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Haiti and the Washington Consensus

Richard Morse’s piece responding to my report on some of what I saw in Haiti in August accuses me of “only telling one side of the story.” Morse’s critique first accuses my article of omitting 50% of the facts, then provides a list of alleged transgressions by President Aristide that I overlooked. The Bush Administration used the same allegations to justify its support of Haiti’s 2004 coup d’etat. Like the U.S. government, Morse fails to provide any facts to support his claims.

In an April 16, 2008 dispatch on Counterpunch, Morse wrote, “I then went to Washington with Lionel Delatour and explained to many (State Department, Pentagon, members of the House and Senate), the political situation in Haiti.”  Delatour is a founder of the Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy (CLED), a right wing pro-free market group which received funding from USAID. He is also on the Board of the Haiti Democracy Project, a key player in the disinformation campaign which made the 2004 Haitian coup more palatable to people who should have known better. Two other Board members of the Haiti Democracy Project are former U.S. Ambassadors to Haiti; Rudolph Bulous, CEO of Pharval Laboratories, who has been linked to Duvalierist and other right-wing Haitian forces, is also a HDP Board member.

Peter Hallward’s excellent book Damming the Flood goes through years of anti-Lavalas propaganda in forensic detail and does a better job than I ever could of both providing an essential historical overview and showing why Aristide’s commitment to the poor majority (e.g. working to double the minimum wage) created such hatred from more well-to-do Haitians.

In an essay review</a> that also takes apart many of Morse’s claims in great detail, Hallward quotes journalist Guy Delva, a frequent Aristide critic.  Delva says of the oft-repeated claim that Aristide armed gangs, “There’s no evidence of it. Of course it’s possible that in 2004 some weapons were handed out to groups loyal to the regime: there was an armed insurgency going on, after all, and it’s possible that the government wanted to strengthen itself against the [U.S.-backed] rebels. But the government had very few weapons, in fact, and the supply of police munitions was very low.”

Later in that essay Hallward quotes a veteran aid worker in Cite Soleil who tells him, “As of February 2004, there were three well-armed groups, led by Dred, Labanye, and Amaral, and each of these three leaders had several automatic weapons at his disposal, around half a dozen high calibre pistols and several dozen .38 revolvers, most of which were loaned out to their followers. I think I saw most of them, and I’d guess that there was a grand total of perhaps 250 guns in the hands of groups from Cité Soleil during the turmoil of February 2004, and considerably less before then.” Hallward notes that this is in “a country blessed with an estimated 210,000 firearms ? at least 170,000 of which remain securely in the hands of its ruling families and businesses.”

Recently I heard a more-radical-than-thou U.S. activist critique Aristide for disavowing armed struggle.  Aside from that sectarian position’s disconnect from the real world, it points to something that Morse doesn’t concede: that Aristide was actually committed to nonviolence, and urged his followers not to loot in the lead up to his forced ouster by the U.S.

In fact, during his time in office, Aristide negotiated peace talks between gangs, as a Haitian who was in a meeting with Aristide while some of those negotiations were going on confirmed to me.

Morse writes that because I “compare the Latortue transitional government with the elected Preval government,” it’s clear I “never had any intention of presenting a clear or honest picture of what’s going on in Haiti today.”  In fact, I was quoting Haiti’s most prominent human rights lawyer Mario Joseph, as well as an activist I didn’t feel comfortable naming given the alarming number of rightist thugs that are free to intimidate Lavalas supporters in Haiti.  Perhaps I should have mentioned that one reason Joseph argued that the Preval government is in some ways worse than the interim government is that the outside world thinks because Preval was democratically elected so is the rest of the current government.  In fact, as Brian Concannon wrote in a prescient March, 2006 analysis “The U.S. government, among others, has already declared that Preval must compromise with his political opponents, who the voters resoundingly rejected. Those pressures will increase with the disputes likely to arise from the legislative elections and the choice of ministers, with the International Community consistently taking the side of Lavalas opponents.”

Morse’s claim that “if the Haitian people didn’t want the UN Peacekeepers in Haiti, they would no longer be here” is curious.
Given how well armed UN forces are, and that the mission’s budget will run to over $600 million this year, I wonder how he assumes the Haitian people can make them leave. Haiti’s prisons are still stuffed beyond capacity with desperately poor people, untold numbers of them low-level activists criminalized for supporting Aristide.

In fact, when dissidents opposed the UN presence as “peacekeepers” were going about their business of supporting the coup regime in 2004-2006, many of those Haitian protestors were killed. In 2005, Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and Brazil’s Global Justice Center concluded, “MINUSTAH [the U.N. Mission in Haiti] has provided cover for abuses committed by the HNP [Haitian National Police] during operations in poor, historically tense Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Rather than advising and instructing the police in best practices, and monitoring their missteps, MINUSTAH has been the midwife of their abuses.”

Several months earlier, a University of Miami Law School report concluded, “Both forces admitted that it is a confusing ‘free for all’ when the HNP conduct an operation in a poor neighborhood because there are no radios shared by HNP and the MINUSTAH forces and, even if there were radios, nobody speaks the same language. On a neighborhood operation, they admitted, there is no clear strategy or objective, but operations devolve into ‘just shoot before you get shot’.”

I see no evidence that the UN has done much to address the problems of kidnapping, rising prices of gas (and rice, which has doubled in price since April’s food riots) or unemployment.  In fact, through their commitment to supporting “Washington consensus” economics, which enrich elites and reduce social services for the poor majority, they have doubtless made them worse.

BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

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Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: bterrall@gmail.com

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