Haiti: Confusion in the Ranks By William Bowles

3 March 2004

In a piece in Dissident Voice, the author proposes that Aristide may not have been abducted and forcibly deported by the US Marines. Instead it says:

“After making spirited verbal comments about how he would stay and fight the rebels to the end, Aristide, now safely in the CAR, had to put forth some face saving story for his supporters about his departure, while taking the opportunity to make a claim that would embarrass the Bush regime and possibly lead to international pressure for his reinstatement. So he contacts his most ardent supporters in the US, and now the Bushites are on the defensive.”
‘Aristide – Not Kidnapped?’

The author then goes on to caution us ‘progressives’ not to be taken in:

“All the good things he did for Haiti as a radical liberation theology priest were alas eclipsed by his many defects as President since 2000. That in no way justifies his appalling ouster. Still, how else can one explain the fact that, despite their American backing, only a few hundred armed men took over the entire country if not because few wanted to defend a government that disillusioned much of its base? Progressives should align themselves with popular movements and not fixate too much on leaders.”

It seems that two different issues are wrapped up in the author’s assertions: the issue of whether or not he was abducted and the other, that Aristide wasn’t much good as a prez. Of course had he been a great prez, then perhaps his being abducted wouldn’t come under question? But then had he been a ‘great’ prez would it have made any difference to the outcome?

It seems too, that we are being told what to do, like “not fixate on leaders”. Instead we should throw our lot in with popular movements (as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive).

The only ‘evidence’ that supports the DV’s assertion that he fled is what the US government have said. So for example, Aristide’s ‘resignation’ letter was written on US government (embassy) stationary [1]. It was my understanding that Aristide phoned Randall Robinson, not the other way as the author states. How he got hold of a phone can only be speculated on but it doesn’t strike me as so far-fetched. Then there’s the witnesses who have asserted that they saw Aristide marched away at gunpoint and handcuffed. There’s also the disinfo put out by the US about the ‘request for asylum’ purportedly made by Aristide to South Africa and that it had been turned down, an assertion that has been refuted by the SA ambassador to the UN [2]. Above all else, there’s the simple fact of the heavily armed para-military force that’s been trashing the island for the past four weeks.

Aristide is also blamed by implication, for the rapid takeover of the country, telling us that the masses didn’t flock to his defence because they were “disillusioned”. The writer claims that a few hundred men couldn’t possibly takeover an entire island unless nobody wanted to defend it. I wonder if the writer has been at the receiving end of a heavy calibre machine gun or perhaps an RPG? The author, without substantiation, claims there was no opposition but the tens of thousands of (unarmed) people who demonstrated for Aristide and democracy, clearly contradicts this claim.

It is unfortunate that the issue of Aristide’s failures and weaknesses are dealt with in this destructive manner, for it obscures the central issue, namely why did Aristide fail? What were the conditions that led to the downfall of democracy in Haiti? To what degree did Aristide have any real control over events? What were the nature of the mistakes and errors that only added to the pressures exerted by the imperium (and can the two processes be considered as separate)? And what of the gains made in spite of the immense obstacles the country faced?

Most important, instead of dumping on Aristide, we would be better served by looking at the nature of the low intensity war conducted against the country since 1990 and the role it played in Aristide’s ‘failure’ and downfall.

From the early beginnings of Aristide, liberation theology priest through to his ouster this past weekend, he has had ‘Baby’ Doc Duvalier, death squads, local business interests and the US establishment, both government and business actively fighting him and the popular movement. If my memory serves me correctly, Aristide never wanted to be prez in the first place and had turned down the role several times before reluctantly agreeing.

The country that Aristide became the head of in 1990 had an army that was utterly opposed to the Lavalas Party and the popular movement. The national police could not be relied on either. After seven months, a US-backed military coup took place that resulted in the wholesale slaughter of much of the leading cadres of the Lavalas Party. Local organisations were destroyed in a period that probably exceeded the brutality of the Duvalier kleptocracy.

After four years, the US ‘allows’ Aristide back, under what amounted to a Faustian pact, one that Aristide was all too aware of. Forced to accept the ‘structural adjustment’ package or see the continuation of the military junta, he agreed, able only to get the US to agree to the dissolution (and importantly, disarming) of the FAD’H, the Haitian Army. But the US reneged on this and finally in 1995, Aristide disbanded the army. The US also refused to either prosecute the killers from FAD’H and FRAPH or to round up the arms caches.

Without either an army or a reliable police force to defend the state, Aristide’s only defence came from popular organisations that had been decimated during the period of military rule (a familiar story to anyone who has studied comparable situations around the world). The aid embargo further weakened the country and finally the NED and USAID-funded destabilisation campaign, set up the final scene for the coup. [3]

On the Lavalas side of the equation, there is no doubt that many mistakes were committed, and it may well be that Aristide was not cut out to be a prez, but that’s what the country had and a democratically elected one at that. Had the elections been allowed to take place next year, then the people would have been able to decide whether or not Aristide and Lavalas were what they wanted.

In addition, there’s the issue of the Lavalas Party and its relationship to Aristide, and judging by events, it wasn’t the most conducive of relationships.

The author of the Dissident Voice article tells us that Aristide let down the masses and that’s why they wouldn’t come to his defence. A position that is all too easy to adopt when sitting comfortably contemplating events from a distance.

None of these are new issues, they have been at the centre of the transformation of poor countries for the past century. Nicaragua, Cuba, Vietnam, Mozambique, Angola to name but a few, have all tried to build a better life for their citizens. Some have fared better than others but all have tried to do it under the most difficult of conditions, conditions largely imposed by external forces, who not only want to see the countries fail, it is vital that they are seen to be failures because of some intrinsic ideological fault.

The propaganda war around Aristide was successful insofar as it deflected criticism of the US onto Aristide and the Lavalas Party (and let’s not forget their ‘shanty town gangs’) through the tried and tested method of the half-truth. So for example, even though the 2000 national election wasn’t perfect, at a minimum, Aristide garnered 60% of the vote, far outstripping the nearest rival, the Convergence, who got 12-14%. The mass media focused almost entirely on the ‘gangsters’ and the ‘failures’ of the Aristide presidency (see ‘Bringing Hell to Haiti’ parts One & Two) without presenting the background and context.

That the economy of the island has collapsed is due entirely to the economic embargo and the conditions demanded by the IMF and the World Bank. As it was, Haiti was severely punished for not implementing the entire package. Caught between big capital and the masses, Aristide was left with few options. Faced with such overwhelming conflicts, and entirely isolated by the world ‘community’, it was only question of time. The imperium acts with impunity. [4]

It is a shame that the focus has been shifted, not only from the US-led coup to Aristide’s failures, but more important is the fact that a democratically elected government has been overthrown with barely a whimper from the Western ‘democracies’. Where is the outrage? Why do we not see the corporate press and our governments clamouring for the reinstatement of the Lavalas government and demanding that the international ‘community’ intervene and restore it to power?

Whatever Aristide’s failures, they pale into insignificance compared to what the people of Haiti will now suffer at the hands of the coup leaders and their mercenary killers.

Notes

1. US State Dept faxed Aristide’s ‘Resignation’ Letter

2. South Africa Rejects Washington’s Claim Aristide Was Denied Asylum

3. Coup ‘Carefully staged military-intelligence operation’

4. REGIME Change By Social Collapse: Canada, the US, and Haiti

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