The Case of Haiti
How Bush Brings Freedom Into the World
Published at: Counterpunch
Tom Reeves, January 29/30, 2005
Now that President George W. Bush has outlined his plans to "bring
freedom to the world," it would seem urgent that the world look
closely at what Bush calls his successful mission to bring freedom to
Haiti in 2004. Yet with Iraq dominating the news, most media ignore
Haiti. When there is coverage, as when U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell visited in December to celebrate the U.S. and U.N. "success,"
it is brief and distorted. Recent international documentation of
extreme human rights abuses by the U.S.-backed de-facto Haitian
government should wake up the media.
Liberals--and liberal media--are spot-lighting and decrying what they
rightly identify as a campaign of pre-emptive and unilateral
intervention world-wide to eliminate all regimes deemed hostile to
U.S. interests and influence. They correctly point out that Bush will
not challenge the extremely oppressive regimes--like Egypt and Saudi
Arabia or Israel and China--that are its political allies and/or
economic partners. They are quick to show that U.S. campaigns to
"liberate" Afghanistan and Iraq have brought more violence
oppression than they claim to have dispelled. Why, then, have
liberals either wholly ignored the case of Haiti--or, worse, praised
the U.S. for its role there last year?
Last February 29, U.S. diplomats--backed by marines--forcibly
escorted Haiti's first democratically-elected President, Jean
Bertrand Aristide, to a waiting U.S. military plane. Without telling
him where they were headed, they dumped him unceremoniously in the
Central African Republic--a country the State Department itself
called one of the most violent and corrupt in the world. At the time,
extreme right-wing former military and para-military "rebels,"
themselves admit massive funding from U.S. sources, had seized
Gonaives, Cap Haitien and several other Haitian cities--committing
now documented rapes, murders and other atrocities.
A coalition of elite Haitian business interests and university
"student groups" --put together by U.S. AID "democracy
teams, was demanding Aristide's ouster for alleged corruption and
human rights violations. The most they could point to were three
unsolved murders of journalists and several cases of obvious
political arrests. Wholly ignored were on-going attacks on activists
within Aristide's Lavalas party, as well as ambushes and
assassinations of judges and other government officials. The
"opposition" coalition, self-named "the 184," claimed
for President and the Haitian parliament in 2000 were deeply flawed.
In fact, only a few Senatorial elections were clouded by controversy,
and the OAS and even the U.S. accepted as valid the Presidential
election in which Aristide received more than 90% of the vote in a
With U.S., Canadian and French troops already on the ground, the
United Nations was obliged after the fact to endorse what amounted to
a coup d'etat and invasion. A de-facto government was quickly
installed, which consisted almost entirely of U.N. and other
international agency employees living in exile, and dedicated to
neo-liberal programs of structural adjustment recognized by most
progressives as devastating to programs of social justice in poor
countries around the world. Gerard Latortue was chosen as interim
Prime Minister. Latortue had lived for more than a decade in a
luxurious villa in Boca Raton, Florida. Latortue called the
right-wing rebels "freedom fighters." These included some
of mass murder and other human rights violations from the previous
coup against Aristide in 1991, when at least 5,000 Lavalas supporters
had been killed.
The U.S. backed coup was applauded by some progressive elements in
Haiti, and many of the non-governmental organizations in the U.S.
that backed them. They criticized Aristide for not fulfilling his own
populist programs of land reform and poverty alleviation. They were
particularly critical of "free trade zones," accepted by Aristide,
that were pushed by the U.S. and the World Bank, and would forcibly
remove peasants in areas along the Dominican border, to work in
Dominican-owned sweat shops. These "radical" groups did not
bothered by the odd coincidence that the opposition to Aristide was
led by owners of the worst Haitian sweat shops. Some, like Chavannes
Jean-Baptiste, of the MPP--the largest peasant group in Haiti--gave
support to some of the former military who had once driven his family
out of the Central Plateau and destroyed MPP headquarters there.
Jean-Baptiste went so far as to accept a position in the new
government. Grassroots International, based in Boston, which funds
MPP, continued to take the position that Aristide's removal was
Yet Haiti is in far worse condition today than before the coup last
February. Arguably, it is in worse shape than during the previous
coup or under the Duvaliers. Poverty--already the worst in the
hemisphere--has deepened. Now even the U.S. military, in a report
last November for it's Southern Command, called the current
government a "failed regime." A plan hatched by Canadian and
officials in a secret Quebec meeting in early 2003 for a U.N.
"Trusteeship" of Haiti as a "failed state" is seen
even by some
"progressives" as an alternative to the current mayhem.
Now a new human rights report from the Center for the Study of Human
Rights (CSHR) at the University of Miami (Florida) has documented
some of the worst abuses committed directly by the Haitian National
Police (HNP), and in some cases by the UN forces (MINUSTAH)
accompanying them. The noted Philadelphia attorney, Thomas Griffin,
and other investigators include horrendous photos they took of boys
as young as twelve, lying unattended in pools of their own blood in
the General Hospital, where doctors refused to treat them. Other
photos show bodies left in the street and dozens of bodies rotting
and piled high at the morgue after police and UN invasions of Port au
Prince slums targeted as Aristide strongholds. Interviews with police
and others make it clear that there has been a systematic campaign of
political repression and assassination aimed at Aristide's Lavalas
Party. The report ties the abuse directly to "sensitization"
sectors of Haitian society--human rights groups, judges, students and
police alike--by U.S. non governmental organizations like IFES
(International Foundation for Electoral Systems) with support from
USAID. (See www.ijdg.org/cshrhaitireport.pdf).
Extensive interviews with staff of CARLI, a Haitian human rights
organization, revealed that IFES funded CARLI during the lead-up to
the ouster of Aristide-- with technical support and as much as
$54,000 during 2003. CARLI staff revealed that it was instructed to
provide lists of alleged Lalavals human rights violators, which were
then read out on Haitian commercial radio. (Twenty of the twenty-five
commercial stations and several of the Haitian daily and weekly
newspapers are owned by members of the "184" anti-Aristide
coalition.) It is now feared that these lists have been used since
the coup to target Lavalas leaders for summary arrest, attacks on
property, and even death. With IFES funding slowly removed during
2004, CARLI began to report on fraudulent human rights cases put
forward by the government, and on violent campaigns against Lavalas
and other community groups who refused to endorse the removal of
Aristide. It investigated the claim of Latortue that Lavalas had
ordered decapitation of police officers in a campaign dubbed
"Operation Baghdad." These accusations were picked up and
uncritically by Haitian and U.S. media. CARLI now says no such
campaign by Lavalas existed, and that the only two decapitations of
police were committed by former Haitian army officers, not Lavalas.
Such disinformation played a major role during the previous coup as
well as during the campaign to vilify Aristide.
On January 14, eyewitnesses say Haitian police murdered Abdias Jean,
journalist for Miami radio station WKAT, after he witnessed police
execution of two or more young boys in such a police operation in the
Port au Prince neighborhood, Village de Dieu. IAPA (Inter-American
Press Association) has condemned the murder and demanded an immediate
investigation. It is particularly ironic that among those strongly
condemning this murder, as well as the lack of coverage in the
commercial Haitian media, is Joseph Guy Delva, President of the
Haitian Journalists Association. Delva was a leader among journalists
who condemned Aristide. The CSHR investigators report that Delva told
them "if a journalist was arrested during Aristide's government,
there would be a public outcry from print and radio journalists.
'Now,' said Delva, "when a journalist is arrested, the newspapers
radio stations applaud.'" De-facto Prime Minister Latortue contacted
the Reuters news-service to complain about an article written by
Delva concerning the murder of Jean. The Haiti Support Group in
Britain, critical both of the Aristide government and the U.S.
intervention, has protested Latortue's intervention as a threat to
Delva as well as freedom of the press.
The human rights investigators quoted a Quebec police officer who is
a commander of the UN unit, CIVPOL. He told them he was "in shock"
with the conditions he faces in attempting to train the Haitian
National police, "Our mandate is to coach, to train and to provide
information, but all we've done is engage in daily guerrilla
warfare....Where are the newspaper reporters?" he asked.
The CSHR reports credible evidence that raids began on Port au
Prince's poorest neighborhoods immediately after the landing of U.S.
troops, and that these sped up after major pro-Aristide
demonstrations in September illustrated continuing wide support for
his return. The human rights investigators themselves witnessed
events immediately before and after one such raid on Nov. 18 in the
neighborhood of Bel Air, near the Presidential palace. They
photographed and interviewed Haitian National Police and MINUSTAH as
they entered the neighborhood. They photographed bodies of those
killed--including women and teenagers--during the operation, and
interviewed some of the severely wounded--including at least one who
identified the MINUSTAH (UN) soldiers who shot him. Police and
residents alike told them such raids had taken place almost daily
since September--with deaths and injuries. One police officer said
that they were pushed to target specific individuals for
assassination, but that for every ten killed, six were merely
witnesses or bystanders. Residents were afraid to take the wounded to
the General Hospital, where doctors often refused to treat patients
without money (the former staff of Cuban volunteer doctors was
expelled after the coup), and where the HNP often came to seize such
victims who subsequently disappeared.
The CSHR report now documents beyond doubt what other human rights
delegations and the Lavalas activists have been claiming all year:
the puppet regime installed by the "international community"
U.S., France and Canada) has committed far more human rights abuses
than even the worst claims against Aristide's government. In a New
Year's message from South African exile, Aristide claimed 10,000 have
been killed and 1,000 of his supporters illegally detained since his
"modern-style kidnapping" last February. Mainstream media
documented some 200 murders of Aristide supporters since September,
and there were as many as 700 political prisoners by late last fall.
In November, Amnesty International issued an appeal to the Haitian
government and to MINUSTAH to investigate police massacres in
pro-Lavalas neighborhoods, as well as detentions for long periods
without charges. Among those detained were world-renowned human
rights leaders like Father Gerard Jean-Juste, violently snatched by
masked men while distributing food to poor children in his Port au
Prince parish, as well as the former Prime Minister, the President of
the Haitian Senate and the former President of the House of Deputies.
After a world-wide outcry, Father Jean-Juste and the parliamentary
leaders were released--but many, including journalists and
activists--as well as Prime Minister Yvon Neptune--remain behind
bars, most without having even seen a judge.
Then on December 1, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell touted
U.S. policy at the Haitian Presidential palace, a riot broke out in
the penitentiary several blocks away. Gunfire could be heard by
Powell and reporters accompanying him. The mainstream media reported
that Aristide supporters did the shooting. Yet the anti-Aristide
human rights group, NCHR (National Council on Haitian Rights)
documented that Haitian National Police had killed seven and shot or
beaten nearly fifty prisoners, three of whom died from wounds.
Journalist Reed Lindsay, in the January 2 San Francisco Chronicle,
reported interviews he held inside the penitentiary in December.
Prisoners claimed between thirty and 110 prisoners were slain in the
massacre, and scores injured.
The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) issued a
detailed report on the massacre, documenting incredibly dire prison
conditions, and the likelihood that many, many prisoners were killed.
The IJDH report emphasizes that "for most of the dead, their
assassination was the last in a long string of human rights
violations. Only one in fifty is likely to have actually been
convicted of committing a crime. The vast majority were likely
arrested illegally without a warrant and detained on vague charges
with no evidence in their file and no chance of judicial review of
Meanwhile, former Haitian military who led the violent revolt against
Aristide last January continue to control several small cities. They
include convicted murderers and human rights offenders who broke out
of prison during the coup. Their commander, Remissainthes Revix,
holds press conferences in the up-scale neighborhood of Petionville.
He refuses to disarm and calls for violent opposition to U.N.-led
disarmament. After a recent take-over of Aristide's former residence
by Revix and other former soldiers, the Haitian government arranged
payments of nearly $5000 to each former officer, beginning with those
who participated in the take-over, and eventually to include some
6000 former soldiers. This is an astounding potential sum of $30
million for a cash-strapped government. The money is ostensibly
compensation for Aristide's "un-Constitutional" disbanding
army during his first term--a move highly popular in Haiti and
praised internationally by human rights and peace organizations.
At the same time, the Latortue government has not re-opened many
schools for the January session (some for lack of cash, some for
political reasons), and has failed to pay doctors and other
professionals at hospitals and clinics. More than sixty doctors and
other health workers at the largest hospital in Port au Prince have
gone on strike.
The role of Brazil, which heads MINUSTAH, remains ambiguous. Brazil's
President Lula was long known for opposition to U.S. hegemony in
Latin America, and his social program is similar to that of Lavalas.
Yet the Brazil-dominated force has accompanied the Haitian National
Police in several attacks on Lavalas neighborhoods, at least present
during killings, if not participating. Brazil has long complained
that the promised international aid has not materialized (less than
$100 million of the 1.2 billion pledged as of December), and that the
international force is under-manned. Only in December, however, did
rift between Brazil and the U.S. come into the open. Brazilian
commander, General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro, insisted, "We are not
occupying force...yet we are under extreme pressure (from the U.S.,
France and Canada) to use violence."
As Haiti slips further and further into chaos, as violence and human
rights abuses escalate, and as the de-facto government fails to
function in more and more areas, groups like the Council on
Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), which have criticized U.S. policies and
the Latortue government, urge that Brazil be given a new mandate: to
lead a 10-year United Nations protectorate--the very scheme proposed
in Quebec two years ago.
On the other hand, U.S. officials like the ultra-right-wing Roger
Noriega (Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere
Affairs), continue to express support for Latortue. "Haiti is on
right track," he insisted recently. The U.S. announced jointly
Canada, France and the Haitian government, that $41 million will be
given to support Haitian elections next fall. "The elections will
forward," Noriega insists--a refrain heard nowadays in that other
U.S. protectorate, Iraq. Charles Arthur, of the U.K.-based Haiti
Support Group, says the timing of this announcement of elections
while serious human rights abuse charges have not been addressed is
Brian Concannon, of the IJDH, an American attorney who successfully
prosecuted human rights abusers from the previous coup, does not
agree that the options are either the current mess or a U.N.
protectorate. "The great majority of Haitian people prefer democracy.
In any truly democratic elections, most observers believe, including
recently the Canadian Ambassador, the Lavalas party would win again."
It was recently announced in South Africa that two former Nobel Peace
Prize winners from the African National Congress and Inkatha
movements will travel to Haiti to work toward a resolution to the
crisis that would include Aristide's Lavalas party. South Africa
continues to treat Aristide as the legitimate President of Haiti, and
to demand that he be allowed to complete his term of office. CARICOM
(the organization of Caribbean nations) and many African nations
continue to refuse to recognize the Latortue government--despite
extreme U.S. pressure--and to demand investigations of the original
removal of Aristide as well as on-going human rights violations.
These would seem to be the only glimmers of hope on the bleak Haitian
The question remains: why have NPR and the CBC and most other liberal
or even most "progressive" media not covered any of this?
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin get away with claiming Haiti as
major success of Canadian foreign policy--with no outcry in either
Parliament or the Canadian press? Where are the American
non-governmental organizations that funded grassroots groups in Haiti
now? Recently, I forwarded information from the CSHR report to U.S.
Haiti solidarity leaders who were strong critics of Aristide and who
gave reluctant support to the U.S. intervention last year. One wrote
me, "We were wrong about our hopes for the U.S. installed government.
We have no confidence now at all" in the Haitian police and interim
government. Yet this activist added that he was depressed about
Haiti, with no idea about what to do. Unless we are to give up
altogether and let Bush have a free-hand in building up the American
empire and installing it's repressive, violent version of "freedom"
world-wide, there is something very urgent that we must all do:
expose the U.S. game everywhere for what it is: blatant tyranny.
Nowhere is that plainer than in Haiti.
Tom Reeves is a retired Caribbean studies professor from Boston.
Men Anpil Chaj Pa Lou!!!
- is Kreyol for "Many hands make light a heavy load."
Here is what you can do to help us help
the people of Haiti:
HLLN - Action Requested from
Haiti solidarity groups and
Haitian activists for justice and democracy:
Subscribe to and circulate the
Ezili Danto mailings and posts
to your mailing lists and e-mail contacts. Subscribe or
unsubscribe by writing to: Erzilidanto@aol.com
Adopt and circulate the
Resolution (updated below) from the Haitian Lawyers
Circulate the human
rights reports, especially the latest Miami Law Center report
Do Press Work: Join our letter writing campaigns to help free the political
prisoners in Haiti, to stop the persecution of Haiti's most popular
political party and democratic movement and to restore Constitutional
rule. Write a letter, call the media, fax, - See our Press
Work page for sample letters and for contact information.
Volunteer to help us maintain
our Contact Information Sheet by sending us updated or new phone numbers
and addresses to put on our Contact
Information Sheet pages
Virtual interns and volunteers
are also needed to help us translate selected materials into French,
Kreyol, or Spanish to reach a wider audience. Volunteers with some research
and computer skills are likewise needed to help us update our "List
of Victims" and "Personal Testimonies"
pages under Campaign One.
(We have the information, what we don't
have we know where to extrapolate them, but need help to put it together
and in the format on our website page.)
More Network volunteer
also needed to concentrate as primary coordinators/contributors to one
of our seven
One internet savvy volunteer needed who is interested in logging and
archiving, for our new Ezili Danto blog, (not yet unveiled) the regular
Erzilidanto posts we send out so that those who only want to see these
at their leisure, or, who cannot receive daily
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such as, our partnership with AUMOHD, the young human rights lawyers
in Haiti who are defending the defenseless poor whose only crime is
that they voted for Lavalas, supported Constitutional rule or are resisting
a return of the bloody U.S.-trained Haitian army and US-sponsored dictatorship.
For information on AUMOHD, go to: http://www.april6vt.org/
The Haiti Resolution:
1. Support the return of constitutional rule to Haiti by restoring all
elected officials of all parties to their offices throughout the country
until the end of their mandates and another election is held, as mandated
by Haiti's Constitution;
2. Condemn the killings, illegal imprisonment and confiscation of the
property of supporters of Haiti's constitutional government and insist
that Haiti's illegitimate "interim government" immediately
cease its own persecution and put a stop to persecution by the thugs
and murderers from sectors in their police force,
from the paramilitaries, gangs and former soldiers;
3. Insist on the immediate release of all political prisoners in Haitian
jails, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, other constitutional government
officials and folksinger-activist Sò Ann;
4. Insist on the disarmament of the thugs, death squad leaders and convicted
human rights violators and their prosecution for all crimes committed
during the attack on Haiti's elected government and help rebuild Haiti's
police force, ensuring that it excludes anyone who helped to overthrow
the democratically elected
government or who participated in other human rights violations;
5. Stop the indefinite detention and automatic repatriation of Haitian
refugees and immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to all Haitian
refugees presently in the United States until democracy is restored
to Haiti; and
6. Support the calls by the OAS, CARICOM and the African Union for an
investigation into the circumstances of President Aristide's removal.
Support the enactment of Congresswoman Barbara Lee's T.R.U.T.H Act (HR
3919) which calls for a U.S. Congressional investigation of the forcible
removal of the democratically elected President and government of Haiti.