Haiti: US Backing Overthrow of President

by George Friemoth

MITF Report, Spring 2004

(Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas)


In international circles, no country can be seen as backing the overthrow of a democratically elected president. That is a big 'no no' under international law. Yet, the US is managing to do so by pursuing with vengeance its unjust, indecent and ruinously counterproductive strategy against Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the democratically elected government of Haiti.

Washington's vendetta against Haiti, generally, and Aristide in particular has historical roots. It goes back 200 years when the US was stunned by Haiti's abolition of slavery some 54 years before our Civil War. Haiti's example became an inspiration for the abolitionist movement in the US and around the world and hastened the demise of slavery worldwide.

When Aristide became president he did the unthinkable in that he abolished the Haitian army and questioned the US neoliberal agenda. Washington's response was vitriolic and it imposed an embargo against the poorest country in the hemisphere. In 1996 the US cut off S500 million in loans and aid that the international community had determined was absolutely necessary for Haiti's survival after the 1991-1994 coup.

For the past four years the US goal has been to get rid of President Aristide and his popularly elected Lavalas government by actively and tacitly organizing and supporting an opposition, call the Democratic Convergence (DC). The DC is made up of Haitian elites, intellectuals and business people who are angry with Aristide for such things as raising the minimum wage and insisting they pay taxes for the first time in their lives!

Millions of US taxpayer dollars have flowed into the DC through the International Republican Institute (IRI) to build up an opposition to overthrow the government The IRI receives funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is in turn funded by USAID. The IRI consists of a small group of extremists, with strong ideological ties to the Bush Administration and former Senator Jesse Helms, who simplistically see Aristide as the Caribbean's next Fidel Castro. They unfortunately still guide US hemispheric policy, with the likes of Roger Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs (once an aid to Helms) along with radical right colleague Otto Reich (former Ambassador to Honduras during the Contra War in the 80's), Special Presidential Envoy to the Western Hemisphere.

On New Year's Day, as hundreds of thousands of Haitians danced in the streets celebrating their bicentennial anniversary, and dignitaries from around the world thanked Haiti for opening the door to independence for oppressed people everywhere-the celebrations were stained with threats of violence from the Washington-backed opposition and calls for Aristide to step down. What started in December as violent opposition with public protests is now leading to an openly antidemocratic insurrection, as anti-Aristide forces turn Haiti into a hellish war zone.

Adopting an inflexible policy of non-negotiation, armed groups have recently taken over several cities demanding the resignation of President Aristide. These groups claim affiliation to the opposition, the DC and the Group of 184 that recently joined together under the banner of the Democratic Platform. Spokespeople for the opposition have congratulated the armed groups for their efforts.

Andre Apaid Jr. heads the Group of 184; he is one of Haiti's richest men, owning 15 factories, operating sweatshops, evading taxes and being rabidly anti-Aristide. Apaid is a Devalier supporter and demands a return of the military. He allegedly holds an American passport and obtained permanent residency in Haiti through deceptive means. There is compelling evidence that Apaid brainstormed the current violent campaign to oust Aristide and enjoys the tacit if not overt support of the US Embassy in Port-au Prince.

The US media and Bush Administration officials would like people to believe that the Aristide government is prolonging the political stalemate and failing to establish a "climate of security," but they neglect to acknowledge that it is the intransigence of the US-sponsored opposition that has crippled democratic processes in Haiti.

The opposition's refusal to participate in the electoral process is understandable since they know they have no chance of winning any elections in Haiti.

In regard to failing to provide a "climate of security" for democratic process, the US Embassy ordered the US forces not to disarm the dismantled Haitian military in 1994. So today it is estimated that there are 7,000 ex-military and paramilitary personnel with countless guns and other weapons. Later, when Aristide attempted to bring in 100 police trainers through an agreement with the OAS Special Mission in order to help professionalize the national Police and teach disarmament tactics, the US denied the training funds. Recently, the US denied Haiti's request for weapons, including tear gas, leaving the police highly vulnerable in dealing with the current marauding forces.

The Haitian people, realizing that there are only 4,000 police for a country of 8.5 million, have taken to the streets in massive numbers to repel the armed rebels. For them, preserving their democracy and allowing President Aristide to serve out his five-year term are of primary importance.

Given the opposition's ideological and financial ties to the US-they have been generously funded through the IRI - the Bush Administration could stop the bloodshed tomorrow. An open condemnation by Washington of the obstructionism could have an electrifying positive effect in Haiti. Yet, that is not likely given the mindset of those who run Secretary Colin Powell's hemispheric branch in the State Department. The best thing Americans can do is to pressure the Bush Administration to reverse its destructive course and send a clear message to the State Department: NO COUP IN HAITI!

URGENT ACTION: Please contact Secretary of State Colin Powell: Phone: 202-647-5291 or 7098; Fax: 202-6472283 or 5269.

Source: The Council of Hemispheric Affairs Press and February 10, 2004.

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