[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

9136: From Dictatorship to Democracy, Haiti: Ten Years After the Sept , 30, 1991 Coup (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Office of the Foreign Press Liaison, National Palace, Haiti
Email:  mkarshan@aol.com
Telephone: (011509) 228-2058

Haiti:  Ten Years After the 
September 30, 1991 Coup d'Etat 

This is not a civil war.  There is no confrontation.  The violence comes from 
one side alone.  We feel there is a deliberate policy to eliminate Aristide 
partisans, to break the back of the pro-democracy movement and to terrorize 
the population. 
                               A Ranking UN human rights official in Haiti.  
                                        The Miami Herald, April 6, 1994 


The September 30, 1991 military coup d'etat in Haiti, the bloodiest coup in 
200 years of difficult history is rooted in a continuum of struggle for 
democratic change in Haiti.  The continuum stretches back from before 
September 1991, out to today, and into the future.  Although the contours of 
the struggle change, the objectives have always been liberty and dignity: 
liberty, of the body and of thought and expression, and the dignity of having 
the basic materials for    human existence: food, shelter, healthcare and 

This struggle has borne fruit, Haiti's democracy dividend.  Irreversible 
progress in politics, justice and security has paved the way for fundamental 
and tangible improvements in the daily lives of Haitians.  The brutal army 
was dismantled and replaced by a civilian police force, the number of public 
high schools doubled since 1994. An aggressive campaign to collect unpaid tax 
and utility bills has generated record revenues for the struggling 
government, and an extensive land reform program has distributed 2.47 acres 
of land to each of 1,500 peasant families.  The government has also 
aggressively persued an open market approach that has resulted in the 
development of a competitive and vibrant telecommunication sector and the 
reopening of the flourmill and cement plant.  

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW: 200 Years of Struggle

Haiti's very existence was born of the struggle for liberty and dignity.  The 
world's first   independent Black Republic, and only successful slave revolt, 
emerged in 1804 after a long war with Napoleon's France.  Haiti immediately 
faced a hostile international community that, in some cases waited a full 
sixty years before recognizing her.  Some countries only recognized Haiti 
after payment of a crippling indemnity of 150 million francs to France and 
the former slave owners.  This amount represented close to ten times the 
country's annual gross domestic product.  The payment of funds borrowed for 
the indemnity was not completed until 1922.  The burdensome repayment 
schedules denied Haiti the opportunity for any real economic development in 
the early years of the Republic.  Haiti was set on a devastating course of 
borrowing funds to re-pay an ever-growing debt.

Haiti's chronic indebtedness to foreign banks became a pawn in a scheme of    
          international financing with political repercussions at home.  
Short-lived governments changed often in the years leading up to the 
nineteen-year United States occupation that began in 1915.  The Armed Forces 
of Haiti was created during the occupation as a "stabilizing," albeit 
repressive, force in the country.  The link between the new army and foreign 
financial interests was made clear when the occupiers seized all customs 
receipts, and used some of the proceeds to pay the salaries of U.S. officers.

The twenty-nine years of the Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier dictatorship 
starting in 1957 institutionalized a system of corruption, violence, economic 
and social apartheid, and total political repression in Haiti.  By 1986, the 
year Jean-Claude Duvalier was ousted from Haiti, the wealthiest 1% of the 
population had managed to seize 40% of the national income.  The army and a 
network of its henchmen, including section chiefs and the paramilitary Tonton 
Macoutes guaranteed fiscal impunity and maintained the Duvaliers' political 
stranglehold through brutality.  In 29 years, 20,000 people are said to have 
been killed.  The repression fueled the first mass exodus of refugees from 
Haiti, many fleeing on the high seas in substandard boats.

A partial government investigation documented over $570 million stolen by 
Jean-Claude Duvalier and his supporters in the last years of his reign. 

In 1986, a broad based democratic movement in Haiti propelled Duvalier's 
expulsion.  In 1987, a new Constitution designed to undo the structural 
corruption and repression, decentralize political power from the city to the 
countryside, and create a civilian police force, was ratified by 99% of those 
voting.  A progressive youth movement arose, and along with progressive 
Catholic Church groups called ti legliz, or "the little church," battled to 
lower entrenched illiteracy and raise living standards for all Haitians.  
Workers created labor unions and fought to improve working                

In contrast to civil society's progress towards democracy, the successive 
military regimes that followed the Duvaliers fought to maintain "Duvalierism 
without Duvalier."  The civilian police force was not established.  The first 
elections under the new Constitution, in November 1987, were aborted by 
military and paramilitary massacres at voting centers.  The cycle of 
violence, repression and corruption continued.  Democratic change would not 
come easy.  

In the fall of 1990, Haiti prepared for presidential elections that many 
feared would again end in violence.  On the   final day of registration, 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a parish priest who had risen to national prominence 
in the democratic movement, became a candidate.  The announcement electrified 
the country, and after a 6-week campaign President Aristide was elected in 
Haiti's first free and fair election with an overwhelming 67% of the vote 
among a field of 13 candidates.

The new government pursued a program of social change based on the principles 
of participation, transparence and justice.  It began the difficult task of 
cleaning up a corrupt civil service, enforcing tax codes, delivering services 
to citizens and fighting drug trafficking. The government promised to raise 
the minimum wage and pursue the literacy campaign thwarted by the military 
regimes.  The international community applauded the reforms, and donors 
pledged funds to the new government.  Haitians enjoyed a period of relative 
security, with military violence and criminal activity sharply reduced.  The 
tide of political refugees fleeing Haiti by boat dropped significantly, and 
many exiles returned.  The human rights situation improved dramatically, with 
unprecedented freedom of speech, press and association, and an end to 
state-sponsored violence.

This progress ended on September 30, 1991, when the Haitian military 
violently overthrew the democratic government.  President Aristide and his 
government were forced into exile.  The military unleashed a campaign of 
terror and violence that in three years took the lives of over 5,000 
Haitians, forced 300,000 into internal exile, and more than 100,000 onto the 
high seas under dangerous conditions.  The terror and political turmoil 
aggravated a growing AIDS  epidemic: the displacement quickened the spread of 
AIDS from urban to rural areas, and the well-documented introduction of rape 
as a form of political repression exposed thousands of women to the disease. 

The coup targeted peasant organizations, the ti legliz groups, journalists, 
students, members of political parties, residents of Port-au-Prince slums 
that were strongholds of support for President Aristide and anyone advocating 
democratic change.  Some victims were chosen solely because of family or 
neighborhood links to the democracy movement.  The brutality was 
psychological as well as physical: victims' bodies were left on prominent 
streets for days, where they were eaten by pigs and dogs. 

Despite these horrors, the majority of Haitians continued their non-violent 
resistance to the military regime.  On October 15, 1994, constitutional order 
was restored to Haiti by the U.S.-led multinational intervention force, 
pursuant to United Nations Security Council   Resolution 940.  Although part 
of the force's mandate, full disarmament of the former soldiers, 
paramilitaries and other enemies of democratic change was never achieved.  

The top military and paramilitary leaders were given refuge abroad, and many 
of their collaborators were protected within Haiti.  

Today, the struggle to sustain democracy in every facet of Haitian life 
continues.  Democratic change remains the driving force behind the 
improvements made in Haitian society over the last seven years.  It powers 
the campaigns to reverse the illiteracy rate (now down to 55% from 85%), to 
provide basic services to all Haitians, to move the nation from "misery to 
poverty with dignity."

The Haitian people understand that there are powerful opponents to democratic 
change, both in and outside of Haiti.  They know that democracy's opponents 
will spare no effort, and will use an array of strategies and alliances to 
perpetuate the country's structural injustices from which a few benefit so 
much.  Nonetheless, the majority remains steadfast in its commitment to move  

Politics, Justice & Security

Politics Under the Dictatorship

The 1991 coup d'etat dashed Haitians' hopes that democracy had finally ended 
their history of repression.  In place of the exiled democratic leadership, 
the de facto authorities imposed an illegal "parallel" president and 
government.  Most pro-democracy leaders fled.  Those who stayed to advocate 
for the rule of law were persecuted, and tortured, even killed.   Minister of 
Justice Guy Malary was executed for insisting on doing his job.

Haiti's progress on the international scene was halted.  International 
support and praise was halted and replaced by diplomatic isolation, an 
embargo, and eventually a commercial flight ban.     Foreigners who insisted 
on democracy, including human rights monitors from the United Nations and the 
Organization of American States, as well as the French Ambassador, were 

Politics and the Restoration of Democracy

When the U.S.-led Multi-National Forces arrived in September, 1994, the 
troops were greeted with an enthusiasm commensurate with Haitians' belief 
that they brought democracy with them, and that the electoral choices of the 
people would finally be respected. The enthusiasm never died, but it was 
tempered by actions that threatened to circumscribe the Haitian electorate's 
free choice.  The military leadership was flown off to gilded exile and 
impunity in Central America and the United States.  Their luxurious houses in 
Haiti were rented by foreign embassies.  Emmanuel Constant, leader of the 
hated FRAPH terrorist paramilitary organization, was represented to the 
Haitian people as a political leader, and his death squad as a legitimate 
political party. The Multinational Forces raided FRAPH and military 
facilities, and confiscated over 160,000 pages of documents, including photos 
of those tortured and killed during the coup regime.

President Aristide quickly named a government to take control of the state 
apparatus from those responsible for the coup regime to re-start the 
consolidation of democracy and to begin the process of reconciliation within 
Haitian society.  In order to bring as many people as possible into the 
effort, the government was broad-based, including opposition leaders and some 
former soldiers not implicated in human rights violations.  Although 
reconciliation was an important objective, the government refused to accept a 
superficial reconciliation, and insisted on justice -- still the number one 
priority of the Haitian people.

Politics Under Democracy

On February 7, 1996, President Aristide became the first Haitian president to 
leave voluntarily at the end of his original term.  He passed the mantle to 
President Rene Preval, Haiti's second freely elected president, who would 
later make history as the first president to serve out his full original term 
in office, no more, no less.  When President Preval passed the mantle back on 
February 7, 2001, a rhythm of democracy was established.  For the first time 
in Haiti's history, it   became realistic to calculate when the current 
president and his successors would take office, and when they would leave.

Both Presidents Preval and Aristide formed governments from a broad spectrum 
of Haitian society, including members of opposition parties and 
representatives of the private sector.   Although persistent political 
conflicts created distractions during both administrations, both managed to 
make substantial progress toward the Haitian people's goal of human rights 
and dignity.  (A chart outlining the progress the democratic government has 
achieved is attached.)

The Haitian electorate has been given abundant opportunity to register its 
political choices since democracy's return.  In 1995, elections were held for 
all seats in the House of Deputies, two-thirds of the Senate, all municipal 
posts, and president.  In 1997, elections were held for the remaining third 
of the Senate, for the House of Deputies, local mayors and for local councils 
called Assemblées Section Communale, or ASECs.  The ASECs are vital to the 
Haitian political system because they choose the people who nominate judges 
and members of the Permanent Electoral Council, who   in   turn   oversee   
the elections.  Although it was established by the 1987 Constitution, the 
ASEC system has never been fully implemented.

In 2000 elections were held again, first in May for all municipal and most 
legislative seats, and later in November for president and the remaining 
llegislators.  The first elections were by many standards the best in Haiti's 
history.  A record amount of candidates (29,500) competed for a record number 
of seats (7,500).  A record number of citizens registered (almost 4 million) 
to vote, and a record number (over 60% of those registered) voted.  The OAS 
observer mission called Election Day "a great success for the Haitian 
population, which turned out in large and orderly numbers… and for the 
Haitian National Police… who had been able to keep order quietly and 

Although seven of the approximately 7,500 races were challenged due to a 
technical dispute on how to calculate majorities in an at-large race, the 
voters consistently made two things clear: 1) by participating en masse, they 
showed their intent to continue the struggle for freedom and dignity through 
the ballot box, and 2) over and over again they chose the party and platform 
of Fanmi Lavalas to continue this struggle.

Fanmi Lavalas' reform program has been hampered by a series of political 
disputes, particularly in Parliament.  The last legislature, the 46th, passed 
nine laws in its four years from 1995 to 1999.  In particular, it failed to 
initiate the process of amending the Constitution to eliminate the armed 
forces, although such a measure is supported by an overwhelming majority of 
Haitians.  Under the amendment process, the legislature must pass a proposed 
amendment by a two-thirds vote during its last session.  If the subsequent 
legislature ratifies it by another two-thirds vote at its first session, it 
becomes law upon the installation of the next president.

The current legislature is striving to make up for lost time, despite an 
ongoing dispute over seven senate's seats.  In its first ten months, it has 
already passed significant laws including Haiti's first money laundering 
regulations, and unprecedented protections for children's rights, including a 
prohibition on corporal punishment and all forms of violence against children.

Since the return of democracy in 1994, Haiti has steadily increased its 
standing in the international community. Its democratic government is 
recognized by all countries, and has been accepted as the first 
non-Anglophone member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  It participates 
fully in the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and in many 
other bilateral and multilateral activities.  The UN/OAS human rights mission 
that was twice expelled by the coup leaders returned with President Aristide 
and stayed until its mandate ended in February 2001.  Haiti recently invited 
the OAS to send an electoral mission.  Since 1995, Haiti has hosted many 
international gatherings, including a meeting of OAS foreign ministers and 
the World Health Organization's regional meeting.  Haiti has also ratified 
the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and signed the treaty creating the 
International Criminal Court.

Challenges Ahead For Politics

The primary challenge for Haitian society has been unchanged since 1987: the 
full implementation of the rights and liberties guaranteed by the 
Constitution.  Parliamentary elections must be held as scheduled and 
according to law, and must acquire the same rhythm of democracy as the 
presidential elections.  The ASEC system, which chooses the Permanent 
Electoral Council that ultimately gives elections credibility, has never been 
implemented in the Constitution's 14 years, and needs to be.  Although 
several of the provisional electoral councils have done good work under 
difficult circumstances, the Constitution only contemplated the first one as 
a transitional measure. As long as the electoral councils are provisional, 
the elections they run, no matter how fair, will be subject to attack.

The complete implementation of the Constitution will require the 
participation of a broad spectrum of Haitian society and the international 
community.  But we must not lose sight of the imperative that majority rule 
is the touchstone of democracy.  Although compromises regarding election 
procedures may be necessary to resolve the current impasse, they cannot 
compromise the fundamental right of the Haitian electorate to choose its own 

Justice Under the Dictatorship

In 1990, the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights reported that "[t] here is 
no system of justice in Haiti.  Even to speak of a 'Haitian justice system' 
dignifies the brutal use of force by officers and soldiers, the chaos of 
Haitian courtrooms and prisons, and the corruption of judges and 
prosecutors."  The rights of the accused were systematically ignored during 
all of Haiti's dictatorships.  Arrests were routinely effected without a 
warrant, and those arrested could be held for years, often for political 
reasons, without being formally charged.  Civil cases moved very slowly, and 
generally involved bribes.  Courtroom proceedings were conducted almost 
exclusively in French, which was understood by the lawyers and judges, but 
not most           defendants, victims, witnesses and citizens.  Popular 
organizing or education with respect to justice issues was discouraged, often 
with bullets.

The justice system descended even further during the 1991-1994 dictatorship.  
The military and their paramilitary allies dominated the system, and judges 
and prosecutors either did their bidding or were themselves arrested or 
persecuted.  The system helplessly observed the repression, or actively 
participated in it.  None of the 5,000 politically motivated killings during 
that period were prosecuted, nor were the hundreds of thousands of cases of 
beatings, rape or other torture by the military and paramilitary forces.  A 
former prosecutor, on the stand in a trial for a coup era massacre, asked why 
he had not prosecuted anyone at   the time of the attack.  He admitted that 
he knew the authors, and had been legally obligated to pursue them, but 
invoked the Haitian Creole proverb: "the Constitution is paper, bayonets are 
Prisons in Haiti have traditionally been both brutal and porous.  Those with 
money or influence escaped easily, while those left behind were routinely and 
brutally mistreated by the military guards.  Entire facilities were reserved 
for political prisoners.  Private homes were used as prisons, interrogation 
centers and torture chambers.  In   order to mask the abuses, prison records 
were shoddy or non-existent.  This made it difficult for lawyers and human 
rights advocates to establish claims of illegal detention.

Prisons deteriorated even further under the coup regime.  The dictators 
released many prisoners convicted of serious     human rights violations, and 
filled the cells with people suspected of the slightest of pro-democracy 
activities.   Beatings, torture and killings in the prisons were routine. 

See Part II

Note:If you want your name removed from this mailing list please notify us by 
email.  See the National Palace website at http://www.palaisnational.org