The Sorrow of Haiti

On February 28, 2004, in the middle of the night, the US again invaded Haiti. It abducted and forcibly removed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide by its staged coup d’etat and flew him against his will to the Central African Republic. Aristide today remains in exile in South Africa but vows to return. The Haitian people demand he be allowed back and restored as their rightful and legal president.

With the US already stretched beyond its capacity in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and currently condemned worldwide for flouting international law, inviolable Geneva Conventions it’s a signatory to, and our own sacred Bill of Rights, why now Haiti. The country is very small [about 3 times the size of Los Angeles], has a population of about 7.5 million and is the poorest country in the Americas. Why did the US intervene with so much else on its plate? Think back to the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 when the US asserted its exclusive right to dominate the Americas. Now update to the present and a reinterpretation of that Doctrine has arrogantly expanded to cover the entire planet – and outer space. Think of it, the US will tolerate no rival and has now staked its claim [an exclusive franchise] to dominate all other nations and the oceans and the heavens. In an inversion or perversion of Woody Guthrie’s great song for the people – "This Land Is Your Land" – a fitting anthem for US arrogance might be "This Earth is My Earth … this earth [and the outer space above it] was made and now belongs to the USA." That includes Haiti, and sadly for its people that tiny, poor country lies much too close to the US The lament and aphorism of Mexican dictator [from 1876 – 1910] Porfirio Diaz who said……"Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the US" is also true for Haiti and all other countries in the region as well.

    The February, 2004 US invasion was only its latest incursion into that poor and defenseless country. The US did it before in 1915, stayed for 19 years, and caused extreme human suffering and death to the Haitian people. It also did it in 1994, stayed for 5 years, reinstated an overwhelmingly democratically elected President, and then made it impossible for him to govern effectively and be able to serve the interests of the Haitian people, especially after the 2000 parliamentary election which was contested over a handful of parliamentary seats. After the opposition cried foul, the Inter-American Development Bank froze desperately needed loans [already approved] which were never reinstated for the rest of Aristide’s tenure. The IDB also forced the Haitian government to commit to the onerous burden of repaying and servicing past "odious" debt. The debt burden was so great that in 2003 Haiti was forced to send 90% of its foreign reserves to Washington to pay it.

    Now the US government and its military again are setting and directing policy using the fraudulent fig leaf of a so-called UN "peacekeeper" contingent. Who can know how long we’ll now maintain control this time [through a proxy UN force, direct US occupation or just a subservient puppet government] or how much more misery and death we’ll inflict on the benighted and long-suffering Haitian people. Clearly on that February, 2004 night the US again flouted international law with another illegal invasion and subversion of the rights of a sovereign state and its democratically elected president to serve its own roguish imperial interests – a shameless act but sadly hardly new for a nation that’s done it repeatedly throughout its history.

    It first began when the early settlers took native Indian land through force or chicanery and murdered many millions in the process. As the colonies grew, expansion spread west and south and by the 1840s became a policy called "Manifest Destiny" [first used by Jackson Democrats] to promote and justify a strategy and practice of ruthless predatory expansion to include all territory south of Canada, coast to coast, as well as the annexation of Texas and conquest and seizure of half of Mexico. In the Guadalupe-Hidalgo peace treaty with Mexico in 1848, the US "graciously" allowed Mexico to keep half its country [although some US officials wanted it all} – the southern half with the majority Mexican population the US did not want as US citizens, fearing they would pollute the white Christian ethnic North American stock [sound a little like a 19th century Nazi Aryan philosophy of racial purity and superiority?]

    Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt continued US imperial adventures and expansion annexing Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam, and American Samoa after the war with Spain. The Canal Zone was taken a few years later, and after many more years of savage and bloody war, killing somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2 million or more [shades of Vietnam and Iraq], the Philippines finally succumbed and became a US colony. The imperial tradition continued throughout the 20th century, especially after WW II when the US was the only powerful nation left unscathed from the ravages of that brutal war. It took full advantage creating and exploiting the myth of "communist barbarians" at our gates [a post WW II version of Reagan’s later "war on international terrorism" in the 80s and Bush’s "war on terrorism" today – all of them shams to scare the public to allow those in charge the ability to do as they please in "defense" of the nation]. After the Soviet Union collapsed, we desperately needed a new threat but had no problem finding many – Manuel Noriega in Panama, Saddam in Iraq, the North Koreans, Columbian drug lords, Fidel, the Iranian Ayatollahs, Hugo Chavez and anyone else we choose, the only qualification being a head of state unwilling to serve US interests. Jean-Bertrand Aristide tried and failed to do it both ways – to follow US dictates as well as serve his own people as best he could including raising Haiti’s appallingly low minimum wage, disbanding its notoriously brutal military and having the courage to sue France for reimbursement for that country’s 19th century imposed indemnity Aristide now estimated to be $21 billion adjusted for inflation and with 5% compound interest. All that and more was intolerable for the US, so he had to go. Before discussing events and conditions in Haiti today after the coup, let’s go back to the beginning to examine the plight of the Haitian people from the time the Spanish first arrived in 1492.

    Few people in all human history have suffered as much as the people of Haiti. From the arrival of Columbus to the present, the Haitian people have been victims of enslavement, genocidal slaughter [including death from smallpox and other western diseases the local inhabitants had no resistance to], and later brutal exploitation and predation. The indigenous Arawak, or Taino, population suffered near total extinction [from as many as 8 million in 1492 to only 200 50 years later], astonishing even when compared probably to the greatest overall genocide ever that occurred in all the Americas where, according to historian Ward Churchill, the indigenous population of perhaps 100 million was reduced by 97 – 98%. After the Spanish moved to the eastern two thirds of the island, now known as the Dominican Republic, in the early 1600s, the French colonized the western third [Haiti] and repopulated it with black African slaves.

    The French Revolution in 1789 changed everything and inspired the Haitian people, who considered themselves French, to demand their own freedom. Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and others they staged their own Haitian Revolution from 1791 – 1803, defeated the French, and established the first free and independent black republic anywhere on January 1, 1804. Throughout the 1800s the new nation went through intermittent periods of brief enlightened rule and considerable oppression and turmoil. The French eventually regained influence and control over the country’s leadership and affairs and forced the independent nation to pay tribute to France for their freedom and independence, an amount equal to billions in today’s dollars. It was an impossible burden.

    From inception the US never recognized Haiti and embargoed and harassed the new nation for its first 6 decades fearing its freed slaves might inspire a similar revolt here in the south. But the US intended to exercise its influence and dominance in the hemisphere and did so with the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 when it stated that the Americas were no longer open to European colonization and that the US would not interfere in European affairs. Beginning in 1915, the US invaded and occupied Haiti using as a pretext the incredible claim that the Germans [during WW I] sought to occupy the country. The US occupation lasted 19 years until 1934 during which time it ravaged Haitian society and institutions and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity against the defenseless people. The US military routinely committed atrocities, the most infamous being in 1929 when the Marines slaughtered 264 protesting peasants in the town of Les Cayes. "Corvee [or forced] labor" [de facto slavery] was also employed and enforced brutally, and for the first time, the US military [just like today in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere] tested its new weapons including aerial bombing years before the Nazis did it infamously against the Spanish Republican government in Guernica in support of the eventual fascist dictator, General Franco.

    When the first US occupation finally ended, the war crimes against the Haitian people continued under a US trained proxy army which became the Armed Forces of Haiti. Conditions got progressively worse, especially under the "Papa Doc" and then "Baby Doc" Duvalier regimes from 1957 – 1986. "Papa Doc" established a personal and repressive paramilitary group, the Ton Ton Machoute, to intimidate and terrorize the Haitian people. When the people finally overthrew the "Baby Doc" dictatorship in 1986, a series of provisional governments ruled until 1990 when Haitians in an election judged fair and free elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide president with 67% of the vote, an unexpected shock to the US Aristide took office in February, 1991, but his time in office was cut short by a September coup involving the still intact and active Ton Ton Machoute and supported by the US For the next 3 years the military ruled and exercised a renewed reign of terror against the Haitian people using paramilitary death squads as a favored technique. The principle terror group was called FRAPH, led by Toto Constant, an admitted CIA agent who took his orders from Washington. Constant now lives in New York, safe from prosecution for his crimes, but apparently also is involved now with the new puppet government and its savagery against the people. During this time Aristide lived in exile in the US

    The Clinton administration finally struck a deal with Aristide in 1994, and used a vote by the UN Security Council it engineered to send a UN [largely US] international contingent to Haiti ending military dominance and restoring constitutional rule. One month later President Aristide and other elected officials returned to Haiti. The "peacekeeper" contingent entered and remained in Haiti until 1999 not to restore democracy but to insure political and economic continuity as dictated by IMF instituted neo-liberal structural adjustment policies of privatizations, debt servicing and cuts in vital domestic social programs. The US struck deal allowed Aristide to return to nominal power as long as the policies of the ousted military junta remained essentially unchanged. As mentioned earlier, Aristide tried to do it both ways and failed [by US standards]. He demobilized the army, pursued human rights violators, respected human rights and freedoms and tried to raise the disgracefully low minimum wage. In short, he governed like a "democrat."

    When the full and true story of Jean-Bertrand Aristide is finally told, it will portray a noble and humble man who gave of himself honorably to serve the interests of all the people of Haiti. His only failure was his inability to overcome the brutal and corrupt power of the US and its determination to see him fail. And that determination never diminished even though, hard as it was to do, his government complied with its obligation to service its debt with its external creditors in hopes of being granted new loans by the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank to do so. This new and earlier funding [intermittently frozen and then cut off completely after the 2000 election] led to a spiraling of Haiti’s overall debt and debt servicing obligation forcing the country to cut back its already insufficient attention to basic social services for the people in desperate need of them. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and in 2000 had a shocking estimated unemployment rate of between 60 – 80%. Today with the extreme level of violence and turmoil it may be even higher, and the country is a total economic and social disaster. I’ll return to events today shortly.

    In 1995, a pro-Aristide multi-party coalition called the Lavalas Political Organization took power with an overwhelming majority in parliamentary elections. In 1996, with Aristide unable by Haitian law to succeed himself, Rene Preval, an Aristide ally and Prime Minister in 1991 won the presidential election with 88% of the vote, again shocking the US After several years of political gridlock, Aristide was reelected President with 92% of the vote [representing the Lavalas Family Party which he formed in 1996] in November 2000 and took office in February 2001. Opponents immediately claimed the election process was unfair because of the calculation of percentages for the runoff election in 7 senate races. This was a minor technical matter not affecting the balance of power and finally resolved a year later when the 7 senators resigned. The opposition also claimed Lavalas failed to end corruption and was unable to improve the Haitian economy. After several years of US instigated and supported opposition turmoil, late 2003 scheduled elections couldn’t be held, and Aristide refused demands to step down. That fateful choice turned out to be the beginning of the end of the Aristide presidency and the Lavalas party.

    Serious anti-Aristide protests began in January 2004 including violent clashes in Port-au-Prince. In February, an armed insurrection erupted in Gonaives that a local group may have instigated. A militant gang, calling itself the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti, then used this opportunity to join the uprising. The Revolutionary Front was a paramilitary army which was formed, heavily armed, trained and funded by the US in the neighboring Dominican Republic. The so-called "National Endowment for Democracy" had been funding the civilian opposition and may have also aided the paramilitaries. In addition, the CIA, based on its 50 year history of fomenting insurrections and coups, may have been heavily involved as well. The rebel gang included former members of the hated and feared FRAPH. It was led by Guy Philippe, a former police chief involved in the 1991 coup ousting President Aristide, and FRAPH and former Ton Ton Macoute member Jodel Chamblain, guilty of years of terrorism against the Haitian people. Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, also guilty of years of terrorizing the Haitian people, may also have been involved. President Aristide had disbanded the Haitian army after replacing the military dictatorship in 1991 and only had local lightly armed police facing a superior force it was no match for. The rebels swept across the country, first taking control of Gonaives, then Cap-Haitien [Haiti’s second largest city] and finally Port-au-Prince right after the US instigated coup with President Aristide already in the Central African Republic.

    As a proxy force for the US, the rebels were serving the US goal of again making Haiti a US colony [like Puerto Rico}, supplying wage slave or serfdom labor, enriching the local business interests and US corporations, and run by a puppet regime now and henceforth behind the false facade of a nominal democratically elected government. In addition to its total of over 700 known military bases worldwide today in 38 countries and a military presence in at least 153 countries, the US also is attempting to militarize the Caribbean and South American regions to control Haiti and its Central American neighbors and to intimidate and put political pressure on Venezuela, Cuba and any other Central or South American country that might elect a less than subservient leader. What’s happening in the South American Andean region under "Plan Columbia" [to be pressured even more with a new base in Paraguay that has angered its neighbor, Brazil] is what’s planned for Haiti, Central America and elsewhere in the region. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US in Haiti plans a permanent military presence in the region to assure its imperial goals succeed, and presently is minimizing its interest and presence behind the fig leaf of so-called UN "peacekeepers" from other countries.

    In Haiti today, "peacekeeping" is Orwellian language concealing a brutal reign of terror against the Haitian people, the Lavalas party and all its members and all others seen as potential threats to US policy. The Haitian people today, just like the people in Iraq, face daily cold-blooded murder, torture, rape and sexual abuse, hunger, a complete breakdown and absence of all essential social services as well as brutal crackdowns and conditions of utter depravity, all served up by the so-called "peacekeepers" [from countries including Brazil, Canada, France, the US -behind the scenes but very much in charge – and others}. Lavalas party leaders and members not already murdered or imprisoned are currently in hiding and are being hunted down. Puppet US installed acting "president" Gerard Latortue [brought in from Florida to assume his role] jailed at first without charge Lavalas Prime Minister Yvon Neptune [he has now been charged] and Father Gerard Jean-Juste, both seen as threats to US interests because of their service to and overwhelming support by the Haitian people. They remain there under cruel and brutal conditions, and without intervention by or strong demand and pressure from the world community will probably die there. Months ago Yvon Neptune underwent a hunger strike and several times was reported to be near death. This writer does not know more about his condition today, but apparently he is still alive and still in prison.

    Examples of what’s happening daily are assaults and cold-blooded murder carried out against alleged Lavalas supporters by the Haitian National Police {PNH], FRAPH thugs and UN "peacekeepers." Multiple attacks have been carried out in Cite Soleil, Bel Air, Solino and elsewhere where innocent Haitians have been shot and killed. Frequent street protests against the puppet government have been broken up violently, and known Lavalas supporters and officials are tracked down and when found either murdered or imprisoned without charge and without recourse to legal or other help. Perhaps the most blatant example of brutal violence against innocent Haitians took place on August 21, 2005 in a soccer field in Gran Ravin-Martissant in front of 5000 soccer fans. As many as 50 Haitians were massacred by the PNH and red-shirted killers. When a shot was fired, people panicked and ran and were either shot or hacked to death with machetes. Although there was a UN post across the street, no UN "peacekeepers" were there to protect the victims.

    In addition to all the violence and abuses detailed above, Haitian men, women and children are victims of human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation [of women and children for forced prostitution], forced labor [de facto slavery], debt bondage and chattel slavery. UNICEF estimates as many as 300,000 Haitian children are affected plus many thousands of women. Many additional thousands of men also have been and still are being forcibly taken to the Dominican Republic and other countries to work as "sugar slaves." Modern-day slavery is a major problem for Haitians today and also for many poor in other developing countries where the masses of impoverished people are easily exploitable while their governments {including in Haiti] do nothing to stop it. As many as 30 million people worldwide are thought to be affected.

    Sometime this fall the US plans to hold supposedly "democratic" elections to be run by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council {CEP]. The process is hopelessly fraudulent and flawed, and precise information on all that’s happening is unclear. What is known is that voter eligibility roles are being "electorally cleansed" of all "political dissidents" [meaning Lavalas/Aristide members and supporters], and no anti-government activity is being allowed in the streets. Any occurring is being put down violently. Also, the number of polling stations have been reduced from 12,000 in earlier elections all across the country to 800 this time, eliminating those in rural areas where most of the poor are. In addition, the puppet government designated "political dissidents" have been prohibited from running for office [again with the obvious meaning}. Furthermore, expected voter registration totals at election time range from about 7% of pre-"electorally cleansed" eligible voters to about 50% of eligible voters post "cleansing." This will be another example of what economist and media and social critic Edward Herman calls a "Demonstration Election." Professor Herman wrote a book in the 1980s documenting sham elections in Nicaragua and other countries, controlled and "rigged" by the US to be sure their "acceptable" candidate won. The process has been repeated many times, most recently in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and soon in Haiti. Many people here in the US believe, as do I, that this country also is guilty of staging "demonstration elections" as seen in 2000 when Democratic candidate Gore won Florida and was elected President, but 5 US Supreme Court Justices refused to allow a total state recount to prove it, effectively annulling the Florida and true electoral college vote to chose their candidate, Republican Bush, as president. The process repeated again in 2004 in Ohio and elsewhere, this time with "rigged" electronic voting machines the main, but not only culprit, again selecting Republican Bush. The fall, 2005 election in Haiti is even more out of line as only those candidates known to be subservient to US imperial interests are allowed on the ballot. The Haitian people want none of it and it remains to be seen how many of those left unpurged from the rolls will actually turn out and vote. So much for democracy, but it certainly will be portrayed that way.

    Long before the 2004 coup deposing President Aristide, the US corporate media began a process of demonizing him, unjustly accusing him of corruption, conducting a fraudulent election and other crimes and abuse. Just as it always does before, during and after all US incursions against other countries, the dominant corporate media unquestioningly backed the US position, even with no credible evidence to support it. Instead of investigating and reporting the facts honestly as good journalists should, the media giants all lined up as dutiful and complicit flacks and acted as mere transmissions agents of state propaganda. As a result, the public was told and believes lies and has no idea what’s really happening or why. Today the major media reports almost nothing about Haiti, and the public is unaware that the daily horror happening throughout Iraq is also happening in Haiti. Haiti has become a black hole, out of sight and out of mind, with little hope of relief. The US public knows nothing, and the world community, except for the CARICOM nations in the region, doesn’t care or act responsibly. As a result, the long-suffering Haitian people pay a dear price. But these courageous people have endured for over 500 years, and if their past and present strength is prologue, they will never give up until they are free at last from any colonial master.

Steve Lendman can be reached at

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