U.S. Hand in Haiti's Agony

Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004, posted at rwor.org

Ten years ago, in September 1994, U.S. President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to invade and occupy Haiti. The U.S. claimed to be "liberators" who were restoring "peace and democracy" to this Caribbean nation--by forcing out the military dictatorship that had seized power in 1991 and reinstalling Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the elected president.

Almost 10 years later, on February 29, 2004, Aristide was forced to flee Haiti after his government was besieged for weeks by hostile forces--which include "civilian" elements from Haiti's capitalist elite with ties to sections of the U.S. ruling class, reactionary military figures linked to past dictatorships, and former Aristide supporters.

U.S. officials said that a force of several hundred Marines might be sent to Haiti to ensure "stability" and to pave the way for a "multinational peacekeeping force."

Armed opposition forces took the northern city of Gonaives in early February. By the end of February, anti-government forces had seized control of much of Haiti and were marching on the capital, Port-au-Prince. They threatened to choke the city into submission and to take it by force if Aristide did not capitulate.

The U.S. at first claimed to be against a coup to overthrow Aristide. But as the anti-Aristide forces gained steam, the U.S. began issuing gangster-like threats to Aristide. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Aristide should "examine his position carefully"--which amounted to "step aside or face the consequences."

Aristide had insisted that he would serve out his current presidential term, scheduled to end in 2006. But as the U.S. began more openly calling for Aristide to depart the scene, it became unmistakably clear that the very power that had put him into office at the point of the gun was now pointing the gun at him.

Aristide officially "resigned"--but this was in essence a U.S.-backed coup. Even as they masterminded the forced departure of an elected president, the U.S. government once again insisted that they were acting in the interests of "peace and democracy."

And, like Clinton in 1994, George W. Bush cold-bloodedly declared that the door would remain shut on Haitian refugees trying to sail to Florida in the hope of escaping the chaos and poverty. He said that the refugees would be intercepted at sea and forced back. The U.S. Coast Guard had already stopped around 700 Haitian refugees in February, and plans were reportedly in place for temporary detention of thousands of Haitians at the U.S. base at Guantánamo, Cuba--next to hundreds of detainees captured by the U.S. in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The agony of Haiti's oppressed people has only deepened since the U.S.'s "humanitarian" invasion and occupation in 1994. The developments over the past decade and the horrific political and economic crisis now gripping the country make clear that U.S. imperialism can not rescue or liberate Haiti's people.


Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and one of the poorest in the entire world. About 85 percent of the 8 million people in Haiti live on less than $1 a day. Almost three out of four Haitians have no regular work. Life expectancy is only 52 years for women and 48 for men.

While the vast majority suffer in the depths of poverty, there is a small elite of the powerful and the wealthy--the richest 1 percent of the population controls half of Haiti's wealth.

There is a long history to the U.S. domination of Haiti. The U.S. Marines invaded Haiti in 1915 and occupied the country for 19 years--part of the bloody consolidation of the U.S. empire in the Caribbean and Latin America. Then, for decades, the father-son dictator team of "Papa Doc" and "Baby Doc" Duvalier was propped up by U.S. power.

The Haitian people also have a long and proud tradition of fierce resistance against oppressors. This year marks 200 years since Haiti's slave armies defeated the invading armies of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Powerful struggles of the people forced Baby Doc to flee to France in 1986. And when a military coup led by Raoul Cédras overthrew the Aristide presidency in 1991, Haitians once again rose up in rebellion.

It was in part to contain and defuse this mass upsurge that Clinton engineered the departure of the Cédras regime and dispatched an occupation force to Haiti in 1994. Aristide--an activist priest who had played a key role in the struggle against the Duvalier regime--was reinstated as president on the condition that he agree to faithfully follow the "neoliberal" agenda of imperialist financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

This pledge by Aristide meant that the masses of Haitian people went from the fascistic rule of the Cédras regime to the tightening noose of capitalist "privatization" and globalization under a "democratic" setup. Aristide's credentials as an anti-Duvalier leader had won him a lot of following among the people. But increasingly, there was a sense among the masses that the Aristide government was not much different from other imperialist-dominated Third World regimes around the world--corrupt, resistant to any basic change, and beholden to international capital and major world powers.

At the same time, the U.S. and other imperialists loudly insisted that Aristide was not obedient enough to their dictates. Even the smallest reluctance to comply fully with the demands of foreign capitalists became cause for denunciation and punishment. For instance, when Aristide lowered import tariffs as demanded, Haiti was suddenly flooded with rice from the U.S., produced by major growers who receive government subsidies. Haitian rice growers went bankrupt, and the country was forced to import rice. When the Haitian government fined U.S. rice exporters for evading custom duties, the U.S. government retaliated by withholding tens of millions of dollars in aid to Haiti.

Then U.S. pressure on Aristide intensified after the 2000 elections in Haiti, when opposition groups complained of election fraud. The Bush administration forced the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel more than $650 million in aid. The money had been scheduled to go to health services, literacy programs, and improvements in drinking water. The U.S. ordered an embargo on further aid to Haiti.

The aid cutoff put a deadly squeeze on the Aristide government, because of its heavy dependence on the U.S. and other powers. The people plummeted into even deeper depths of poverty and desperation. The anti-Aristide forces took advantage of this situation to step up their activities.

The crisis hitting Haiti arises from imperialist domination and the U.S. moves to undercut Aristide. The situation in Haiti also shows that attempts to plot some "third way" between imperialism and revolution is a dead end that is bound to lead to disaster for the people.


Bush administration officials haven't talked much about the actual nature of the anti-Aristide forces, focusing their remarks on attacking Aristide for being "anti-democratic." But some of these forces have bloody backgrounds, and there are various ties between these forces and the U.S.

One of the heads of the anti-Aristide military groups is Guy Philippe, former officer in the Haitian army under Cédras. Philippe, along with other Haitian army officers, was trained by U.S. special forces in Ecuador. The Haitian army was disbanded when the U.S. reinstalled Aristide in 1994 and replaced with a national police force. Philippe became a police chief but fled Haiti in 2000 when he was discovered plotting a coup with other police chiefs. Another anti-Aristide military leader is Jodel Chamberlain, who was a top figure in FRAPH--the notorious death squad under the Cédras regime that was closely linked with the CIA.

Philippe and other opposition military leaders reportedly returned to Haiti from exile by crossing over the border with the Dominican Republic. There are also reports that the anti-government forces are equipped with M-16 rifles and other U.S. weapons not available to Aristide's police forces.

The "civilian" component of the anti-Aristide forces, who call themselves the Democratic Platform, is led by a U.S. citizen named Andy Apaid. The Platform includes ambitious capitalist elements from Haiti's traditional elite and some former Aristide supporters. This grouping was reportedly organized with the help of the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute, which have ties to the Bush White House.

The Bush administration at first said they did not back the immediate toppling of Aristide. After all, Aristide had been brought back in 1994 with the backing of the U.S. Marines, and he had been reelected in 2001 to a five-year term in an internationally recognized election. Open support of a coup to topple Aristide might lay bare the total hypocrisy of the U.S.'s posturing as upholders of "democracy" around the world.

As the anti-Aristide military forces advanced, the U.S. endorsed a "compromise" plan. Under this plan, Aristide would remain in office until the end of his term in 2006--but he would be reduced to a figurehead, with most of the executive power of state transferred to other government bodies. Aristide said he would sign on to the U.S.-backed plan--but the opposition forces refused, demanding that Aristide immediately quit.

As the anti-Aristide forces reached the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, an unamed "senior U.S. official" told the Associated Press that "the best way to prevent armed rebels from taking over Haiti is for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign" and that this "tougher line" on Aristide was endorsed by Bush.


Whatever happens in the coming days and weeks in Haiti, one thing is absolutely certain: the U.S. moves in Haiti are NOT motivated by a desire to help the Haitian people break out of the chains of oppression and poverty.

Behind the U.S. actions and pronouncements on Haiti are imperialist interests and calculations. The U.S. rulers want to prevent a chaotic collapse of order in a nearby country while preserving the fa‡ade of U.S.-sponsored "democracy." They want to keep other powers, especially France, from meddling in what they consider their "backyard." They want to stop a flood of desperate refugees from reaching U.S. shores.

U.S. intervention in Haiti--in any form--can do no good for the people of Haiti.

The U.S. bourgeoisie talks of "failed states"--countries like Haiti, Liberia, and others around the world. By this, the U.S. rulers mean to blame the people themselves for the intense poverty and brutality they suffer.

In reality, the situation in Haiti points to the utter failure of the imperialist system to provide a way forward toward genuine liberation.