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a267: Fwd: Analysis from Brain Concannon re Coup Attempt (fwd)

From: Mark Schuller <marky@umail.ucsb.edu>
Early on December 17, an armed commando assaulted
Haiti's National Palace.
In response, hundreds of thousands of Haitians took to
streets throughout the
country to defend their democracy.  A few dozen
protesters reacted violently,
burning facilities of opposition parties, killing four
people and cornering
the media attention.  The vast majority of those who
responded, however,
chose non-violence.  In so doing they followed a
Haitian tradition of
opposing tyranny with non-violence, a tradition marked
by inspiring
successes, but also by crushing, and bloody, failures.

Understanding how and why Haitians took to the streets
on December 17, why
some acted violently, and why they chose the targets
they did, is critical to
understanding that day's events. It is also critical
to understanding Haiti's
difficult transition to democracy, especially the
contentiousness surrounding
the U.S.-supported opposition parties that were the
targets of both violent
and non-violent protesters.  Such understanding is
especially important for
Americans.  We need to condemn, as the Bush
administration has done, the acts
of those who acted violently.  We also should hold the
Haitian government to
its promise to investigate crimes committed in both
the attack and the
reprisals.  But preventing a recurrence requires the
more difficult work of
getting to the problems' roots.  In our case, this
means the most difficult
work of confronting how our own policies contributed
to that violence.

Neither the coup attempt nor the massive responsive
protest are new to
democratic Haiti.  The last four major coup attempts,
two each in 1991 and
2001, all followed the same pattern.  Each was timed
to coincide with a wave
of criticism of the elected authorities in Haiti by
the economic elites and
the media they controlled, usually echoed by the major
media in the U.S.
Each included an armed attack on the National Palace,
usually by former
soldiers and paramilitaries, and all four started when
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was away from the Palace,
usually with the best of his
security force.  In response to each, the Haitian
people took to the streets
to protect Haiti's fragile democratic transition.
Three of these times they
succeeded, the fourth they failed and were butchered
by the hundreds.

On New Year's Day 1991, the Archbishop of
Port-au-Prince denounced the
"coming regime of political authoritarianism." The
declaration came two weeks
after Aristide won the presidency with 67% of the vote
in Haiti's first ever
free election, one considered fair by all official
observers, and a month
before the inauguration.  Five days later,
paramilitary leader and former
Interior Minister Roger Lafontant, head of the URN
party, led a small band of
soldiers and paramilitaries who seized the National
Palace and the National
Television's broadcast facilities.  Lafontant
proclaimed himself in charge,
hoping the rest of the army would join him.  Hundreds
of thousands of
ordinary Haitians took to the streets in protest,
banging pots and pans, and
setting up barricades.  When enlisted men refused to
fire into the crowds,
the army brass chose caution, and forced Lafontant
out.  Parts of the crowds,
angry and scared, lashed out at those they felt
responsible.  Neither
President-elect Aristide's call to be "vigilant
without vengeance," nor all
the army's guns and men could stop them.  Lafontant's
house and the URN
headquarters were attacked, the Archbishop's cathedral
was destroyed, and the
Papal Nuncio's house was sacked.  Thirty-seven
suspected Lafontant
collaborators were killed.

On September 30, 1991, following a renewed wave of
criticism of the
government, in Haiti and abroad, the military
leadership took its turn.  With
President Aristide at his private residence,
putschists took over key
military installations, and silenced radio stations.
When Aristide forced
his way through the roadblocks to the National Palace,
army units attacked,
capturing the President and executing his security
chief.  As before,
hundreds of thousands of Haitians throughout the
country took to the streets
in protest, erecting barricades.   This time the
soldiers, conditioned by
nine months of anti-government rhetoric in their
barracks, were prepared to
shoot into the unarmed crowds.  They killed over a
thousand men, women and
children in a few days. The ensuing dictatorship
claimed an estimated 5,000
lives in three years, with hundreds of thousands more
imprisoned, beaten,
raped or otherwise tortured, or forced into exile.
The Haitian people
continued resisting throughout the dictatorship, with
acts of protest small
and large, always courageous but rarely violent.

Last July, national and international criticism of the
Haitian government
again reached a peak.  For over a year the criticism
had centered on the
elections of seven senators, most from the majority
Lavalas party.  When
those senators resigned to defuse the conflict, the
target shifted to other
elected officials, whose elections had been previously
deemed acceptable.
The United States led an international financial
embargo against the Haitian
government, conditioning a resumption of direct aid
and multilateral loans on
the government's coming to terms with the Democratic
Convergence, a
U.S.-financed coalition of some opposition parties.

On July 28, men believed to be former military
attacked Haiti's police
academy and several police stations, killing five and
wounding fourteen.
Although the attack appeared to have support within
some National Police
units, democratic elements on the force repulsed the
attack.  Again the
population took to the streets, protesting and
erecting barricades.  Most of
the attackers were able to escape over the border to
the Dominican Republic,
some with assault rifles stolen from the academy.  The
Dominican authorities
arrested some at the border, but later released them.

The December 17 attack followed this same pattern.
The wave of criticism
centered around the same electoral issues as in July.
Like the Archbishop in
1991, the critics called President Aristide
(overwhelmingly re-elected a year
earlier) authoritarian. The fires were fanned by
brutal attacks in the city
of  Petit-Goave on December 3.  Convergence supporters
attacked a Lavalas
supporter with machetes.  Believing him dead, the
victim's friends killed a
journalist believed to be a Convergence supporter.
The international media
and community, as well as the Haitian media controlled
by elites, correctly
condemned the journalists' killing, but rarely
mentioned the original attack
on the Lavalas supporter, or suggested that the
Convergence reign in its own

The December 17 attackers, apparently mostly former
soldiers, made their move
early on a Monday morning, when they knew the
President and his best security
would be away.  They crashed the National Palace
gates, and held the police
at bay with an M-2 machine gun bolted to a pickup
truck.  The M-2 shoots
bullets almost five inches long, and is more powerful
than anything in the
police arsenal.  The attackers seized a wing of the
Palace, including the
President's personal office.  They announced the coup
over the Palace's
communications system, and threatened to shoot anyone
who did not join them.
When their expected reinforcements did not arrive, the
attackers shot their
way out of the Palace.  Pursued by police in trucks
and in a helicopter, and
forced to detour at least once by civilian barricades,
the attackers
abandoned their vehicles, uniforms and weapons in
remote areas and headed on
foot into the bush.  One attacker was killed at the
Palace, another was
spotted with bullet wounds in a small town, and turned
over to the police.
Four more presumed attackers, with bullet wounds, were
killed by peasants.
Two police were killed, and six wounded.

Once again, hundreds of thousands took to the streets
as soon as the attack
was announced. They did so knowing that they, and the
neighbors, friends and
family who joined them, could end up, like hundreds of
their friends and
family who took to the streets ten years earlier,
dead.  They did not know
that the attackers had the police outgunned, but they
could hear the
automatic weapons, and history gave them reason to
believe that the attackers
would shoot into crowds.

Many Haitians barricaded streets, with rocks, car
parts and burning tires.
Although burning tires look menacing in news clips,
the barricades were
defensive, to keep attackers from escaping the police
into their
neighborhoods.  One barricade cut off the escape route
to the Dominican
Republic, and forced a detour.  The attackers,
following tradition, shot into
crowds when they could, and killed one person at a
barricade.  Those manning
the barricades, by contrast, were non-violent.
Automobile traffic was
reduced, but not eliminated.  An American medical team
made it down that
morning from Haiti's Central Plateau to
Port-au-Prince.  Other foreigners
passed unmolested through roadblocks, even those with
U.S. government-issue
cars.  Our office a few blocks from the National
Palace was open on December
17, and the Americans on staff made it to work.

Most of those who took to the streets just milled
around, at prominent
intersections, along main roads, around the National
Palace.  They were there
to manifest their faith in Haiti's fragile transition
to democracy, and to
force anyone who would reverse that transition to do
so over their dead
bodies.  One group gathered, non-violently, at the
Embassy of the Dominican
Republic, to protest the neighboring country's
harboring of the attackers of
July 28, and presumably December 17.  In fact, one of
those arrested then
released for July 28 had returned with the attack,,
and would be arrested
later that day by Haitian police.  Guy Philippe, the
former military and
police officer who the attackers named as their
leader, had found refuge in
the D.R. after the U.S. exposed a coup he was planning
in November 2000.
D.R. authorities finally arrested Philippe on December
28, but have refused
to return him to Haiti.

President Aristide and other government officials
implored the population to
defend their democracy, but without violence. In fact,
the popular response
was most remarkable not for the violence of the
minority, but for the courage
and restraint of the vast majority who responded
without violence.  Despite
hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, the
overall damage was
limited- no radio stations were destroyed, no
journalists reported injuries.
The death toll of four, although too high, was far
less than for most
previous coup attempts.  It was less than half of the
deaths from
disturbances the same week in more developed

However, a few dozen protesters, angry and afraid, did
react violently.  They
attacked homes and offices of Convergence leaders, and
the nearby French
Institute in Port-au-Prince.  Two people were killed
within crowds downtown,
suspected of having fired into the crowd.  Protesters
in the city of Gonaives
attacked Convergence buildings there, and killed two
Convergence supporters.
Several journalists reported receiving threats.  The
police, overwhelmed and
preoccupied with the deadly coup attempt, did little
to halt the violence.

But even those who did not kill, burn buildings or
threaten journalists were
angry and afraid.  For every machete, club, or gun
used violently, a hundred
were simply carried.  Protesters jeered their anger,
to passing motorists,
into journalists' microphones, to each other.  The
abuse was targeted with
remarkable consistency around the country: predictably
against the attackers
and the former military, but just as vehemently
against the Convergence

The Convergence was not targeted because of any known
direct link with the
coup attempt.  There was no public evidence of a link
then, and none still
(nor is there for the U.S.).  Although some came to
the coalition from right
wing parties associated with past dictatorships, the
houses attacked belong
to aging leftist intellectuals, some of whom were
elected to Parliament just
six years ago under the anti-military Lavalas banner.
Instead, the
Convergence was targeted because it has managed to
identify itself with both
the Haitian population's greatest fear, and its
greatest source of

The greatest source of fear is a return to the
military dictatorships that
have so terrified Haitians throughout history, most
recently from 1991-1994.
The military's toll on Haitian civilians in the last
century is equivalent to
September 11th's toll on New Yorkers, repeated every
decade.  Just as
Americans seek to reduce our exposure to our terror by
eradicating its
source, Haitians successfully reduced their exposure
by demobilizing the army
in 1995.

It is impossible to overestimate the impact of army
demobilization on the
lives of average Haitians.  It has been called Haiti's
greatest step forward
since Independence, and is wildly popular.  For once
in their troubled
history, Haitians are free to speak their minds and
travel freely, without
worrying about soldiers or informers in the market, on
public transportation
and outside their doorway.  The army's lion share of
the economy, extracted
in small but regular amounts from peasants as bribes
and protection money,
and in large amounts from the state treasury, can now
be diverted to
healthcare, nutrition and education.  For good reason,
advocating the army's
return in Haiti is equivalent to advocating free
immigration for flight
school students in the U.S.  Both are, and should be,
protected free speech,
but both are also political suicide.

Haitians' greatest frustration is the slow progress of
Haiti's democratic
transition, especially in  the economic and electoral
realms.  Although the
democratic authorities were restored seven years ago
with the help of U.S.
troops, a series of political crises have hobbled the
development of
institutions essential to democratic governance and
economic growth.  The
crises began in June 1996, when the OPL party, now
part of the Convergence
but then part of  Lavalas, controlled both Parliament
and the Government.
Faced with mounting public opposition to its
neo-liberal economic policies,
the OPL government resigned, and the party split from
Lavalas.  Each
subsequent election has been won handily by Lavalas,
but contested vehemently
by OPL.

The crisis deepened before last July's coup attempt,
following a political
compromise brokered by the Organization of American
States (OAS), and
endorsed by many foreign governments, including the
U.S.  Six Lavalas
senators resigned, and the party agreed to anticipated
elections for several
other offices.  A broad spectrum of Haitian society
joined in the compromise.
A seventh contested senator not in Lavalas resigned,
and several opposition
parties joined Lavalas and the conservative Catholic
and Protestant church
leadership in forming a consensus Electoral Council to
run the new elections.
Although the initiative reserved a seat on the Council
for the Convergence,
the coalition refused the entreaties of the OAS and
Haitian society to

The most tangible product of the political crises for
the majority of
Haitians that are poor is the deterioration of an
already precarious economy.
Haiti's status as the poorest country in the
hemisphere has solidified, and
most Haitians are unable to afford basic nutrition,
education and healthcare.
The daily struggle to eke out an existence is rendered
harder by the
U.S.-led embargo on development assistance to the
Haitian government, which
has blocked urgently needed initiatives in healthcare,
education and
sanitation.  The sanctions are, for good reason,
highly unpopular in Haiti.
Calling for continued sanctions is perceived as
calling for increased misery
for Haiti's poor majority.  It is, like calling for
the army's return,
protected free speech but political suicide.

The Convergence has identified itself with Haitians'
worst fears by making
the army's return a centerpiece of its political
platform.  It has identified
itself with their frustrations by repeatedly blocking
attempts to resolve the
political crises, and calling for economic sanctions
on its own suffering
citizens.  The Convergence also raised suspicions
when, like the Archbishop
in 1991, it raised its anti-government criticism to a
crest just before
2001's two coup attempts.  All of these actions are
legal, but none of them
are consistent with attempting to court Haitian

The costs of  the Convergence's identification with
the Haitian majority's
fears and frustrations are reflected in its electoral
support.  Parties now
in the coalition won a plurality in the legislature
and a majority of the
mayors' seats in 1995 elections.  After they formed
the Convergence and
adopted the unpopular policies, their electoral
support dwindled to about 12%
in the 2000 elections.  A U.S.-sponsored Gallup Poll
in 2000 found a 4%
credibility rating for the party leadership.   Now
considered the enemy by a
majority of the population, they most likely are
beyond political

The U.S. has supported the Convergence, and its
suicidal trajectory, since it
was formed.  In fact, the International Republican
Institute (IRI), a
creation of Congress, brokered the compromises between
right wing and left
wing parties that created the coalition, and has
continued to provide
substantial economic, organizational and political
support (although they are
not formally part of the Convergence, Roger
Lafontant's URN party, and the
pro-military CREDDO party of dictator Prosper Avril
participated in the IRI
process, and support the Convergence).  The U.S.
provided the Convergence
with powerful leverage last July when the coalition
refused to participate in
the OAS-brokered electoral compromise.  Choosing the
Convergence over the OAS
initiative, which it had previously supported, the
U.S. declared that the
sanctions would not be lifted until the Convergence
was satisfied.  This
converted a 12% vote share into a near veto over
Haiti's political and
economic development.

Such foreign interference in national politics angers
Haitian voters as much
as it would Americans if it happened here.  The anger
is compounded by the
perception that the Convergence's international
support is inversely
proportional to its national support: the more its
policies alienate Haitian
voters, the more help comes in from abroad.  The
situation also engenders
fear: pursuing power by alienating voters does not
inspire confidence that
the party will later respond to democratic checks on
its power.

Haitian democracy needs a functioning political
opposition, as much as it
needs a functioning justice system.  A credible
opposition forces any
government, no matter how popular, to do better.  Yet,
the mere presence of
judicial officials or opposition parties is not
enough.  Judges who wear the
robes but take bribes become accountable to the
bribers, not the law, and
undermine, rather than build a democratic judiciary.
In the same way
opposition parties whose support comes from outside
the electorate become
accountable to those constituencies, and therefore
inherently undemocratic.

The Bush Administration has argued forcefully that
al-Qaeda members are not
entitled to the ordinary protections of U.S. and
international law, because
they themselves do not play by those rules.  Haitians
who supported the
violence against the Convergence facilities on
December 17 made exactly the
same argument: the Convergence does not respect the
principles of democracy,
and therefore is not entitled to the protection of
those principles.  The
argument is dangerous in both cases: once you declare
some human beings
unworthy of the law's protection, it is hard to know
where to stop.  But
criticism of both positions requires an understanding
of the immense fear,
pressure and anger behind them. This understanding is
even more important to
finding an effective alternative course of action.

The U.S. course of action in Haiti should be to
contribute to the democratic
functioning of democratic institutions in Haiti.  If
the U.S. decides to
nurture opposition parties, it should do so on the
basis of their potential
to please Haitian voters, not American policy makers.
The U.S. should also
help the Haitian government help its people, by
resuming direct aid and
ending the embargo at the international financial
institutions.  Part of our
help may be encouraging the Haitian government to
spend the money more
effectively, by fighting corruption and inefficiency,
and ensuring
transparency.  Another part might be pressuring
Lavalas and all political
parties to more aggressively check those committing
violence in their name.
But these governance concerns must be real, and not
covers for dislike of
legitimate Haitian government policy.

The U.S. dislike of Haitian government policy, and its
investment in the
Convergence, has prevented us from taking credit for
our contributions to the
many historic improvements in Haitian society over the
last seven years.
After the army was demobilized in 1995, President
Aristide transferred power
to President Prreview in 1996, the first time one
democratically elected
Haitian President succeeded another.  The feat was
repeated last February,
when President Prreview became the first Haitian
President ever to leave
voluntarily after serving his original term in office,
no more no less.
Although the May 2000 legislative elections were
controversial, they boasted
a record amount of voters voting for a record amount
of candidates, both
indicia of a vibrant democracy.

Even the events of December 17 contain positive
indicators.  The attacking
commando's superior weaponry was repulsed by the
civilian police force, which
the U.S. helped train.  The presence of hundreds of
thousands of people in
the street, willing to put their lives on the line to
preserve the dividends
of democracy, however imperfect, is as strong a
testament to democracy as any.

The U.S. should do what it can to bolster what is best
in Haiti's democracy,
and find democratic ways to discourage what is worst.
Certainly, a
democratic populist government leading a country of
poor people is likely to
challenge U.S. economic and foreign policy, and cause
us some discomfort.
But if the events of the last year have shown us
anything, it is that
assembly workers demanding higher wages, or Caribbean
farmers seeking access
to protected U.S. markets are not the danger.   The
Taliban were not elected
by the Afghan people, but imposed by outside forces
(including the U.S.).
Al-Qaeda's terrorists come, almost exclusively, from
countries with
repressive regimes.  Democracy is not the danger, but
the solution.

Brian Concannon Jr. works for the Bureau des Avocats
Internationaux, a group
of lawyers helping Haitian victims and the judiciary
prosecute human rights

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Injustice feeds on cowardice