FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Haiti Redux

by SAUL LANDAU

One of my students asked me about the current unrest in Haiti. “Reading the news accounts,” she offered, “I can’t figure out who stands for what. And what role is US policy playing in the ongoing events?”

I, too, find it difficult to extract meaning from the news accounts. Newspapers and wire service reports ran headlines about “Rebels Occupying Haiti’s Second and Third Largest Cities,” without identifying the rebels or explaining what they stood for.

Other than their expressed hatred for and desire to overthrow the elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, I found in the news reports not the barest trace of Haitian history that would help people get a context for the current conflict.

For example, 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognize the first black and second oldest republic in the Hemisphere. In the early 1790s, inspired by the French Revolution, Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave, led an uprising and overthrew the French masters.

In 1862, almost sixty years later, Abraham Lincoln finally recognized Haiti. In 1888, the United States began its habit of intervention when US forces responded to the Haitian authorities’ seizure of a US ship that had landed illegally. In 1891, US troops landed “to protect American lives and property …when Negro laborers got out of control.”

Woodrow Wilson deployed the Marines in 1914 and again in 1915 “to maintain order during a period of chronic and

threatened insurrection.” They remained as an occupation force under Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1934, FDR ended the two decades of occupation by turning the reins of government over to a clique who looted the country until in 1956 Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc), staged a military coup and declared himself president for life.

Papa Doc created a brutal dictatorship backed by the Tontons Macoute, a Haitian Praetorian Guard. Upon his death, Jean Claude or Baby Doc Duvalier replaced his father until his overthrow in 1986. Both mouthed the anti-communist line, brutalized their own people and received US support.

In 1990, Haitians overwhelmingly elected as President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist Catholic priest. He served nine months before a military coup, led by General Raoul Cedras, backed by the CIA, ousted him and instituted three years of military rule: political violence against all opponents and looting.

President Clinton procrastinated. Finally, in 1994, he dispatched troops to reseat Aristide as president. But Clinton limited the military’s goals. He did not order the troops to disarm members of the illegal military gangs or train new security forces to protect Haitians in the countryside, where paramilitary thugs harassed the farmers.

Aristide’s most prominent enemies and flagrant human rights abusers — fled to the United States or the Dominican Republic. But they had stashed weapons on the island and waited for the opportune moment. Human rights violators like Col. Emanual Constant, a former CIA agent, walked confidently through the streets of Queens, New York. Some former army and Tonton Macoute officials have returned and “joined” the “opposition.”

The media has identified Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former army officer and member of FRAPH, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, during the post-1991 military coup. But little has been reported about the nature of the atrocities committed by this “leader” of the rebels.

Although such hooligans more than cloud the political “opposition’s” legitimacy, large numbers of Haitians do feel disappointed with Aristide. The three year wait before Aristide resumed his legitimate place as president, seemed to have changed him and the inchoate, populist Lavalas Party he leads. By 1994, following the Pope’s order, he had shed his collar. The secular Aristide no longer showed the same assurance. The exile years had taken their toll.

By the late 1990s, those democratic and progressive minded people around the world who saw him as “the deliverer” also felt disheartened. Aristide’s religious charisma seemed to dissolve in frustration. First, the man who had vowed to build a new, developing Haiti, free of corruption, got IMF’d.

He refused to privatize the public’s wealth as The IMF and World Bank — and US loan agencies demanded. Aristide had seen what these policies had done to the desperately poor in the third world. His refusal to obey led the dictates of the imperial financiers led to his punishment and to his inability to accomplish even minimal reforms.

The cynical “expectations” went side by side with a double standard on which to judge Aristide. While the Colombian government on the western side of the Caribbean received increased US aid for bad behavior, Aristide was held to standards that no third world country could have maintained. Washington offered meager resources and then deemed his effort to improve police training inadequate. When violence occurred, the details somehow became obscured, the perpetrators unnamed and the blame fell on Aristide.

Neither news stories nor editorials asked the obvious question: What resource-starved, infra-structurally underdeveloped and politically chaotic third world country could accomplish economic development, social order and political stability in a few years?

In 1989, I interviewed Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. I asked him what reforms he would make now that he had regained political power (he won as a Democratic Socialist in 1972 and 76, was defeated in 1980 and won a third term in 1989, no longer a socialist, but a supporter of IMF policies).

He laughed scornfully. “My budget has no flexibility,” he said. “The DEA offers a $29 million grant to burn ganja [marijuana] fields. I have a choice: use the money to open the roads blocked by Hurricane Andrew or raise teachers’ pay and keep the schools open. I can’t do both. No agrarian reform. No health care.” He shook his head. “Political power without money in the budget is an illusion.”

He invited me to accompany a joint Jamaican Defense Force-DEA who planned to raid a ganja plantation on the island’s western side. The helicopters landed, the troops and DEA agents jumped out and, as if in real combat, unleashed their flame throwers on the ample crop. Within twenty minutes the soldiers and agents began to giggle uncontrollably as they inhaled the fumes of their labor.

Watching the event, the extended family whose livelihood had just gone up in smoke, did not share the celebration. The Member of Parliament who had also accompanied the strike force lectured them: “This is what happens when you grow illegal crops.”

“What else can we grow?” asked the grandfather of the clan. “With the roads destroyed we cannot get crops to market. With ganja, the airplane comes,” he pointed to the landing strip in the middle of the burning field, “takes the crop and gives us cash. Now what?”

The MP lost his pot-induced ebullience.

“Well, maybe you could start up a small factory or something,” he responded weakly.

“Dis imperialism, mon,” a dread locked young man opined.

“Huh?” I said.

“California ganja growers take over Jamaican market,” he said. “America balance of trade improve.”

Back in Kingston, the DEA agents and JDF officers invited me for a drink. I declined. Manley would have his $29 million and raise teacher pay to keep schools open. What a price he was paying! He resigned shortly afterwards a tacit admission of political impotence.

Place the current rioting in Haiti in this political and economic context, one missing from mainstream reporting. Add the explicit or implicit twisting of news reporting to make Haitian civil strife appear to be Aristide’s fault.

The media should have smelled the proverbial “destabilizing rat” when reporting that on December 5, 2003 50 armed men broke into the university in Port au Prince and began to provoke students and professors. Aristide backers responded by demonstrating. The armed unit attacked. One pro-Aristide man let loose a sling shot and connected with the head of an anti-Aristide militant. But onlookers, mostly students, bore the brunt of the ensuing violence.

On January 12, the anti-Aristide gang organized a protest march in the capital Port-au-Prince. Reports from non-US sources maintain that some students joined this demonstration after receiving cash incentives or promises to get tickets for foreign travel.

US dailies did not mention this information. Instead, the media focused on Aristide’s inability to answer “security concerns,” while anti-Aristide officials in the Bush Administration like Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, Presidential envoy to the Americas, promoted a policy of embargo against the Aristide government. Noriega carried an old vendetta from his former boss, retired North Carolina Senator (R) Jess Helms, who despised Aristide’s disobedience.

The chaos that reins in Haiti, is far from spontaneous. Thugs who illegally seized power and raped Haiti from 1991-94 have returned to the island to join with people who have legitimate grievances.

Aristide may have overestimated his own support, relied on a weak police force and underestimated the treachery of his foes. But Aristide’s mistakes or even character flaws do not invalidate his legitimacy as an elected president of Haiti, the poorest country in the Hemisphere.

Reasonable political sense, I told my student, dictates that we should support Aristide’s offer to compromise with the political opposition and put down the ruffians who want full dictatorial power reminiscent of their illegal rule 1991-4.

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: www.rprogreso.com. His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, has just been published by Pluto Press. His new film is Syria: Between Iraq and a Hard Place. He can be reached at: landau@counterpunch.org

 

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
Jeffrey St. Clair
Night of the Hollow Men: Notes From the Democratic Convention
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail