Haiti's Nightmare: Made in the USA

Revolutionary Worker #1234, March 28, 2004, posted at rwor.org

As we go to press, the nation of Haiti is under a U.S.-led occupation, and tensions are rippling from there throughout the region.

On February 29, after George W. Bush declared that "Aristide's own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern," U.S. Marines and officials forced Haitian President Aristide to leave the country. The U.S. flew him--under armed guard and incommunicado--to the Central African Republic, one of the most isolated countries in the world.

U.S.-backed anti-Aristide forces--called "rebels" in the media--were ushered into the capital city, Port-au-Prince. A demonstration of several thousand supporters of the coup was organized, and they marched out of a middle-class suburb around a core of U.S. and French troops -- to give the coup the official stamp of U.S.-style "liberation."

A U.S.-approved government has been set up, headed by Gerard LaTortue, a Miami-based "technocrat." LaTortue has declared that re-establishing the hated Haitian army is a top priority. The army was disbanded by Aristide when he was reinstalled as president through the 1994 U.S. invasion and occupation.

The "rebels" are seeking to establish themselves as the core and leadership of that army. They are reportedly combing through the slums of major cities, hunting down their enemies. Their leader, Guy Philippe, named himself "commander and chief," moved into the old army headquarters, and declared that the new army should have at least 15,000 troops (compared to the old army's 7,000). The Miami Herald reported (3/15) that "several hundred convicted and suspected criminals, from.former dictators to army human rights abusers," have been freed from prison and are joining the ranks of the "rebels."

At the same time, 2,800 foreign troops, with a core force of 1,600 U.S. troops, are spreading out from Port-au-Prince throughout the country, aiming to suppress supporters of Aristide and other opponents of the occupation. In several incidents, Marines have killed Haitians for "failing to stop" at checkpoints. Crowds of Haitians often gather to denounce U.S. occupiers and the new government, throw- ing rocks or even shooting at the troops.

On March 16, Aristide flew to Jamaica at the invitation of the Jamaican government. The U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, threatened Jamaica that it was taking on a "risk and responsibility" in welcoming Aristide. The Miami Herald said that "senior U.S. officials" are "infuriated" at the Jamaican government for inviting Aristide and for refusing to recognize the new regime. According to the Herald, these officials said that "if Aristide's return.to the Caribbean triggers new bloodshed in Haiti and U.S. troops get in harm's way, there would be congressional calls for a strong U.S. reaction against Jamaica." As Randall Robinson of TransAfrica put it, the U.S. is now threatening that "it is prepared to do to Jamaica what it did to Haiti." Venezuela, a recent target of a failed U.S. coup, has also refused to recognize the new regime.

The bloody onslaught of U.S.-imposed regime change has slammed into the Caribbean. The U.S. has overthrown an elected government, unleashed an army of brutal killers on the population, plunged an already impoverished and oppressed nation into a deeper hell, and is arrogantly threatening all those who object to this flagrant colonialism.

At the same time, the U.S. has stirred up a hornet's nest of contradictions--from the anger of the Haitian masses to the unreliable guns of the very thugs they have unleashed to the maneuverings of other bourgeois governments in the region.

Background to a Coup

First, let's be clear on one thing: The U.S. has been openly dominating Haiti for 90 years.

The New York Times (3/18) noted this quite bluntly: "United States forces occupied Haiti from 1915-1934. They created the modern Haitian Army, dissolved Parliament and imposed martial law in those years. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Central Intelligence Agency had important senior Haitian Army officers and FRAPH [Haitian death squads] members on its payroll, according to American officials."

This sketch does not even mention the decades of U.S. support for Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier, who tortured or killed tens of thousands of Haitians and terrorized the entire population.

Nor does the Times mention the fact that the U.S. has taken over every corner of the Haitian economy and devastated Haitian agriculture, forcing millions of peasants to flee to the cities of Haiti, other Caribbean countries, or the U.S.--where they are brutally exploited in factories, hotels, restaurants, or in agribusiness.

The Times doesn't speak of the U.S. hand in the first coup against Aristide in 1991. It does not discuss the fact that the U.S. restored Aristide into office in 1994--after forcing him to agree to the harsh terms of International Monetary Fund "structural adjustment" programs. These IMF programs have devastated the lives of countless millions of people in Third World countries--and Haiti has been no exception.

The U.S. imperialists are 100% responsible for the suffering of the Haitian people. Now, these imperialists pretend concern for "the poor Haitians," even as they promote the racist notion that Haitians just can't rule themselves and made a mess of things in their country--and "THAT's why we had to send troops there again"!

Let's also be clear on what it means for the new U.S.-approved regime to bring back the army. Who are the anti-Aristide armed forces that the U.S. worked with to pull this coup off?

Sometimes the U.S. press makes vague references to "human rights violators" or even "thugs" in relation to these forces--as if maybe these people forgot to read someone their rights or took a bribe. No, these are brutal and reactionary armed forces with ties to the U.S. and representing a wealthy elite of 1% of the Haitian population. They murdered at least 5,000 people in three years after the 1991 coup that overthrew Aristide and tortured countless more.

They killed about 100 more as they took control of a large part of Haiti in February of this year. And now they are being unleashed on the masses throughout the country, forcing thousands to hide or flee. One of the main leaders of these armed forces, Louis Jodel Chamblain, was a top leader of FRAPH, the death squad which carried out most of the torture and murder under the 1991-94 military dictatorship of Raul Cedras.

Why Did the U.S. Move Against Aristide?

If the U.S. already controlled Haiti, and Aristide had already basically submitted to U.S. terms, why was the U.S. compelled to make these latest moves--involving thousands of their armed forces which are already stretched over the globe (and facing serious problems in Iraq), relying heavily on Haitian forces hated by the people, and upsetting people and governments throughout the region?

First, even though Aristide posed no fundamental challenge to U.S. domination, the U.S. did have certain contradictions with Aristide over how to run Haiti.

Aristide began as a radical priest who worked among impoverished masses in the slums during the years of the U.S.-backed dictatorship headed by Baby Doc. Aristide spoke out against the regime--at a time when almost no public figure would do that--and he faced repeated assassination attempts. This earned him a loyal following among the oppressed masses and progressive middle classes.

In his book, Eyes of the Heart , Aristide wrote of the hard choice facing Haiti: "Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or we refuse, and face death by slow starvation." This reflected a recognition, on a certain level, by Aristide of the tremendous lopsidedness in the world today and divisions between powerful imperialist countries like the U.S. and oppressed nations like Haiti.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has an answer to this situation. In the oppressed nations of the Third World, the people need a new democratic revolution, led by the proletariat. Through the military strategy of protracted people's war, this revolution mobilizes the peasantry and the masses of people overall to overthrow the domination of imperialism and transforms society, eliminating the semi-feudal economic and social relations and opening the road to socialism.

Aristide, while he at least started out with genuine sympathy for the oppressed, was far from a revolutionary. His ideology of liberation theology called for nonviolent struggle and reconciling the op- pressed and the oppressors. His political program was to join forces with the U.S.--and then pressure and appeal to the U.S. to treat Haiti a little better. (His slogan for Haiti was "From misery to poverty with dignity.") Even after he was overthrown by the latest coup, Aristide told journalist Amy Goodman that "Haiti and the United States are linked by democracy and democratic principle." In other words, he fully accepted that Haiti was going to remain a semi-feudal neocolony of the United States--he only wanted to improve the terms of that oppressive relationship.

At the same time, Aristide's political base continued to be the broad masses of people who hate the existing set-up and the U.S. dominators. So there was a significant pull on him to resist some of the most odious aspects of the U.S. agenda, in order to hold onto his political base. For example, he doubled the minimum wage--from $1.60 per day to $3.20 per day. He spent some part of Haiti's tiny budget on education for the poor--instead of funneling everything into projects to enhance the profitability of capital. He balked at privatizing some sections of the economy. He continued to speak out against various injustices, at a time when the U.S. demands that the whole world bow down before their god of "the free market" and declares "you're with us or against us." And he established diplomatic relations with other regimes that the U.S. is trying to isolate and overthrow, such as Cuba and Venezuela.

All of this was enough to earn the intense hatred of powerful sections of the U.S. ruling class-- especially those behind the Bush administration. Aristide was on their "regime change" list even before George W. Bush came into office. Once Bush was in the White House, the U.S. immediately applied pressure on the World Bank and other international financial institutions to freeze over $500 million in promised loans--money desperately needed for water purification plants and other projects. This was bound to create great hardship for the masses, as well as financial instability that would undercut the fragile middle class, breeding discontent with Aristide.

In the months and years that followed, the full spectrum of the U.S.'s "coup-in-a-box" destabilization formula was rolled out. The International Republican Institute (IRI) gave tens of millions of dollars to the anti-Aristide opposition in Haiti and sponsored seminars for Haitian exiles in the Dominican Republic on how to act and talk like a "democrat" while plotting coups.

When the opposition accused Aristide of fraud around the 2000 legislative elections, the Bush administration and the U.S. media picked up and amplified these complaints. The Bush team--which came into the White House through a stolen election--claimed that the 2000 elections in Haiti didn't meet their "democratic standards"! So these "fraudulent elections" became the WMDs of the Haiti coup--a thin pretext repeated endlessly in the press to justify "regime change."

Coup Plots Pick Up Steam

U.S. pressure on Aristide further intensified in 2003. In March--the same month that the war in Iraq began--Otto Reich, a former Reagan official involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, was sent to Haiti as part of an Organization of American States team. Around that time, Haitian police began reporting incursions of armed men across the border with the Dominican Republic into Haiti's interior. The armed commandos burned police stations and attacked power plants. It was also during that period that, as the Miami Herald reported, the U.S. began a program with the Dominican military in "regulating" the Dominican Republic/Haiti border, with hundreds of U.S. troops rotating through every 15 days. So it's clear that the U.S. military had its eyes on the border where the incursions were going on.

The commandos were armed with new M-16's--just like the ones that the U.S. shipped to the DR army in appreciation for their cooperation on the border project. And they were led by Guy Philippe, who became the leader of the coup against Aristide. In the early 1990s, during the Cedras military regime, Philippe was part of a select group of Haitian army officers who were trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador. Since then, Philippe has been widely viewed as closely tied to the U.S.

The stepping up of U.S.-sponsored subversion was driven not just by developments in Haiti. The U.S. moves in Haiti have been an extension of the U.S.'s whole international juggernaut aimed at recasting world relations. As RCP Chairman Bob Avakian said in "The New Situation and the New Challenges": "These imperialists--the U.S. imperialists in particular--certainly have wild ambitions. But they also have a great deal of necessity they're facing. And we need to look at both. They have ambitions of essentially reshuffling the whole deck, reordering the whole situation--beginning with the strategic areas of Central and South Asia and the Middle East that are more immediately involved now- -but, even beyond that, on a world scale. This is `New World Order Revisited' or New World Order 2 that they're trying to carry out on a deeper and more sweeping level than what they set out to do with their war against Iraq a decade ago. They've set themselves a very far-reaching agenda with gigantic implications."

The moves against Aristide have also taken place in the context of problems for the U.S. in Latin America--which the U.S. imperialists consider their "backyard," with enormous economic and strategic importance. An article in the influential bourgeois journal Foreign Affairs (February 2004) noted: "A decade of slow or no economic growth, financial crises and mounting political and social tensions has soured the region's mood.. Since security became a top priority after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has been widely criticized for growing distant and disengaged, and anti- Americanism has resurfaced."

Putting a sharper spin on this, a 2002 article on the website of the Center for Security Policy (a right- wing think tank) quotes Rep. Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, saying that he sees an "axis of evil in the Americas" consisting of Cuba's Castro, Venezuela's Chavez, and Brazil's Lula da Silva.

Another article on the Center for Security Policy website in February 2004 comments that "Haiti is hardly the only indication that things are going seriously south south of our border." This article also talks of an "anti-American axis" in Latin America, including Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia in addition to Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba.

In April 2002, the Bush administration was heavily involved in a coup attempt against the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez. The U.S. quickly announced Chavez's "resignation" after he was abducted by coup forces. However, the coup failed and Chavez was restored to power. This was a huge embarrassment for the U.S.--not because they were caught blatantly subverting the government of an independent country but because they failed , sending the opposite of the desired message about the global power of U.S imperialism.

The Push Against Aristide

The failed coup in Venezuela heightened the need for the Bush forces to score a "victory" in the Latin America/ Caribbean region. And this leads back to Aristide.

Aristide was becoming increasingly alienated from his own political base--because of deepening poverty (caused by Bush's moves against Aristide), and because Aristide himself was enmeshed in implementing the U.S. and IMF program in Haiti. The worsening situation emboldened the anti- Aristide opposition to step up their activities and enabled them to draw in some progressive middle class forces and students. In December 2003, Aristide's paramilitary Chimeres attacked and beat protesting university students, which in turn drew more middle forces into the pro-coup camp.

Aristide came under heavy pressure from the "international community" to clamp down on one of the groups that supported him--the "Cannibal Army" in Gonaive, headed by Amiot Metayer. Aristide arrested Metayer and, in a complicated twist and turn of events, Metayer was killed. Metayer's forces blamed Aristide and then declared themselves the "Gonaive Liberation Front." This group initiated armed opposition against the Aristide government on February 5 of this year.

The convergence of these two events--the attack on student demonstrators and the development with Metayer's forces--confused some people as to the actual reactionary character of this opposition. The "civilian" wing of the opposition--the Committee of 184 and the Democratic Convergence-- were able to organize anti-Aristide protests of thousands. However, it seems that these protests never drew significantly from the ranks of the poor--the great majority of Haiti's people.

During the first weeks of February, the U.S. government's official position was to call for "order," "respect for human rights," and democracy. U.S. officials criticized Aristide for cracking down on the opposition but also stated that "regime change is not our policy" and that "Aristide is the elected President of Haiti."

But once the revolt had succeeded in seizing some small cities, Guy Philippe's commando forces in the Dominican Republic were unleashed. On February 13, they shot their way across the border and began a fairly well-planned and executed military campaign--first to cut Haiti in half by seizing the central plateau and linking up with the Gonaive Liberation Front on the west coast, then moving north to take the major city of Cap Haitien, and then advancing towards Port-au-Prince. Aristide's weak police force evaporated.

While the media portrayed what was happening as a powerful and swelling insurgency, the anti- Aristide military forces actually numbered perhaps 600. Aristide appealed to the "international community" to send in troops to restore order, even offering to enter a coalition with his opponents in which he would be a figurehead.

The U.S. response was that troops would be sent in only after a "political settlement." Given that the opposition said that the only settlement they would accept was Aristide's departure, the U.S. response amounted to saying the U.S. would only come in to secure a coup.

Faced with this situation, Aristide to a certain extent called on the masses and the Chimere forces to defend Port-au-Prince, and many were responding. Assessing the situation, Bush's advisors told the New York Times on 2/28 that "If [Guy Philippe's forces] go in and Aristide is still sitting there, it's not going to be pretty." U.S. officials worried that if there was a fierce battle for the city, it would be extraordinarily difficult to re-stabilize the country even if the coup forces won. So, as the Bush advisors told the Times,"The only way to get to a political solution was to exert more pressure."

That same night, Bush all but ordered Aristide to leave--and the next day, U.S. forces in Port-au- Prince forced him to do so. Within a few days, U.S. troops, together with French, Canadian and other forces, were pouring into the country.

A few days later the U.S. was "interviewing" for replacement Haitian leadership--like Donald Trump hiring a regional manager. The AFP reported in an article titled "U.S. Seeking New Haitian Prime Minister" (March 9): "U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington was trying to find a replacement for Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune"--Neptune was still in office at that time! Every step of the new government is being orchestrated and approved by the U.S. and being carried out under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Marines.

But the fact that the U.S. is now in Haiti big time by no means guarantees that things will go their way. News reports indicate deep anger among the Haitian masses towards the occupation, even among those who were disillusioned by Aristide. At the same time, the reactionary forces that the U.S. backs are highly fractured. Some of the "civilian opposition" were at one time or another imprisoned or tortured by an army that now may be reconstituted. This is a military with a history of not fully carrying out U.S. plans. The U.S. has insisted that the military forces behind the coup disarm, and they are showing no signs of doing so. And all of these forces are completely discredited among the broad masses.

The instability of the situation was highlighted by the U.S. reaction to Aristide's return to Jamaica. The U.S. recognizes that there is great anger and volatility among the Haitian people, who have been struggling with incredible heroism for the last 20 years against the reactionary old order. The U.S. aims to use the "Aristide example" to intimidate others in the hemisphere. But it is also possible that the events in Haiti will end up spurring more turmoil in the region, both among the masses and among bourgeois forces trying to maneuver against the U.S. program.