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9861: Activist assesses the decade since the coup detat (fwd)

From: Tttnhm@aol.com

An activist assesses the decade since the coup d’etat
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 
Haiti's dependency.

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, “a 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’s 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’s return, "we 
basically had the fracturing, demobilisation and beheading of the popular 
organisations”, 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 – made in the USA

Questioned about reform of the justice system – 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’s leaders. For him that is the only way to 
explain why people such as Marc Bazin, the current Minister of Planning, has 
not been
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 
“prefabricated, US –made” 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. “It was an exceptional case”, and remarks that “it 
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.”

Neo-liberal reform and State dependency

Since the Preval Presidency (1996-2001), "the slogan ‘change the State’ has 
been forgotten," says Phelps. Instead we're told it's a question of 
‘restoring the authority of the State.’ Attempting to restore the authority 
of a State that has not been transformed has led to a "resurgence of 
arbitrary rule".

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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The Haiti Support Group - solidarity with the Haitian people's struggle for 
justice, participatory democracy and equitable development, since 1992.