By Nick Egnatz
Online Journal Contributing Writer
With the devastation of the Haitian earthquake of January 12, many Americans are literally learning of Haiti for the first time. The following is an attempt to present a very brief outline of Haiti’s history: first being dominated by Spain, then France and certainly for the last two centuries the United States.
The inspiration to write this came from reading and studying William I. Robinson’s Promoting Polyarchy — Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony. Haiti, along with the Philippines, Nicaragua and Chile are case studies examined in detail.
Professor Robinson demonstrates how U.S. foreign policy changed in the 1970s from supporting dictators across the globe to an official policy of “democracy promotion.” Unfortunately the democracy being promoted was not the small ‘d’ democracy that Lincoln defined as government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” It was polyarchy instead in which there is elite rule and the masses are given the illusion of democracy by participating in regular elections for pre-screened candidates. In polyarchy, the emphasis is on the forms and institutions of democracy such as regular elections, political parties and the rules and laws governing such. This is what passes for democracy in the U.S. There is no concern of what the results are. Whether these forms of democracy produce a government of, by and for the people is of no concern. While other sources are listed throughout the paper, it is Professor Robinson that is the source and my hope is that I have been able to do justice to a much needed understanding of the effects of U.S. foreign policy on our neighbors and ourselves.
We witness nightly on our television screens the courage and independence of the Haitian people who won their freedom defeating Napoleon’s army and then dealt with isolation from the great powers. Especially the United States which ignored its neighbor for the first century and then invaded, occupied and manipulated the Haitian government in pursuit of its own agenda of neo-liberal globalization (free trade, free markets, no regulations and tax cuts for the wealthy).
1492-1700, Columbus Leads the Spanish Genocide and Slavery
Second only to Cuba in size amongst Caribbean islands, Hispaniola is made up of the Dominican Republic on the Eastern two thirds, while Haiti comprises the Western one third. In 1492 after first stopping at San Salvador, Christopher Columbus, on a military/business mission to colonize the Orient, landed in Hispaniola. He was welcomed with gifts and kindness by the three million Taino Arawak Indians that lived in relative peace on the island. The man whose holiday we celebrate every October repaid this hospitality with enslavement, massacres and genocide. Tortured and forced to work in gold mines and plantations of the Spanish colony now known as Santo Domingo, the Arawaks died of torture, disease and despair as they began to have difficulty reproducing. When they did the breast milk in the mothers dried up. Priest Bartolome de las Casas arrived on Hispaniola just 16 years later in 1508 and reported that the three million native peoples had shrunk to 60,000. Within a total of forty years from Columbus’ landfall their fait was accompli and they no longer existed. (Howard Zinn A People’s History of the United States)
Because the natives were unable to function adequately as slaves, Christopher’s brother Diego started the importation of African slaves into Hispaniola. Diego was given huge tracts of land for plantations and began growing sugar cane. King Sugar made Santo Domingo a tremendous moneymaker for Spain. It had taken some time for the Spaniards to finally realize they would have to find gold elsewhere after exterminating the native population searching for it on Hispaniola.
1700-1804 — French Slavery, the Great Slave Revolt and Freedom
As the seventeenth century was drawing to a close, Spain ceded the western portion of Hispaniola to France. Sugar, coffee, cotton and indigo plantations made Saint-Domingue by far France’s most lucrative colony and it became known as La Petite France or Little France. With the native population long since exterminated, the plantations relied solely on African slave labor. The treatment of the Saint-Domingue slaves was harsher than other colonies as the plantation owners deemed it more economical to work their slaves to death every few years and replace them with new imports rather than more humane handling and longer life-spans.
In 1791, when the Slave Revolt, started 40,000 French whites (blancs) ruled 700,000 African slaves. There were also another 30,000 mulattos or gens de coulour (free people of color) who had more status than the slaves, but were clearly secondary to the blancs. Creole (mixture of French and West African languages) was spoken by the slaves and mulattos. Bands of runaway slaves called maroons from the Spanish “cimaron” for wild had grown and violence between them and the blancs created a martial tradition of resistance to slavery. Toussaint L’Ouveture led the revolt.
The French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man published in 1789 which declared all men free and equal certainly had a hand in precipitating the revolt. Ironically it started as a movement by the blancs to get independence from France so that they could eliminate the minimal restrictions on slave treatment which were in place. In 1791 when the French Revolutionary Government ordered that the gens de coulour were to be granted citizenship fighting broke out as the blancs refused to comply. In 1793 France declared war on Great Britain. The blancs made an agreement to side with Great Britain. Spain likewise supported the blancs. During the fighting the French were forced to free the slaves in part of Haiti to prevent a military disaster and in 1794 the French National Assembly abolished slavery in all the colonies. In 1801 Napoleon sent an expeditionary force to reestablish French control. He reneged on agreements with L’Ouverture, imprisoned him in France and when it became apparent that he wanted to reinstitute slavery there was more fighting. Britain had a naval blockade of the island and Napoleon was unable to commit more troops. The decisive Battle of Vertieres in 1803 determined the outcome as the slave forces under Jean-Jacques Dessalines defeated the French. Dessalines gave the new republic the Arawak name Haiti (land of mountains).
1804-1915 — Isolation
The Great Slave Revolt and formation of the first “Black Republic” inspired slave revolts in the Caribbean, the U.S. and independence movements in South America such as that led by Simon Bolivar. Obviously the powers that be: U.S., Great Britain, France and Spain were not enthused by this outcome. Haiti became a pariah amongst the wealthy nations of the world. The spirit of the American Revolution should have called for the embrace of the new nation, but that would only highlight the hypocrisy of continued American slavery.
Isolated from the rest of the world, Haiti was denied diplomatic recognition from the Great Powers and kept from participating in world trade. Finally in 1825 France recognized Haiti at the cost of them paying an “independence debt” of 150 million francs. The irony of forcing the victor to pay the vanquished was certainly not lost on other oppressed peoples, while the U.S. government was completely content to ignore the reality of the “Black Republic.” The U.S. did not recognize Haiti until 1862 and continued to withhold diplomatic relations until 1886 and even then the Haitian Ambassador was treated with disdain and not allowed in Washington D.C. but forced to stay in New York. The very existence of Haiti was always a threat to the U.S. capitalist slave society.
Left on their own with no international trade, their economy returned to subsistence agriculture as the great plantations were divided up amongst their former slaves. They had been left with no civil institutions to guide them and no help from the outside world. The mulattos became the ruling class and coups and infighting were the norm over the next century. ‘Politique de doublure’ described elite rule by the mulattos with a figurehead black as the head of state.
1915-1990 — U.S. Colonization & Domination
The U.S. started to take a strategic imperial interest in Haiti because of the Windward Passage, a deep channel between Haiti and Cuba which shortened shipping routes from Europe to the Caribbean. Control of the Windward Passage was one of the reasons for the Spanish American War at the turn of the century. With the possibility of building a canal to breech the Americas, the Windward Passage began to take on much more significance. Nineteen times U.S. gunboats entered Haitian ports from 1857-1913 to protect American interests.
In 1915 President Wilson sent a marine expeditionary force to establish U.S. rule and 3,000 Haitians died fighting in resistance to the superior firepower of U.S. forces. For the next nineteen years Haiti was a U.S. colony with U.S. marines providing the muscle. In his book War Is a Racket, two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner Marine General Smedley Butler later charged that the marines had invaded Haiti as a bill collector for the National City Bank of New York which underwrote the construction of a railroad connecting the sugar fields with the capital Port-au-Prince.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Undersecretary of the Navy, claimed to have written the new Haitian Constitution during the occupation. Roosevelt, who had invested in Haitian business ventures, included a clause allowing for the foreign ownership of land which was then not allowed. The National Assembly refused to ratify it and was disbanded. The Constitution was finally approved by a plebiscite vote in which only 5 percent of those eligible voted. Our State Department’s position in response to this patently undemocratic vote was that the Haitian people were not literate so that it didn’t matter if they voted or not.
The occupation was at times brutal, forcing blacks in manacles to build roads and other public works, instituting segregation and being responsible for the formation of numerous brothels for our marines in a country which had previously had none. The marines disbanded the army and created a local gendarmerie under the command of U.S. senior officers and mulatto junior officers. After the U.S. official occupation ended in 1934, the domination continued through the Garde d’Haiti, modeled after the Nicaraguan National Guard created the year before to uphold the Nicaragua dictator Samoza.
Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier manipulated support from the Noirism movement amongst blacks who had been denied power under the U.S. occupation. Noirism was a return to black racial pride, African culture and black political power. In 1957 Papa Doc was elected president. He had the backing of the Haitian army and the behind the scenes support of the U.S. He instituted a wave of terror with a minimum of 50,000 executions and 1.5 million forced to flee over the next three decades. The Tonton Macoutes a paramilitary group of goons enforced his agenda by kidnapping and disappearing political enemies. Even though there were occasional rifts, the U.S. supported both Papa and his son Baby Doc with military and economic funding. Papa Doc named himself President for Life and when he died in 1971 nineteen year old Baby Doc was sworn in as the second President for Life. U.S. warships stood off the coast to insure that the transfer was peaceful and the U.S. aid was increased to show support for the new regime.
In the 1960s and 70s the penetration of transnational capital, the exhaustion of peasant land-holdings, arrival of foreign agri-business and the almost complete deforestation of the country brought about the breakup of the peasant economy. The peasants moved to the cities to take part in enclave manufacturing brought about by the U.S. policy of neo-liberal globalization (free trade, free markets, no regulations and tax cuts for the wealthy) and Reagan’s Caribbean Basin Initiative. Paid $2.70 per day, the mostly female Haitians made baseballs, electronic parts and lingerie. The U.S. dumped surplus food and the World Bank required shifting agriculture production from local consumption to export crops. The peasants, now in the cities and stripped of their subsistence plots, were totally at the mercy of the neo-liberal globalization movement led by the U.S. and supported by the Duvaliers.
The U.S. effort was led by AID (Agency for International Development) which has been at the forefront around the world implementing neo-liberal globalization. An AID report on Haiti: “AID anticipates that such a drastic reorientation of agriculture will cause a decline in income and nutritional status, especially for small farmers and peasants . . . Even if transition to export agriculture is successful, AID anticipates a ‘massive’ displacement of peasant farmers and migration to urban centers.’” (Fritz Longchamp and Worth Cooley-Prost “Breaking with Dependency and Dictatorship: Hope for Haiti” Covert Action Information Bulletin, Spring 1991)
The Haitian people, after suffering a century of shunning and a brutal racist 19 year occupation by the U.S., experienced the replacement of their subsistence peasant economy with globalized enclave manufacturing and foreign agri-business, once again courtesy of the U.S. So much for the good intentions of the U.S., the result of the globalization agenda was that the absolute poverty rate increased from 50 percent to 70 percent, while the wealthy elite became even wealthier. (Longchamp and Cooley-Prost “Breaking with Dependency”)
Graft and corruption were rampant under the Duvaliers and the lavish parties of the wealthy elite were even broadcast on television. Modern communications methods allowed the displaced peasants to mobilize and by 1985 nationwide demonstrations were calling for the end of Baby Doc Duvalier and all he stood for. The U.S. could see the handwriting on the wall and under the policy of “democracy promotion” worked behind the scenes to replace him with an elite government that would continue the globalization agenda. In 1986 with all of Haiti in a largely unarmed insurrection and even the army briefly siding with the popular movement, “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled to France in a U.S. cargo plane with much of the $120 million he had looted from the Haitian people as U.S. naval ships stood sentinel off Port-au-Prince.
The Rise of Popular Democracy
From 1986 till 1991 there was a definite power vacuum as the army ruled and lost favor with the popular movements. The U.S. sought to manipulate elite rule to continue the globalization agenda without the baggage of Duvalierism. Popular democracy flourished as peasants formed community and action groups.
“Until the September 1991 coup, Haiti boasted an abundance of peasant associations, grass-roots development projects, trade unions, student organizations, church groups and independent radio stations . . . Known broadly as ‘popular organizations,’ the members of these groups came mostly from the country’s vast poor majority . . . While many international observers of Haiti bemoan its lack of economic development, its civil society was remarkably advanced. In contrast to many other countries emerging from dictatorial rule, where pluralism among political parties was not matched by social and ideological diversity, political parties in Haiti were among the least developed parts of civil society. Rather, the strength of Haitian civil society lay in its breadth and diversity outside the narrow realm of electoral politics. This development allowed Haitians a considerable voice in local affairs, even as their ability to influence national politics was limited by an unrepentant army intent on preserving the spoils of power.”
(Americas Watch/National Coalition for Haitian Refugees “Silencing a People: The Destruction of Civil Society in Haiti)
The process to exorcise Duvalierism was known as ‘dechoukaj,’ Creole for uprooting. Their slogan was “We got rid of the tree, but we haven’t got rid of the roots.” To the rest of the world this was presented by corporate media and unsympathetic governments as lawless mob action, while in reality it was a careful targeting of individuals who had committed the worst tragedies and the government refused to prosecute.
Elections were scheduled for November 22, 1987. Popular movements had no voice, candidates or political parties representing them. All parties participating in the elections represented recycled Duvalierists or other elite interests groomed by U.S. political aid programs. The elections were cancelled after the army opened fire on civilians at the polls and killed 34 and wounded hundreds more. The massacre was not to prevent takeover by popular forces since they were not represented in the elections. It represented the fear and lack of consensus among the elite over who should rule Haiti. With the publicity, Washington temporarily cancelled overt aid but continued covert CIA assistance to the military.
Elections were scheduled for December 1990. Grassroots organization had coalesced into the Liaison of Democratic Forces consisting of dozens of groups. Soon the dozens became hundreds under the National Congress of Democratic Movements (KONAKOM). The National Peasant Movement, consolidating three district peasant movements, the Autonomous Federation of Haitian Workers (CATH) and the militant National Federation of Haitian Students implemented popular democracy by working outside the state. They set up schools, clinics, dug ditches and opened roads between agricultural communities. They established cooperatives and redistributed land. This was done with the power of the state still vested in the hands of the elites who were supported by the U.S.
Aristide and Lavalas
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest, became the leader of the popular Lavalas movement or literally ‘the cleansing flood.’ Their slogan was “Aristide and the poor are one.” There were several assassination attempts on his life, including one by the Tonton Macoutes at his church in which twelve parishioners were killed and seventy eight were wounded. Rather than treating Aristide as the leader of a popular democratic movement who could pull Haiti together, U.S. officials spied on him and treated him as a menacing incendiary opposed to democracy (Amy Wilentz The Rainy Season: Haiti since Duvalier).
The U.S. invested millions of dollars opposing the popular movement. Two non-governmental U.S. organizations, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Agency for International Development were at the forefront of implementing this policy in Haiti much as they have done across the world. Although listed as non-governmental, much of their funding and direction comes from the U.S. government.
U.S. policy was thwarted when the ‘cleansing flood’ of Lavalas swept Aristide to victory with 67 percent of the vote in elections deemed free and fair by international observers. His nearest rival Marc Bazin received only 14 percent of the vote despite a huge infusion of U.S. overt and covert cash in his campaign which resulted in a twenty to one edge in money spent over Aristide. Much as the Slave Revolt in had Haiti inspired other oppressed peoples around the world two centuries earlier, the ‘cleansing flood’ of the Lavalas/Aristide landslide offered hope for the developing nations of the Third World.
When inaugurated Aristide said, “Our major goal for the coming years and our basic program of action is to go from extreme poverty to a poverty with dignity by empowering our own resources, the participation of the people, and not expecting much from abroad.” He was well aware that his administration would have to function within the parameters of an anti-democratic state which maintained the balance of power. “I will not be president of the government, I am going to be president of the opposition, of the people, even if this means confronting the very government I am creating.”
Aristide started a national literacy campaign, agrarian reform, redistribution of land and proposed increasing the minimum wage from $3 a day to $5 a day. He replaced Duvalier’s followers in government and took a 60 percent pay cut. For eight months Aristide was a counterweight to the ruling elite institutions. He couldn’t come into office and change whatever he wanted to, especially after the new constitution was enacted in 1987 codifying the balance of power to the legislature which represented elite and U.S. interests. For whatever reason, the popular movement did not get excited about or participate in National Assembly elections and elite parties won 60 percent of the seats. It was the ‘Politique de doublure,’ but instead of being a figurehead leader Aristide was the self described opposition to the elites’ stranglehold on the institutions of the state.
U.S. Campaign to Discredit Aristide and Lavalas
The U.S. went to work immediately discrediting Aristide. Using the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) the Bush Sr. Administration funneled money to Jean-Jacques Honorat whose Haitian Center for Human Rights (CHADEL) made the unsubstantiated charges of human rights violations. Not a peep from the U.S. as the Duvaliers killed 50,000, in fact the aid funds dramatically increased as the bodies piled up. Elect a priest leading a massive people’s movement and all of a sudden Washington is worried about human rights violations.
With the Cold War drawing to a close the U.S. was not about to allow a genuine people’s government in Haiti. The CIA had taken part in coups in countless countries to stifle popular democratically elected governments; Nicaragua, Chile, Greece, Congo and Iran being prime examples. Allowing Haiti to exist with a popular leftist government as an example to the world that U.S. neo-liberal globalization could be opposed was too much to ask of the U.S.
First Coup against Aristide
On September 29, 1991 army commander Raoul Cedras took power in the first coup against Aristide. No direct U.S. or CIA involvement has been proven, but the result was that U.S. global interests and local elite funded organizations benefitted. Aristide first went to Venezuela and then to the U.S. Political scientist, socialist and Marxist Antonio Gramsci wrote his Prison Notebooks from a Mussolini jail. He said that hegemony or complete domination of a people by the minority is achieved when the domination is consensual. He also told us that the hegemony or domination is complete when it is also “backed by armor.” To maintain hegemony over the globe, U.S. capitalist interests could not allow the Lavalas cleansing flood to continue cleansing in Haiti and give others abroad hope to do the same.
With Aristide’s landslide victory witnessed by international observers the U.S. faced a dilemma on whether or not to recognize the coup which they actually supported. If they recognized the coup that would hurt the legitimacy of U.S. so called “democracy promotion” efforts around the world and the last thing they wanted to do was to support the Aristide administration and its popular reforms. Publicly condemning the coup, Washington gave it limited funding and supported limited economic sanctions against it. The Bush Sr. Administration also said the coup had legitimacy because of the unsubstantiated human rights violations that had been claimed by the Haitian Center for Human Rights with U.S. funding. Officially Washington recognized Aristide as the rightful president as long as he was out of the country and not acting as president.
While keeping Aristide out of office, Washington worked to allow him to return powerless and thus satisfy one of the forms of democracy. Aristide’s supporters were left to accept his return stripped of power or to risk the international community no longer accepting the legitimacy of his government if he refused to return under conditions of him being a mostly ceremonial president. Under the constitution the president appointed the prime minister who held the real power in conjunction with the National Assembly. Aristide was forced to give up the power to appoint the prime minister and thus rendered relatively impotent.
The new government had executed 3,000 opponents of the new regime in the first weeks after the coup. Detention, torture and more executions followed. The U.S. kept silent about actual human rights violations under the brutal new government, while still pedaling its false claims against Aristide who was now in exile. Haitian army officers trained at the notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. The U.S. could have stopped this wave of terror easily. The establishment-friendly New York Times reported on September 27, 1992 “Virtually all observers agree that all it would take is one phone call from Washington to send the army leadership packing . . . (But given) Washington’s deep-seated ambivalence about a left-ward tilting nationalist . . . United States diplomats consider it (the army) a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle rhetoric threatened or antagonized traditional power centers at home and abroad.”
The ousted Aristide government appealed to the U.N Security Council for a hearing, but the U.S. vetoed it, saying that the ineffectual economic embargo imposed by the Organization of American States was enough. But it wasn’t as it didn’t apply to countries outside the Western Hemisphere and it was largely ignored by the U.S. and many other Latin American countries. When the Bush Sr. Administration began excluding all goods made in the free trade zone the embargo was one in name only. As with many other embargoes, the already destitute people of Haiti suffered the most.
1994 Aristide Returns
Robinson refers to the events in Haiti during the coup as a “war of attrition” against the Haitian people. When the U.S. marines finally invaded and reinstalled Aristide in October of 1994 it was celebrated as a victory by the Haitian people. But the victory was for the elite ruling class and Washington. The U.S. was able to posture as the champion of the people and the enforcer of international law. The ruling class stayed in power and quieted the multitudes both in Haiti and abroad.
A deal was imposed upon Haiti with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Agency for International Development for $1.2 billion. This was done in advance of Aristide’s return. Most of the funds were used to pay the foreign debt, but what was left for Haiti didn’t come without a cost. Agreeing to privatization, trade liberalization, lifting of price controls, cutting public-sector employment in half, cutting the already miniscule social service spending and agreeing not to raise the minimum wage were the terms of the loan. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot summed up the continued involvement of the U.S., “Even after our exit in February 1996 we will remain in charge by means of the USAID and the private sector.” But U.S. aid dropped from $730 million in 1995 to an average of $182 million annually from 1997 to 2002. The U.S. was not prepared to support any government not genuflecting to neo liberal globalization. By way of comparison Bosnia received, per capita, five times more U.S. aid and Kosovo ten times more. (Michele Wucker “Haiti so many missteps” World Policy Journal, Spring 2004)
Johanna Mendelson Forman describes working in Haiti as an aid worker from 1994- 1996. Under the umbrella of AID she worked for the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI). She relates dealing with two concerns, security and local communities. They worked reintegrating the disbanded army into civil society with support and vocational training. Second they dispersed small grants to those that started local community projects. She reported success, but said that funding and programs were stopped much too soon to have lasting impact. (Johanna Mendelson Forman “The Nation-Building Trap: Haiti after Aristide” Open Democracy)
The Haitian Constitution did not allow Aristide to run for a second consecutive term. Since he had been deposed and not allowed to serve three years of his term, he applied to the Haitian Supreme Court to grant him a waiver. The Supreme Court ruled against him even though he had been ousted at the point of a gun. Renee Preval, former prime minister and a political ally, ran and won.
The year 2000 had elections in May for the Senate and Chamber of Deputies and a presidential election in November. There was a dispute about seating some of the winners in May with claims that there should have been run-off elections. The OAS (Organization of American States) then issued a report criticizing the elections and the U.S. used this as a pretext to suspend aid. Later the OAS did issue a report saying that the results would have been the same even if there were run-offs. Opposition forces refused to participate in the November presidential election which Aristide won with 92 percent of the vote and the U.N. peacekeeping force left the country. Given Aristide’s popularity with the majority of oppressed Haitians, it seems a logical assumption that the opposition withdrew from the election because they wanted to discredit another Aristide landslide.
To say that Aristide and the Haitian people were dealt a bad hand would not do the situation justice. Even with aid funding at five or ten times the level they were getting, the odds against building a viable economy would have been great. With the spigot being turned off and then on, the task was impossible. Aristide had disbanded the army fearing another military coup and he began arming street gangs for protection. What the people really wanted was jobs, and this he was unable to provide.
In a 2005 interview with Naomi Klein, Aristide claimed that the U.S. reneged on their deal when he was returned to power in 1994. In addition to the onerous terms previously mentioned, Washington wanted to privatize the state-owned enterprises which included the phone and electricity companies. Aristide held out for democratizing them by allowing the workers to be shareholders receiving profits to the workers and with anti trust legislation protecting them. He says Washington agreed and then attempted an “economic coup . . . The hidden agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all the state public enterprises.” When he threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatizations “Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn’t respect my word, when they were the ones who didn’t respect our common economic policy.” (Naomi Klein “Aristide in Exile” The Nation, July 15, 2005)
Amazingly Lavalas and Aristide accomplished much, despite the U.S. led campaign to discredit popular democracy.
Social Gains under Aristide and Lavalas
I am indebted to Stephen Lendman for the following extensive list of accomplishments.
(Stephen Lendman “Achievements under Aristide: Now Lost,” Z Net December 16, 2005)
HEALTH CARE: improved medical services with new and renovated clinics, hospitals and dispensaries, increased number of health care workers and doctors, enhanced AIDS prevention program that reduced prevalence rate and mother to child transmission rate, infant mortality rate and percentage of underweight births dropped.
EDUCATION: implemented Universal Schooling Program, devoted 20 percent of budget to education, built new schools, provided scholarships for private schools, subsidized books, uniforms and school lunches, instituted national literacy campaign and reduced national illiteracy rate from 85 percent to 55 percent.
JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS: granted formal hearing before a judge for all arrested, usually within two days, used Creole language in court which all Haitians understood, special courts for children were established, passed laws against corporal punishment repealed child labor law allowing for unpaid child labor, passed laws prohibiting trafficking in persons and disbanded the military which had been used as an instrument of civilian control, but since the 2004 coup many Lavalas supporters have been murdered and jailed without charges or trial.
POLITICAL GAINS: first democratically elected president, women and peasants were elected to House of Deputies, formed caucus for rural farmers, established cabinet level Ministry of Women’s Affairs, women held first time ever posts of Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance and Chief of Police, unprecedented freedom to organize, speak out and assemble.
ECONOMIC GAINS: raised minimum wage in 1995 and in 2003 doubled it, land reform distributed 2.5 acres to 1,500 peasant families in the Artibonite River Valley, provided tools, credit, technical assistance, fertilizers and heavy equipment to farmers, repaired irrigation systems, distributed reintroduced pigs to farmers which had been banned to protect U.S. pig farmers, reopened state owned sugar mill, gave technical aid and training to fisherman to build boats, built 50 new lakes stocked with fish, collected unpaid taxes and utility bills from the wealthy, built 1,000 low cost housing units and furnished low cost loans to their buyers, created hundreds of community stores and sold food at discount prices as malnutrition dropped from 63 percent to 51 percent, and helped 100,000 refugees return to their homes with programs of carpentry, sewing workshops and agricultural cooperatives.
OTHER NOTABLE LAVALAS ACHIEVEMENTS: despite the U.S. disinformation campaign Lavalas passed legislation against drug trafficking and money laundering, cooperated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to interdict drugs and deport to the U.S. wanted drug dealers, created the National Committee against Money Laundering, the National Committee to Combat Drug Trafficking and Substance Abuse and the Financial Intelligence Unit to enforce the laws, campaigned against public corruption, investigated and fired or prosecuted those found guilty, built, repaired or dredged thousands of miles of drainage canals, built a new electric power plant in Jacmel, renovated the port, wharf, international airport, national stadium and built or renovated open-air markets across the country.
In 2003 without U.S. aid or International Monetary Fund backing, Aristide proposed that France pay $21 billion in restitution for the Independence Debt Haiti had been forced to pay France in 1825. France refused. Since France was a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it could veto any resolution requiring it to repay the debt. France did veto a Security Council resolution to send in troops to maintain order before Aristide was forced out in 2004. Immediately after Aristide’s fall, France voted for the U.N. peacekeeping force.
2004 Second Coup
Aristide’s second term ended in a second coup against him in February of 2004. The “Cannibal Army,” the National Liberation Front for the Liberation of Haiti had declared war on the Aristide government after one of their leaders was killed. They took control of Gonaives Haiti’s fourth largest city in the North. Aristide was forced by the U.S. to sign a resignation letter “to avoid a bloodbath” before being escorted out of the country in a U.S. plane.
The hypocrisy of the U.S. position in withholding aid and support for the Aristide government because of election irregularities after supporting decades of brutal criminal dictatorship under the Duvaliers should be astonishing. However, it is just business as usual for the U.S. government to support transnational capitalist interests around the world instead of grassroots organic peoples’ movements.
After Aristide was forced to resign, the U.N. Security Council approved the use of a stabilization force. They arrived two months after the second coup deposing Aristide. MINUSTAH is the acronym for Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti. Previously the U.N. had never used troops to enforce a coup against a democratically elected government. There were contentions in the 2000 Haiti elections. Certainly the claims of elite candidates and groups who withdrew from the process had no more credibility than the claims of the American people objecting to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave the 2000 presidential election to Bush Jr. The U.N stayed out of the U.S. election and should have insisted on dispatching peacekeeping forces to oversee the reinstatement of President Aristide instead of providing legitimacy to the coup government. Of course this should also have been done in 1991 after the first coup.
Serious allegations have been made against the U.N. troops involved in major assaults on the Cite Soleil shantytown slum just north of the capital. Claiming to be going after a gang members, there were extensive gun battles in July 2005, December 2006 and January 2007 with heavy civilian casualties.
“In early 2005, MINUSTAH force commander Lieutenant-General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira testified at a congressional commission in Brazil that ‘we are under extreme pressure from the international community to use violence,’ citing Canada, France, and the United States.” (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Wikipedia)
The Wayne State University School of Social Work Study estimated 8,000 murders and 35,000 rapes in Haiti during the first 22 months after Aristide was forced out. They attributed the violence to criminals, the police, U.N. peacekeepers, and anti-Lavalas gangs. Particularly disgusting in this study was the treatment of the restaveks.
ATHENA KOLBE, master’s level social worker with the Wayne State University: “The restaveks are unpaid domestic servants. They are children, usually from the countryside, who come into the city, and they work with Haitian households in exchange for room and board. And we found that girls who were restaveks were particularly at risk for sexual assault, more so than other children, although children in general were particularly at risk, but also more so than even adult women.
“And this really begs the question of, when you have so many restaveks who were sexually assaulted — and when we’re talking about sexual assault, also I want to clarify, we’re not just talking about molestation or someone grabbing someone sexually when they don’t want it. We’re talking about more than 90 percent of the sexual assaults in our study involved penetration. And some of the them involved multiple perpetrators, involved penetration with inanimate objects, like a piece of metal. These were very brutal sexual assaults that we recorded. And when we’re looking at such high numbers of children being sexually assaulted by officers from the Haitian National Police, and then particularly this vulnerable group of child domestic servants, it really makes you wonder what exactly was going on under the interim Haitian government in regards to the sexual assault of children by police officers.” (DemocracyNow.org, August 31, 2006)
Attempting to list all the political infighting as control was twice wrested from Aristide and Lavalas is beyond the desire or ability of this observer. What is clear is that five centuries of domination has taken place in Haiti and the U.S. government’s desire is that that domination will continue under the transnational globalization banner.
Stripped to the basics, U.S. democracy or polyarchy is consensual domination. Regular two-party elections and the institutions of a 200-plus year old continuous government give the illusion of actual democracy. But the essence of our government and the government we have exported to our global neighbors is the domination of the majority by a small minority. When the dominated majority gives their consent to the system of government which allows their own domination, we have U.S. democracy or polyarchy. When the consent is withheld we have Haiti where the indomitable people continue to resist after five centuries of genocide, slavery, isolation, colonization and globalization imposed by the U.S. and past world economic powers.
Special thanks to my daughter Erin Egnatz who has taken over the unpaid position of editor for her father, and Professor Raoul Contreras, Indiana University Northwest, who has been teacher, mentor and fellow activist for participatory democracy.
Nick Egnatz is a Vietnam veteran and member of Veterans For Peace. He has been actively protesting our government’s crimes of empire in both person and print for some years now and was named “Citizen of the Year” for Northwest Indiana in 2006 for his peace activism by the National Association of Social Workers.
Click HERE to see the Original Article