Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

In Haiti, ‘hunger in dark places’ is real … and ignored: U.S. media, rights groups silent on country’s torment

By MARK WEISBROT, The Houston Chronicle 
March 4, 2005

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 Columbia
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.
Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy
Research, in Washington, D.C. Contact: (202) 746-7264;

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