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Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery

Brian Kelly • 28 March 2004

By the morning after Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide’s abduction at the hands of the US military, the meaning of the coup was already clear. Well-armed right-wing vigilantes, “all businessmen” according to the Boston Globe, descended by the dozens from their gated enclaves on the hills overlooking Port-au-Prince’s slums and began “cleaning up the neighbourhoods.” “We went down every alley, every street,” one thug reported, and by nightfall a single squad gloated that they had murdered more than twenty Aristide supporters. By the following day US Marines had imposed a 6pm curfew on the capital, but paramilitaries had worked out an arrangement to patrol the pro-Aristide stronghold of Cite Soleil side-by-side with the police, now commanded by one of their “friends.” Elsewhere their cohorts torched buildings providing services for the poor, and in Petion-Ville they targeted a mansion expropriated from the Duvalierist drug-runner “Ti Je” and converted, under Aristide, into a school providing free meals to 400 poor children. Presumably the torture chamber that lies under the complex’s swimming pool, sealed since its confiscation, is back in business.

Bush administration officials have tried to put a democratic face on this, the latest in a long string of coups in Haiti, and to distance themselves from the psychopaths who have led the so-called “rebellion” against the country’s only ever elected leader, but it is clear that Aristide’s ouster has been in the works for years and that right-wing Bush operatives are up to their necks in it. The list of local coup leaders reads like a “Who’s Who” of the sadistic Haitian right, all of them with a history of coup-making and many with years of American military training under their belts. And far from being marginalized in the “new” Haiti, the thugs are basking in sudden respectability. The newly-appointed Interior Minister, former General Herard Abraham, has been seen socializing with coup leader and former police chief Guy Philippe, a self-proclaimed fascist who fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic after being exposed in a coup plot in 2000. At a mid-March rally in Gonaives, US-handpicked Prime Minister Gerard Latoure heaped praise on the Cannibal Army, the paramilitary gang that had previously controlled drug traffic in the city’s port and which provided local firepower for the ‘rebellion” that ousted Aristide. Sharing the podium with Latoure were OAS officials, the newly installed Haitian chief of police, and representatives of right-wing paramilitaries, who vowed to “keep working with the government” as long as it served their interests. “If the government cannot work with us,” they vowed, “we will overthrow it.”

Aristide’s exit was the end result of a carefully orchestrated de-stabilization program conceived well before the 2000 elections but pushed aggressively since 2001. Overseen by two prominent Bush administration officials—NSC envoy Otto Reich, who helped direct the Contra war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government two decades ago and was more recently implicated in the attempted coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and Roger Noriega, US adviser to the Organization of American States under Bush Sr. and a former aide to the archconservative segregationist Senator Jesse Helms—the US implemented a three-prong strategy aimed at bringing down Aristide: they funnelled millions into setting up the right-wing Democratic Convergence coalition; implemented a devastating economic embargo against the poorest country in the western hemisphere, blocking more than $500 million in desperately-needed aid; and, through the Dominican Republic, armed and assisted the Duvalierist commandos who would eventually march on Port-au-Prince. In early 2003, Canadian and French leaders signed on to the project, inviting OAS and American officials to attend the “Ottawa Initiative” and declaring their support for regime change in Haiti.

Inside Haiti it was clear that the US-funded “opposition” was directed by the widely hated local bourgeoisie and could garner very little mass support. Andre Apaid, head of the “Group of 184,” is a sweatshop owner and the son of a prominent Duvalierist who had been known to brandish weapons against union organizers in his plants. A USAID official admitted that while DC “could get the big shots together…the program was never able to build a base of support from among the people.” It was this lack of popular support that explains the opposition’s insistence on maintaining the military option against a regime with no standing army and only a ragtag police force at its disposal.

The only possibility for spoiling the coup rested with the Haitian majority itself, but here the weaknesses in Aristide’s reform strategy proved fatal. Deposed in a coup just seven months after his election in 1991, Aristide’s return to power in 1994 came with the condition that he implement IMF-imposed economic “shock therapy.” With half of its population “unable to secure their minimum food requirements,” according to the UN, Haiti was compelled to pay $2m. a month in debt repayments alone. Aristide went along with structural adjustment, which called for massive privatization (cutting civil service jobs by half in a country with 60% unemployment), the slashing of tariffs and import restrictions, and massive deregulation of the corporate sector. The government managed to slip through a small rise in the minimum wage, but rampant inflation means that those earning it enjoy less buying power today than they did before the 1990 elections. The legal wage since 1995 is $14.40 (about £7.80) for a 48-hour week, but a series of loopholes means that more than half of Haiti’s assembly plants pay even less. In a situation of increasing misery, the euphoria and confidence so visible in the movement that brought Aristide to power in 1991 dissolved, sapped by more than a decade of neo-liberal economics. As an increasingly demoralized popular base retreated from politics, the government came to rely upon corrupt street gangs to hold the line, and in the end serious disaffection among Lavalas’ traditional base rendered effective resistance against the coup plotters impossible.

It is difficult to see where the US-appointed regime will go to make Haiti even more attractive to multinational capital. The marines will continue to turn a blind eye to the Haitian bourgeoisie’s attempt to inflict revenge on Lavalas supporters and punish any attempts to mobilize workers and the poor, but at some point the new regime will come up against the expectations of Haitians who have no choice but to fight their corner and who, having briefly tasted a sense of power in the early 1990s, might take this democracy thing a bit too seriously for the likes of Bush and the directors of global capitalism.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

28 March 2004


Other Articles From This Issue:


Trials Under the Shadow of Irish Emergency Laws
Marianne Quoirin


Sinn Fein A Dictatorship: Martin Cunningham Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


How to Get to 2016
Brian Mór


Desert Pong

Eamonn McCann


Reading the Future from the Past
Mick Hall


Bush in Haiti: Operation Enduring Misery
Brian Kelly


No Promise, No Hope?
Danielle Ni Dhighe


25 March 2004


Deporting the Burly Bartender: Seán Ó Cealleagh
Seaghán Ó Murchú


For Being Irish in the Wrong Place and at the Wrong Time
Breandán Morley


Lords' Ruling Timed to Stymie Collusion Inquiries

Eamonn McCann


Cannabis Ard Fheis Blow
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Why Growth and Power in Both Parts of A Divided Country Will Do Sinn Fein Just Fine
Anthony McIntyre


In Defence of the Crown
Eamon Sweeney


Game Playing by "Free Trade" Rules
Toni Solo


Social Inequality, Grinding Poverty, State Negligence
Cédric Gouverneur




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