[News] Saul Landau: Haiti redux

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Fri Feb 27 09:05:42 EST 2004


By Saul Landau

One of my students asked me about the current unrest in Haiti. "Reading the
news accounts," she offered, "I can't figure out who stands for what. And
what role is US policy playing in the ongoing events?"

I, too, find it difficult to extract meaning from the news accounts.
Newspapers and wire service reports ran headlines about "Rebels Occupying
Haiti's Second and Third Largest Cities," without identifying the rebels or
explaining what they stood for.

Other than their expressed hatred for and desire to overthrow the elected
government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, I found in the news reports
not the barest trace of Haitian history that would help people get a context
for the current conflict.

For example, 200 years ago, President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognize
the first black and second oldest republic in the Hemisphere. In the early
1790s, inspired by the French Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture, a former
slave, led an uprising and overthrew the French masters.

In 1862, almost sixty years later, Abraham Lincoln finally recognized Haiti.
In 1888, the United States began its habit of intervention when US forces
responded to the Haitian authorities' seizure of a US ship that had landed
illegally. In 1891, US troops landed "to protect American lives and
property .when Negro laborers got out of control."

Woodrow Wilson deployed the Marines in 1914 and again in 1915 "to maintain
order during a period of chronic and threatened insurrection." They remained
as an occupation force under Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Franklin

In 1934, FDR ended the two decades of occupation by turning the reins of
government over to a clique who looted the country until in 1956 Francois
Duvalier (Papa Doc), staged a military coup and declared himself president
for life.

Papa Doc created a brutal dictatorship backed by the Tontons Macoute, a
Haitian Praetorian Guard. Upon his death, Jean Claude or Baby Doc Duvalier
replaced his father until his overthrow in 1986. Both mouthed the
anti-communist line, brutalized their own people and received US support.

In 1990, Haitians overwhelmingly elected as President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, a populist Catholic priest. He served nine months before a
military coup, led by General Raoul Cedras, backed by the CIA, ousted him
and instituted three years of military rule: political violence against all
opponents and looting.

President Clinton procrastinated. Finally, in 1994, he dispatched troops to
reseat Aristide as president. But Clinton limited the military's goals. He
did not order the troops to disarm members of the illegal military gangs or
train new security forces to protect Haitians in the countryside, where
paramilitary thugs harassed the farmers.

Aristide's most prominent enemies and flagrant human rights abusers -- fled
to the United States or the Dominican Republic. But they had stashed weapons
on the island and waited for the opportune moment. Human rights violators
like Col. Emanual Constant, a former CIA agent, walked confidently through
the streets of Queens, New York. Some former army and Tonton Macoute
officials have returned and "joined" the "opposition."

The media has identified Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former army officer and
member of FRAPH, Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, during the
post-1991 military coup. But little has been reported about the nature of
the atrocities committed by this "leader" of the rebels.

Although such hooligans more than cloud the political "opposition's"
legitimacy, large numbers of Haitians do feel disappointed with Aristide.
The three year wait before Aristide resumed his legitimate place as
president, seemed to have changed him and the inchoate, populist Lavalas
Party he leads. By 1994, following the Pope's order, he had shed his collar.
The secular Aristide no longer showed the same assurance. The exile years
had taken their toll.

By the late 1990s, those democratic and progressive minded people around the
world who saw him as "the deliverer" also felt disheartened. Aristide's
religious charisma seemed to dissolve in frustration. First, the man who had
vowed to build a new, developing Haiti, free of corruption, got IMF'd.

He refused to privatize the public's wealth as The IMF and World Bank -- and
US loan agencies demanded. Aristide had seen what these policies had done to
the desperately poor in the third world. His refusal to obey led the
dictates of the imperial financiers led to his punishment and to his
inability to accomplish even minimal reforms.

The cynical "expectations" went side by side with a double standard on which
to judge Aristide. While the Colombian government on the western side of the
Caribbean received increased US aid for bad behavior, Aristide was held to
standards that no third world country could have maintained. Washington
offered meager resources and then deemed his effort to improve police
training inadequate. When violence occurred, the details somehow became
obscured, the perpetrators unnamed and the blame fell on Aristide.

Neither news stories nor editorials asked the obvious question: What
resource-starved, infra-structurally underdeveloped and politically chaotic
third world country could accomplish economic development, social order and
political stability in a few years?

In 1989, I interviewed Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley. I asked him
what reforms he would make now that he had regained political power (he won
as a Democratic Socialist in 1972 and 76, was defeated in 1980 and won a
third term in 1989, no longer a socialist, but a supporter of IMF policies).

He laughed scornfully. "My budget has no flexibility," he said. "The DEA
offers a $29 million grant to burn ganja [marijuana] fields. I have a
choice: use the money to open the roads blocked by Hurricane Andrew or raise
teachers' pay and keep the schools open. I can't do both. No agrarian
reform. No health care." He shook his head. "Political power without money
in the budget is an illusion."

He invited me to accompany a joint Jamaican Defense Force-DEA          who
planned to raid a ganja plantation on the island's western side. The
helicopters landed, the troops and DEA agents jumped out and, as if in real
combat, unleashed their flame throwers on the ample crop. Within twenty
minutes the soldiers and agents began to giggle uncontrollably as they
inhaled the fumes of their labor.

Watching the event, the extended family whose livelihood had just gone up in
smoke, did not share the celebration. The Member of Parliament who had also
accompanied the strike force lectured them: "This is what happens when you
grow illegal crops."

"What else can we grow?" asked the grandfather of the clan. "With the roads
destroyed we cannot get crops to market. With ganja, the airplane comes," he
pointed to the landing strip in the middle of the burning field, "takes the
crop and gives us cash. Now what?"

The MP lost his pot-induced ebullience.

"Well, maybe you could start up a small factory or something," he responded

"Dis imperialism, mon," a dread locked young man opined.

"Huh?" I said.

"California ganja growers take over Jamaican market," he said. "America
balance of trade improve."

Back in Kingston, the DEA agents and JDF officers invited me for a drink. I
declined. Manley would have his $29 million and raise teacher pay to keep
schools open. What a price he was paying! He resigned shortly afterwards a
tacit admission of political impotence.

Place the current rioting in Haiti in this political and economic context,
one missing from mainstream reporting. Add the explicit or implicit twisting
of news reporting to make Haitian civil strife appear to be Aristide's

The media should have smelled the proverbial "destabilizing rat" when
reporting that on December 5, 2003 50 armed men broke into the university in
Port au Prince and began to provoke students and professors. Aristide
backers responded by demonstrating. The armed unit attacked. One
pro-Aristide man let loose a sling shot and connected with the head of an
anti-Aristide militant. But onlookers, mostly students, bore the brunt of
the ensuing violence.

On January 12, the anti-Aristide gang organized a protest march in the
capital Port-au-Prince. Reports from non-US sources maintain that some
students joined this demonstration after receiving cash incentives or
promises to get tickets for foreign travel.

US dailies did not mention this information. Instead, the media focused on
Aristide's inability to answer "security concerns," while anti-Aristide
officials in the Bush Administration like Assistant Secretary of Western
Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, Presidential envoy to the
Americas, promoted a policy of embargo against the Aristide government.
Noriega carried an old vendetta from his former boss, retired North Carolina
Senator (R) Jess Helms, who despised Aristide's leftish disobedience.

The chaos that reins in Haiti, is far from spontaneous. Thugs who illegally
seized power and raped Haiti from 1991-94 have returned to the island to
join with people who have legitimate grievances.

Aristide may have overestimated his own support, relied on a weak police
force and underestimated the treachery of his foes. But Aristide's mistakes
or even character flaws do not invalidate his legitimacy as an elected
president of Haiti, the poorest country in the Hemisphere.

Reasonable political sense, I told my student, dictates that we should
support Aristide's offer to compromise with the political opposition and put
down the ruffians who want full dictatorial power, reminiscent of their
illegal rule 1991-4.

Landau's newest film, SYRIA: BETWEEN IRAQ AND A HARD PLACE is available
through Cinema Guild 1-800-723-5522. His new book, THE PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A
GUIDE TO BUSH'S KINGDOM, was published in November 2003 by Pluto Press.
Landau teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the
Institute for Policy Studies. His essays in Spanish are on

Saul Landau is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach
Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences California
State Polytechnic University, Pomona 3801 W. Temple Avenue Pomona, CA 91768
tel: 909-869-3115 fax: 909-869-4858 www.saullandau.net

The Freedom Archives
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