Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Children's Hope Solidarity Team at MABE Orphanage -- Gressier, Haiti

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Washington Won't Allow Democracy in Haiti

Why Washington Won't Allow Democracy in Haiti
Written by Mark Weisbrot
Posted: 24 February 2011

One area of U.S. foreign policy that the WikiLeaks cables help illuminate, which the major media has predictably ignored, is the occupation of Haiti. In 2004, the country's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown for the second time, through an effort led by the United States government. Officials in Haiti's constitutional government were jailed and thousands of its supporters were killed.

The Haitian coup, besides being a repeat of Aristide's overthrow in 1991, was also very similar to the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, which had Washington's fingerprints all over it. Some of the same people in Washington were even involved in both efforts. But the Venezuelan coup failed, partly because Latin American governments immediately and forcefully declared that they would not recognize the coup government.

In the case of Haiti, Washington learned from its mistakes in the Venezuelan coup and gathered support for an illegitimate government in advance. A UN resolution was passed just days after the coup and UN forces, headed by Brazil, were sent to the country. The mission, still headed by Brazil, has troops from a number of other Latin American governments that are left of center, including Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. They are also joined by Chile, Peru, and Guatemala.

Would these governments have sent troops to occupy Venezuela if that coup had succeeded? Clearly, they would not have considered such a move, yet the occupation of Haiti is no more justifiable. South America's progressive governments have challenged U.S. foreign policy in the region and the world, with some of them regularly using words like imperialism and empire as synonyms for Washington. They have built new institutions such as UNASUR to prevent these kinds of abuses from the North. Bolivia even expelled the U.S. ambassador in September of 2008 for interfering in its own internal affairs.

The participation of these governments in the occupation of Haiti is a serious political contradiction for them and it is getting worse.

The WikiLeaks cables illustrate how important the control of Haiti is to the United States. A long memo from the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince to the U.S. Secretary of State answers detailed questions about current Haitian President Rene Preval's political, personal, and family life, including such vital national security questions as "How many drinks can Preval consume before he shows signs of inebriation?" It also expresses one of Washington's main concerns: "His reflexive nationalism and his disinterest in managing bilateral relations in a broad diplomatic sense, will lead to periodic frictions as we move forward our bilateral agenda. Case in point, we believe that in terms of foreign policy, Preval is most interested in gaining increased assistance from any available resource. He is likely to be tempted to frame his relationship with Venezuela and Chavez-allies in the hemisphere in a way that he hopes will create a competitive atmosphere as far as who can provide the most to Haiti."

This is why they got rid of Aristide, who was much to the left of Preval and why we won't let him back in the country. This is why Washington funded the recent "elections" that excluded Haiti's largest political party, the equivalent of shutting out the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. And this is why MINUSTAH (the UN-backed military mission) is still occupying the country, more than six years after the coup, without any apparent mission other than replacing the hated Haitian army, which Aristide abolished as a repressive force.

People who do not understand U.S. foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington because it is poor and has no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington operates, as the WikiLeaks cables illustrate.

For the State Department and its allies, it is all a ruthless chess game, and the pawns matter. Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so. The poorest countries—like Honduras—present the most opportune targets. A democratically-elected government in Haiti, due to its history, would inevitably be a left government and one that will not line up with Washington's foreign policy priorities for the region. Hence, democracy is not allowed.

Thousands of Haitians have been protesting the sham December 2010 elections, as well as MINUSTAH's role in causing the cholera epidemic, which has taken more than 2,300 lives. Judging from the rapid spread of the disease, there may have been gross criminal negligence, i.e., large-scale dumping of fecal waste into the Artibonite River. This mission costs over $500 million a year, when the UN can't even raise a third of that to fight the epidemic that the mission caused or to provide clean water for Haitians. Now the UN is asking for an increase to over $850 million for MINUSTAH.

It is time that the progressive governments of Latin America quit this occupation. It goes against their principles and the will of the Haitian people.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis, writes a weekly column for the Guardian (UK), and has written numerous articles on economic and foreign policy.

February 2011
Mark Weisbrot's ZSpace Page

Thursday, February 17, 2011

'Beautiful party' awaits Aristide

'Beautiful party' awaits Aristide

Former president plans to return before Haiti's second-round election

By CLARENS RENOIS, AFPFebruary 16, 2011
Montreal Gazette

Supporters beat drums in the slums while workers spruced up his private villa as Haitians prepared yesterday for the possible return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide with feverish anticipation.

"Some people are cleaning the streets, others are getting the residence ready, and we are making preparations for a beautiful party," diehard follower Rene Civil told AFP.

"There is a real feeling of expectation among the people," Civil said, desperate to see his beloved "Titid" -or little Aristide -walk once again on Haitian soil.

Haiti has cleared the way for Aristide's return from exile in South Africa by issuing him with a new passport despite warnings from the United States that the move would only add to the quake-hit nation's political turmoil.

Aristide's lawyer said yesterday that the former president will return to Port-au-Prince before the second round of presidential elections on March 20.

"Yes, I believe it will happen before the election," lawyer Ira Kurzban told AFP.

The once firebrand man of the cloth, who rode his reputation as a champion of the poor to become Haiti's first democratically elected president, fled in 2004 aboard a U.S. plane, accused of massive corruption and rights abuses.

In his checkered political career, he served as president on three occasions, and was ousted from office twice, in a 1991 military coup and in a popular uprising in 2004.

As masonry workers repaired cracks in the walls of Aristide's once splendid villa, some residents dusted off their portraits of the diminutive, bespectacled former leader.

Door-to-door canvassing has been organized to recruit the biggest possible turnout whenever Aristide finally makes his return to Toussaint L'Ouverture airport.

Ancyto Felix, another tireless Aristide partisan, said there were plans to hold a massive rally in the Haitian capital on Friday.

Haiti, the poorest country in the region, is in dire circumstances following last year's earthquake, which killed more than 225,000 people.

Fervent Aristide supporters, who include many of the most desperate slum-dwellers, are convinced he is uniquely positioned lead the restoration of their battered country.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

In Defense of Aristide


The Haitian government has issued a diplomatic passport to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This is long overdue; Aristide has wanted to return ever since he was forced into exile in 2004.

There is no justification for him not to; he is a Haitian citizen, charged with no crime; and the Haitian constitution explicitly prohibits compulsory political exile. Aristide, The New York Times noted during his first exile (1991-1994), “won Haiti’s first and only democratic election overwhelmingly,” followed by a “seven-month tenure [that] was marked by fewer human-rights violations and fewer boat people than any comparable period in modern Haitian history.”

He wants to return home, as a private citizen, and assist in Haiti’s relief effort. He has repeatedly said since 2004 that he wishes to return home to work in the field of education. His two Ph.D.s – one in psychology and the other in African languages – and his history, including seven years teaching in South Africa and the establishment of a medical school and university at the Aristide Foundation are testament to his long involvement in education.

The ball is now in South Africa’s court. Even though Aristide has every right to return under Haitian and international law, documents recently revealed by Wikileaks show that the U.S. and the Brazilian governments have pressured the South African government to keep Aristide there. The United States imposes its will, as the most powerful nation on Earth, to keep in distant exile the deposed president of one of the weakest. Former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, meanwhile, walks free, gives press conferences and makes ceremonial visits around Haiti.

The return of Duvalier – accompanied by former death squad leader Louis Jodel Chamblain as his security chief – to Haiti last month revealed the stark double standard in U.S.-Haitian relations, one that harkens back to a shameful era, when the U.S. government propped up the brutal Duvalier regimes for decades. The danger is not only from his impunity, but from the threat of a re-legitimization of Duvalierism. Haiti now stands on the verge of a precipice; an extreme right-wing political turn – one that openly favors the rich and despises the poor – lies below.

The U.S. government is not a neutral spectator to this situation – this is clear from Obama-administration statements more opposed to the idea of Aristide’s return than to Duvalier’s ongoing presence. Even worse, the United States has been pressuring the Haitian authorities into arbitrarily allowing kompa singer Michel Martelly (who is known to have supported Duvalier in the past, and who got the support of just 4.5 percent of registered voters) to proceed to an elections run-off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat (who received 6.4 percent support from registered voters).

Considering what is known of the right-wing proclivities of each, this could be akin to Haiti’s equivalent of a presidential race between an unpopular Republican and an unpopular tea tarty candidate, with no Democrat allowed to compete. Contrary to last week’s media reports, however, the electoral authorities have not yet made a final decision on the elections runoff. It has now emerged that only half of the Electoral Council members actually signed onto the statement announcing Martelly’s advancement; a majority is required.

Ultimately, it is the right of the Haitian people – a right enshrined in Haiti’s constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – to decide their own political destiny. New first-round elections, including Fanmi Lavalas and all eligible parties this time, are the only democratic way forward. Aristide should also be allowed to return to Haiti. No foreign power – whether the U.S., South Africa, or others – has the right to impede his return. Contrary to what the State Department appears to suggest, by reversing a grave violation of constitutional order when Aristide was ousted, democracy will be strengthened when he comes back, not weakened.

Ira Kurzban was the former general counsel for the government of the Republic of Haiti from 1991 to 2004. He is currently representing former President Aristide.

Read more:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

This time, the people of Haiti may win

The US has overthrown Jean-Bertrand Aristide twice. But now it will encounter a new reality in the Americas

Mark Weisbrot, Thursday 10 February 2011

US marines invaded Haiti in 1915, occupying the country until 1934. US officials rewrote the Haitian constitution, and when the Haitian national assembly refused to ratify it, they dissolved the assembly. They then held a "referendum" in which about 5% of the electorate voted and approved the new constitution – which conveniently changed Haitian law to allow foreigners to own land – with 99.9% voting for approval.

The situation today is remarkably similar. The country is occupied, and although the troops wear blue helmets, everyone knows that Washington calls the shots. On 28 November an election was held in which the country's most popular political party was excluded; but still the results of the first round of the election were not quite right. The Organisation of American States (OAS) – under direction from Washington – then changed the results to eliminate the government's candidate from the second round. To force the government to accept the OAS rewrite of the results, Haiti was threatened with a cut-off of aid flows – and, according to multiple sources, President René Préval was threatened with being forcibly flown out of the country, as happened to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004.

This week Aristide has been issued a diplomatic passport by the government, and is preparing to return from exile in South Africa. But Washington does not agree, as US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley made clear. He was also asked if his government had pressured either the Haitian or South African governments to prevent Aristide's return. He refused to answer: I take that as a "yes".

The US has been the prime cause of instability in Haiti, not only over the last two centuries, but the last two decades. Although Haiti is a small and poor country, Washington still cares very much about who is running it – and as leaked WikiLeaks cables recently demonstrated, they want a government that is in line with their foreign policy for the region.

In 1991, Aristide – Haiti's first democratically elected president – was overthrown after just seven months in office. The officers who carried out the coup and established the military government, killing thousands of innocent Haitians, were subsequently revealed to be in the pay of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

When Aristide was elected to a second term, in 2000, the US and its allies destroyed the economy through an economic aid boycott. Together with aid to the Haitian opposition and an armed insurrection, Washington's effort succeeded in overthrowing the government four years later.

Now that Aristide is returning, we can expect to see another massive smear campaign against him in the local media, with allegations of human rights abuses and comparisons with the Duvalier dictatorships. In his book, Damning the Flood, Professor Peter Hallward looks at the best available data for the number of political murders in Haiti: Duvalier dictatorships (1957-1986), 50,000; after the US-sponsored coup of 1991 (with US-funded death squads), 4,000; after the US-organised coup of 2004, 3,000; Aristide's tenure in office (2001-2004), between 10 and 30.

Aristide cut the political violence in Haiti by abolishing the army and the murderous "section chief" system, which were its main sources. For that, Washington will not forgive him. Can the US and its allies continue to deny Haiti's national sovereignty, which it won 207 years ago in the world's first successful slave revolt? Aristide is still a symbol of that sovereignty, and respect for the millions of poor Haitians. For Washington, that is inherently dangerous.

But the Americas have changed since the last time Aristide was overthrown. Washington met strong resistance from South America when it supported the coup government in Honduras in 2009; Honduras has still not been allowed back into the OAS. Governments that Washington does not want – for example in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela – have been elected and survived despite coup attempts and other destabilisation efforts. The left-of-centre governments that now preside over most of Latin America have dramatically and permanently changed hemispheric relations.

Last week Washington failed to gain support for its change of Haiti's election results in the 23-nation Rio Group. Rights can no longer be denied to Haitians, simply because they are poor and black. Nor can Aristide be denied the right to return to his country. As with Egypt, Washington will have to adapt to a new reality. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Aristide to return `very soon` to Haiti: Lawyer

Aristide to return `very soon` to Haiti: Lawyer

Miami: Ex-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide will try to return to Haiti in the coming days, his lawyer said on Wednesday, even though Washington warned the move would only add to the turmoil in the Caribbean nation.

Haitian authorities cleared the way for Aristide to return last week by issuing a new passport to the 57-year-old former priest, who was Haiti`s first democratically elected leader and served two stints as president.

Aristide has lived in exile in South Africa since being ousted by a rebellion in 2004. He now says he wants to return to help his countrymen, who are set to choose a new leader in a crucial presidential run-off in March. "He`s going to try to return as soon as he can. It will happen very soon," Aristide`s lawyer Ira Kurzban said in Miami, confirming that he had the former president`s new passport.

Asked if Aristide could return in the coming days, the lawyer said: "That`s my hope."

Haitian Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said on Tuesday that there was nothing now blocking Aristide`s return from an administrative standpoint.

Haiti, which was struck less than 13 months ago by a massive earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people, has been engulfed by political crisis since November when disputed election results led to deadly riots.

It is not yet clear how Aristide`s return would impact on the political scene, further rattled by the unexpected return of ousted dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier last month following 25 years in exile. A popular revolt, led in part by Aristide, forced Duvalier to flee the country in 1986, after a 15-year rule which he took on after the death of his notoriously repressive father Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

In the days after his return, Duvalier was charged with corruption, misappropriation of public funds and criminal association, and several complaints have been filed accusing the former "president for life" of crimes against humanity.

The United States on Wednesday repeated its concerns about the possible return of Aristide.

If Aristide returns before the March 20 presidential run-off election, "it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction”, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.

Haiti`s fraud-tainted ruling party candidate crashed out of the presidential race last week, as the election commission bowed to weeks of US-led pressure and reversed earlier results. Ending months of deadlock since the disputed first round, the decision was met with calm on the streets of Port-au-Prince, the quake-hit capital that has endured decades of political upheaval, dictatorship and bloodshed.

Announcing definitive results, the commission said popular singer Michel Martelly -- and not the ruling party`s Jude Celestin -- would face off against former first lady Mirlande Manigat in the long-delayed run-off.

"The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the runoff, and I think that should be their focus," Crowley said.

"If he (Aristide) returns sooner, it might disturb... the calm that is needed for an effective election process to conclude."

Aristide`s return would definitely add to the uncertainty in the impoverished nation, which is also still grappling with the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake and an ensuing cholera epidemic.

Earlier this week, about 200 people demonstrated in Port-au-Prince calling for President Rene Preval to step down.

Preval, who was at one time Aristide`s prime minister, had been due to leave office on Monday, but has now said he plans to stay in office until the next president and government is installed.

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Martelly paid a surprise visit to the neighbouring Dominican Republic on Wednesday for private meetings.

"I am the third political force in Haiti, and I think it is very important to reconcile the people, as society is so divided we cannot achieve anything. It is time for the people to reunite to prosper," he told Dominican radio.

Bureau Report

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Aristide says he will return to Haiti

[Editor's Note: Genuinely great news for the people of Haiti. Seven years too late, but certainly better than never. And a note to the UPI reporter: Believing that Haitians should lead the reconstruction effort in Haiti is not "anti-American." To suggest as much is pure foolishness. - Paul B]

Aristide says he will return to Haiti, Feb. 5, 2011 at 11:48 AM

LONDON, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he is ending a seven-year exile and returning to Haiti.

Writing in London's Guardian newspaper Saturday, Aristide said, "I will return to Haiti."

Political insiders said Aristide's return could further impact the country's tenuous political climate. Aristide's announcement came just days after the ruling Haitian government agreed to grant him a passport.

Aristide was removed from office in 2004 with the help of the United States government and he has been in exile since. His return could delay next month's presidential election, the report said.

Aristide said he wants to return to advance education in the country, which was struck by an earthquake in January 2010 that killed up to 300,000 people.

He has criticized the "profit-driven, exclusionary" method in which Haiti has rebuilt since the earthquake. He said "non-Haitians," led the rebuilding, hinting at his anti-American leadership methods.

If Aristide returns to Haiti he would join former dictator and adversary Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who returned to Haiti last month after 25 years in exile.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Read more: