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21320: This Week in Haiti 22:4 4/7/2004 (fwd)
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
April 7 - 13, 2004
Vol. 22, No. 4
ON THE WAY HOME FROM HAITI
by Tom Driver
Haiti exists, but not happily. I have been visiting since March
23, when I came down with the first non-governmental delegation
that's gone there since the United States forcibly removed Pres.
Aristide on Feb. 29. The delegation was put together by "Haiti
Reborn," an arm of The Quixote Center in Maryland.
Haiti has suffered a terrible humiliation at the hands of the
U.S. Although her poverty is bad enough, it does not wound the
psyche as do recent events that amount to a kind of
political/military rape of the country. The clock of Haitians'
self-government has been set back at least 50 years. On the
surface, life can appear rather normal, but awful fears and
hatreds lie just underneath, ready to ensnare or explode.
For example, one day when we returned in our van to the house
where we lodged, a visitor cautioned that someone was watching
the house and street -- something we had not noticed and weren't
sure whether to believe. Our visitor had brought with him, for an
interview with us, two men who were prominent in President
Aristide's Lavalas political party. Since Aristide's ouster over
a month ago, one of the men has not dared sleep in the same house
two nights running. He quit our meeting early so as to stay on
the move. Later that day we found out that his name was read out
on the radio, which is like being marked for death. Every
afternoon around 4 p.m., names are broadcast. Perhaps they are on
a list of those whom the new government wants to arrest, or
perhaps listeners call in with the name of so-and-so. All are
linked with Aristide in some way. Some of those named soon
disappear. Today most of Haiti's radio stations have fallen
silent, while the remaining ones are owned by members of "the
opposition," which of course is no longer in opposition to the
government, because during the night of February 28-29 the United
States brought about a regime change in Haiti.
Although there is a "transitional" President in the National
Palace (we met with him), the building is mostly occupied by U.S.
Marines, who also patrol the streets and the airport, and fly
helicopters almost constantly over the poorer parts of Port-au-
Prince night and day. U.S. forces have made many night-time raids
into some of the poorest quarters, particularly the one called
Belair. In these raids they have killed an uncertain number of
people, estimates going as high as 70. Occasionally the foreign
soldiers venture into middle class neighborhoods, but never
threaten the houses on the hills where the wealthy live.
We met with groups very loyal to Aristide and groups who hate
him, but only one group, which is dominated by wealthy
businesssmen, failed to condemn in the strongest terms the
occupation of Haiti by the U.S.-led multinational force. It is an
insult to Haiti's spirit of freedom and self-worth; and it has
come, perhaps not by accident, during the 200th anniversary of
Haiti's declaration of independence in 1804.
In the States, it seems that only the Congressional Black Caucus
has been willing to speak of Aristide's removal as a coup. John
Kerry did come close on CBS on the morning of Feb. 29, when Dan
Rather asked all the Democratic candidates what they thought
about Aristide's removal, which had happened during the previous
night. Kerry rightly said that the Haiti crisis had been created
by President Bush, because his administration had put lots of
pressure on Aristide and none on his opponents, both armed and
unarmed. Bush thus empowered the opposition to refuse all
compromise, making a negotiated solution impossible. I hope Kerry
will stand by this analysis and continue to hold Bush
accountable. Although it is true that the game plan began at
least as far back as the year 2000, before Bush came in, it was
his team, including Colin Powell, that pursued it to its bitter
and very cynical end.
I have followed this matter from its inception, and I will
somewhere write in more detail about the Washington-based plot
that has been so disastrous for the dreams of democracy that
arose in Haiti during the 1980s and 90s. Suffice it to say that
the "rebels" who came over the border from the Dominican Republic
in February could not have been trained, supplied, and
strategically prepared without the foreknowledge, and probably
the assistance, of the United States. That said, I want here to
relate just a few of the things I discovered in Haiti the past
The country is shockingly divided in political opinion. It is
weird to leave one interview and go into another in which you are
told the exact opposite of what was said in the first. Our
interlocutors might begin a session saying reasonable things, but
before long their claims would become so extreme as to defy all
belief. This includes people with high levels of education who
are widely traveled in the world. We heard torrents of hatred and
vilification, especially from Aristide's detractors, and from
others we heard and saw expressions of fear.
Most of the Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that rail
against Aristide have been getting money from USAID via the
International Republican Institute, or the National Democratic
Institute, all of which disperse U.S. Government money.
Aristide made serious mistakes as President. It seems likely that
his administration included unknown amounts of corruption, drug
traffic involvement, and (as his hold on power grew weaker)
reliance upon armed gangs from slum neighborhoods that looked
upon him as a deliverer. He was, no doubt, a charismatic leader
with poor administrative skills.
Even so, he was far from being the tyrant, dictator, and despot
that his opponents and much of the U.S. press paint him to be.
What kind of a tyrant is it whose most popular move was to
disband the army?
One of Aristide's accomplishments was to establish a new school
of medicine. The U.S. military has closed it and uses it as a
barracks. This in a country in desperate need of doctors.
When Aristide was taken away, he received assurance that his
house would be protected. It was immediately trashed and looted.
By contrast, in 1994 the houses of Gen. Cédras and other military
officers whom the U.S. ousted from power were guarded by U.S.
There is no effort by the U.S.-led multinational force or the
Haitian police to arrest the known criminals among the armed
"rebels" who played the key role in bringing down the government.
Not only are all the "rebels" insurrectionists who took up arms
against a legitimate government, some of their leaders had
previously been tried and convicted of politically motivated
crimes. Upon entering Haiti from the Dominican Republic, they
released about 2000 more criminals from jail. Staff at the U.S.
Embassy told us that to capture and disarm them is not part of
the mission of the U.S. forces. Meanwhile, the mission does
include the use of lethal force against militants in the slums
who were loyal to Aristide.
Aristide's opponents come from the left as well as the right. He
tried to bring the disparate factions together, but the elite,
whether leftist or rightist, turned against him for not serving
their interests. He found his base of support in the urban
masses, whom he had once served as priest in the "parish of the
poor" at the Church of St. Jean Bosco in Port-au-Prince. He seems
to have had less solid support among the rural peasantry.
The issue that concerns me is not whether Aristide was everything
that Haiti needs. He clearly was not. The issue is whether the
United States has the right to undermine and then destroy a duly
elected government. I am ashamed of my country for having done
so, and I'm very angry about it.
Although the transitional government talks of inclusiveness and
power sharing, the cabinet it has appointed includes no members
of Aristide's faction. The new cabinet's Minister of Security is
Hérard Abraham, a General in the army that Aristide disbanded in
1995. This is the clearest of several indications that the U.S.
intends for Haiti's army to be reinstated. It was, and surely
would be again, a proxy army trained and equipped by the U.S. for
the purpose of quelling social unrest in the population.
Finally, a Catholic priest who has remained close to Aristide
throughout his political career told us that Haiti "must" create
and train a movement of nonviolent resistance. Although Aristide
did not think along that line, the time for doing so seems to be
Whenever I go to Haiti I come home with some reason for hope in
the midst of desperation. This time, it's the discovery that some
Haitians are dreaming of a nonviolent way to renew their struggle
for democracy and true independence. We can help them by working
to get the U.S. out of the business of regime change. It is
shameful for a superpower to bully other nations, especially one
as small, as impoverished, and as eager for self-rule as Haiti.
Tom F. Driver is a professor of theology and culture emeritus at
Union Theological Seminary in New York. A volunteer with Witness
for Peace, he has visited Haiti many times and just returned from
a delegation that was in the country between March 23 - April 2,
2004. This is a letter he wrote on his flight home.
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