Regime Change: Caught between a rock and a Bush
"In 1893 Frederick Douglass, then envoy to Haiti, said he
felt compelled to defend Haiti against the prejudices of
"newspaper correspondents and six-day tourists" by
pointing out that Haiti seemed capable of enduring crisis without
"falling to pieces and without being hopelessly abandoned to
Not much has changed... Laced with racism and condescension
corporate media reports depict Haitians as failures at democracy and
incapable of running their own country. Just as in 1990, when
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first elected, there is now a
concerted campaign to destabilize, isolate and financially starve
the Haitian government."
06/03/03. Whilst the US tells the world of its desire to see freedom
and democracy in Iraq, it’s busy starving Haiti, the poorest country
in the western hemisphere into submission by enforcing a complete
embargo on economic aid through its control of the IMF, World Bank and
the International Development Fund, unless the Aristide government bows
to US pressure to ‘reform’. In all, the US is blocking aid totalling
$500 million. The US is backing a coalition of tiny, right-wing parties,
the Democratic Convergence, which has links to US right-wing
organisations and big business interests in the Haitian economy and
which has according to reports, millions of dollars of funding from, you
guessed it, the National Endowment for Democracy.
"In January 2001, Ira Kurzban, the Aristide administration's
general counsel in the U.S., claimed that the IRI facilitated the
allocation of $3 million of NED funds to the [Democratic]
Convergence. Shortly thereafter, in a February 2 article, The Washington
Post substantiated the IRI's connection to the origins of the
Convergence. In effect, the IRI has arranged for the Convergence to
have a de facto veto power over Aristide's constitutional
(US) Business as usual
The history of Haiti in the 20th and 21st centuries is a typical
story of US imperialism in action. Indeed, as I did my research on this
article, the same names, the same structures, the same strategies
scrolled down the screen of my powerbook with boring predicatability:
USAID, National Endowment for Democracy, the IMF, the World Bank, the
IDF, plus a gaggle of structures set up to implement ‘regime change’
in this poverty-stricken island: the Haiti Democracy Project (with links
to many of the organisations named here, as well as the usual assortment
of US ambassadors current or former, US senators, congressmen and
businessmen), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) (an
adjunct of the US Chamber of Commerce) and which is funded by the usual
suspects, USAID, IBM, Coca-Cola, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the National
Endowment for Democracy, Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy
(linked in turn to CIPE). All of them waiting in line, as it were to
bring the ‘benefits of free enterprise’ to the island if only that
damn (marxist) priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide would get out of the way!
From the Reagan years of the 1980s through to the present, the names we
now all too familiar with are once more, part of the de-stabilisation
programme initiated by the CIA and the National Security Council (NSC):
Elliot Abrams, the CIA, USAID et al.
"Washington, October 31. Key members of the military regime
controlling Haiti and blocking the return of its elected President,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were paid by the Central Intelligence Agency
for information from the mid-1980's at least until the 1991 coup
that forced Mr. Aristide from power, according to American
As part of its normal intelligence-gathering operations, the
C.I.A. cultivated, recruited and paid generals and politicians for
information about everything from cocaine smuggling to political
ferment in Haiti, they said.
Without naming names, a Government official familiar with the
payments said that `several of the principal players in the present
situation were compensated by the U.S. Government.' It was not clear
when the payments ended or how much money they involved, although
they were described as modest."
New York Times, Nov 1993.
Haiti – the first free Black republic in the Caribbean
For those of you who have no idea where Haiti is or it’s history,
Haiti occupies one third of an island in the Caribbean that used to be
called Hispaniola. The other half is the Dominican Republic. Next year,
Haiti celebrates its 200th anniversary of independence, not that it has
an awful lot to celebrate. Haiti was the first country to successfully
free itself from its colonial, slave masters, the French in 1804 under
the leadership of Alain Touissant, as the Caribbean’s (and the world’s)
first black republic and it became a beacon for independence struggles
throughout the Caribbean slave islands from that point on.
US involvement in the affairs of Haiti extend back almost 100 years:
"The US has invaded Haiti on two previous occasions. [The
first] In 1914, following disputes over the repayment of Haiti's
debt to the US, marines landed and raided the National Bank, taking
the nation's gold reserves back to New York with them.
The second invasion followed in 1915. The invasion force occupied
the country for 19 years and established the basis of Haiti's
current political and economic systems. Haiti's army was disbanded
and a new army formed under US officers. The constitution was
rewritten to allow foreign ownership of property.
US exports to Haiti rose from US$3.8 million in 1915 to US$15
million by 1918. The nation's finances came under US control; even
after the withdrawal of troops in 1934, the National Bank remained a
subsidiary of the US Export-Import Bank."
Although the US has always presented itself to the world as an
‘anti-colonial’ power (through exploiting its war of
independence from the Brits), the reality is somewhat different as
Haiti is just one of the country’s to come under the control of
the US. Cuba, the Philippines, Hawaii, Panama, the Dominican
Republic, Nicaragua, plus a host of small islands in the Pacific
have all felt the boot of the US Marine.
Francois [‘Papa Doc’] Duvalier became president in 1957 and
established a dictatorship which, with continued support from the
US, lasted until 1986, his son Jean-Claude [‘Baby Doc’] Duvalier
succeeding him in 1971. The Duvaliers amassed a fortune of hundreds
of millions of dollars. Estimates are that up to 50,000 people were
killed by the regime.
Jean-Claude Duvalier fled waves of protests and clashes with
security forces in a plane provided by the US in 1986. A series of
unstable regimes followed, culminating in Haiti's first relatively
fraud-free elections in December 1990, when liberation theologist
Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide won a landslide victory."
Haiti -- Island of
Sun, Sand Sweatshops
And predicably, I came across a site http://www.bharattextile.com/newsitems/1982823
which is applauding the passing of a new US bill that permits the
importing of textiles from Haiti to the US, duty-free. The site informs
the reader that the average wage in Haiti is "$1 a day" which
even with all the other costs thrown in still totals only $2 per day.
And by the strategic location of textile plants in the Dominican
Republic, the two countries will be forced to compete with each other in
keeping wages as low as possible.
Does your kid wear Walt Disney pajamas?
Because if he/she does, the chances are they’re made in Haiti at
the US-owned plant of L.V. Miles which manufactures them under license
for the Walt Disney corporation:
"In one day [in 1996]…20 workers earn $66.60, and together
they produce 1,000 pairs of pajamas. That is $11,970 worth of
pajamas for $66.60. Less than seven cents per pair goes to pay the
workers who produced it."
This is from a report written by the National Labour Commission,
a US NGO funded by trade unions investigating the conditions of
workers in countries like Haiti. The report goes on to say that,
"In 1994, Wal-Mart made a profit of $2.681 billion, Disney
made $1.1 billion. The workers who sew the clothes for these
companies are, in many cases, making less than $312 a year working
full time. Basic respect for the law is not too much to ask."
Today's minimum wage has less buying power than before Aristide's
election in December 1990. Since 1980, its real value has declined
some 50 percent. It is the lowest in the entire Caribbean area and
provides less than 60 percent of the barest needs for a family of
five. A more usual wage of $1 a day, or $6 for a standard workweek,
provides about one- quarter of these minimum needs.
For U.S. multinational corporations, Aristide's support for an
increase in the minimum wage was a good enough reason for
overthrowing him. Andrew Postal, president of Judy Bond, a U.S.
women's apparel maker with plants in Haiti, said of Aristide,
"It was not a business-friendly government."
The report says that after Artistide's ouster "and while the
Haitian military was murdering 3,000 to 5,000 people, Postal went
right on producing in Haiti and exporting to the U.S. despite the
And as I point out above, conditions haven’t changed in the seven
years since this report was written, in fact, they’ve gotten worse
with wages in real terms even lower. With the economy under total US
control, Haiti has sunk further and further into poverty. 'Free market'
policies, far from creating opportunities for Haitians, has exposed them
to the full force of 'globalisation'.
The US – destroyer of the Haitian economy
Food First, a US NGO in a report identified US policies as directly
responsible for the destruction of Haiti’s indigenous food production.
Moreover, the Clinton administration demanded that the main condition
for the removal of the military junta which had deposed Aristide’s
government in 1991 was the acceptance of US-imposed conditions which
"[The] eliminat[ion] [of] the jobs of half its civil
servants, massively privatize public services, dramatically slash
tariffs and import restrictions, get rid of price and foreign
exchange controls, grant "emergency" aid to the export
sector, reinforce an "open foreign investment policy,"
create special corporate courts where "judges are more aware of
the implications of their decisions for economic efficiency,"
rewrite its corporate laws, limit the scope of state activity and
regulation and diminish the power of the executive branch in favor
of the traditionally more conservative Parliament."
The Food First article continues,
"In 1994 USAID claimed it was feeding upwards of 70,000
Haitians per day. It insists U.S. food aid is not competing with
Haitian production because the food provided is not grown in Haiti.
But Haitian and U.S. researchers have concluded what Food First has
argued for years-that U.S. food aid is undermining local production.
Massive increases in U.S. food aid drove down the prices of Haitian
agricultural goods in local markets. Rice production dropped 35
percent in 1991-1992. The U.S. owned Rice Corporation of Haiti's
parent company has a virtual monopoly on rice imports to
US covert campaigns to overthrow the Aristide government
According to information leaked to the press, from the mid-eighties
onwards, the CIA has run a series of covert operations designed to
sideline and isolate Aristide and to back its favoured candidate Marc
Bazin. The CIA operation included a disinformation campaign that branded
Aristide as mentally unbalanced,
"The story of the CIA's involvement in Haitian elections
provides some of the backdrop for the episode earlier this month in
which a senior U.S. intelligence official, Brian Lattell,
characterized Aristide as mentally unbalanced. The comments were
made in a closed-door briefing to member of Congress.
The CIA has made similar allegations in the past about Aristide,
based on what officials say is a psychological profile of the
Haitian leader. Aristide was elected Haiti's president by a
landslide in December, 1990, but was ousted in a military coup after
serving less than a year.
The reports label the charismatic priest a violent fruitcake who
has been treated in a mental hospital and has used drugs to calm his
In a 1992 report widely circulated in Washington, Mr. Latell
described a meeting with Lieut. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Haiti's current
military dictator, and praised him as one of `the most promising
group of Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family
dictatorship was overthrown in 1986.'
Asked last week about the CIA's involvement in Haiti and the
dispute with Congress over covert actions there, Kent Harrington,
CIA director of public affairs replied, `Our comment would be no
comment on this one.'"
"Why is the CIA discrediting a man who is considered the
Martin Luther King Jr. of Haiti, where on Dec. 16, 1990, he became
the first president elected in free elections? Here is a priest who
is a folk hero to Haiti's poor, who founded an orphanage for
homeless street kids, confronted the murderous Macoutes and exposed
U.S. policy that propped up the hated Duvaliers.
Here is a man who speaks six languages, has a doctorate in
philosophy, has written six books, composed more than 100 songs sung
in Haiti and plays six musical instruments."
The CIA's negative assessment of Aristide's psychological stability
complicated the Clinton Administration's Haiti policy by giving
Republicans a rationale for trying to limit the extent of U.S. support
"The US had poured money into the campaign of a former World
Bank economist Marc Bazin, who nevertheless ran a distant second.
Bazin wanted to expand export industries and encourage foreign
US money was also spent to weaken unions and the popular
movements. Via the National Endowment for Democracy and the United
States Agency for International Development, millions were allocated
for so-called democracy enhancement.
Through the NED, the two more conservative of Haiti's three union
federations received funding. USAID opposed a minimum wage increase
to 50 cents per hour with the argument that it could "lead to
capital-intensive, rather than labour-intensive responses to opening
In 1986, the CIA set up the Haitian National Intelligence Service
(NIS), supposedly to gather intelligence on narcotic trafficking.
The New York Times, however, quoted a US embassy official
that the organisation "never produced drug intelligence".
Patrick Elie, a drug policy adviser to the Aristide government,
said that the CIA training provided to NIS agents included training
for "wet operations" -- CIA jargon for political
[In 1993], the New York Times revealed that many of the
leaders of the coup against Aristide had been on CIA payrolls at
least up until 1991."
In September of 1993 the New York Times carried an article
"Key Haiti Leaders Said to Have Been in the CIA's Pay."
Key members of the military regime controlling Haiti and blocking
the return of its elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, were
paid by the Central Intelligence Agency for information from the
mid-1980's at least until the 1991 coup that forced President
Aristide from power, according to American officials.
The article quotes President Aristide's spokesman as having said,
"Given what the CIA has done in the past two weeks, namely
the attempted character assassination of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, it
wouldn't be surprising to learn that the CIA had been working with
his political enemies in Haiti for many years.’
The article indicates that a member of the House Intelligence
Committee confirmed the existence of payments to `* * * people in
sensitive positions in the current situation in Haiti.
Following these articles, USA Today ran an op-ed entitled,
`History Repeats in CIA Smear of Haiti's Aristide.' The op-ed states
Aristide, like [Martin Luther] King is perceived as a threat to
those who desire the status quo. King's death was preceded by
character assassination from U.S. spy agencies. Could history repeat
The current situation
The latest ominous development is the call, led by the Canadian
government but backed by the US in the person of Otto Reich, for the
removal of the Aristide government by 2004.
"[C]ode named the "Ottawa Initiative on Haiti,"
wants regime change in Haiti this year before the Jan. 1, 2004
bicentennial of Haiti's independence, says the French-language
article entitled "Haiti to be Under U.N. Control? " The
group, which will next meet in April in El Salvador, has been
convened by Canada's Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa,
and the French-speaking World, Denis Paradis…[and] the U.S. State
Department's "Continental Initiatives" representative Otto
Reich and Organization of American States (OAS) assistant secretary
general Luigi Einaudi"
The "Ottawa Initiative," if true, would complement
nicely the calls for Aristide's extra-constitutional removal by the
election-allergic Washington-backed Democratic Convergence
opposition front. "It will be difficult to create the peaceful
conditions necessary for the holding of credible elections in the
country with Jean Bertrand Aristide in power," said Convergence
leader Evans Paul of the Democratic Unity Confederation (KID)
recently. "The electoral experiences with Aristide have all
proven disastrous." Disastrous mainly because Convergence
politicians remain tremendously unpopular in Haiti."
North American Racism
One undercurrent of the US/Canadian attitude toward Haiti is its
racism with murmurings of upwards of 20 million Haitians by 2019 which
according to the same Denis Paradis is "is a time bomb…which must
be defused immediately", although how invading Haiti will ‘solve’
the ‘problem’ is not stated but given the history of US and Canadian
treatment of Haitian refugees fleeing the vicious military dictatorships
of the past, it’s not surprising that playing the race card would part
of the campaign. The article, published in the Canadian magazine "L’Actualité"
quoted Denis Paradis as saying,
"Canadians treated their animals better than the Haitian
government treated its citizens, and that there was a need for
international intervention to protect the Haitian people from
tyranny. This so enraged Haitian public opinion and leaders that the
Canadian Ambassador in Haiti denied most of the story, but
L'actualité reporter Michel Vastel told me "every word is as
Denis Paradis told me."
But clearly, ‘regime change’ is on the cards,
"Independent journalists and neutral political leaders, like
Ben Dupuy of the respected Haiti Progres, have pointed to evidence
that some opposition elements are preparing a coup d'etat. Since
these groups are financed by U.S. interests, they must believe the
U.S. would tacitly support such action."
The sanctions regime is still in full force, with something like $500
million in aid still blocked by the US government and as aid constitutes
60% of the government’s budget, the sanctions are a death blow to a
country which has 60% unemployment. The Aristide government which
already implemented some of the privatisation and cuts in social
spending demanded by the World Bank and the IMF, is under two fires; one
from its population (which nevertheless still broadly supports the
government) and from the Bush administration to resign. Every month the
Haitian government has to pay $2 million dollars of debts incurred by
A 'general strike' earlier this year, called by the Democratic
Convergence and with backing from the US government and big business
including Shell and Domino Pizza, but which was not backed by the mass
of Haitian people failed to have the desired effect of bringing the
country to its knees.
As I write, the most pressing issue facing Haiti today is over
potable water which is in extremely short supply, with the population
facing a health catastrophe, but even the aid to help the Haitian
government deal with this critical problem is also being blocked by the
Copyright © 2003 William
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