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24443: Esser: (news) Disguised Coup, Hidden Abuses - The Haitian People Won't Give Up (fwd)
From: D. Esser <email@example.com>
Disguised Coup, Hidden Abuses - The Haitian People Won't Give Up
by Tom Reeves
February 28, 2005, marked one year since the U.S. removed at gun
point the democratically-elected President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand
Aristide Those who read or listen to almost any U.S. or Canadian
media assume that Aristide was a dictator who lost his popularity due
to corruption and human rights abuses. Even many "progressive"
organizations in the U.S. mouth these same complaints. Nothing could
be further from the truth. As Paul Farmer, the internationally
renowned physician whose clinic in Haiti treats thousands of AIDS
patients, told me, "Everybody knows that Aristide was bad. Everybody,
that is, except the Haitian poor 85 per cent of the population."
Most of Haiti's poorest people continue to demand Aristide's return.
On this first anniversary of the coup, thousands poured out of Bel
Aire, the slum behind the Presidential Palace in Port au Prince,
shouting "Arrest us all," and "Aristide or death." Journalists
present and the spokesman for the UN MINUSTAH force say it was a
completely peaceful march. The Miami Herald reporter on the scene
broke ranks with those who usually cover Haiti for that newspaper and
who regularly blame all violence on Aristide supporters. He said
(March 1) that the Haitian National Police opened fire on singing,
chanting men, women and children, killing at least two, and wounding
many more. In fact, a total of five deaths and twenty wounded were
later verified. The Brazilian officer representing MINUSTAH, Carlos
Chagas Braga, told him, "When things like this happen, we are in a
bad situation. Everything was going peacefully. We are supposed to
support the police. We cannot fire at them." Later, Brazilian General
Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, the head of MINUSTAH, denounced this and
other similar Haitian police killings as poisoning the atmosphere for
reconciliation which MINUSTAH was working hard to creae.
Father Gerard Jean-Juste is well-known for his work among the poor in
Miami as well as Haiti. He was seized by Haitian police, wearing
hoods and not identifying themselves as police, while feeding poor
children in his parish last fall. He was then held in deplorable
conditions without a trial for months before an international outcry
helped gain his freedom in December. Father Jean-Juste was at the
palace demonstration February 28. The Miami Herald quoted him as
saying he saw one of his own parishioners shot. The Herald reporter
said Jean-Juste has been reporting summary execution of Lavalas
members for months. "This time it happened in front of me,"
Jean-Juste said. He might have said, this time the whole world could
Haitians and their supporters around the world held similar marches,
without violence, but mostly also ignored by media: Ottawa, British
Columbia, Paris, Montreal, Boston, New York, San Francisco, among
others. In Ottawa, a representative of the Privy Council came out to
receive a copy of a blistering human rights report that shows police
trained by Canadians committed serious abuses against Lavalas
activists and other residents of poor neighborhoods. Even this kind
of token gesture was not to be found at any of the U.S.
demonstrations. The work of Canadian Haiti solidarity activists has
been much more visible and united than that in the U.S., and even the
current Liberal government, which has towed the U.S. line on Haiti,
has to take notice of it.
I joined a band of some fifty souls at the White House on February 28
to protest the U.S. coup and its brutal aftermath. We marched in a
snowstorm, chanting "Remove Bush, Return Aristide," and "Justice for
Haiti." The group included members of the Jonah House and several
Catholic Workers' houses, groups of pacifists who often commit civil
disobedience against unjust U.S. policies. Other participating groups
included Pax Christi, EPICA an ecumenical NGO, and Black Voices for
Peace. Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who had just returned from
Haiti where he witnessed police intimidation of his host at a
Catholic guest house, joined the other demonstrators to risk arrest
by holding the protest along the fence in a space where demonstrators
are usually arrested. Haitians included Eugenia Charles, of Fondasyon
Mapou, who led the demonstration, and Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine of the
September 30 Foundation - representing victims of repression in
Haiti. It's members have been forced into hiding or exile since a
massive campaign to kill and arrest Aristide's supporters began in
the wake of the coup. September 30 Foundation and Fondasyon Mapou
hold weekly vigils at the Haitian Embassy in Washington. For
information, see www.fonsasyonmapou.org.
Pierre-Antoine, speaking in Creole through a bull-horn, called U.S.
actions "evil," denouncing the 33rd coup in Haiti perpetrated by U.S.
minions. He spoke of massacres in the days leading up to the
anniversary of as many as 50 Aristide supporters in several poor Port
au Prince neighborhoods. These are in addition to scores of
documented police raids since September into Lavalas strongholds,
accompanied by the UN "blue helmets, resulting in hundreds of deaths
of Lavalas activists and innocent bystanders - always the poorest of
the poor in Haiti are the ones to die. Rep. Maxine Waters, of the
Congressional Black Caucus, sent a statement to the rally: "Haiti
today is in total chaos. The interim government put in power by the
U.S...is a complete failure....Human rights violations are
Haiti....(M)embers of President Aristide's government have been
detained illegally, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune...As
of February 18, there were over 700 political prisoners in Haiti's
jails...most...without formal charges."
Also protesting that day along the White House fence were a hundred
or so disabled people, many in wheelchairs or with walkers, demanding
that Bush restore cuts he has made in Federal programs for the
disabled. The disabled also blocked both White House gates - actions
that would usually bring arrests. Such a confrontation would have
been ugly PR for the President, so both their group and ours were
allowed to tread where demonstrators are usually not allowed.
Strolling between the two groups were occasional tourists - a young
couple who photographed themselves giving us the finger; a band of
white prep school boys, one of whom asked if he could hold a sign for
a moment, that said, "CIA out of Haiti." Police were everywhere, but
like the tourists and the absent media, they generally ignored us all.
The United States sent marines to Haiti a year ago to force out of
office a government that even they admit was legitimate and
democratically elected. This was done amid brutal violence committed
by former army officers and others convicted in a Haitian court, with
acclaimed international supervision, of murders and other atrocities
during the previous coup period in the 1990s. The self-styled
"rebels" again committed massacres and rapes across the country,
using weapons which have now been clearly traced to U.S. stockpiles
in the Dominican Republic. The "rebels" were politically trained and
financed by U.S. groups like the International Republican Institute
(IRI), a foundation with major U.S. Republican politicians on its
The U.S. oversaw an unconstitutional process which installed the
puppet regime of Gerard Latortue, a U.N. bureaucrat who lived
opulently in Boca Raton, Florida. Latortue brought so many of his
exile colleagues into the Cabinet, his government has been called the
Boca Raton regime - which immediately began implementing the most
draconian measures of "structural adjustment" demanded by its
neoliberal bosses at the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund. This meant vast cutbacks in the already impoverished education,
health and other human services systems of the public sector.
Latortue acclaimed the thugs from the former army as "freedom
fighters," and allowed them virtual free reign across most of the
country to continue their murders and terror campaigns against
Lavalas, the political party and broad movement of the poor in Haiti
that was led by Aristide. Despite squabbles between the old landed
and military elite and the sweat-shop owners and other business
elite, Latortue allowed the former soldiers to dominate the Haitian
National Police, which conducted regular sweeps of the poor
neighborhoods of Port au Prince. The extreme brutality of these raids
- has been well documented, including the November, 2004, report of
the Center for the Study of Human Rights (CSHR) at the University of
Miami. This incredible document, based on investigations by the
prominent Philadelphia attorney, Thomas Griffin, and others, is the
one presented at Ottawa on February 28. It leaves little doubt that a
full-scale terror campaign is going on in Haiti - by the government,
against the people; by the rich, against the poor; by those trained
and funded by the U.S. and guarded by the U.N., and against the mass
movement called Lavalas - the cleansing flood - that Aristide
promised would someday bring justice for the poor of Haiti.
A U.S. funded coup-d'etat. The removal of an elected President. A
puppet regime of the U.S. decimating the feeble human services of the
poorest country in the world. Massive human rights abuses, including
assassinations, false imprisonment without trials, and targeted
murders of impoverished men, women and children. With the U.N. force,
MINUSTAH, headed by Brazil, finally wavering in its loyalty to the
U.S. brokers who sent them there, the U.S. announced last week it
will be sending more than 1,000 fresh troops to Haiti - ostensibly
for "humanitarian purposes." Yet almost all Americans, including most
progressives, know nothing of any of this.
Who is to blame for the lack of outcry in the U.S? Surely the
mainstream media - the Associated Press, Fox, CNN and those few media
services that cover Haiti at all - have been manipulated to hush up
and cover up the real story in Haiti. But worse, many so-called
progressive media - as well as some U.S. liberal non-governmental
organizations - have either been silent, or lent their credibility to
those who support the atrocities in Haiti.
One example of an academic journal with solid left credentials that
has failed to cover the real story in Haiti is the NACLA Report on
the Americas. Depending almost exclusively on a formerly far-left
journalist, disillusioned with Aristide, now working for the Miami
Herald (Jane Regan), NACLA presents its readers with a version of
events in Haiti scarcely different from the Miami Herald or CNN.*
In every story she writes, Regan repeats the mantras about Aristide's
corruption and human rights violations - mostly unproved and surely
pale in comparison to the current outrage. In the Miami Herald and
elsewhere last year, Regan, interviewed the "rebels" at their
headquarters in Gonaives and Cap Haitien, during periods of some of
their worst atrocities, and portrayed them merely as swaggering
(rather sexy) roughnecks.
In the February 2005 NACLA Report, Regan continues what can only be
called a disinformation campaign against Lavalas. She repeats the
myth widely reported in the commercial Haitian media (owned by
leaders of the anti-Aristide elite) and repeated without verification
in the U.S. media, that Lavalas launched last fall "Operation
Baghdad," initiating a series of beheadings that Regan says became
the most common form of political murder in Haiti - making Haiti look
like Falujah. Long before Regan's article, it had been shown clearly
by well-known journalist and film-maker Kevin Pina and others
reporting to Democracy Now, Flashpoints Radio and other progressive
media, that Latortue himself used the term "Operation Baghdad," not
Lavalas, and that the three beheaded police officers were most likely
killed by another faction of the former army within the Haitian
police. No other beheadings have been verified. But the damage was
done, and the image was everywhere: Lavalas was equated with Al
Queda, beheadings and all. This is bad enough in the corporate media
- but for a prestigious and left-leaning journal like NACLA Report,
it is beyond belief.
Meanwhile, Grassroots International, a Boston-based NGO that has
funded grassroots groups as well as leftist intellectuals in Haiti
for years, has stuck with its sponsored groups, like MPP, a large
peasant organization headed by Chavannes Jean Baptiste, formerly a
close associate of Aristide who was embittered when Preval was chosen
over him as candidate for President in 1995. Jean-Baptiste's group,
in the Central Plateau, helped usher in the "rebels" as they headed
for their early successes last year - despite the fact that the
former military officers, ten years before, had sacked MPP
headquarters and terrorized his family and supporters. Jean Baptiste
accepted a role in the neo-liberal Latortue regime. In April 2005, I
spoke with leaders of the MPP base who told me that many were upset
with Jean Baptiste's actions, but the organization remained under his
tight, charismatic control. Yet Grassroots has continued to support
Jean Baptiste's line, which implies that because Aristide was corrupt
and needed to be ousted, U.S. intervention - however regretable -
could not be actively opposed, and the interim government showed
promise that it would bring progressive change in Haiti. Surely now,
the record must show Grassroots - and even Jean-Baptiste - that the
opposite is true.
As we marched in front of the White House, a young organizer of the
disabled people's movement, came over to ask us some questions. "I
thought Aristide was the dictator," he said. "I thought things were
getting better in Haiti." When we provided an opposite viewpoint, his
response was, "All these leftist leaders - they start out well, but
they all seem either stupid or corrupt or both: Bishop, Ortega,
Chavez, Aristide. Castro isn't stupid, but he's a brutal dictator.
When will we see some honest leftist leaders in Latin America?"
This gets to the core of the problem with a part of the U.S. Latin
American solidarity movement and its allies among progressive U.S.
groups and NGOs. The North American liberal elite feels it can sit in
judgment on the leaders of movements in Latin America who dare to
challenge U.S. hegemony. Never mind that these leaders had the
overwhelming support of the poor in their countries. Never mind that
they had to play world politics and world economics in a sinister
game in which the U.S. held all the cards. As Aristide once told a
group of leftists in Boston, "Who can we go to for weapons in a
struggle for justice? We have to play the U.S. double-game, too."
Holier-than-thou professional activists and funders in Washington and
Boston can feel their hands are clean as they sit silently, or
quietly cheer, the U.S. take-over. The left was thus largely
powerless to speak out against another clear example of U.S.
imperialism, and to link it with the rightly deplored events in Iraq.
The neo-cons in Washington must be chortling with glee - much of
their work is being done for them by large segments of the left.
I asked Lovinksy Pierre-Antoine, after the demonstration, his advice
for those leftists who remain critical of Aristide and sit on the
sidelines in the current Haitian crisis. "Tell them, you cannot pick
and choose who you support in the struggle against U.S. policies. You
cannot occasionally oppose the imperialism of the U.S. You must
oppose every act of aggression and intervention of the U.S., wherever
and under whatever circumstances." It is time for the Haiti
solidarity movement and its NGO and leftist allies in the United
States to take this advice, and speak with one voice against the
egregious example of U.S. imperialism in Haiti.
CARICOM, the organization of Caribbean states, continues to refuse
recognition of the U.S.-installed Latortue government. They and the
nations of the Organization of African Unity, as well as Venezuela
and Cuba, demand a full investigation of the coup. South Africa goes
further to continue to give safe haven to Aristide, to honor him as
the Haitian President, to demand his return to Haiti now, and to call
for a truly free election next year with Lavalas participating,
monitored by independent observers.
Half the United Nations recognizes that a coup took place. They
demand justice for Haiti. Freedom loving people in the U.S., Canada
and France should support these demands. It is their job to expose
the policies of their countries and to bring the U.S., France and
Canada to task for what they have done. End the human rights abuses,
disarm the former military, disband the current Haitian police, and
provide real U.N. protection not for the police and a crooked
government, but for the people of Haiti. Return constitutional
democracy (and President Aristide) to Haiti. Let the Haitian people
speak, as they did before in the elections of 1990, 1995 and 2000.
This time, finally respect their will.
*To give full disclosure, the NACLA Report editors asked me two years
ago to write an article about Haiti, because the editors said they
wanted to balance their coverage. My article was eventually
published, scaled down to a few hundred words, placed at the back of
the magazine, not listed in the contents, and given a title that was
the opposite of my article's emphasis: "The Failings of Aristide."
(NACLA, July/August 2003).