International Politics and Haiti in 2004

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For more information about the 1991 ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the role of U.S. public relations firms, see Hustling for the Junta: PR Fights Democracy in Haiti.

Haiti's Thirty-Third Coup?

Aristide and his loyalists managed to remain in power for a decade, but the administration was dogged by charges of human rights violations, corruption and widespread, grinding poverty among the Haitian people. (In 2004, eighty percent of Haitians live in poverty and life expectancy for men is 49 and for women 50 years.)

In February 2004, Haiti erupted in violence as anti-Aristide militias sought to overthrow his government. "Aristide agreed to talks in order to find a way to resolve the situation. But the agreement was paralyzed due to the revolt by former military personnel under the command of Guy Phillipe, the former police chief who had already tried to overthrow Aristide in 2001, who had returned from exile in the neighboring Dominican Republic in order to speed up the head of state's departure."[1]

Domestically, those "involved in Aristide's overthrow are precisely those who supported the 1957-1987 dictatorships of the Duvaliers, a family that stole $900 million and left the Haitian people in the most appalling misery, without resources and further castigated by a blockade imposed for being unable to honor their financial commitments to creditors."[2]

Aristide was flown out of Haiti on February 29, 2004, and the U.S. announced plans to deploy troops there as "international peacekeepers." His departure was described in the U.S. media as a "resignation," but Aristide stated that he had been kidnapped and forced to leave by U.S. troops. ""I was forced to leave," Aristide said. "They came at night. ... There were too many. I couldn't count them." [3]

An American lawyer for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Brian Concannon, reported after meeting with Aristide in exile that "the ambassadors of France and the U.S. told him that he would be killed, his family would be killed and his supporters would be killed if he did not leave right away."[4]

Aristide claimed that his personal security detail, 19 agents from the California-based Stele Foundation were stripped from him in order to pressure him to leave Haiti: "U.S. officials ordered them to leave and to leave immediately." Aristide also stated during a radio interview that another 25 security agents "who were supposed to reinforce the team were told that they could not leave the U.S."[5] According to the Wall Street Journal and other accounts, "U.S. officials have previously acknowledged that Mr. Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces wouldn't protect him from the rebels." [6]

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping of regional governments protested the conditions under which Aristide left office, and expressed concern at "the arrival of approximately 1,000 U.S. soldiers in Haiti just a few hours after the leader's departure... However, faced with CARICOM's demands, on March 5 the Bush administration stated that there was nothing to investigate or discuss."[7] CARICOM governments have also expressed concern at the "dangerous precedent" set for other democratically-elected governments by Aristide's ouster.[8] CARICOM, the African Union, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus and numerous Democratic officials have demanded a full investigation of the events surrounding Aristide's exile.[9]

Robert Maguire, a Haiti specialist and professor at Trinity College, said that U.S. involvement in Haiti has alienated former allies in the Caribbean: "The CARICOM countries feel deceived by the U.S." Moreover, the inability of Washington to "convince the opposition in Haiti to accept their plan when the U.S. [and Aristide] had agreed to it and all the cards were stacked in the opposition's favor constitutes a major failure of U.S. diplomacy."[10]

According to Gayle Smith, an Africa specialist on Bill Clinton's National Security Council, America's self-inflicted political damage over Haiti may extend beyond the Caribbean: "Most people around the world believe that Aristide's departure was at best facilitated; at worst, coerced by the U.S. and France. The developing world is now challenging the U.S. and France for not being democratic; that is of great long-term significance."[11]

Why Get Rid of Aristide?

It is not obvious why prosperous Western nations like the United States and France might want to increase their involvement in a small, impoverished country whose modest natural resources have already been exploited and whose people have been traumatized by decades of conflict. Theories include:

  • Long-simmering enmity between U.S. officials like Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roger Noreiga and Aristide;
  • U.S. pro-military, anti-poor neo-conservative politics;
  • Potential benefits for the Bush/ Cheney campaign among the estimated 100,000 Haitian refugees in Florida, a critical swing state in the 2004 presidential elections [12];
  • Private profit for international contractors and multilateral banks; and
  • Strategic location southeast of Cuba and Guantanamo Bay makes Haiti the other half of the Windward Passage

According to Pomona College politics lecturer Heather Williams, France's possible motivation comes from its colonial past. "In 1825, prodded by former plantation owners who wanted to invade Haiti and re-enslave its citizens, France sent 12 warships armed with 500 canons to Port au Prince with demands for a massive indemnity payment."

Although France's original demand of 150 million francs was negotiated down to 90 million, it took Haiti until 1947 to pay off its former ruler (with French banks pocketing large interest payments). The Haiti Restitution Commission, scholars assembled by the Aristide government, were readying to release a report in the spring of 2004 demanding France return the money to Haiti -- a sum that, adjusted for interest, would approach $22 billion.

As reported in the Miami Herald, television and radio ads run in Haiti demanded that France "Hand over my dollars so I can celebrate my independence!" France felt threatened enough that it assembled its own Committee on Reflection of Haiti. French President Jacques Chirac, when asked about Haiti's restitution campaign, replied with a warning: "before bringing up claims of this nature, I cannot stress enough to the authorities of Haiti the need to be very vigilant about, how should I say, the nature of their actions and their regime."

Attempts to Stay in Office

Also in February 2004, two PR firms were reported to be working on behalf of the Aristide government: Global Market Solutions and Dellums and Associates. Global Market Solutions was charged with promoting "Aristide's willingness to talk with the rebels" -- even as they attacked 10 cities, killing dozens of civilians -- and his "commitment to democracy." According to information made public through the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act[13], GMS had received $30,000 in early 2002 to "provide strategic advice and media relations, and meet with U.S. Government officials and community groups" on behalf of the Haitian government. Dellums and Associates, the firm of former Democratic Congressman from Oakland CA Ron Dellums, had registered at the end of 2003 as "lobbyist and PR firm for Haiti... to improve relations with the U.S. and international lending associations." By early 2004, D&A reported receiving two $30,000 retainers from Haiti.

The Politics of Exile

Aristide was taken from Haiti to the Central African Republic on February 29, reportedly without being told of his destination until after the plane landed. The ruler of the CAR is "a French-approved military dictator" who "seized [power] from an elected President precisely one year ago."[14] Independent reporters saw the U.S. and French coordination in Haiti as a "joint venture in international piracy"[15]; mainstream media reports noted that "the crisis in Haiti is bringing together French President Jacques Chirac and President Bush closer together after their heated dispute last year over the U.S.-led war in Iraq."[16]

After staying in the CAR for two weeks, Aristide left for Jamaica; he arrived in the Caribbean nation on March 14, 2004. The Haitian president explained that he and his wife were planning on staying in Jamaica for several weeks, in part to spend time with their two daughters. The U.S.-backed interim prime minister of Haiti, Gerard Latortue, condemned Aristide's return to the Caribbean, saying it would further destabilize the situation in Haiti. Latortue went farther, suspending Haiti's participation in CARICOM and "recalling Haiti's ambassador to Jamaica and putting [bilateral] relations on hold."[17] On March 25, Randall Robinson, a personal friend of the Aristides and the founder of TransAfrica, reported on Pacifica's Democracy Now! that according to "a White House source... Condoleezza Rice has pointedly threatened the Jamaican Government, telling it to expel President Aristide or face the consequences... It was clear that Ms. Rice told the Jamaican Government that if Aristide was not expelled immediately, and anything happened to American forces in Haiti, that the consequences of that would be exacted against a president or against Jamaica by the United States with full force."[18]

But, Robinson said, "Jamaica has not buckled. They did have discussions with the Nigerians who were pressured to grant this temporary asylum to President Aristide. President Aristide does not want to go to Nigeria... He remains, and will for the indefinite future in Jamaica."[19]

On March 25, Jamaican officials indicated that Aristide would take "permanent asylum" in South Africa, after that country's general elections on April 14, 2004. South African president Thabo Mbeki's government was reportedly concerned that a pre-election arrival by Aristide could be "politically unsettling." The 53-member African Union has already pledged "full support to the country that will agree to grant [Aristide] such asylum."[20] Jamaican officials also said that Aristide had refused offers of asylum from Venezuela and Nigeria.

Post-Aristide Haiti

The extensive background report "Haiti's Experiment with Democracy Subverted Once Again" by Erich Marquardt dated March 4, 2004, notes in conclusion that "the polarization of Haitian society into one camp that supported Aristide and another that called for his removal led to the unraveling of Haiti's democracy." However, the report doesn't explore how such a simple division could "unravel democracy", when similar simple and extreme divisions haven't unraveled the democracy in the U.S. ... or have they?

U.S.-friendly Haitian figures likely to assume power post-Aristide:

On March 16, 2004, the U.S.-installed interim prime minister of Haiti, Gerard Latortue, announced the formation of "a unity government" that excluded all members of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party. Yvon Neptune, the former prime minister under Aristide, decried Latortue's choices. "There should at least be a sincere expression of accepting Lavalas as an organization," said Neptune, adding that "the plan was to try to set the stage for reconciliation."[21] In fact, "after Mr. Neptune resigned on March 10, Mr. Latortue pledged to include members of the Lavalas Family party - which still enjoys wide support - in a unity government."[22] Latortue told Reuters: "Had there been an organization that sponsored a Lavalas member, I would have been happy [to include them]. But there weren't any."[23] He also reiterated to critics: "This is a government that is nonpartisan, and I invite everyone to judge it by its results."[24]

In a strong show of U.S. support for Latortue, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James Foley said regarding the interim cabinet: "Latortue chose wisely... I do think that the situation will stabilize." Foley also noted "that Haiti could expect significant U.S. and international aid."[25]

The 13 member interim cabinet (called the Council of Eminent Persons) includes:

That same day, "the Jamaican authorities announced today that they do not recognize the new interim government in Haiti... the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade stated that the question of hwether to recognize the new Haitian authorities should be put on hold until the CARICOM summit" on March 25. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also declined to recognize the interim Haitian government, emphasizing that "the doors of his country are open to... the constitutional President of Haiti."[26]

During an AP interview, interim interior minister Herald Abraham said a commission will study reforming a national army, an institution established by the United States and disbanded by Aristide in 1995, due to human rights violations and corruption. The Haitian army launched a coup against Aristide in 1991, and subsequently killed an estimated 5,000 Haitians. Abraham remarked, "With the instability and the amount of guns that are spread around the country, we need a force that can proceed with disarmament."[27] Abraham is widely respected for having turned over power to a civilian in 1990.[28]

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