Haiti's Achievements Under Aristide
by Stephen Lendman
The long-suffering people of Haiti suffered
a catastrophic blow in February, 2004 when U.S. Marines kidnapped
and deposed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The U.S., supported by Canada and France, forced him into exile,
forbade him from even returning to the hemisphere, and reestablished
a despotic interim puppet government backed and enforced by so-called
UN peacekeepers and a brutal Haitian National Police.
U.S. officials also threatened Aristide
with a second abduction followed by a trial and imprisonment in
the U.S. [on totally fraudulent charges of looting the Haitian
treasury, money laundering and taking payoffs from drug traffickers]
if he dared act or speak out forcefully against his ousting, forced
exile and the deplorable situation now in Haiti. These charges
are currently included in a baseless lawsuit the so-called Interim
Government of Haiti has filed against President Aristide even
as they carry out a reign of terror against the Haitian people.
And as they do it, conditions in the country continue to deteriorate
as the occupying forces clamp down on the people ahead of so-called
Presidential and legislative elections in January. With Haiti
an occupied country, the freedom and democracy they had is now
lost and along with it a decade of impressive social, economic
and political gains they never had before.
Why did the U.S. plan and carry out this
act of savage banditry against a leader beloved by his people
and last reelected in 2000 with 92% of the vote? It was because
he cared about the 80% or more desperately poor and disadvantaged
Haitians and was committed to improving their lives. He was determined
to serve their interests rather than those of his dominant northern
neighbor. That policy of any nation, especially less developed
ones, is always unacceptable to the predatory neoliberal agenda
of all U.S. administrations, the giant transnational corporations
whose interests they serve, and in Haiti, their elite junior business
partners. The Bush administration, in league with these dominant
business interests, intends to return this nation of 8.5 million
people, the poorest in the Americas, to its pre-Aristide status
of virtual serfdom. To do it they destroyed Haiti's freedom and
first ever democracy in its history and turned the country into
a killing field. And to justify what they did, they conducted
a shameless disinformation campaign, aided by a complicit and
corrupted corporate media, falsely claiming the Aristide government
was rife with corruption, trafficked drugs and violated human
rights. They also claimed Haiti was poorly governed by inherently
inept people [shameless racism]. They called it a failed state
needing "reform" and "humanitarian intervention."
For U.S. corporations and the Haitian
business elite, Haiti has always been a paradise for some of the
cheapest labor on the planet. It's also had a long-term endemic
problem of men, women and children being victims of human trafficking
for sexual exploitation, debt bondage and chattel labor. No one
leader or party, no matter how well-intentioned, could solve all
these problems easily or quickly. But Aristide tried. He wanted
something better and for ten years accomplished impressive achievements
with little outside financial support and against great odds.
What Lavalas administrations accomplished is explained below.
SOCIAL GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
1. HEALTH CARE
The Aristide government renovated and
built health clinics, hospitals and dispensaries and added improved
medical services. It greatly increased the number of health care
workers including doctors. It spent a larger percentage of its
budget on health care than any previous Haitian government. It
began a meaningful AIDS prevention and treatment program praised
by international experts that reduced the HIV prevalence rate
from 6.1% to 5% and the mother to child transmission rate from
30% to 9%. In a cooperative effort with Cuba it sent hundreds
of Haitian medical students to that country to study to become
doctors and were aided by many more hundreds of Cuban health care
workers coming to Haiti to work in rural areas. It established
a new medical school in Tabarre which provided free medical education
for hundreds of Haitian students and planned to open a nursing
school which the 2004 coup prevented.
Overall, health care availability and
improvement made impressive gains from its formerly dismal state.
One measure was the decline in infant mortality from 125 to 110
per 1000 and a drop in the percentage of underweight births from
28% to 19%.
Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas implemented
a Universal Schooling Program intending to include all Haitian
children. 20% of Haiti's budget was devoted to education, and
between 2001 - 2004 school enrollment rates rose from 68% to 72%.
Under Lavalas administrations, 195 new primary schools and 104
new public high schools were built including in rural areas where
no schools ever before existed. To supplement further, Fanmi
Lavalas provided thousands of scholarships for children to attend
private schools. It subsidized schoolbooks and uniforms and expanded
school lunch programs to serve 700,000 hot meals a day to children
who otherwise might have had no meal.
The Aristide government also began a national
literacy campaign, printed 2 million literacy manuals, and trained
thousands of students as literacy workers. It opened 20,000 adult
literacy centers many of which combined a literacy center with
a community kitchen to provide low cost meals to communities in
need. Between 2001 - 2003 this program taught 100,000 people to
read, and from 1996 - 2003 reduced the illiteracy rate from 85%
3. JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Contrary to the demonization and disinformation
campaign against Aristide and Lavalas, human rights and conflict
resolution achieved significant gains under Lavalas administrations.
For the first time ever in Haiti, the rights of the accused were
respected. Those arrested had a formal hearing before a judge
usually within 2 days. Court proceedings were conducted in Creole,
the French derivative language all Haitians understand. Since
the 2004 coup, Lavalas supporters have been routinely murdered
or jailed for months without charge and without recourse to a
fair trial in court.
In 1995 the Lavalas government opened
a school for magistrates. It graduated 100 new judges and prosecutors
between 1996 and 2003. Also, courthouses and police stations
were constructed and refurbished throughout the country. Special
courts for children were established, and a special child protection
unit was created within the Haitian National Police. Laws were
also passed prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment against
children. And in 2003 a new law was passed repealing a labor
code provision allowing child domestic service [mostly unpaid
and thus chattel labor], and additional legislation passed prohibiting
all trafficking in persons [a long-term endemic abuse in Haiti
affecting adults and children].
Aristide removed the main instrument of
state repression and dozens of previous coups by disbanding the
hated Haitian military - trained by the U.S. to be an instrument
of civilian control and to use brutal and abusive tactics to do
it. This allowed the Haitian people an unprecedented level of
freedom of speech, assembly and personal safety unknown before.
He also created the National Commission for Truth and Justice
to investigate and report on the crimes committed during the 1991-1994
coup period. It made its recommendations for a measure of justice
in 1996. As a result, former soldiers and paramilitaries were
tried for their crimes and convicted when found guilty in fair
POLITICAL GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
Until Aristide's election in 1990 Haiti
had never before had a democratically elected President. Aristide
took office in 1991, but his administration was short-lived because
of a military coup that deposed him later in the year. But in
a deal struck with the Clinton administration Aristide was restored
to office in 1994 and served out the remainder of his term until
1996. Then, prohibited from succeeding himself by Haitian law,
Aristide ally and Prime Minister in 1991, Rene Preval, was elected
President with 88% of the vote. Aristide was then reelected in
November, 2000 [representing the Fanmi Lavalas party he formed
in 1996] and served until the February, 2004 coup deposing him.
Haiti's independent electoral commission
oversaw the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections and 3 parliamentary
and local elections. In May, 2000, 29,500 candidates ran for
7,500 posts. Four million Haitians registered for the election
and 60% of them voted. Many women and peasant leaders were elected
to the House of Deputies, formed a caucus and worked in Parliament
to improve the lives of rural farmers. For the first time ever
Haitian women held the posts of Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Minister of Finance and Chief of Police. Also, in 1995
President Aristide established a cabinet level Ministry of Women's
Affairs to work for women's welfare. Its purpose was multifold
and included help for rape victims, improving literacy and access
to education, vital health services like pre-natal care and inclusion
of women to benefit from increases in the minimum wage.
During this period, the Haitian people
enjoyed unprecedented freedom to organize, speak out freely and
assemble. The number of radio stations in Port-au-Prince expanded
to 44 and another 100 outside the capitol. 16 TV stations were
registered in the capitol and 35 more nationwide. Also, the Haitian
Constitution of 1987 was printed in Creole and was widely distributed
so Haitians were aware of their rights which, for the first time,
they really had.
For nearly 10 years the Haitian people
had its only democracy in its 500 year history and a government
and leaders it chose who for the first time cared about the welfare
of ordinary Haitians and established policies to improve their
lives. All that was lost in February, 2004. The Haitian people
want it restored and resistance is growing to try and achieve
ECONOMIC GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
Aristide raised the minimum wage in 1995
and doubled it in 2003. He instituted an extensive land reform
program distributing 2.47 acres of land to each of 1500 peasant
families in the Artibonite River Valley. His government provided
tools, credit, technical assistance, fertilizers and heavy equipment
to farmers. Irrigation systems were repaired bringing water to
7000 farmers. As a result, rice yields [from Haiti's main staple
crop] rose from 2.7 tons per hectare to between 3 - 3.5 tons.
The government distributed tens of thousands
of reintroduced Creole pigs to Haitian farmers. This reversed
a 1980 U.S. International Development Agency [USAID] extermination
policy done for fraudulent reasons to prevent Haitian farmers
from competing with pig farmers in the U.S. This act cost Haitian
farmers hundreds of millions of dollars for which they received
The Aristide administration campaigned
aggressively to collect unpaid tax and utility bills owed the
government by wealthy and powerful elite businessmen. Through
this effort they generated new revenues which were used for health
care and education.
The government repaired and reopened the
state owned sugar mill in Dabonne that enabled Haiti to process
its own sugar. Also, 30,000 fishermen received technical aid
and training to build boats, Haiti's lakes were planted with fish
stocks and 50 new lakes were built.
The Lavalas administrations created hundreds
of community stores and restaurants which sold food at discount
prices forcing the wealthy elites' import monopolies to reduce
their prices and make them more affordable to poor Haitians.
As a result, by 2003 malnutrition dropped from 63% to 51%.
In 2002 and 2003 more than 1000 low cost
housing units were built, and low interest loans enabled ordinary
working-class Haitians to buy them.
In 1994 the Haitian government established
a program to help refugees who fled the country after the 1991
coup to return. Programs included carpentry and sewing workshops
and help in setting up agricultural cooperatives. This initiative
helped 100,000 refugees return to their homes. The government
also established an Office for Civil Protection to support the
Haitian Red Cross send out early warnings of impending natural
disasters and help those affected they occurred.
All of these vital gains are now being
reversed or adversely affected by the current interim U.S. installed
OTHER NOTABLE LAVALAS ACHIEVEMENTS
Despite misinformation to the contrary,
Lavalas administrations passed legislation to combat drug trafficking
and money laundering and worked cooperatively with the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency [DEA] to interdict drugs and deport drug dealers
wanted by U.S. authorities. In addition, the National Committee
Against Money Laundering, the National Committee to Combat Drug
Trafficking and Substance Abuse and a Financial Intelligence Unit
were created to enforce the laws passed.
The government also campaigned against
public corruption by producing public service announcements and
instituting new procedures to combat this abuse. Investigations
of government officials and other employees involved in improper
or illegal activities were conducted, and those found guilty were
fired or prosecuted.
The Lavalas administrations made major
investments in projects to help the Haitian people. They included
important improvements in infrastructure, public transportation
and agriculture. Thousands of miles of drainage canals were constructed,
repaired or dredged. In Jacmel a new electric power plant was
built, and the port and wharf were renovated. In Port-au-Prince
the international airport and national stadium were renovated.
Dozens of open-air markets [an important Haitian institution]
were built or renovated in cities around the country.
CONDITIONS IN HAITI TODAY SINCE THE 2004
All the achievements discussed above were
impressive and remarkable considering Haiti's long and tragic
history as a brutally exploited state - first by Spain and France
and then by the U.S. However, since the 2004 coup ousting President
Aristide, all of them have been adversely affected or reversed.
Most serious has been the destruction
of real democracy and freedom in Haiti and the tragic and horrific
fallout from it. To serve the interests of U.S. corporations
and the elite Haitian rich, the Haitian National Police [PNH]
and so-called UN peacekeepers [MINUSTAH] have unleashed a reign
of terror against the Haitian people. President Aristide's Fanmi
Lavalas party has been destroyed and its officials jailed, murdered
or forced to flee to avoid either fate. In addition, thousands
of Lavalas supporters [the great majority of Haitians] and community
and labor activists have been killed, jailed, disappeared or forced
into hiding. Also, thousands of small businesses have been burned
and destroyed as have the homes of large numbers of the poor.
Jobs have been lost as well, including those of 4000 public sector
workers hired under President Aristide immediately eliminated
after the coup. As a result, the already very high level of unemployment
has risen further.
The brutal and hated former Haitian military
has also been reinstituted and now controls large areas of the
country in an environment of martial law. In the cities the PNH
operates as a de facto paramilitary force with a license to terrorize
and kill with impunity. Along with MINUSTAH [led by contingents
from Brazil and Chile, with a long history of repressing their
home populations], the PNH conducts frequent violent sweeps through
poor communities and neighborhoods, like Cite Soleil and Bel Air,
attacking, arresting and murdering community leaders, activists
and other Lavalas supporters.
In rural areas, absentee landlords along
with armed paramilitaries have seized peasant farmer land given
them as part of the Land Reform projects by Lavalas administrations.
The new interim U.S. installed government headed by Prime Minister
Gerard Latortue [imported from Florida for the job] ended subsidies
on fertilizer vital to peasant rice farmers. As a result, the
cost of fertilizer has more than doubled, and the price of rice
[Haiti's main staple crop] has risen sharply, adversely affecting
the poor majority [80% or more of the population]. The interim
government also cancelled school subsidies for children and textbooks
and stopped funding literacy programs. Many poor families have
thus been unable to keep their children in school.
U.S. agencies like the U.S. International
Development Agency [USAID] and the Washington based and nominally
independent Haiti Democracy Project are also deeply involved in
making Haiti policy. The latter is funded by the wealthy right-wing
Haitian Boulos family, USAID funded Radio Vision 2000 and other
Haitian business interests. Its board of directors includes former
U.S. ambassadors to Haiti, others close to the U.S. State Department
and Haitian business leaders. This organization [or independent
think tank as they call themselves] along with U.S. acting ambassador
Timothy Carney are likely making day-to-day policy decisions in
Haiti while USAID is serving overall U.S. Haiti policy objectives
by attempting to "pacify" the country. It's doing it
through a sham and grossly inadequate fig leaf program of establishing
a few nongovernmental organization [NGO] type operations to provide
some essential services like "primary care" and "child
survival services," in place of Lavalas, while at the same
time administering with an iron fist. It started the first prison
for children with others for children and adults likely to follow.
The overall aim is to turn Haiti into a tranquil combined open
air and enclosed "prison colony" to create a favorable
climate for business.
In addition, the predatory international
lending agencies, including the IMF and World Bank, are demanding
their pound of flesh that will further deepen Haiti's already
overwhelming and crushing poverty. In their business as usual
fashion they have actively implemented their exploitative and
destructive structural adjustment policies of forced privatizations
and downsizings of state owned industries and elimination of Lavalas
instituted social programs in return for financial aid, adding
to Haiti's already onerous debt burden [most of it "odious"
The dominant U.S. corporate media and
international community overall have largely ignored the ongoing
tragedy and horror in Haiti since the coup. With no pun intended,
Haiti today is literally a black hole, out of sight and out of
mind. The U.S. now calls the shots while their complicit and
subservient in-country proxies have turned back the clock to its
ugly despotic past of brutal repression and even more extreme
poverty, depravation and human suffering.
SCHEDULED PRESIDENTIAL AND LEGISLATIVE
The so-called Interim Government of Haiti
[IGH] has scheduled a first round of Presidential and legislative
elections on January 8 with a runoff to follow on February 15
and local elections finally on March 5. This is the fourth reset
of elections dates in the last 5 months. That's because the planning
and preparation handled by the Provisional Electoral Commission
[CEP] has been as flawed as the notion of a free and democratic
process in a nation now led by a U.S. appointed Prime Minister
in charge of a de facto military junta answerable to the Bush
administration. Although reportedly 3.5 million of the estimated
4.2 million eligible to vote have registered, the list of candidates
running excludes nearly all former Lavalas members. At present
and subject to change, 32 candidates are running for President
including Rene Preval who served a full term as Lavalas' democratically
elected President from 1996 - 2000. With Lavalas a destroyed party
and out of the political process, the fact that Preval has been
allowed to run means it's likely he's been co-opted and has deserted
his former democratic allies and accepted or joined with those
now in power.
The most beloved and popular man still
in Haiti, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, will not be allowed to run
and has been imprisoned without charge to prevent his inclusion
in the election. He currently has been diagnosed with a serious
medical condition requiring his release to be able to be treated
properly. Without a strong outcry and intervention for him it's
doubtful he'll get it, and that may jeopardize his life. Most
other candidates are those the Bush administration finds "acceptable"
including Dumarsais Simeus, a Haitian born Texas millionaire,
Guy Philippe [a former police chief and paramilitary thug who
led the armed coup against President Aristide in 2004] and Dany
Toussaint [a suspected murderer]. In addition, over 1100 candidates
are running for parliament.
Whenever these so-called elections are
finally completed, the result will not represent the will of the
Haitian people. With Lavalas [the overwhelming choice of the Haitian
majority] mostly destroyed as a political entity, the country
under a repressive foreign military occupation, and the entire
electoral process deeply flawed and effectively rigged, the hope
for a democratic election is nil. In addition, the likelihood
of electoral fraud is very great, and the Elections Canada Monitoring
Mission there to detect it is unlikely to do so because of Canada's
support for the U.S. led coup and its participation in MINUSTAH.
There is also no way of knowing how many Haitians will actually
vote despite the reported number registered. Those wanting to
do so will be greatly hampered or unable to as the number of polling
stations have been reduced from 12,000 in 2000 to 600 now, mostly
in urban areas. The majority poor who supported Aristide/Lavalas
are in the rural areas, hours away from where they could vote.
Distance and the threat of electoral violence may stop them.
For now the dream of most Haitians remains
unfulfilled and unlikely to improve any time soon. Still, in
spite of their desperation and without outside support, the Haitian
people remain resolute and courageous. Since the coup, they have
rallied repeatedly and protested in the streets en masse for the
release of political prisoners, the return of President Aristide
and a restoration of their brief democracy. And despite the daily
terror and violence against them, they have continued their resistance
bravely. Their story needs to be told, and they deserve the full
support of caring people everywhere.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Photo from Uruguay.indymedia.org