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9861: Activist assesses the decade since the coup d‚etat (fwd)
An activist assesses the decade since the coup d‚Äôetat
Written by Gotson Pierre (SICRAD).
(This edited translation was first published in issue No.44 of 'Haiti
Briefing', the bi-monthly newsletter of the Haiti Support Group)
On 30 September, the tenth anniversary of the military coup which caused the
deaths of over 5,000 people in three years, the Haitian NGO, the Centre for
Research and Action for Development, spoke to a militant from the popular,
social movement. Stephen Phelps is an agronomist, a specialist and instructor
peasant farming techniques, who has worked with peasants and young people to
set up the organisations that, since the 1980s, have led the struggle for
change in Haiti.
"It's really difficult to find any positive elements in the sense of
democracy-building in Haiti." With these words, Phelps demonstrates both his
bitterness and anxieties regarding the situation in 2001.
His thesis is that the logic of the coup d'etat still dominates Haitian
reality. "The coup d'etat is a process", he says, "and its military phase was
only one stage." He adds that, over the course of several years, Haiti has
been transformed into a "delinquent and Mafiosi-style" State where the people
have been pushed back from a position from where they can exercise any power,
and that this has happened in the context of an unprecedented growth in
Keeping the people out of politics
Phelps remembers the early days of the return of constitutional government as
ones of incredible hope and expectancy. "The people hoped that the government
would pick up where it left off in 1990." But, contrary to expectations,
"progressive actors were co-opted in the President's Small Projects scheme",
and, as a result, the "people were excluded".
At the same time, Phelps explains, armed gangs developed, feeding a variety
of types of banditry. We are witnesses to "a phenomenon of democratisation of
drugs (trafficking), which had itself financed the coup", while, Phelps
continues, "the political gangs" appear to also work well for the
government." That is to say that, on the one hand, Lavalas and the Macoutes
have reached a reconciliation, while, on the other, ‚Äúa lot of the opposition
supported the coup d'etat."
The above scenario has created a general feeling of confusion where violence
has become "commonplace". For example, Phelps notes that today‚Äôs gangsters in
Cite Soleil act just like the paramilitary FRAPH group by sowing terror in
vast shantytown to the north of the capital. In other poor areas, "the
representatives or supporters of the government terrorise the population,"
and one does not know when they are acting as employees of the Minister of
Interior, as armed gangsters working for the mayors, or as Macoutes." The
Army has been dissolved but "in fact", he says, "with these gangs we are
faced by an even more dangerous force."
Aristide's return and the rehabilitation of torturers
Phelps strongly rejects the idea that the return of Aristide in 1994 after
three years in exile can be seen as synonymous with the return of democracy.
"There was the physical return of Aristide but with clear conditions such as
the neo-liberal plan that was negotiated in Paris, and the amnesty for the
coup criminals - there was no return of democracy."
With 20,000 US soldiers disembarking in Haiti ahead of Aristide‚Äôs return, "we
basically had the fracturing, demobilisation and beheading of the popular
organisations‚ÄĚ, suggests Phelps, alluding to the role of the US. Much more
than the repression, it was the "political asylum (in the US) given to nearly
5,000 people from popular organisations that left these organisations broken."
For Phelps, the US returned Aristide to Haiti with only one goal: "to control
the masses." The US knew that only Aristide had the ability to promote
"reconciliation with the Macoutes." What has in fact happened over the last
10 years is that the supporters of the Duvalier dictatorship have hoisted
themselves up into the important posts in the national administration, and
Aristide himself has received numerous notorious Duvalierists, including the
coup leaders' former adviser, Serge Beaulieu, at the National Palace.
Phelps also criticises the ruling party's adoption of traditional political
practices that had been rejected by theprogressive sectors. He heard "that
the during the last elections, the Lavalas Family candidates offered a gallon
of rough rum (kleren) to every family." What's the difference, he ask
himself, between that and the Duvalier times when "to win a political
campaign you just had to put a little rice in the peasants' hats?" He is just
as critical of the anti-Lavalas opposition. "The one and the other just want
to the popular vote for their own interests."
Commenting on the recent scandals of houses purchased by the State for former
President Preval and the current Prime Minister Jean Marie Cherestal, he adds
that once in power, "they buy houses for more than one million US dollars for
former head of state or for the Prime Minister while the country wallows in
Trapped between the government, the opposition and the international community
Regarding the electoral crisis that has lasted since the legislative and
local elections of May 2000, Phelps thinks that the "people are trapped
between the international community and its local puppets." There is still no
difference between "the populists in power" and the opposition coalition
Democratic Convergence. From one side to the other, neither offers any
evidence of having a vision that could move the country forward. He describes
the entire political class as "truly immoral."
"It's a disgrace to witness that there has been a continuity between the coup
era and the current period where the foreign diplomats still come to
Port-au-Prince to give orders. Their names may have changed, but the
international community's approach has not."
As for the attitude of those currently in power, Phelps thinks that they are
benefitting from the crisis themselves. While the government sees itself has
obliged to put some programmes into action to improve the population's living
conditions, they have "the pretext of the freezing of international aid to
explain their inertia." The sum in question is US$500 million.
Judicial reform ‚Äď made in the USA
Questioned about reform of the justice system ‚Äď the principal demand of the
Haitian people over the last 15 years, Phelps stresses the lack of political
will on the part of the country‚Äôs leaders. For him that is the only way to
explain why people such as Marc Bazin, the current Minister of Planning, has
put on trial considering that he was a Prime Minister representing the
illegal coup regime in 1992-3.
As for the reform process, undertaken over several years, he calls it a
‚Äúprefabricated, US ‚Äďmade‚ÄĚ reform contracted out to NGOs. Nearly US$20
million ws paid to international consultants, and the project was directed by
a US American agricultural technician!
Phelps pays hommage to the Lavalas regime for carrying out the Raboteau
massacre trial in 1999. ‚ÄúIt was an exceptional case‚ÄĚ, and remarks that ‚Äúit
shows how, with a certain intelligent international cooperation, things can
be achieved. The proceedings at the Raboteau trial prove that if it wanted
to, then the government could succeed with other cases too.‚ÄĚ
Neo-liberal reform and State dependency
Since the Preval Presidency (1996-2001), "the slogan ‚Äėchange the State‚Äô has
been forgotten," says Phelps. Instead we're told it's a question of
‚Äėrestoring the authority of the State.‚Äô Attempting to restore the authority
of a State that has not been transformed has led to a "resurgence of
At the same time, in agreement with the international aid donors "whose
objective is to weaken the State", there have been a move towards the
privatisation of all services... and Phelps feels that the changes these
moves have produced are of the "technical and legal kind in order to
facilitate Haiti's integration into the globalised economy."
As a result, ten years after the coup, Haiti's dependency has increased. "If
in 1992, Marc Bazin, when he was de facto Prime Minister, authorised the Rice
Corporation of America to flood the country with American rice, then in 1994,
it was Aristide who, at the Summit of the Americas, invited the company to
set itself up permanently in Haiti. Seven years later, one can see that
despite the talk about agrarian reform, Haiti imports 100,000 tonnes of rice
each year, 20 times more than in 1986 It is a fact that now Haiti is the
world's third largest consumer of American rice."
Source: Information Service of the Centre for Research and Action for
Development (SICRAD). Written by Gotson Pierre.
(Translated from French by Charles Arthur.)
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justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.