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28027: Esser (news): Haitian Election Aftermath - The Puzzling Alliance of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Charles Baker (fwd)

From: D. Esser <torx@joimail.com>


March 1, 2006

The Puzzling Alliance of Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Charles Henri Baker
Haitian Election Aftermath


Imagine in U.S. politics if Cesar Chavez had suddenly endorsed and
collaborated with George Wallace in his Presidential campaign, and the
United Farm Workers had joined racist white plantation owners in
their last-ditch effort to maintain total apartheid in the U.S.
South. This is not an inappropriate comparison to the recent bizarre
alliance in Haiti between Chavannes Jean-Baptiste's powerful and
genuinely grassroots peasant organization, MPP (Papaye Peasant's
Movement) and Charles Henri Baker, the elite owner of a Haitian
garment industry sweatshop. Despite years of fighting U.S. economic
polices toward Haiti, from the Creole Pig fiasco under the Duvaliers
to the disastrous neoliberalism of the past decade, Chavannes and the
MPP now uncritically support openly neo-liberalist and Duvalierist
members of the tiny, mostly "blanc" (light-skinned, Francophone),
Haitian elite, who are in turn supported by U.S. right-wing groups
like the IRI (International Republican Institute), funded by USAID.

Perhaps just as bizarre has been the continuing uncritical support
(at least until now) by MPP's U.S. funder, Grassroots International.
GI consistently takes a strong stand against what it calls the U.S.
"death plan," structural adjustment and the whole World Bank
neo-liberal program, yet remained silent for years after Chavannes
and MPP became closely linked to precisely the U.S. "death plan"
agenda, in their growing support for the successful overthrow of the
Aristide government, and their close alliance with opposition groups
with a neoliberal agenda and worse.

Like Chavez, Chavannes was a truly charismatic leader with an
indisputably progressive agenda. He helped poor peasants establish a
degree of security and autonomy and resist the dominance of the U.S.
"free market." Founded in 1973, The MPP developed and united more
than 2500 local peasant collaboratives in the isolated and
impoverished Haitian central plateau, representing about 35,000
peasants. MPP became by the early 1990s, the strongest and largest
such peasant group in the country. During the 1990s, it's national
wing, the MPNKP began to construct a truly national federation of
such grassroots agricultural efforts, joining together more than
100,000 peasants. MPP has done excellent work in promoting
sustainable agriculture in the ecologically devastated plateau, as
well as reforestation. They have fostered a range of cooperatives
from agricultural products and credit for small farmers to sewing and
ceramics. One of their most dramatic projects was the creole pig
program - to provide low-cost pigs to peasants, who lost them when
the U.S. eradicated almost all the native Haitian pigs during a swine
flu epidemic in the Duvalier era. The creole pig became to Haiti what
"keep your eye on the grape" was for farm workers and for all unions
and poor people struggling for dignity in the U.S. in the 1960s.

At the time of the first coup d'etat against Aristide in 1991,
Chavannes and others were forced to flee, setting up headquarters in
Boston, where their U.S. patron, Grassroots International, was based.
I first met him, his brother Bazelais and other family members during
that time. With support also from Aristide's consul-general in
Boston, Gene Geneus, MPP became an organizer of the Boston
Haiti-solidarity movement - supporting the formation of the New
England Observer Delegation to Haiti, of which I was co-founder. We
took eight delegations to Haiti during and after the coup period, in
support of the elected government-in-exile. Chavannes, Bazelais and
others from MPP helped us organize and raise funds for the
delegations, and provided us with logistical support and contacts in
Haiti during a very dangerous period.

During the exile, Chavannes was always close to Aristide during his
speaking tours in the U.S. When Aristide returned to Haiti in October
1994, under Clinton-U.S. protection, NEOD went to Haiti with
Chavannes and others from his family and MPP. At the palace,
Chavannes (who was then Aristide's official spokesman) made sure that
we sat with Préval and other leaders at a banquet, and that we were
on the palace steps when Aristide landed in a military helicopter. A
few days later, I accompanied Chavannes, Bazelais and their mother in
an SUV on the long drive over virtually non-existent roads to return
to Papaye, MPP headquarters, for the first time since the coup. As we
climbed to the top of the plateau, we were met at every village by
rejoicing throngs who mobbed Chavannes joyously. In Hinche, capital
of the region, a crowd of many thousands wildly applauded him. A
U.S.AID operative watching the rally - who had funded dummy peasant
groups to undermine MPP - confided to some of us (according to my
journal notes) , "He has no real following and no future. You'll
see." In Papaye we walked with Chavannes and his family as they
surveyed the ruined MPP headquarters, burned and vandalized, the
walls smeared with feces and vicious anti-Aristide and anti-MPP

It was clear to us then that Chavannes, was mentored by Aristide
since his youth. In many ways, Chavannes imitated "Titid," both in
his speaking style and his somewhat mystical pronouncements.
Chavannes clearly expected to become Aristide's successor. When that
did not happen - and René Préval was nominated by Lavalas instead -
Chavanne became bitter. Chavannes was ambiguous enough about the
future, and his role in it, that he nevertheless served for a time as
the head of Préval's transition team.

Even though it was not clear whether Aristide himself had named
Préval, or the OPL faction within Lavalas had pushed him forward
(Préval later clearly did not support the OPL's switch to
neoliberalsim), Chavannes began to direct his anger openly toward
Aristide. When an OPL dominated government endorsed a neoliberal
program, Aristide denounced it and formed a new party, Family
Lavalas, but Chavannes aligned with OPL. In 1997, a confrontation
between Family Lavalas and MPP in Mirebalais (a former Plateau
stronghold of MPP) led to what Chavannes characterized as his having
been held against his will for several hours. Chavannes insisted that
former Macoute (Duvalierst henchmen) had infiltrated FL. Aristide
refused to order the local FL to release Chavannes, or to apologize,
telling an NEOD delegation in Haiti at the time that he could not
control his local followers, nor could he guarantee that Macoutes did
not sometimes join FL, though he himself did not approve of such
tactics. Chavannes was, however, released unharmed along with his MPP

During the contentious elections of 2000, Chavannes joined the
Democratic Convergence, a hodgepodge of anti-Aristide forces, ranging
from former Communists to outright Duvaliersts. The Convergence
contested the April elections for parliament, in which FL claimed
outright victory, but the OAS insisted the election was marred by
dubious election practices in 8 Senatorial districts. Aristide
accepted a compromise in which all 8 Senators were to face run-offs,
but the Convergence would not accept this. The Convergence also
boycotted the November Presidential elections, in which Aristide
received 92% of the vote - with more than 60% of those registered
voting. In 2001, the Convergence named it's own shadow government, to
which Chavannes pledged his allegiance.

Throughout 2002 and 2003, the US-AID funded groups like the
International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic
Institute (NDI) helped organize and train anti-Aristide leaders. One
wing of this opposition was a coalition of Haitian elite business
leaders, originally called the Civic Initiative, later the Group of
184 civic institutions, created at a conference sponsored by the
US-based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) and funded by them and later
by IRI directly, as well as the European Union. Chavannes joined 184
and eventually became one of its spokesmen, along with Charles Henri
Baker and Andy Arpad - both notorious sweat-shop owners and
union-breakers. MPP delivered many of its constituent organizations
which made up a big chunk of the 184, otherwise characterized by
chambers of commerce and other pro-business groups, as well as a few
tiny unions known as house unions of companies. By so doing, the 184
received credibility in some progressive international solidarity
circles which it could not have otherwise had. MPP endorsed the
"social contract" of the 184 which assumes a neo-liberal agenda, and
of course accepts the "de facto" government installed officially by
the United Nations, but actually by the U.S. after it's invasion.
(Oddly, Grassroots International with its diametrically opposite
position, remained silent.)

The other wing of the anti-Aristide campaign consisted of elements of
the former Army and FRAPH (a paramilitary outfit that has been linked
to massacres during the first coup period). These two were trained by
the IRI and other U.S. NGOs, during conferences in the Dominican
Republic, also attended by leaders of the 184. When Jodel Chamblain
-a former FRAPH member and convicted murderer - brought a band of
armed "rebels" into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, in early
February, 2004, he chose the Plateau as a staging area for the
rebellion which the U.S. later used as justification for forcing
President Aristide into exile. According to former MPP members from
Mirebalais and Thomond in the Plateau, whom I interviewed in March
2004, Chavannes welcomed Chamblain and even held a dinner for his
band at Papaye. Assumedly, this group included some of the very
Macoutes who had destroyed the MPP headquarters and terrorized
Chavannes' family during the first coup. When evidence of this
betrayal was presented to GI in 2004, GI staff insisted that
Chavannes had denied the charge, and GI remained uncritically
supportive. (Chavannes told people privately, that he met with
Chamblain but refused to help him. He has not commented publicly on
this. The ex-MPP members commented, "The "rebels" simply could not
have passed through the Plateau and received local support without
MPP permission.") At least one GI board member withdrew from the
board at that time, privately indicating her disgust at GI complicity
with the uncritically anti-Aristide and pro-US invasion positions of
its Haitian partner, MPP.

After the U.S. invasion, the coup-installed government was led by the
'Boca Raton' neoliberals. The de-facto Prime Minister and many of his
advisors had lived for years in Florida, many working for the
internatonal agencies that imposed structural adjustment. During the
march through the Plateau, the 'rebels' had murdered many local
people including the Hinche chief of police. These 'rebels' were
called 'freedom fighters' by Latortue, the coup prime minister.
During the two years after the coup, thousands of Lavalas members and
others were imprisoned, forced into exile or killed. Chavannes'
former colleagues, with whom he'd long worked, like Father Gerard
Jean Juste and Prime Minister Yvon Neptune were held without charges
under dreadful conditions - some, like Neptune, remain in prison. Yet
Chavannes made no protest. On the contrary, he accepted the position
of 'liaison to the peasantry' from the coup government.

MPP and Chavannes Jean-Baptiste had long insisted that the peasant
movement should not be directly involved in electoral politics. Yet
in the recent (2006) Haitian elections, Chavannes founded his own
political party, KONBA, allying itself directly with Charles Henri
Baker, the 184 founder and sweatshop owner. MPP and MKNP, acting
separately, also endorsed Baker. Other peasant organizations in the
country registered shock and outrage. In the summer of 2005, the
major peasant groupings of Haiti had overcome years of differences to
form a united peasant coalition, PLANOPA. Tet Kolé, the second
largest peasant group in Haiti, and also a critic of Aristide,
announced in January, 2006, its withdrawal from PLANOPA and its
denunciation of MPP/MNKP and Chavannes for their support for "the
most reactionary bourgeois sector" in Haiti. Yet GI remained silent
During the election campaigns, armed conflicts between Préval
supporters and supporters of the OPL candidate as well as supporters
of Baker, including KONBA, broke out in Ounaminthe, Préval's
home-base. During the election itself, Baker (who came in third to
Préval, with about 7% of the vote) gained his largest pluralities
(about 30%) in the Plateau, where polling stations were often
controlled by MPP personnel. The largest number of blank ballots was
also cast in these polling stations - ballots used temporarily to
deprive Préval of the 50% plus one majority needed to avoid a runoff.

The CEP (electoral commission) announced what it called "massive
fraud" in the elections in its own decision to declare Préval the
outright winner. Préval and others are demanding a full investigation
of the blanc vote scandal as well as the infamous destruction of
ballots in Cité Soleil. They insist this is essential before the
parliamentary results can be validated. Unfortunately the CEP is in
extreme disarray. It's president has fled to the U.S. and is being
hosted by the Haiti Democracy Project - the same Washington-based
group that helped form the opposition to Aristide.

Throughout all this, Grassroots International's website continued to
report only favorable comments about MPP and Chavannes Jean-Baptiste,
and made only bland comments about the election. Sources say that GI
nominated Chavannes for the prestigious Goldman environmental prize
(nominating groups are not publicly identified), which he received in
April 2005, landing him $125,000 dollars. Possibly using some of this
money, Chavannes launched his new political party in May 2005.

Perhaps the stance of GI is about to change. GI's Director of Global
Programs, Maria Aguiar, told me (February 2005 - after the election
of Préval became clear): "We've been having ongoing conversations
with MPP and our other Haitian partners, to gather information about
all this, and to determine what our ongoing relationships should be."
She said GI had felt it important to respect the autonomy of its
Haitian partners, and in any case, "Voicing criticism of the human
rights violations, corruption and economic policies of the Haitian
government, or any government, is quite legitimate in our view. It
has always been clear that, under no circumstances, should GI be
supporting U.S. intervention in Haiti. That would be quite a
different thing."

It is a very difficult thing for those who have known Chavannes
Jean-Baptiste and seen his extraordinary work as a peasant leader, to
understand his complete shift away from grassroots justice and toward
reactionary politics. His personal feeling of betrayal at not being
nominated for President in 1995 explains his bitter anti-Aristide
actions. But that scarcely explains his endorsement of the worst
elements of the Haitian elite. Perhaps it is as simple as a feeling
of losing his family's rightful political and social inheritance of
power, their place in a new elite. Perhaps it is a very human trait,
shared with Aristide, of believing himself so essential to the
Haitian struggle that he views any measures justified which could
assure his own success. If so, it is a tragedy for him and his
family. It is still more tragic for the future of a strong peasant
movement in Haiti and the building of a participatory society - hopes
that were kindled by the genuine depth and breadth of the movement
built by Chavannes and others in MPP.

Equally difficult to explain and sad to report is the long silence of
Grassroots International, a genuinely progressive and staunchly
independent force for sustainable development and economic justice.
Perhaps understandable in the beginning, as a way of opposing what it
saw as betrayals and corruption of Aristide himself, the GI silence
about MPP's stance in the wake of the U.S. invasion, and in light of
MPP's complete shift in ideology becomes harder and harder to defend
as the time passed after Aristide's removal. What could have
happened? Perhaps GI staff was stretched too thin for it to be on top
of events in Haiti where it sponsors several programs. Surely,
though, with information so available on the internet about the
goings-on in Haiti, especially leading up to the election, GI might
have simply stepped in and critiqued Chavannes and the MPP sooner
rather than later. Were it to do so now, it would be a welcome step,
but far too late for those who have had confidence in its
long-standing support of programs known for their integrity and
consistent opposition to U.S. policies.

Tom Reeves was a long-time Caribbean studies director at Roxbury
Community College in Boston, and was a leader of many delegations to
Haiti during and after the first coup d'etat. He has travelled to
Haiti many times between 1987 and 2005. He welcomes feedback at