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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Regime Change Comes to Haiti - Part II: French Hospitality

"Where's Jean-Bertrand? I Hear He's Locked Himself in his CAR!!!"
"France Exchanges Baby Doc for Titid!"
"Aristide Takes Lessons From Bongo, Bokassa, and Bozize in Bangui!"



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Pres. for Life Bongo

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Pres. for Life Bozize

Prresident Aristide, ousted from power just a week ago on February 29, has been desperately seeking asylum from his friend Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's President, who probably wishes the whole issue would just go away, but will no doubt grant it -- at least after the upcoming national RSA elections, on April 14. Several other countries in the Caribbean, like Panama and Costa Rica, were also willing to offer asylum. That seems only fair. After all, in the mid-1990s, Panama provided refuge to former Haitian general Raoul Cedras, the instigator of the first coup against Aristide, with his ocean-front apartment paid for by the US Government. In Aristide's case, US asylum was never offered; after all, he had never served in the FRAPH.

Apparently, however, someone decided that it would be more convenient to park Aristide in West Africa, 6200 miles away, rather than in Panama, a country that has regularly scheduled airline flights and is just 800 miles from Port-au-Prince.

Pending South African asylum, then, Aristide was compelled to accept temporary quasi-house arrest in the Central African Republic ("CAR"), a pathetic little submerging market that is even poorer than Haiti. This first-class hospitality was arranged for him by Dominique de Villepin, France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and France's favorite West African dictator, Gabon’s Omar Bongo.

As we'll see here, France has a long history of making such "special arrangements" for friends and foes alike -- including, in Haiti's case, a safe haven for "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who ran Haiti from 1971 to 1986, and a nasty, ultimately fatal imprisonment for Toussaint L'Ouverture, Haitii's George Washington, at the hands of a disgruntled Napoleon, who evidently never quite forgave the Haitian for beating his vaunted Army several times over. As Aristide contemplates Bangui's lakes and gardens, at least he can be grateful that he is not freezing to death in a prison cell in the Jura Mountains.

FRENCH HOSPITALITY

One of those who reportedly helped with Aristide's hastily arranged accomodations in the CAR, Omar Bongo, 67, is Africa's second longest serving "President for Life," and one of France's oldest and closest allies in Francophone Africa. He has ruled his impoverished-though-oil-rich country with an iron hand since 1967, with the help of Moroccan body guards and French security experts. As described in SubmergingMarkets™’ recent article on the Elf scandal, in the process, he developed an incestuous, mutually-lucrative relationship with top officials at Elf-Aquitaine, (formerly France’s leading oil company and now part of Total SA), as well as with leading French politicians like Jacque “The Crook.” He also developed private banking relationshpis with leading French and US banks -- including Citibank-NY, where he has reportedly secreted more than $180 million. No sentimental democrat or populist, Bongo has also arranged his country's political system so that he can remain in power until at least 2012 -- assuming that he lives that long, and that the fickle French don't turn on him.

In Aristides' case, according to one report, Bongo was able to prevail on his good friend Francois Bozize, CAR’s former Army Chief and current dictator, to open the door at least temporarily. According to another report, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called Bozize directly, with just 20 minutes notice, when the plane was already close to landing in CAR, to tell him that Aristide was about to arrive! France and Bongo had helped Bozize seize power from CAR's previous (elected) leader, Ange-Félix Patassé, in a March 2003 coup. That was CAR’s ninth coup since it became “independent” of France in 1960. Bozize remains utterly dependent on French aid, and is undoubtedly very concerned about his own stability, so the CAR is probably one of the few countries in the world where the arrangements for such a "hot guest" could be made so quickly. He and Aristide may have much to talk about. Minding their masters' voice, however, Aristide’s new hosts in CAR have already cautioned Aristide to curb his criticisms of the US and France.

Between his own stints in power, the CAR’s General Bozize was permitted to take up refuge in France-proper. So was Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko. So, too, from 1983 to 1986, in Haudricourt, northwest of Paris, was Jean-Bedel Bokassa, CAR's "Emperor" from 1965 to 1979, who also seized power in a French-backed coup. Bokassa, a French Army veteran and the recipient of the Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre, was famous not only for his 17 wives, for crowning himself Emperor, and for presenting former French President Giscard d'Estaing frequent gifts of diamonds and hunting trips, but also for slaughtering at least 100 school children who had refused to wear the school uniforms that one of his companies had made for them. He then dined on their flesh. (He was later tried for cannibalism.) This proved too much even for France, which in a rare display of progressive interventionism, removed him from power in September 1979.

While in the CAR’s capital, Bangui, Aristide might ask to visit the prison where the slaughter of these children took place in May 1979, as well as Bokassa's huge refrigerator.
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Emperor Bokassa

France also welcomed former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby” Duvalier with open arms after his 1986 ouster. He and his father had ruled disastrously from 1957 on, helping themselves to a great deal of the country's wealth. So they clearly met France's rigorous admissions standards.

The warm welcome was also facilitated by the expensive villa Baby Doc purchased at Grasse, in the south of France, and the several hundred millions dollars that he diverted to leading French and Swiss banks. After Aristide’s sudden exit, Duvalier, 53, lost no time in voicing interest in returning to Haiti. This led some to suspect that he may have helped to finance the “Haitian contras.” But "Baby Doc" has also gone through an expensive divorce, and may be in poor health, so we will just have to see.

In any case, France has certainly made quite a distinctive contribution to Third World development over the years, by helping to make the world safe for dictators like the Bozizes, Bongos, Bokassas, Mobutus, and Duvaliers -- giving them refuge in continental France until they are ready to return home and, at least in several cases, establish new Life Presidencies. Aristide and his family may never qualify for the kind of hospitality that France reserves for dictators, however. If one is a relatively poor, democratically-elected, populist leader, with no bank accounts and no chateau, but with powerful enemies, one is not welcome in France. After all, what would be the profit in it?......

In Haiti’s case there is also another great French tradtion. This was established by Napoleon's memorable betrayal, seizure, imprisonment, and ultimate murder-by-neglect of Haiti’s national liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1803, in violation of a promise of safe conduct. When questioned about this years later, when Napoleon himself had been imprisoned on St. Helena, he remarked, "What could the death of one wretched Negro mean to me?"

Even now, there is a faint whiff of similar French disdain toward Aristide, as expressed by Foreign Minister de Villepin's haughty criticisms last week. Few Haitians were even aware that France was still so interested in their affairs. We noted the opportunity that this situation affords to Paris for an inexpensive rapprochement with the US. In addition, however, one senses that to this day, there is a special French animus reserved for rebellious Haitian blacks -- the kind who dare to contort the French language beyond recognition, demand reparations for injustices that "Old Europe" can no longer can even remember, and once or twice even soundly trounced its greatest general's army!

Of course, we cannot forget that Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and "Grand Master of the Order of the Sun" Roger Noriega, a Cuban-American, were also involved in these decisions. So there could not possibly be any question of racial prejudice here, at least on the part of the Americans....except perhaps for the mutual contempt that "house Negroes" and "field Negroes" often have for each other.

CONCLUSION

Aristide now claims that the US, which leased the 757 jet that took him to Africa, never informed him that he would be dropped off in the CAR. There are also reports that on his arrival in the CAR, he was accompanied by a detachment of 60 US Marines. This seems a little excessive for a "voluntary departure." Aristide also claims – like Hugo Chavez did after the attempted April 2002 coup in Venezuela -- that he never resigned voluntarily, but was pressured to flee – or even effectively “kidnapped” -- by US officials.
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ProConsul Powell

The US Government and Colin Powell were evidently quite embarrassed by these charges, and annoyed that Aristide's wardens in the CAR did not make it more difficult for him to procure an international phone line. They have dismissed these accusations as “complete nonsense,” and blamed Aristide for the entire crisis.

But Colin and the USG are having more than a few credibility problems these days. What do we expect them to say? Even an outside observer with no particular brief for Aristide may be forgiven for having a few doubts. CARICOM has called for an independent international inquiry to establish just what happened -- but don't hold your breath. However, it may not really matter. Even on the face of it, as we've seen, the US' unwlllingness to defend Aristide was more than pressure enough.

Did the US really have an obligation to save Aristide from the wolves around him? After all, Haiti is not the 51st US state, and many Americans no doubt believe that he got what he deserved, after years of antagonizing his opponents. From this angle, he should be grateful for the rescue and the free ride to to the CAR.

However, this perspective is far too narrow. It is not as if the US has been a neutral bystander with respect to Haiti's development. The US embargoed the country from 1804 to 1862, at first to placate France, and then Southern slave owners, who feared the successful example of an independent nation of blacks. The US intervened repeatedly in Haiti's affairs, including the continuous occupation from 1915 to 1934, when, among other things, Citibank actually exercised complete and very profitable control over Haiti's money supply, national bank and customs house. The US established and trained the Haitian Army, which subsequently caused the country so much grief. We tolerated and supported the Duvaliers during their 29 years in power, as well as the military juntas that held power after they left. As noted above, The CIA was deeply involved with the people who organized the 1991 coup and created the FRAPH.

Only at the end of all this, partly just to contain Haitian immigration but partly out of a justifiable sense of responsibility, did we intervene in 1994 and restore the duly-elected Aristide to the Presidency. Taking this one step toward democratization, however, was not enough to insure democracy's success. And just because we don't like the particular choices that Haitians have made for their leaders, does not justify our walking away from the duty -- in this specific situation -- to see those choices through.

Instead, it now appears that the Bush Administration has decided to put this annoying populist Aristide behind us once and for all. At the same time, it probably also hopes that a quick US intervention, followed up quickly by UN surrogates, will avoid yet another messy immigration crisis in the middle of a US election year. Many Bush I Adminstration veterans no doubt still have nightmares about those troubling days in 1991-92, when Pappy just wanted to win Florida and 40,000 determined Haitian boat people started showing up on Miami's beaches, fleeing the nasty Cedras dictatorship.

The new approach does present an opportunity for self-important-but-increasingly-insecure countries like France, Canada, and Chile, which just volunteered more tha 120 troops, to come skulking back to the “coalition of the willing." I also permit recipients of USAID, IDB and World Bank funding – a high fraction of which actually gets spent in the First World, or on locals who have above-average incomes – to tap these sources again. There will also be many other benefits to the business elites, security forces, local politicians on the "right," "free trade zone" sweat shop employers, and perhaps even M-16 salesmen.
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Indeed, the only beneficiaries who may be left out of this picture are ordinary Haitians – the seventy percent that still survives on less than $1 per day, and constitutes the core of Aristide’s supporters. Many of them have suffered directly from all the upheavals, and Aristide as well as his high-minded opponents share responsibility for their inability to settle their differences peaceably.

But it is also clear is that these millions of ordinary Haitians have just been disenfranchised again. However imperfect Aristide was, however discomforting to First World interests, he was their voice, a voice they've now lot. This is a form of political decapitalization that no amount of "economic assistance" can compensate for.

Did I remember to say that, for all its woes, Haiti is a remarkable place, with millions of people eking out a living on the very borders of existence, but also quite often managing to have a good time, creating the most wonderful art, music, humor, and community spirit? Unfortunately, for all its "independence," Haiti's fate has always been heavily influenced by outside forces.

Haitians of all political persuasians now eagerly await the next installment of neoimperialism's grand design for their tiny, impoverished, heart-breaking, "independent" republic.


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© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™2004. Not for quotation or attribution without express consent.


March 6, 2004 at 05:16 PM | Permalink

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