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a737: re: Background documents from a single perspective (fwd)

From: kevin pina <kpinbox@hotmail.com>

There is often so much background material presented on this list from a
single perspective I thought I would contribute to widening the dialogue by
posting this excellent article. It is especially interesting as I think it
contributes to understanding the recent debate on the list over the role of
the US/UN forces in Haiti following the landing of troops. It also is
interesting in that we can see the evolution of certain players represented
in today's debate over Haiti, most notably the NCHR. Ain't history

Haitian Lament : Killing Me Softly
by Dan Coughlin
The Nation, March 1, 1999

Haitians call secondhand clothes pepe', pronounced "peh-peh." In an earlier
time these were called Twoomann and Kenedi because it was under those US
Presidents that Haitian tailors and shoemakers first began to see used
T-shirts, sweaters, pants and sneakers dumped into the country. In 1998, US
firms exported more than 16.5 million pounds of used clothes to Haiti, and
just about everybody wears them. Today, more than four years after the
20,000 troops of Operation Restore Democracy ousted the military rule of
Lieut. Gen. Raoul Cedras and restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
Haitians describe what Washington delivered as demokrasi pepe'.
A glance around and one easily understands why Haitians see their country in
tatters. Under US and UN tutelage, the economy is worse off in some key
respects than even during the 1991-94 international embargo against the
Cedras regime. The government lies paralyzed, riven by a split between a
neoliberal parliamentary faction and President Rene Preval. For the past
twenty-one months there has been no Prime Minister and no formal government.
But this political turmoil has not occurred in a vacuum. The electoral and
political processes, once, for a brief time, the vehicles for social change
and mass participation, have been manipulated to serve US interests and have
little legitimacy in the eyes of most Haitians. Indeed, more than 90 percent
of registered voters have consistently refused to participate in the panoply
of US/UN-financed elections. Meanwhile, the new US-built Haitian National
Police (HNP) is under heavy criticism for human rights abuses. And despite
what, in 1994, President Clinton called the "campaign of rape, torture and
mutilation" under the dictatorship, not one major military or paramilitary
figure has been tried and imprisoned for a coup-related crime. Instead, US
and UN forces have actively protected former soldiers and death squad
leaders, while grassroots activists are harassed, imprisoned, even killed.
Poor Haitians are thus not among those who hail the $2 billion US/UN joint
operation as a success story. Instead, they see it as part of the continuity
of US policy and undemocratic traditions. "The objectives sought by the coup
d'etat are the same for the US and UN occupants today," argues Yannick
Etienne, a leading trade union organizer in Port-au-Prince's low-wage
assembly zones. "That is to preserve the old social order, impose a
neoliberal order and block popular demands for the fundamental
transformation of Haiti." Over the past four years US and UN forces have
moved aggressively to shore up Haiti's ancien regime. While Preval and the
parliamentary faction, who represent two wings of Aristide's old Lavalas
movement, have been locked in a political struggle, Washington has
reorganized and refinanced the putschist political parties into what it
hopes will be a future governing coalition-a far more reliable partner than
the once-powerful social movement that overthrew the twenty-nine-year
Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986 and three subsequent military
dictatorships in the late eighties, and then produced a radical priest as
It is generally believed that, barring assassination, Aristide will again
run for president in 2001, and win. The 46-year-old former priest now says
his advocacy of the US/UN intervention was an error. After being restored to
power, he quickly earned the enmity of the Haitian political class and the
Washington national security establishment by more than doubling the minimum
wage, abolishing the Haitian Army, blocking the privatization process and,
in a final parting act before Preval took over in February 1996, recognizing
Cuba. Today, not only is he the only Haitian politician with any serious
social base; he remains the only political leader who challenges US policy.
Still, Haiti's popular organizations remain divided on Aristide. His
political style is criticized as too personal, and he has never been
accountable to a political organization that aims to remake Haiti
fundamentally. Indeed, the demobilization of the popular movement after the
US intervention could not have been accomplished without his political
"The occupation has been an expropriation of the democratic project,"
explains Camille Chalmers, a former chief of staff for Aristide who now
heads the Haitian Platform for the Promotion of Alternative Development.
"It's no longer a democracy struggled for by the Haitian people. Today, it's
the United States and the international community that are wanting to build
their project." As a result, what the UN calls "major unrest" has repeatedly
erupted. In November 1995, one year after foreign troops landed,
demonstrators shut down four major towns and erected barricades on all main
roads nationwide. Angry at the refusal of international forces to disarm
former soldiers of the hated Haitian Army, protesters burned effigies of US
soldiers and searched cars and trucks, including UN vehicles, for weapons.
Popular anger against the occupation and the IMF austerity policies that
have accompanied it reached such proportions in January 1997 that a one-day
general strike calling for the removal of foreign troops paralyzed the
country. Strikers rejected the two defining features of Haitian life during
occupation-laviche, the high cost of living, and insekerite, the armed
activity of former soldiers and their civilian allies. Faced with popular
protest from below and squeezed by the demands of international lenders from
above, three governments have come and gone in the past four years.
Despite this turbulence-or perhaps because of it-last November the UN
Security Council renewed its military mandate for the sixth time. While
troop strength has been ratcheted down from the peak level of 23,000 in
1994, 285 UN police and some 500 US troops are stationed in Haiti
indefinitely, according to the Clinton Administration. The renewal openly
flouted the will of Haiti's legislature, which, in a rare session last year,
passed a law outlawing the foreign military and police presence. The UN,
which lobbied heavily against the bill, insists that it doesn't apply to its
A key reason for the opposition to foreign troops has been their refusal to
fulfill their mandate of establishing a "secure and stable" environment.
Former soldiers and attaches of the disbanded Haitian Army continue to
terrorize villages, towns and urban slums. And they've done so with US and
UN protection. International forces have vigorously obstructed the arrest of
scores of senior coup officials, attaches and right-wing political leaders.
In one case, US and UN forces blocked President Aristide's communications
links with Haitian judicial officials during an attempted arrest of former
dictator Gen. Prosper Avril. (A US federal court has ordered Avril to pay
$41 million in restitution to his torture victims.) Meanwhile, the Clinton
Administration continues to provide a haven for Emmanuel Constant, the CIA
asset and head of the death squad FRAPH. It also refuses to release 150,000
pages of documents seized from army and FRAPH offices. And as in
Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and Nicaragua, the US alliance with the Haitian
right has been accompanied by a wave of drug trafficking that now makes
Haiti a crucial pass on the cocaine highway and corrupts all major
institutions. US officials report that in 1997,19 percent of the cocaine
coming into the United States passed through Haiti, up from 5 percent in
1996. Moreover, significant portions of the Haitian National Police are
deeply involved in the foreign cocaine trade, according to US and Haitian
officials and human rights groups.
As for the putschists, they have enriched themselves on lucrative contracts
to provide the occupying forces with everything from housing and banking
services to clean laundry, ice and translators. Madame Max Adolphe, for
instance, the sadistic head of the Tonton Macoutes under "Papa Doc"
Duvalier, collected a monthly rent check from US Special Forces for the use
of her compound. As one young militant put it, "The pot of rice gets cooked
in the name of the children, but it's the adults who eat."
The tune was very different in the fall of 1994, when the 10th Mountain
Division marched into Haiti's cities and Special Forces A-teams fanned out
into the countryside. "Down, down, down to violence. Long live peace," went
one US Psy Ops jingle that played on Haitian radio. "We'll find democracy,
for everyone to work, learn to read and write, for everyone to find health."
Vengeance, or people's justice, would only scare investors and discourage
international aid, the US and UN repeated. Reconciliation was the key to
jobs and economic recovery. But as in Panama and Nicaragua, promises of
reconstruction were never kept.
Instead, Haiti was forced to accept an IMF regimen that required slashing
tariffs, laying off state employees and selling the most profitable
state-run industries to foreign corporations as the price for Aristide's
return and $1.8 billion in loans and grants. Prices for basic commodities
like food and fuel have soared, localized famines have occurred and the
country's debt has ballooned more than 60 percent since 1994. On a human
level, one in two preschool children goes hungry and one in eight dies.
"In the name of fiscal discipline, what is being sacrificed is the ability
of the country to function," argues an economist with a leading multilateral
bank. "How are you going to transport the mangoes to Port-au-Prince for
export if there are no roads? How are you going to increase the level of
education so there are more options than the maquilas?" Equally alarming is
that, with the virtual abolition of tariffs, tiny Haiti has become one of
the most open markets in the hemisphere, ranking among those countries that
have generated the largest trade surpluses for the United States.
Like the US occupation earlier in this century, the most enduring
institutional legacy of this fin de siecle occupation is the security
apparatus. And as with all other key aspects of Haitian political life,
Washington has retained an extraordinary degree of control. A multi-agency
US group selected each recruit and determined the design, training and
financing of the 6,500-strong HNP. More than 50 percent of the top police
commissioners are recycled Haitian Army personnel, according to US and
Haitian officials. United States trainers placed soldiers they considered
reliable in a number of key units and systematically purged a group of
reformist army officers who had refused to support the 1991 coup and joined
President Aristide in exile.
The results have been disastrous. "Members of this US-trained force have
committed serious abuses, including torture and summary executions," said a
1997 report by Human Rights Watch and the National Coalition for Haitian
Rights. Since the HNP was first deployed in 1995, the total number of people
it has killed runs into the hundreds. In 1996 twelve young political
activists were massacred in a UN-backed attack on their neighborhood.
Victims of police violence report torture, including the use of electric
shocks, as well as routine beatings with fists, clubs, pistols and boots.
Despite the HNP's putative role as a civilian force, its officers have
received training from the CIA and US Special Forces, and from an array of
international military forces. The United States has also built heavily
armed paramilitary units. Outfitted in all-black battle-dress uniforms, body
armor and masks, they routinely conduct "anti-crime" patrols. One of their
first deployments was to protect Haiti's flour mill after it was privatized
in a deal with a consortium including US giants Continental Grain and the
Seaboard Corporation for $9 million, a token sum according to opponents. The
paramilitaries have also targeted popular organizations; the Milot Peasants
Movement and the Port-au-Prince women's clinic, Solidarite Fanm Ayisyen, for
example, had their offices trashed and valuable equipment destroyed by the
new police.
Through all of this, political opposition has continued, but the liberation
movement was seriously weakened by repression during the coup period coupled
with the flight of many key leaders to Canada and the United States, where
most have remained. After Aristide's return, many local and regional popular
leaders took government posts and, in the name of reconciliation, moved to
institutionalize-and end-the political struggle of the post-Duvalier period.
Still, many groups remain organized and active, whether under the banner of
Ti Legliz, the "little church" of the Haitian liberation theology movement,
or as women's clinics or peasant associations like Tet Kole Ti Peyizan
Ayisyen (Together Little Haitian Peasants). Such is the power of these
individuals and organizations that they've been able to launch general
strikes and inhibit the full application of the neoliberal model in Haiti.
Early in the occupation, Col. Mark Boyatt, commander of US Special Forces,
held two-way radio "fireside chats" with his A-teams deployed in rural
Haiti. "This is your kingdom," he told them. "Mold it."
Boyatt was not exaggerating. Every strategic area of Haitian life has been
monopolized and indelibly shaped by US and UN military and economic power,
and almost always with the same arrogance. The result is a profound
degradation of Haitian society. The new security apparatus has proved itself
incapable of dealing with crime and insecurity, but brutal against popular
protests. The scorched-earth economic program has pried open Haiti to
international capital and enriched a small class of gran manje, or big
eaters, while destroying Haiti's ability to alleviate, even marginally, the
most extreme poverty in the Americas. The impunity enjoyed by the former
death squad leaders and army officers, many of whom committed violence that
legal scholars classify as "crimes against humanity," has made a mockery of
accountability and the rule of law. And hanging over everything, like a
sword of Damocles, are the demons of the past-the return to Macoutism and
dictatorship. Although in January some parliamentarians warned of a possible
Preval dictatorship, the fact is that the only players in Haiti with such a
potential are those decidedly undemocratic elements under the sway of the
United States.
Pepe', a Creole word reportedly derives from paix, French for "peace." More
than a decade ago priests and other aid donors would shout, "Paix, paix" to
the maddened crowds that fought for handouts in church courtyards or village
squares. The rejected rags, some originally made in Port-au-Prince's
assembly zones, would temporarily clothe the naked and mufffle the cries of
the poor. What Washington policy-makers fail to understand today, as they
did in 1991, is that a demokrasi pepe or ekonomi pepe will not solve the
crisis in Haiti. "We cannot live like this," notes trade unionist Yannick
Etienne. "We need an authentic democracy, constructed by the people,
reflecting the demands of the people."

Dan Coughlin covered Haiti for InterPress Service from the UN and
Port-au-Prince from 1992 to 1996. He is now news director of Pacifca Radio.

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