President Bush’s State of the Union speech was long on “the force of human freedom,” which he called “the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.” Yet just 600 miles from Florida, that hunger and longing is being met every day with bullets, beatings, arrests and rape by the unelected, unconstitutional government in Haiti. That government’s biggest supporter is the administration of George W. Bush.
One year ago, Washington helped depose the elected government of Haiti. The populist ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s president, became the first elected leader to be overthrown twice by armed thugs supported by the United States.
The first time was in 1991, after he had served only seven months as the country’s first democratically elected president. At the time, the evidence of Washington’s culpability was circumstantial: The leaders of the coup were on the CIA payroll. A death squad organization that killed thousands of Aristide’s supporters during the 1991-1994 dictatorship was headed by Emmanuel Constant, who told the world on CBS’ 60 Minutes that the CIA hired him for the job.
This time, our government’s role in the coup was more overt. “This is a case where the United States turned off the tap,” said economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Colombia University. “I believe they did that deliberately to bring down Aristide.” Sachs was referring to the cut off of funding from the Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank from 2001-2003. It was an unusually cruel thing to do: Haiti is desperately poor, with the worst incidence of malnutrition and disease in the hemisphere.
But it worked, in that it made people’s lives more miserable in Haiti. The economy shrank, and Washington poured in tens of millions of dollars through USAID, the International Republican Institute and other organizations to forge a political opposition. It was a movement that could never win an election, but it controlled the media and had some heavily armed former military personnel – including convicted murderers – who wanted to get back in power.
On Feb. 29 of last year they got their wish. As their insurrection closed in on Port-au-Prince, U.S. officials told Aristide they could not guarantee his safety – despite the fact that they managed to secure the airport with just a handful of U.S. Marines. According to U.S. press reports, they told Aristide he was going to a news conference. They took him instead to the airport where he boarded a plane to an unknown location, which turned out to be the Central African Republic.
The Bush administration’s major allegation against Aristide was that he allowed armed gangs, called “Chimeres,” to attack his political opponents. Whatever the truth to these charges, they cannot match the hell on Earth that is now Haiti’s existence.
The Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami Law School conducted an investigation in Haiti last November. Among the findings: “summary executions are a police tactic,” and the jails are filled with political prisoners – including the ousted constitutional government’s Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert. Many of these prisoners are held without charge, beaten and denied medical help.
Cite Soleil, a horribly poor slum of 250,000 people, is under virtual lockdown, cut off from commercial traffic. Young men cannot leave for fear of arrest, since the neighborhood is known to support Aristide. People who are shot by police, army or pro-government thugs treat their injuries at home because anyone who shows up at a hospital with a bullet wound can be arrested. Bodies of victims can be seen in the streets, being devoured by dogs and pigs.
The goal of the present government seems to be to use violence and fear to intimidate the pro-Aristide population, which appears still to be the majority and who continue to demand the return of their elected president. It is eerily similar to the 1991-1994 dictatorship in both its objectives and methods.
But they are making sure that, unlike last time, Haitians do not escape the island to embarrass the U.S. government by washing up – alive or dead – on the shores of Florida. The silence here regarding Haiti’s torment, in the media and among major U.S. human rights organizations, is deafening and shameful.
MARK WEISBROT is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org