[News] Haiti - Venezuela The Coup Connection (Mother Jones)

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Mon Nov 1 14:33:34 EST 2004


Mother Jones - November/December 2004 Issue

The Coup Connection

By Joshua Kurlantzick

In early 2004, chaos overwhelmed Haiti. In January, a rebellion erupted
against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former slum priest who had
frequently angered the United States with his leftist rhetoric. Aristide
had twice been elected, but he had alienated many Haitians with his
increasing demagoguery and use of violence against the opposition. Yet
polls showed that Aristide remained relatively popular, so even
experienced Haiti watchers were surprised when, in late February, armed
militias marched on the nation’s capital while demonstrators shut down the
streets. In the violence, some 100 Haitians were killed. At dawn on
February 29, with the militias closing in, Aristide left Haiti on a U.S.
government plane.

But did the rebellion really spring from nowhere? Maybe not. Several
leaders of the demonstrations -- some of whom also had links to the armed
rebels -- had been getting organizational help and training from a U.S.
government-financed organization. The group, the International Republican
Institute (IRI), is supposed to focus on nonpartisan, grassroots
democratization efforts overseas. But in Haiti and other countries, such
as Venezuela and Cambodia, the institute -- which, though not formally
affiliated with the GOP, is run by prominent Republicans and staffed by
party insiders -- has increasingly sided with groups seeking the overthrow
of elected but flawed leaders who are disliked in Washington.

In 2002 and 2003, IRI used funding from the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) to organize numerous political training sessions in
the Dominican Republic and Miami for some 600 Haitian leaders. Though
IRI’s work is supposed to be nonpartisan -- it is official U.S. policy not
to interfere in foreign elections -- a former U.S. diplomat says
organizers of the workshops selected only opponents of Aristide and
attempted to mold them into a political force.

The trainings were run by IRI’s Haiti program officer, Stanley Lucas, the
scion of a powerful Haitian family with long-standing animosity toward
Aristide -- Amnesty International says some family members participated in
a 1987 peasant massacre. “To have Lucas as your program officer sends a
message to archconservatives that you’re on their side,” says Robert
Maguire, a Haiti expert at Trinity College in Washington, D.C.

IRI’s anti-Aristide focus appeared to have support from the Bush
administration. The former U.S. diplomat in Haiti says Lucas was in
constant contact with Roger Noriega, the administration’s top Latin
America official, who had previously worked for Senator Jesse Helms and
had long sought to oust Aristide. Noriega and conservative Republican
congressional staffers kept in close touch with IRI-trained opposition
leaders and pushed for additional funding for IRI’s Haiti activities. “The
USAID director in Haiti was under enormous pressure [from Congress] to
fund IRI,” says the former diplomat.

According to an internal report by the USAID inspector general obtained by
Mother Jones, in July 2002 the U.S. Embassy in Haiti protested that IRI’s
actions were undermining the official U.S. policy of working with all
sides in Haiti and that Lucas was spreading unsubstantiated rumors about
the U.S. ambassador. In response, USAID barred Lucas from running the IRI
program for 120 days. Lucas, according to several observers, threatened to
use Bush administration connections to have embassy officials fired. He
continued to essentially run the IRI Haiti program while serving as a
“translator,” in what IRI officials acknowledged was a violation of
USAID’s ban, according to the inspector general’s report.

In 2004, several of the people who had attended IRI trainings were
influential in the toppling of Aristide. Among them, according to Kim
Ives, a journalist with the newspaper Haiti Progres, was André Apaid, a
conservative Haitian politician who had backed a previous anti-Aristide
coup in 1991. Apaid became one of the leaders of the Group of 184, which
organized the street demonstrations against Aristide.

Other members of the group trained in the Dominican Republic were in close
contact with the thuggish armed opposition -- participating in rebel
meetings, serving as liaisons between the armed groups and foreign
embassies, and negotiating for the militia leaders. Among them was Paul
Arcelin, a leading member of the opposition who had served as an
ambassador under Haiti’s previous military junta. Arcelin told Canadian
reporters that he and other opposition leaders frequently met with Guy
Philippe, the leader of the armed rebels, to “prepare for Aristide’s
downfall.”

When the uprising against Aristide began in late 2003, the White House did
little to stop it. In February 2004, as the militias were marching on
Port-au-Prince, President Bush issued a statement blaming Aristide for the
violence. In late February, the administration urged Aristide to leave
Haiti, and on February 29 he was flown into exile in the Central African
Republic on a U.S. plane dispatched by the Pentagon. Today, conservative
politicians and the military are reinstalling themselves in power, Haiti
experts report; the country’s infamous intelligence services are being
re-created, and violence against Aristide supporters is commonplace.

Haiti is not unique. In Venezuela, Cambodia, and other nations, IRI—unlike
other government-funded democratization groups—has increasingly focused on
training opposition parties intent on toppling elected governments. The
institute is one of several democracy-promotion groups financed by USAID
and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); others include the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the AFL-CIO’s international wing.
Under their bylaws, the groups are supposed to work with actors across the
political spectrum in democracies. In Haiti, for example, NDI, which is
controlled by Democrats, worked with members of Aristide’s party as well
as opposition parties, and was lauded for its grassroots efforts.

IRI, by contrast, has increasingly come under attack for choosing sides.
In Venezuela, the institute dramatically expanded its presence in 2001 and
2002 as President Hugo Chavez ratcheted up his anti-U.S. rhetoric. IRI’s
Latin America program was led by Georges Fauriol, who had previously
worked at a conservative Washington think tank alongside Otto Reich, who
has been Bush’s closest adviser on Latin America policy. Reich, who
according to Congress’ Government Accountability Office conducted
“prohibited covert propaganda” on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras in the
1980s, is a former ambassador to Venezuela who had frequently denounced
Chavez.

In Venezuela, IRI staffed its program with Bush allies and campaign
supporters; in turn, in 2001 the administration increased funding for
IRI’s activities in Venezuela sixfold, from $50,000 to $300,000 -- the
largest grant any of NED’s democracy-promotion organizations received that
year.

At the time, all the major U.S. democracy-promotion groups were active in
Venezuela, including both IRI and NDI. But documents obtained through the
Freedom of Information Act show that while NDI worked with parties across
the political spectrum, IRI staffers spent much of their time cultivating
the opposition. IRI worked closely with Acción Democrática, a group that,
IRI’s own documents acknowledge, “refused to recognize the legitimacy of
the Chavez presidency.” IRI also tutored opposition figures, including
Caracas mayor Alfredo Peña, an outspoken Chavez critic, on how to create a
political party. And despite a warning from the National Endowment for
Democracy not to take sides in Venezuela, IRI also used its own money to
bring opposition figures to Washington, where they met with top U.S.
officials.

In April 2002, a group of military officers launched a coup against
Chavez, and leaders of several parties trained by IRI joined the junta.
When news of the coup emerged, democracy-promotion groups in Venezuela
were holding a meeting to discuss ways of working together to avoid
political violence; IRI representatives didn’t attend, saying that they
were drafting a statement on Chavez’s overthrow. On April 12, the
institute’s Venezuela office released a statement praising the “bravery”
of the junta and “commending the patriotism of the Venezuelan military.”

That drew a sharply worded email from NED president Carl Gershman, a copy
of which was obtained by Mother Jones. Gershman wrote: “By welcoming [the
coup] -- indeed, without any apparent reservations—you unnecessarily
interjected IRI into the sensitive internal politics of Venezuela.”

At roughly the same time that IRI issued its statement, Reich announced
that Chavez had resigned -- though he had not -- and said the United
States would support the new government in Venezuela. But within a day,
Chavez was restored to power by popular demonstrations, the presidential
guard, and segments of the army. At least 40 people were killed in the
violence surrounding the coup.

IRI’s selective approach to democracy-building has also been in evidence
in Cambodia, where it has thrown its support behind the Sam Rainsy Party,
an opposition group led by a former banker who is popular in conservative
Washington circles. Institute staff members have written speeches and
managed campaigns for Rainsy, according to several sources. “IRI people
were part of the [Rainsy] machine,” says one human rights expert who
focuses on Cambodia.

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, like Chavez and Aristide, is no saint.
He has been linked to political violence and has little respect for civil
liberties. “In some ways, IRI [is] leveling the playing field,” says the
Cambodia expert. Similarly, in Haiti, says another observer, there was a
legitimate need to help the opposition organize because Aristide was
becoming so abusive of his power.

Yet IRI’s singular focus on groups seeking to overthrow leaders seen as
hostile to the United States can sometimes harm American diplomatic
efforts. In Cambodia, notes one official with considerable experience in
the country, “it hurt the U.S. government’s credibility as an honest
broker in the election processes.” In Haiti, IRI has had a similar impact,
experts say, by unbalancing an already volatile situation and causing
people to wonder what the United States’ true agenda was. In 2003, after
being threatened by IRI’s Stanley Lucas, the departing U.S. ambassador,
Brian Dean Curran, gave a farewell speech to the Haitian chamber of
commerce. “There are many in Haiti who prefer not to listen to me,” he
said, “but to their own friends in Washington—the sirens of extremism.”
Then he added, using the Haitian word for “thugs”: “I call them the
chimères of Washington.”

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