Global Policy Forum

US Complicity in Pushing Aside Aristide


By W. Andy Knight

Global Policy Forum
*Opinion Forum
March 2, 2004

The world is being told by the Bush administration that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide chose early morning of the leap day (February 29) to do the statesman-like thing and fly out of Haiti to prevent further bloodshed and chaos in that troubled country, rather than tenaciously hold on to power until February 7, 2006 -- the end of his term. But growing evidence indicates that Aristide did not leave willingly. He was pushed.

Aristide saw writing on the wall from two ominous sources – 1) a bunch of armed thugs and death squad commanders with extended records of crimes against the Haitian people, and 2) the region's malign hegemon, the United States, whose intelligence services may have directly supported the coup d'état that resulted in removing the Haitian President from office.

By being party to this coup, the US is following a century-long pattern of intervention in Haiti. Due in no small measure to Washington's influence, coup d'état has followed coup d'état over the years, making peace and democracy impossible in the country.

Haiti, formerly one of the richest of French colonies, has succumbed to 33 bloody coups in its 200-year history. The country was born of rebellion. Toussaint L'Ouverture and about half a million African slaves revolted against their French imperial masters in a prolonged struggle in 1804 to become the first black independent republic. Since then, Haiti has been plagued by a violent history and a string of ruthless dictatorships. From 1915-1934, Haiti was under US military occupation.

After the US left Haiti in 1934, the groomed leadership grew increasingly dictatorial, eliminating the opposition. President Stenio J. Vincent, elected in 1930, decided to remain in office beyond the expiration of his second term, but was forced from office in 1939. í‰lie Lescot was elected President by the Haitian legislature in 1941, but was subsequently overthrown in 1946 by the military. Dumarsais Estimé, who replaced him in August of that year, was forced out of office by a military junta in October 1950. Paul Magloire, a member of that junta, became President but was ousted in 1957 by Franí§ois Duvalier, known endearingly as "Papa Doc."

In an attempt to break this cycle of coups, Papa Doc outlawed his political rivals, passed legislation declaring himself "President for Life," and established an irregular armed force of venal henchmen, the Ton Ton Macoutes, to dispatch his rivals and help control the population through intimidation and terror. By 1967, Papa Doc had executed over 2,000 political enemies and drove thousands more into exile – several moving to the US, Canada, France, and next door to the Dominican Republic.

In 1971, just before his death, Papa Doc named his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, as successor. Baby Doc, as he became known, proved as ruthless and dictatorial as his father. However, fifteen years later, he succumbed to a junta and was forced to flee the country. His replacement, Leslie Manigat was also forced from office by a military coup only six months after taking the oath of office. And this is where Aristide comes in.

Aristide took his revolutionary sermons, that called for the violent overthrow of dictators, from his Saint Jean Bosco Catholic Church pulpit to the nation's political arena in the 1980s. His fiery message galvanized the country's poor majority to resist the trend of dictatorship and support his grass roots democracy movement. That movement forced the resignation of Lieutenant General Prosper Avril from office in March 1990. Internationally supervised elections were held in December. The charismatic Aristide and his Lavalas coalition enjoyed a landslide victory, and Aristide became Haiti's first democratically-elected leader.

However, seven months after his inauguration as President, Aristide was ousted by a military coup led by Lieutenant General Raoul Cédras. The legitimately elected President was forced into exile, first in Venezuela and then in the US. An international effort, led by the Clinton administration, restored Aristide to power with the aid of a mixture of diplomacy and coercion. Former US President Jimmy Carter brokered a deal -- backed by UN-mandated smart sanctions imposing a ban on air travel for Haiti's military rulers and a UN-authorized peacekeeping force of 2,000 US Marines that induced Cédras and his gang to leave the country.

Many of the coup leaders, known perpetrators of crimes against the Haitian people, fled the country. Among the most notorious are some of the leaders of the current insurrection in Haiti, e.g. Guy Phillippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain. It has been alleged that these criminals and their marauding thugs -- who have overrun much of the country, killing policemen and the most ardent supports of Aristide – may have received support from US intelligence services and US Special Forces. These charges are serious enough to merit an inquiry.

The Bush administration had been working to undermine Aristide since it came into office in 2001. At that time, Washington began to destabilize Haiti's economy, by freezing $500 million in humanitarian aid and other assistance from the US, the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Aristide was told that the only way to unblock the aid was to reach an agreement with the opposition, an agreement the opposition was unwilling to make.

Whatever the details of Washington's direct aid to the rebels, there are clear indications that the US government last week gave them a final ‘wink and nod'. By blocking UN Security Council action to send an emergency peacekeeping force to Haiti to maintain order, the Bush Administration was basically saying to the rebels that they had carte blanche to continue their violent actions; and to Aristide, that unless he left the country he would be captured or killed – but definitely removed from office.

US actions show a disdain for the democratic process in Haiti. These are the maneuvers of a malign hegemon that assumes to know what's best for other countries and does whatever it can to shape events according to its will and fancy. What is needed in Haiti is not the strengthening of the hands of rebels and criminals, but the shoring up of that country's democratic institutions. Instead, the Bush administration has continued a long and sorry tradition of US support for coup d'état after coup d'état in that unlucky country.

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