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U.S. must let real democracy govern Haiti
Neil Elliott, theologian, educator, human rights activist and fundraiser, was welcomed to the Lambi Fund's US staff as the new Development Director in 2000.
"They've used millions of U.S. tax dollars to organize street demonstrations, buy up radio and television stations, and, most recently, field a vicious army of thugs"
Published February 28, 2004
The first democratic government of Haiti appears to be in its death throes. To add vicious insult to continuing injury, the American mainstream media continue to present Haitian affairs as the sorry result of the dismal leadership of one man, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, despite the best efforts of the United States. The headline that graced the Star Tribune's front pag
e on Feb. 18 -- "U.S., France reluctant to intervene in Haiti" -- would be laughably absurd if the reality it obscured were not so dreadful.
One doesn't have to wander far from the Associated Press wires to find abundant information about the United States' enthusiastic long-term "intervention" in Haiti. The so-called "democratic convergence" that has dogged Aristide's elected government is, in fact, a tiny group of malcontents who are working with elements of the Bush administration to turn Haiti into one vast sweatshop zone.
Having been soundly rejected in every election in which they've run against Aristide's grass-roots "Lavalas" party, they've used millions of U.S. tax dollars to organize street demonstrations, buy up radio and television stations, and, most recently, field a vicious army of thugs, styling themselves the "Cannibal Army," who have attacked police stations and set about occupying Haitian cities.
All this has been funded from the U.S. Agency for International Deve
lopment (USAID), under the guise of its falsely so-called "Democracy Enhancement" program. USAID has long been notorious for channeling money to the tiny pro-business elite and its armed goons. It was USAID money that helped a CIA agent persuade Emmanuel (Toto) Constant to organize the murderous FRAPH in 1991. That terrorist organization was responsible for some 5,000 murders in the wake of the military coup that removed Aristide from his first term as elected president. Constant now lives as a real estate agent in Brooklyn, thanks to the protection of the U.S. State and Justice departments.
In Haiti today, it's déjà vu all over again. In 1993, a CIA-spawned military junta ruled Haiti through even greater terror than the U.S.-sponsored Duvalier dictatorships had achieved. Meanwhile deposed president Aristide, living in exile in New York, had become an international cause célèbre. Under tremendous popular pressure, the Clinton administration dispatched retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Coli
n Powell to "negotiate" the withdrawal of the coup regime ahead of a U.S. military intervention. Powell's team arranged immunity from prosecution for the lead criminals and safe passage to other countries like the Dominican Republic, from which many of the thugs have now returned as elements of the "Cannibal Army."
The U.S. occupation was a tragedy of errors that have now become all too familiar: failures to disarm elements of the coup regime or to safeguard strategic sites, channeling all aid money to U.S. contractors who lined their own pockets, and hog-tying the new government with requirements that the nation's economy be surrendered to U.S. investors. Aristide refused. The United States withheld aid and began funding opposition groups, and their contra army, under the guise of "democracy enhancement."
Powell, now secretary of state, mewls that he prefers a "political solution" to the present crisis. By this he apparently means that Aristide, who (as even Powell's State Department concede
s) indisputably won 60 percent of the 2000 election, should be forced to form a coalition government with the heavily subsidized detritus who now wage war in the streets of Hinche and Cap Haitien -- or else step down.
I was in Haiti in the spring of 2001 to meet with my Haitian counterparts on the staff of an international nongovernmental organization. My Haitian colleagues were courageous veterans of the popular democratic movement that had driven Jean-Claude Duvalier from power.
All of them had considered Aristide a godsend, at first. But now some of them spoke with a bitter sense of betrayal. What was Aristide doing to rebuild Haiti, to prosecute the participants in the coup regime's reign of terror, to stand up to the "Starvation Plan" of the World Bank and the United States?
When I asked them if they recognized the constraints the United States had imposed on Aristide's government, my Haitian friends hissed with contempt. They knew all too well the hypocrisy of U.S. government poli
cy, and cackled with derisive laughter at the presumption of George W. Bush lecturing Haitians on "electoral irregularities" in their 2000 vote.
But they deeply resented the notion that their proud nation, sponsor of the first successful slave revolution in the Western Hemisphere, should be subservient to the whims of a foreign power. And they blamed Aristide, not for standing in the way of U.S. "structural adjustment" plans for their country, but for not doing enough to thwart them.
In 1991-1994, a groundswell of popular opposition in this country deflected the course of U.S. policy toward Haiti. It may not be too late to prevent the present coup attempt. Urge our representatives to support Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., in her efforts to end clandestine U.S. patronage for the fraudulent "democratic convergence." Demand an investigation into U.S. covert policy. Tell the White House to give genuine democracy a chance in Haiti.
Neil Elliott, White Bear Lake, served as associate director of
a nonprofit organization in Haiti in 2000-01, and as a member of the Haiti Justice Committee of the Twin Cities from 1991 to 1994.