Haiti: US Undermines Another Democracy

by George Friemoth, MITF

Marin Interfaith Task Force on Central America newsletter, Spring 2002



The international community, including such notables as Jimmy Carter and Noam Chomsky, condemned the US government's blatant interference in Nicaragua's elections last year. Chomsky said, "Haiti was (also) a prime target of US intervention in the century."

It will most probably remain so in the future.

The US has never been comfortable with Haiti ever since the country abolished slavery in 1804 while slavery was thriving in the US. Now that Haiti has a democratically elected populist government leading a country of poor people presumably willing to challenge US economic and foreign interests, the US is determined to see that Haiti's popular democracy does not succeed.

Historically, the US works with Latin American governments made up of landed, wealthy elites supported by military forces trained by the US. In 1995, Haiti abolished its military and became the second in the hemisphere after Costa Rica to do so. The demobilization did not set well with the Haitian elite or the US. Using a strategy that worked well in defeating the Nicaraguan Sandinistas in the 1990 elections, an alliance of opposition parties, called the Convergence, was formed and funded by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a creation of Congress representing Republican party interests. The strategy failed.

In May 2000, the Lavalas party of President Aristide swept the parliamentary elections winning over 80 percent of all the seats. The 27 opposition parties, including the 15 parties in the Convergence, received only about 12 percent of the vote. One Haitian opposition leader who did not want his name revealed, admitted at the time, "Aristide cannot be beaten in democratic elections."

The US reaction provoked a political crisis. Washington cut off all funding for the presidential elections scheduled in November 2000 and, when its efforts to postpone the constitutionally mandated election failed, it encouraged the opposition candidates to boycott the elections.

Using the pretext of a minor technical disagreement regarding the calculation of voter percentage in the May 2000 elections (that pale in comparison with those found in the Florida after our 2000 presidential elections), the US blocked a $146 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The loan had been approved by the IDB, signed by the Haitian government and intended for critically needed health care (AIDS), education (basic literacy) and public works (potable water and impassable roads). Last year, in order to avoid losing the contracted loan, Haiti paid $10 million on the loan it didn't receive.

The IDB loan is part of a blocked total aid package of $500 million earmarked for Haiti by international financial institutions. This is the same $500 million that the international community determined to be necessary for Haiti in 1994 when democratic rule was restored with President Aristide's return from exile. For the last eight years, the US has managed to effectively block funds to the Haitian government while permitting $70 million to flow to the Convergence and, through USAID, to NGOs that support the Convergence.

President Aristide has bent over backwards to satisfy US and Organization of American State demands, making concessions that even exceeded those demands, such as having seven Senators resign and promising new elections this year, two years earlier than required. The US declared that the sanctions would not be lifted until the Convergence was satisfied. But the Convergence refuses to negotiate in good faith or sign any agreements, leading many observers to believe the Convergence's real goal is to have Aristide removed from power.

The Haitian people are angry-very angry-with the US for interfering in their transition to democracy. They are angry with the international community for promising aid and not delivering it. They are angry with their president and the government for making so many concessions and not meeting their many needs. They are angry at the Convergence for feeding into their greatest fear by advocating the return of the Haitian Army and setting the stage for the two coup attempts in July and December, 2001 that required massive public mobilizations in the streets, not without some violence. They are extremely frustrated with the slow progress being made to improve their lives and realize democracy. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles they appear committed to defend their democracy at all costs.

Urgent Action: Contact your representatives in Congress. Tell them it is absolutely shameful to maintain economic sanctions on the poorest country in our hemisphere. Demand that they support the Congressional Black Caucus' efforts to lift the sanctions and change our foreign policy toward Haiti. For more information contact the Haiti Action Committee, haitiaction@ yahoo.com.

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