[News] Haiti - Aristide Stands, the People Stand

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 3 16:05:00 EDT 2011


ARISTIDE STANDS, THE PEOPLE STAND
by Nia Imara

With President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to 
Haiti this past March, President Obama once again 
landed his administration on the wrong side of 
history.  After seven years of forced exile in 
South Africa—an exile orchestrated and imposed by 
the United States—Aristide and his family 
returned home to the rejoicing of millions of 
their fellow citizens.  Tens of thousands of 
supporters greeted the Aristides at the 
Port-Au-Prince International Airport on the 
morning of Friday, March, 18 and ushered them to 
their home in Tabarre.  The grounds surrounding 
the house, from which the Aristides were 
kidnapped seven years ago by US special forces, 
were packed that morning with a jubilant crowd 
that included international supporters.

In the predawn hours on Sunday, February 29, 
2004, United States Special Forces and more than 
two dozen US soldiers came to President 
Aristide’s home, ordered him and his wife get 
into a car, drove them to the airport, and put 
them onto an American plane that eventually 
landed in the Central African Republic.  Ever 
since his kidnapping, the Haitian people that 
overwhelmingly elected him into office in 1990 
and 2000 called for his return.  Yet instead of 
respecting the will of the majority and offering 
support that might have expedited the return of 
Haiti’s twice democratically elected president, 
Obama followed in the path of the Bush 
administration and took measures to stop 
Aristide’s return from South Africa.  In the last 
days leading up to the planned return, US State 
Department officials repeatedly pressured the 
South African government to prevent him from 
leaving the country.  And just a few days before 
the family left for Haiti, Obama personally 
called South African President Jacob Zuma to 
express his “concern” over Aristide’s return.

The United States’ centuries-long bullying of 
Haiti, its pressuring of Haiti, and its economic 
and military interference in Haiti have not 
ceased with the Obama administration.  The 
ostensible presidential elections held last 
November were fraudulent and undemocratic from 
the inside out.  To start, Haiti’s Provisional 
Electoral Council (CEP) prevented the country’s 
most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas, from 
running candidates.  Ever since the senatorial 
elections in April 2009, in fact, Lavalas has 
been banned from participating in elections, due 
in no small part to pressure exerted on the CEP 
and the UN by Washington.  In spite of demands 
made by the Haitian grassroots and the 
international solidarity movement that the United 
Nations, the CEP, and the US not support 
elections in which Lavalas was excluded, the 
Obama administration spent a total of $16 million 
to fund the elections in November and the runoffs in March.

On election day last November, voter fraud of 
every variety was documented: the names of 
registered voters went missing from polling 
stations, ballots were stuffed with the names of 
victims who died in the January 2010 earthquake, 
votes were miscounted or not counted at all, and 
there were only about 2,000 polling stations 
across the country, down from 12,000 during the 
last elections in which Lavalas participated. 
That the elections were fraudulent, however, 
could not have come as a surprise to Washington, 
the UN, or the CEP, who were forewarned by 
Haitian and international organizations.

Immediately following the November elections, 
Haitians came out onto the streets by the tens of 
thousands to vote with their feet and their 
voices.  They demanded that the “selections” be 
annulled and they protested the ongoing 
occupation of their country by the United States, 
France, Canada, and the United Nations. With 
hundreds of thousands still homeless since the 
earthquake, and in the midst of a cholera 
epidemic brought to the country by the UN, how 
could such a farcical election be given priority 
over the needs of the people?  How can there be 
democracy when a people are under military 
occupation?  How can people participate in the 
rebuilding of their country when the movement 
representing the majority is excluded and 
repressed?  The contradictions can only be pushed 
so far.  The crimes committed against the Haitian 
people by Washington, the United Nations, and by 
the elite within their own country do not go unnoticed.

***

The “impartiality” with which the American media 
treated the return of Jean-Claude Duvalier to 
Haiti last January was cynical, if not 
immoral.  Tens of thousands of people were 
murdered during the twenty-nine year long, 
US-funded dictatorship of Francois Duvalier and 
his son, Jean-Claude.  The severe economic divide 
in Haiti today and the country’s dependence on 
foreign resources directly extend from the 
exploitation and corruption that that regime tried to entrench in society.

In 1986, Duvalier the younger was forced out of 
Haiti due to the mounting pressure of the 
people’s resistance.  The driving force of this 
movement came to be known as Lavalas.  This 
Kreyol term means “flood” or “torrent,” the idea 
being that the people were united in a cleansing 
flood that would wash away all the corruption and injustice of Duvalierism.

In the early 1980s, a young priest whose parish 
was in La Saline—an especially impoverished area 
in Port-au-Prince—emerged as a courageous 
opponent of Duvalier, Duvalierism, and policy of 
the US government, which had provided the 
dictatorship with millions of dollars over the 
decades.   He was guided by liberation theology, 
he worked on behalf of the poor, the youth, and 
political prisoners, and he spoke about the right 
of Haitians to be free from foreign 
interference.  Jean-Bertrand Aristide shared in 
the suffering of the people and uncompromisingly 
fought for a society in which dignity, education, 
shelter, healthcare, and jobs were not the rights 
of a privileged few.   He mirrored the 
aspirations of Lavalas—its slogan was “justice, 
transparency, participation”—and at the people’s 
urging, he became the party’s presidential 
candidate.  In 1990, during the first democratic 
election in Haiti’s history, the people elected 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide by an overwhelming 67% of the vote.

Although Duvalier was removed from power, the 
small, very powerful, and very rich elite that 
supported him remained intact.  Aristide was and 
is so loved by his people because he stands for 
everything the Haitian elite, America, and 
France—Haiti’s former colonizer—are 
against.  Seven months after he assumed office, 
the Haitian military—which had been trained and 
funded by the US—staged a coup d’état, and 
Aristide was forced into exile.  Anti-Lavalas 
forces took over the government and, in their 
attempt to maintain power, reassumed their 
repressive Duvalierist tactics.  Meanwhile, Bill 
Clinton tried to manipulate the situation to the 
advantage of US big business by trying to 
pressure Aristide into making a number of 
unacceptable concessions.  If Aristide agreed to 
privatize his country’s national 
resources—including the airport, banks, the 
telephone company, and the electrical company—and 
sell them primarily to American corporations, 
then Washington would sanction Aristide’s return 
and provide him with the protection of the US 
military.  But Aristide refused, and due to the 
sustained resistance of the grassroots movement 
in Haiti, in combination with the mounting 
international support, he was able to return in 1994.

But Clinton is back and is pursuing Washington’s 
agenda of transforming Haiti into one of its 
markets.  After the 2010 earthquake, Obama placed 
him and George W. Bush in charge of America’s 
fundraising efforts for relief.  Given Clinton’s 
record with Haiti, and considering that Bush’s 
administration blocked 500 million dollars in 
international loans to Haiti, Obama’s decision 
must be regarded as rather cynical.  Last year, 
the occupation government of Haiti made Clinton 
co-director of the Interim Reconstruction 
Committee.  Soon afterward, his wife Secretary of 
State Hillary Clinton brokered a deal in which a 
South Korean clothing company called Sae-A 
Trading would open sweat shops in Haiti.

When Aristide stepped down from office at the end 
of his first term in 1995, the people elected 
René Préval, who became the first president to 
serve his full five-year term in 
office.  (Although after he was reelected in 
2006, he betrayed the people by allying himself 
with the occupational forces.)  Aristide was 
popularly elected president again in 2000, and 
again he faced attacks from the US, France, and 
also Canada.  These governments and the big 
business interests they represented did not want 
Aristide in office because he empowered his 
people, making it more difficult for them to be exploited.

President Aristide stands for education and 
literacy of the people. Between 1994 and 2004, 
the Lavalas administrations built hundreds of 
schools—195 primary schools and 104 high 
schools—more than had ever been built in Haiti’s 
history up to that point.  (The US and UN have 
not built any schools during their seven-year 
occupation of Haiti.)  The nationwide literacy 
campaign instituted by Lavalas reduced the rate 
of illiteracy from 85 to 55 percent, and in 2001 
Aristide designated twenty percent of the 
national budget for education.   Since his return 
to Haiti in 2011, Aristide again declared his 
intention to focus on education.  As he has 
explained many times before, education and the 
day-to-day participation of people in the running 
of the country are the true tests of a democracy.

Aristide stands for economic justice.  During his 
second term in office, he nearly doubled the 
minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes (about $1.70) 
per day.  His administration also initiated a 
campaign to collect unpaid taxes that the elite 
owed the government.  For decades, dictators did 
everything they could to economically and 
socially disenfranchise the masses.  Lavalas 
empowered and enabled the people.  Tens of 
thousands of fishermen were provided with 
assistance, new tools and boats, and fifty new 
lakes with stock fish were constructed.  Lavalas 
built hundreds of new stores and restaurants at 
which food was sold at lower prices, thus 
challenging the monopolies of the elite.  Moves 
like these, while they solidified Aristide’s 
support amongst the poor majority, obviously 
increased the elite’s animosity toward him and Lavalas.

Aristide stands for healthcare.   Before the 2004 
coup, Lavalas spent more on health care than any 
previous government.  And during the ten-year 
period leading up to the coup, the malnutrition 
rate dropped from 63% to 51%. The administration 
began an AIDS treatment and prevention program; 
people were provided with free healthcare; forty 
clinics and hospitals were built or rebuilt; and 
clean water was being made accessible to the 
poorest parts of the country that up till then 
had been neglected.  Eight hundred Cuban health 
care workers came to work in the traditionally 
underserved rural areas in Haiti, and over three 
hundred Haitians went to Cuba to be trained as 
doctors.  A new nursing school was also being 
planned, but the work was halted when the US 
military appropriated it after the 2004 coup.

Above all, Aristide stands for the dignity of his 
people.  And not just symbolically.  During his 
first term in office, he disbanded the Haitian 
army, which was created by the United States 
during its first occupation of Haiti in 1915, and 
which was notorious for terrorizing the 
people.  When he was elected for the second time, 
Aristide made it clear that France owed Haiti 
restitution for the 21.7 billion dollars it 
extorted from the ex-slaves after the Haitian 
Revolution.  (It is doubtful that the president 
of this country would ever make moves to disband 
the police, the military, or to demand 
restitution for the descendents of slaves.)  In 
making the demand for restitution, Aristide was 
speaking not only for the people of Haiti but for 
black people everywhere who are descendants of slavery.

At every turn, Aristide challenged the unjust 
power structure in Haiti and in the world—a power 
structure characterized by a privileged few 
profiting from the exploitation of the poor 
majority.  Thus, in February 2004, the United 
States and a Haitian paramilitary consisting of 
Duvalierists and former army members violently 
took over the government of Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide.  The US Marines occupied the country 
and were later replaced by the United Nations, 
which has since acted as a proxy military force 
for America, France, and Canada, whose mission 
has been to transform Haiti into a safe 
playground for big business.  In order to do 
this, these governments have worked with the 
Haitian elite to crush the Lavalas 
movement.  During the first months of the 
occupation, many Lavalas leaders fled the country 
because their lives were threatened by the 
coup-makers.  In the years that followed, 
thousands of people were either murdered, 
disappeared, or imprisoned by the police, UN 
troops, and paramilitaries acting on behalf of 
the rich.  The casualties number in the 
thousands—men, women, children, elderly.

The occupation put a halt to the reforms begun by 
Lavalas, and the quality of life has plunged 
dramatically during the last seven years.  The 
elite and the defacto Haitian government have 
acted completely contrary to the most fundamental 
aspects of the Haitian constitution, which states 
that “The State recognizes the right of every 
citizen to decent housing, education, food, and 
social security.”  And in condoning Aristide’s 
kidnapping and preventing his return to Haiti, 
Obama has violated the clause of the constitution 
that states, “No person of Haitian nationality 
may be deported or forced to leave the national territory for any reason.”

All along, the UN has protected the coup-makers 
and has itself participated in murder and 
rape.  In 2006, the medical journal The Lancet 
published research showing that at least 8,000 
Haitians had been murdered and 35,000 women raped 
since the coup, and the UN has participated in 
these crimes.  Since its presence in Haiti, 
political repression has increased, the cost of 
living has skyrocketed, the infrastructure has 
deteriorated, and access to medical care, 
employment, and education have plummeted.   Many 
Haitians have compared this period to the 
Duvalier regime at its worst.  The idea that the 
more than 10,000 UN troops in Haiti are there to 
bring about peace and stability is a myth.  They 
are there to enable the occupation and provide it 
with a facade of legitimacy.  The strategy of the 
US/UN occupation has been to re-enslave Haiti; 
and if the US is the equivalent to the slave 
master in this affair, then the UN is equivalent to the overseer.

The veneer, however, is thin.  The people of 
Haiti know well that the holding of elections 
should not be mistaken for democracy.   The 
runoff held in March did not have a much higher 
voter turnout than did the November 
elections—between 10% and 25%.  The CEP recently 
announced that the majority of the votes were 
taken by Michel Martelly, a man who supported the 
Duvalier regime and its death squads.  But given 
the Haitian people’s history of resisting 
corruption and repression, the story is not over 
yet.  Neither truth nor justice can be evaded forever.
Indeed, the people persevere.  In Haiti is a 
people born out of struggle—a people who have 
pledged their determination to die in struggle 
rather than live as slaves.  The return of 
Aristide gives reason to hope and proves that 
their struggle has not been fruitless.  If we 
stand with the people of Haiti, we stand on the right side of history.
Haiti Action Committee
<http://www.haitisolidarity.net/>www.haitisolidarity.net and on FACEBOOK

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