HAITI: ‘Textbook’ Imperialism By William Bowles

1 March 2004

The tragedy that is Haiti unfolds once more in this, the 35th? coup since the world’s first black republic was founded in 1804 and once more the US role in the removal of Jean Bertrand Aristide is patently obvious to anyone who cares to dig deeper than the headlines that have flooded out of ‘propaganda central’ (see “BRINGING HELL TO HAITI – PART 1“).

Aristide, always the reluctant leader nevertheless found himself president of Haiti’s first democratically elected government in 1990 but a government that was to last less than a year before being overthrown by a US-instigated coup d’etat that was to last four years before Aristide was restored to power by the very same government that had a central hand in his overthrow (although now it was George Bush Snr instead of Bill Clinton who led the charge).

For the past eight years, Aristide has attempted to bring justice, both economic and political to the island’s impoverished population but even his attempt to get a minimum wage of a little over a dollar a day proved impossible (less than it was in 1995). Between the owners of the sweatshops who work for US transnationals and the demands of ‘structural adjustment’, Aristide has been faced with a ‘mission impossible’ for which he finally paid the price.

The ‘rebellion’ as the corporate media has labelled it, is in reality led by the same interests the US has been supporting for decades, namely a:

“brutal gang of thugs, with direct ties to the U.S.-recognized and Republican-financed ‘opposition’ – the Convergence and the Group of 184, whose spokesmen are sweat shop owners and former military officers. This ‘opposition’ seeks to distance itself from the violence, yet continue to insist that the “uprising” is justified.”
“US double-game in Haiti” by Tom Reeves, Znet 16/02/04

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it again and again, what is critical here is the recognition of the fact that any opposition to US interests is simply not permissible. The tragedy that is playing out before us is one that has been played out in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, Iraq, Iran, Liberia, Lebanon…the list though not endless, is nevertheless a long one and, with local variations is central to the protection of US economic and strategic interests (for anyone who is not convinced of this, please consult the many sources available here and elsewhere on the fundamental relationship between the US government and the economic interests it ultimately serves).

Whilst the corporate media has been content to label Aristide supporters as “gangsters” and “thugs”, it has had no problem describing the former military death squads as “rebels” and as a “political opposition” without once mentioning that they have been financed and supported for decades by the US. In fact, the US-supplied arms that the military possessed when they mounted their coup against Aristide in 1990 were hauled once again (and according to reports, new arms brought in from neighbouring Dominican Republic, where the death squads have been in repose, biding their time).

Janus-faced, the US has played fast and lose with the facts just as it did with its decades-long support of Saddam Hussein. One day a ‘friend’ and the next a ‘mortal enemy of democracy’ (US-style).

That the government of Aristide has not been a ‘model’ of democracy is not in contention, but then given the conditions under which it laboured, it’s not surprising. He has after all, tried to walk a tightrope between the addressing the needs of the great mass of Haitians who voted him into power with an overwhelming majority of the popular vote in two elections (1990 and 2000) and the demands of US big business (Walt Disney, Goodyear, US Rice Corporation et al), the IMF and the World Bank.

Even under the best of conditions, Aristide’s government didn’t really have a chance. Demonised as a ‘Marxist’ in the early days and now as just ‘another despotic failed state’ ruler, whatever Aristide did was bound to incur either the displeasure of the populace or the wrath of the US. It was a no-win situation of which Aristide was all too aware:

“Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or, we refuse, and face death by slow starvation.”

The US “Death Plan”
When the US ‘restored’ Aristide to power in 1994 it was done with specific conditions attached. These were:

  • The notorious Haitian Army or FRAP’H was to remain untouched
  • The demands of the IDB, the IMF and the World Bank for ‘structural reforms’ had to be implemented
  • Dismantling of social support and the privatisation of state assets

Aristide’s first ‘mistake’ was to dismantle the Haitian Army (FAD’H) in 1995 and to arrest its leaders (the same men who command the ‘rebels’). His second was to resist the demands of big capital to ‘reform’ the government.

The ‘reforms’ have been described as follows:

“The economy has gone from bad to worse. The resulting struggle for survival undermines the possibilities for democracy. And the economic program [the United States and international institutions] are imposing threatens to further devastate the country. Haitians have a variety of names for the program: “the neoliberal plan,” “the American plan.” But the most vivid name was offered by a peasant who said simply, “We call it the ‘death plan’.”

Hence Aristide was on a hiding to nothing, for caught between two fires, he could satisfy neither US capitalism nor the legitimate demands of the Haitian people:

“Elitane Atelis, a member of Fanm des Martyrs Ayibobo Brav (Women Victims of Military Violence), put it bluntly: today, her country faces “what every Haitian baby knows is Bush’s game.” The game is low-intensity warfare, a policy mix long familiar to observers of U.S. policy toward “undesirable” regimes in Latin America and elsewhere.
“Still up against the death plan” by Tom Reeves, Dollars and Sense Oct/Nov 2003

‘Textbook’ Imperialism
The process we have witnessed in Haiti these past few weeks (and months and years) should be by now a recognizable one, it is after all one that has been rolled out in countless countries throughout the world against any country that dared stand up to US imperialism. The central elements are:

  • Well-funded disinformation campaigns that are channelled through a variety of US-supported institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the Republican Institute, the AFL-CIO, business groups and then out into the corporate press, where such propaganda is swallowed whole and regurgitated as ‘news’
  • Pressure on international institutions and other governments not to support reforms, cut or freeze aid, the implementation of trade embargoes (often under threat of retribution by the US against governments that refuse to ‘tow the line’)
  • And finally the overt and covert support for right-wing opposition groups that includes military and para-military forces either with direct US involvement or through some ‘third party’.

The destabilisation of Haiti that we have witnessed is a ‘textbook’ example of US imperialism in action. It has in every respect followed a tried a tested method for the removal of ‘troublesome’ governments. It started even before Aristide came to power with his demonisation as a ‘Marxist’, a campaign that utilised the Catholic Church in removing him as a priest. When this failed, it was necessary to implement the second phase, that of on the one hand backing a ‘democratic’ opposition (Marc Bazin, who is once more the US favourite to replace Aristide) whilst at the same time arming and supporting the military and para-military forces that had maintained the Duvalier dictatorships for decades.

Central to the process is the creation of conditions that make it virtually impossible for any government that wishes to pursue a policy independent of the US from functioning under conditions that approach ‘normal’. That he achieved as much as he did in the few short years he held power is nothing short of amazing. That he finally ‘fell from grace’ is equally unsurprising given the enormous weight of the weapons reigned against him.

And now, in this the final stage of the US counter-revolution, the ‘international community’ that is in reality the US backed by Canada and France will install a regime compliant to US economic interests and, as with the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, effectively rule Haiti as what I believe is euphemistically referred to as a ‘protectorate’ until such time as a cowed and beaten population learn the ‘error of their ways’ and accept the rule of the sweatshop and the death squad.

And thus ends another shameful episode not only of US imperialism’s dead hand on the poor of the world but perhaps in its own way the even more shameful participation of the British media in the massive propaganda campaign waged by the US government to portray Jean Bertrand Aristide as an ego-maniac and thief out to line his own pocket, in what is a replay of the propaganda campaign waged by the Clinton administration in 1990, who attempted to present Aristide as “mentally unbalanced” as part of its campaign to unseat him.

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