

The State Department prevented President Aristide's American security company from sending more bodyguards and ordered the remaining ones to return to the U.S. for "security reasons".

When the U.S. took Aristide, they flew him and his wife, without informing them of their destination, to a French military base in the Central African Republic, where Aristide was held against his will for a number of days before eventually going into exile in South Africa.

President Aristide, his "resignation" having been made under the threat of violence, was the victim of a coup d'état, aided by his kidnapping by the U.S.


Who are the rebels? Wasn't Aristide overthrown by a popular rebellion?

The leaders of the rebels, Guy Philippe, Louis Jodel Chamblain, Jean "Tatoune" Baptiste and others, are high-ranking former soldiers or members of the CIA-created paramilitary FRAPH.

The FRAPH, along with the military, slaughtered 4,000-5,000 civilians from 1991-1994 after the 1991 coup that overthrew Aristide for the first time. Aristide thus disbanded the hated military when he returned to power in 1995.

Many ex-soldiers trained with the Dominican Army on military bases and received M-16s from the US. From 2000 to 2004, Guy Philippe led frequent cross-border attacks into Haiti, killing police officers and government officials.

The rebels overthrew Aristide after a 3-week insurgency, killing police officers, emptying jails and burning down government buildings.

500 members of the former military have been integrated into the Haitian National Police (HNP), with another 500-1000 in training. Former soldiers also occupy top posts in the HNP.

Vast swaths of the countryside are under the control of Guy Philippe's men, who play judge, jury and executioner in the absence of any functioning justice system.


Who is the interim government?

Shortly after forcing President Aristide's departure, the U.S. swept aside Haiti's constitution and produced a handpicked "Conseil des Sages" (Council of the Wise) to appoint a new government.

Gerard Latortue, a UN bureaucrat and business consultant, was selected as Prime Minister, along with a cabinet of right wing ideologues and supporters of the old dictatorships.

After taking power, the installed government granted a three-year tax holiday to the largest business owners, while firing thousands of government workers and cutting funding for literacy programs, subsidies for textbooks and school uniforms.

The U.S.-backed government also stopped paying the wages of doctors and nurses, leading them to go on strike, but managed to find $30 million to pay "back wages" to the disbanded military

Violating a 13-year arms embargo with the active complicity of the U.S., the Latortue government purchased $7 million worth of weapons from the American government.

The Ministry of Justice has organized sham trials for ex-army officers like FRAPH leader Louis Jodel Chamblain accused of carrying out massacres or assassination during the 1991-94 coup. The defendants have unanimously been acquitted in proceedings described as "an insult to justice" and a "mockery" by Amnesty International.


How is Canada involved in Haiti?

In January 2003, Canada hosted the "Ottawa Initiative", a gathering of all the "major players" in Haiti, none of which were Haitian, and reached a consensus that "Aristide must go".

Joint Task Force 2, an elite commando squad in the Canadian Armed Forces, was on the ground in Haiti February 29, 2004, securing the airstrip from which U.S. Marines forced Aristide out of the country.

Canada also contributed 550 Canadian Forces troops to the French and American forces that occupied Haiti after Aristide's ouster.

The Deputy Minister of "Justice" in Haiti, Philippe Vixamar, is an employee of CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and was given his position by CIDA. Vixamar, who has overseen the illegal arrest and detention of political prisoners while setting free notorious human rights abusers, has said "the United States and Canadian governments play key roles in the justice system in Haiti."

100 RCMP officers are leading CIVPOL, the UN police mission that is training, arming, and patrolling with the new HNP. CIVPOL is helping to integrate the brutal former military into the HNP's ranks while providing a veneer of legitimacy to the police's violent actions.

Hypocritically, Canada claimed it cancelled a police training program during Aristide's presidency because of the "politicization" of the police, yet now seems totally unconcerned by the politicization of the police and the egregious abuses this is spawning.

Prior to the coup, Canada had cut off all aid to the elected government of Haiti and was channelling the remaining trickle of money to anti-Aristide NGOs. After the coup, however, Canada announced more than $180 million in aid to support the installed government.

Canada claims the aid is intended to help hold "free and credible election"; In reality, Latortue's government has done everything it can to assure that free and fair elections cannot be held, by embracing the former military as "freedom fighters" and actively repressing FL, the majority political party in Haiti.

The Caribbean Community, the African Union, and Venezuela have all refused to recognize the installed government, and the ANC, Nelson Mandela's party, has started a campaign for the return of democracy to Haiti.

The Canadian government, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to legitimate Gerard Latortue's installed regime. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew and Paul Martin have both made official visits to Haiti since the coup, and Martin appeared with Latortue at a conference for the Haitian Diaspora in Montreal. Martin et al. continue to echo the interim government's false claims that there are no political prisoners in Haiti.


Doesn't the UN have peacekeepers in Haiti?

There are 7,400 UN police and troops in Haiti, with the military component led by Brazil, whose (contradictory) mandate consists of supporting the interim government and protecting civilian life.

The UN forces have participated in numerous "weapons sweeps" with police in the slums of the capital, but have made little effort to disarm the ex-soldiers.

UN troops have passively watched as police shot at peaceful demonstrators: On Feb. 28, the UN stood by as the Haitian Police fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators. News of this blatant repression caused the UN to bar the police from providing "security" for marches. This lasted about a week, until the interim government accused the UN of violating its sovereignty. The UN backed off, and soon enough, on April 27, the police opened fire on peaceful demonstrators, killing 9 according to Amnesty International.


What is "Operation Baghdad"?

On Sept. 30, tens of thousands of people peacefully marched in Port-au-Prince to call for the return of Aristide. Police fired upon the crowd as they passed the Presidential Palace, killing several protestors.

The interim government later claimed that Lavalas militants had attacked and beheaded 3 cops at the demonstration. However, according to CARLI, a human rights group critical of Aristide's government, there had been only 2 police officers beheaded, and they had been killed the day before in a shootout with former military.

Claiming Lavalas had initiated "Operation Baghdad" to destabilize the interim government, the Latortue regime used this as a pretext to embark upon an intense wave of repression against pro-Lavalas slums.

The Latortue government claimed their brutal incursions into the slums were "weapons sweeps" to disarm the "chimères", yet a recent study by the Small Arms Survey found that the vast majority of the weapons were located in the wealthier neighbourhoods, not the slums.


Wasn't Aristide a dictator? Didn't he rig the 2000 elections?

All observers, including the OAS (Organization of American States), hailed the May 2000 legislative elections as "free and fair" with an impressive 60% turnout.

When it became clear that Fanmi Lavalas had won the vote by a large majority, the OAS began disputing the results for 8 of the 18 Senate seats up for election, claiming that the counting method used to tally the votes was incorrect.

After Aristide won the November 2000 presidential elections, he persuaded the 7 Senators from FL to resign and offered to hold new elections, but the opposition refused to participate. Subsequent offers for new elections and concessions by Aristide were similarly rejected.

USAID-commissioned Gallup polls taken in 2000 and 2002 consistently found Aristide and his FL party to enjoy the support of a majority of Haitians. Since the coup, representatives of the American and Canadian embassies in Haiti have admitted if free elections were held, FL would win again.

As animosity between government supporters and opponents increased, the opposition claimed that Aristide was using gangs, called "chimères", to maintain his power and suppress dissent.

While there was violence by pro-Lavalas gangs, there is no evidence linking it to Aristide, who consistently condemned acts of violence by all parties, and was vocal in his calls for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. On several occasions the government arrested prominent government supporters accused of crimes, even in the face of popular protest.

This violence was in the context of multiple coup attempts against Aristide and finally a full-scale invasion by the former military from the Dominican Republic (DR). In this volatile climate, from 2000 to 2003, there were at most 30 political murders attributable to pro-Lavalas forces, roughly the same as for opposition supporters and the DR-based paramilitaries. This is in no way comparable to the current repression, nor to that of the past, either during the Duvalier dictatorships or the 1991-94 coup.


Who were the opposition?

The main opposition comprised the Group of 184 and the Convergence Democratique, who were financed by the U.S. and supported by the Haitian elite.

The Group of 184, led by sweatshop owner Andy Apaid, is a right wing coalition of 184 "civil society" (i.e. the wealthiest 15% of Haiti's population) organizations. Funded by IFES (International Foundation for Electoral Systems), which was financed by USAID, the Group of 184 led a number of anti-government demonstrations and attacked Aristide in the international media prior to the coup.

The Convergence Democratique (CD), financed and organized by the International Republican Institute, is a grouping of anti-Lavalas political parties composed mostly of former Aristide allies willing to implement the IMF's (International Monetary Fund) demands, popularly referred to as the "plan lanmo" (death plan) by Haitians.

Despite the large sums of money flowing to them, the CD was never able to poll higher than 12%.


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To receive info from the Canada Haiti Action Network mailing list, please contact: kskerrett@cupe.ca


U of Miami Human Rights Report Nov. 11-21:

Politics of Haiti and the coup:

Canada's Role in Haiti:

Harvard Report on the UN's performance in Haiti:

Links: - www.haitiaction.net - www.vwazanset.org - www.quixote.org/hr/ - dominionpapaer.ca/haiti - www.zmag.org/lam/haitiwatch.cfm - www.ijdh.org -

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