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Thursday, March 04, 2004

Regime Change Comes to Haiti - Part I: --- Criminal Contras and The Offers That You Can't Refuse

"130 Dead and Counting - Was It Worth It? "200 Years of Liberty! -- 33 Coups, 5 US Military Interventions, and the Worst Poverty in the Americas!""

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Dye mon, gen mon. (Over the mountains, more mountains) Byen mal ne pas la mo. Very bad isn’t dead (“Things can get worse.”) --Haitian Proverbs A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything. -- Malcolm X
On January 1, 2004, Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide welcomed South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki to Port-au-Prince, the only significant world leader who joined him to celebrate Haiti’s two hundred years of “independence” from France (as one of its formerly most lucrative colonies), and Haiti’s status as the world’s oldest surviving black republic – complete with 32 coup d’etats, 5 US military interventions, 10-15 percent of US-inbound cocaine traffic, and the lowest per capita income level, the most poverty, and the highest rate of HIV/AIDs infection in the Western Hemisphere. Thabo experienced the side-effects of such conditions first-hand; during a visit to the northern city of Gonaives, one of his helicopters was reportedly fired upon, and, even though he wasn't in it at the time, his security guards evacuated the area and cancelled further trips to that region. Just three months later, it was Aristide and his family that had to be evacuated. Escorted by US Marines and an indeterminate number of French troops, they were unceremoniously spirited out of Port-au-Prince in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, effectively deposed for the second time in thirteen years. Aristede now has the dubious distinction of having been removed from power under, and perhaps by, two different Bush Administrations – the first time in September 1991, by way of a Haitian military coup that is widely believed to have been CIA-supported, and this time, on February 29, 2004, by way of a “resign or die” safe conduct offer that was abetted by two prodigal US allies, France and Canada. Of course Aristide has many shortcomings, including his divisive leadership style, his dubious former associates, his appetite for bizarre proposals like the “French colonial reparations” scheme, his tolerance of armed thugs in the Lavalas Family party, and the “fundamentally flawed” May 2000 elections (according to the OAS and Human Rights Watch) that gave Lavalas temporary control of Haiti’s parliament, but also contributed significantly to the current crisis. Most important, over time, it has become less and less clear even to his followers what he actually stands for, beyond populist rhetoric. Regardless of what we may think of Aristide and his followers, however, the recent behavior of the US, France, Canada, and indeed, the UN, with respect to Haiti has been inexcusable, from the standpoint of strengthening Haitian democracy. As discussed below, rather than intervene quickly in early February with a limited show of force that would have easily deterred further violence, the US and its allies temporized. Ultimately this gave the Haitian “opposition,” whose own track record of support for democracy is very mixed, the power to dictate Aristide's resignation letter. That is a power that the opposition, even now, would almost certainly not command at the ballot box. The US and France also conditioned safe passage on Aristide's signing this letter, and then dumped him in central Africa, 6200 miles from home, in a destination he only learned of 20 minutes before landing. All told, as Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, chairman of CARICOM (the Caribbean Community), said this week, all this has created a very “dangerous precedent” for all the other fledgling democracies. In Haiti's case, the next time around, we should expect Aristide's still-numerous followers to bring a few more heavy weapons of their own to the party. As if we needed one, this episode also provide yet another example of American (and French) neo-imperialism, as well as "first-the-US, then-the-UN" diplomacy."
ARISTIDE'S LEGITIMACY Aristide is not the only elected leader who is divisive, has an imperfect electoral past, or has a few corrupt friends and associates in his closet. There may even be a few in George W. Bush's America, Jacque ("the Crook") Chirac's France, and Paul Martin's Canada. But let’s be clear – for all his flaws, Aristide is undeniablythe most “democratically elected” President in modern Haitian history. For this reason alone, his non-democratic denouement should concern us.
  • The first time that Aristide was elected in December 1990, he won the country’s first free Presidential elections in history with 67.5 percent of the vote. The runner-up, who was supported by the US, was former World Bank Vice President and Duvalier finance minister Marc Bazin. He got 14.2 percent. Aristide only served 7 months of his first five-year term before the 1991 coup. When he was finally restored to power by the Clinton Administration in September 1994, not only were all the brutes in the Haitian military given amnesty, but he was only permitted to serve another 16 months before being sidelined for five more years.
  • The second time, in November 2000, Aristide was elected President with an even greater majority. True, turnout in that Presidential election was just 15-20 percent. Facing certain defeat, without a compelling candidate of its own, Haiti’s opposition cynically boycotted the contest entirely, citing irregularities in the May 2000 parliamentary election.
  • There were many irregularities in that parliamentary election, and, in retrospect, Aristide should have made amends sooner. But no one believes that would have changed the outcome of the Presidential election. There are also grave doubts that the US, the World Bank, and the IDB should have held up more than $500 million of aid to Haiti's people, because of these irregularities. But Aristide's long-standing foes in Washington and the EU leaped at these electoral infractions as an excuse for cutting off most foreign aid. (For the interested reader, the election irregularities are discussed here, here, and here.) Curiously, the OAS standards for that election were evidently altered after the May 2000 race was run. Suffice it to say that by OAS standards, Florida’s balloting in 2000 -- which did determine a Presidential election -- was even more “fundamentally flawed.”
BARGAINING IN GOOD FAITH – OR JUST BUYING TIME? The other key fact to understand is that Aristide had agreed by late January 2004 to accept the “"Kingston Accord" proposed by the 15 CARICOM countries, which called for power-sharing and new elections. This would have allowed him to serve just two more years in office, and could have produced new elections, perhaps even sooner than they will occur now. noriega.terrorismo_story.ap.jpg
The Other Noriega
Unfortunately, Haiti’s “peaceful” opposition was, in the words of one foreign policy analyst, “ out for the kill.” The Bush Administration, which is top-heavy with long-time Aristide detractors like Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega (a former Senate staffer to Senator Jesse Helms, and one of the people who popularized the bogus CIA "psychotic" analysis of Aristide in 1994), permitted the Haitian opposition to stone-wall these CARICOM proposals to death. The opposition knew full well that the armed rebels were on their way, and it received strong signals from its friends in Washington that it had nothing to fear from refusal.
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Commander Guy Philippe
The US, France, and Canada, as well as the UN, had plenty of advance warning about the few hundred well-armed anti-Aristide “Haitian contras” who started moving in from the Dominican Republic as early as March 2003. They were presided over by such notorious ex-Haitian Army convicted criminals and drug traffickers as Louis Jodel Chamblain, Jean Tatoune, and Guy Philippe. Even though they were few in number, they were surprisingly well-organized, financed, and equipped, dressed in new combat suits and brandishing new M-16s and M-60s. Meanwhile, the poorly-trained, ill-led, and under-equipped Haitian Police had for the most part skeedattled, leaving Aristide with only the “chimere,” his street militias, and a small group of bodyguards hired from the Steele Foundation, a San Francisco security firm. Unless the US or the UN were willing to defend Aristide against these “Haitian contras,” therefore, they must have realized that they were effectively giving the opposition the power to mandate Aristide's ouster. As we’ve seen, it has been relatively easy for the 1000 or so US troops that have landed to disarm the contras. The question is why this could not have been done before? The US claims that it didn’t want its troops to be seen supporting Aristide. But this begs the question – couldn't their role have been positioned as supporting power-sharing and a constitutional transition? Yet The US, France, and Canada failed to support the February 23rd Caribbean Community (CARICOM) proposal for an immediate UN peacekeeping force that would have disarmed all sides. The US also blocked Aristide’s last-minute attempts to import new bodyguards from the Steel Foundation. On the other hand, once Aristide had left, the UN moved with astonishing speed to establish a peace-keeping force, compared with other situations that happened to be less important to the US, like Rwanda, DR Congo, or Liberia. _38347769_jm_pj_bbc300.jpgPrime Minister P.J. Patterson In 2002, while maintaining the boycott on economic aid to Haiti, the US had also sanctioned the sale of 20,000 new M-16s to the Dominican Republic’s Army. Why the Dominican Republic’s Army, which has a horrific human rights and drug-trafficking record of its own, needs so many M-16s is not obvious. Perhaps, in addition to defending the DR elite against their own people, turning back starving Haitian immigrants, and arming the Haitian contras, it expected it might have to deal with a newly-reconstituted Haitian Army. Even earlier, the US and the Multilateral Interim Force that brought Aristide back to power in 1994 had also failed to adequately disarm the Haitian military and FRAPH paramilitary. That, in turn, only encouraged Aristide's followers to form militias of their own. Not surprisingly, some of them also turned to drug traffic, given the plummeting regular economy, the continuing US aid cutoff, the strong US demand for cocaine, and their own ideal location on the trade route. The US and the MIF also failed to provide adequate resources and training for the National Police. New York City, with a population comparable to Haiti’s 8 million people, has nearly 40,000 police; Haiti’s entire police force, only founded in July 1995, numbered 4,000 at its peak. (True, more than a million of Haiti's 8 million people may be working in the US, at any one time, but the point remains.) _231156_baby_doc_300.jpg
Former Pres-for-Life "Baby Doc" Duvalier
The US and the MIF also failed to bring any significant human rights violators to justice. As noted, several have recently turned up among the “Haitian contras.” Apparently the US and the Dominican Republic preferred to concentrate their prosecutorial resources on Haitian immigrants and drug smugglers. Indeed, while they refused to provide Aristide asylum themselves, the US and France, as well as the Dominican Republic, all provided refuge to top human rights violators like “Baby “Doc” Duvalier and Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, a CIA “grantee” and close associate of Chamblain’s who led the coup against Aristide in 1991, and helped to found the FRAPH, the right-wing death squad that was responsible for several thousand deaths in 1992-94. (The US refused to extradite him to be tried in Haiti, and he’s reportedly been living in Queens.) At least 15 other former top FRAPH leaders have also reportedly found refuge in the US. Philippe, one of the leaders of the "contras," was reportedly convicted in Haiti of several previous coup attempts, and has been living in the Dominican Republic. But the DR refused to extradite him, or even sign an extradition treaty with Haiti, its next-door neighbor. Perhaps the DR just valued his leadership skills. _39868890_haiti_detailed5_map416.gif STANDING ASIDE The failure of the US and the increasingly feckless UN to move quickly against the Haitian contras meant that at least 130 Haitians lost their lives in the violence leading up to Aristide’s ouster, and thousands more suffered increased hunger and disease as a result of the uprising. It also meant that a band of a few hundred armed hooligans effectively undermined the position that Secretary of State Colin Powell took before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 12, when he said, “The policy of the Administration is not regime change. President Aristide is the elected President of Haiti.” Whether or not the US held a gun to Aristide’s head and forced him to sign his “resignation” letter, therefore, is irrelevant. It might as well have. If this was not “regime change,” then the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was a “peacekeeping mission." In fact, cynics say that all the talk about a “negotiated settlement” by the US during the two weeks before Aristide's departure was just a smokescreen -- buying time for the contras until they gained enough ground to force Aristide out. Moreover,as P.J. Patterson noted above, for the other young democracies in the region -- especially those whose armies have a history of misbehaving, like Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala -- Aristide’s removal without a constitutional transition is not unhelpful. The main lesson that “future Aristides” may draw is that they cannot rely on the international community for even-handed protection against even a tiny band of well-armed “contra” free-lancers with influential First World supporters. Instead, they will have to deploy their own heavily-armed defenders -- something that Aristide, to his credit, never really did. But Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is already digging in. For him, unlike Aristide, one coup attempt by US-backed opponents was enough.
*** © James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™2004. Not for quotation or attribution without express consent.

March 4, 2004 at 04:40 AM | Permalink

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1159809,00.html

"Why then were [the elections] characterised as "flawed" by the Organisation of American States (OAS)? It was because, after Aristide's Lavalas party had won 16 out of 17 senate seats, the OAS contested the methodology used to calculate the voting percentages. Curiously, neither the US nor the OAS judged this methodology problematic in the run-up to the elections.
"

Posted by: apple at Mar 4, 2004 6:07:34 AM

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