By Yifat Susskind
A political crisis that has been brewing in Haiti since 2000 exploded during the second week of February 2004. Members of an armed movement seeking to overthrow Haiti's President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, went on a rampage in a dozen Haitian towns, killing more than 60 people. The towns remain under siege by criminal gangs led by former paramilitary members.
There is great concern for the families in these areas, since the armed vigilantes have cut road and telephone access to communities, emptied prisons and blocked convoys of food aid from reaching impoverished areas.
The blockade of food aid is particularly worrisome since, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly half of all Haitians lack access to even minimum food requirements. Hospitals, schools, police stations and other government buildings have been burned and looted. Meanwhile, the US Department of Homeland Security has begun preparations for the internment of up to 50,000 Haitian refugees at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, signaling that the US expects a much greater escalation of violence in Haiti.
What is the Political Backdrop to the Conflict? The crisis dates back to a political stalemate stemming from a contested election. In 2000-the same year that George Bush stole the US presidency-Haiti held elections for 7,500 positions nationwide. Election observers contested the winners of seven senate seats.
President Aristide balked at first, but eventually yielded and the seven senators resigned. Members of Haiti's elite, long hostile to Aristide's progressive economic agenda, saw the controversy as an opportunity to derail his government.
Since 2001, human rights activists and humanitarian workers in Haiti have documented numerous cases of opposition vigilantes killing government officials and bystanders in attacks on the state power station, health clinics, police stations and government vehicles. The US government did not condemn any of these killings.
In January 2004, the opposition escalated its protests. At some demonstrations, government supporters, who represent Haiti's poorest sectors, attacked opposition activists. Only then did US Secretary of State Powell issue a one-sided condemnation of 'militant Aristide supporters.'
In a country as poor as Haiti, control over the institutions of the state is one of the only sources of wealth, making national politics an arena of violent competition. Similarly, in an environment of 70 percent unemployment, the prospect of long-term work as a paramilitary fighter leads many young men to join these forces.
Who is the Opposition? Like the so-called opposition to the Chavez government of Venezuela, Haiti's opposition represents only a small minority (8 percent of the population according to a 2000 poll). With no chance of winning through democratic elections, they rely instead on armed violence to foment a political crisis that will lead to the fall of the government. Using their international business connections, especially ties to the corporate media, the opposition has manufactured an image of itself as the true champion of democracy in Haiti.
The gangs that have placed thousands of Haitians under siege are reportedly armed with US-made M-16s, recently sent by the US to the government of the Dominican Republic.
The gangs are directly linked to two groups financed by the Bush Administration: the right-wing Convergence for Democracy and the pro-business Group of 184.
The Convergence is a coalition of about two dozen groups, ranging from neo-Duvalierists (named for the Duvaliers' dictatorship that ruled Haiti from 1957-1986) to former Aristide supporters. These groups have little in common except their desire to see Aristide overthrown.
According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, the opposition's 'only policy goal seems to be reconstituting the army and the implementation of rigorous Structural Adjustment Programs.'
The Convergence is led by former FRAPH paramilitary leaders (including Louis Chamblain, Guy Phillipe and Jean Pierre Baptiste) who carried out the bloody 1991 coup d'etat, in which the CIA-trained and -funded FRAPH overthrew Aristide, killed 5,000 civilians and terrorized Haiti for four years.
The Convergence is supported by the Haitian elite and the leadership of the US Republican Party (through the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute).
The Group of 184 is represented by Andy Apaid, a Duvalier supporter and US citizen who obtained a Haitian passport by fraudulently claiming to have been born in Haiti. Apaid owns 15 factories in Haiti and was the main foe of Aristide's 2003 campaign to raise the minimum wage (which, at $1.60 a day, was lower than what it had been 10 years earlier).
By demanding that the opposition be included in any resolution of Haiti's political impasse, the US has greatly empowered these forces. While the opposition perpetuates Haiti's political deadlock, the US embargo (see below) guarantees the island's economic strangulation. Aristide's opponents hope that these combined tactics will achieve what they cannot win through democratic elections: the ouster of Aristide.
Why is it so hard to get a clear picture of what's happening in Haiti? Media Manipulation
One reason is that the opposition has succeeded in mobilizing the mainstream media to create an image of Aristide as a tyrant and the opposition as democratic freedom fighters. For example, international media have run several stories comparing the opposition to the movement to overthrow Haiti's long-time Duvalier dictatorship. Although the Haitian government has condemned attacks by its supporters on opposition forces, mainstream media did not report the condemnations
Most international coverage of the crisis in Haiti comes from the large wire services, Reuters and the Associated Press. These wire services rely almost exclusively on Haiti's elite-owned media (Radio Metropole, Tele-Haiti, Radio Caraibe, Radio Vision 2000 and Radio Kiskeya) for their stories. The outlets are owned and operated by the opposition. For example, Andy Apaid, spokesman for the Group of 184, is the founder of Tele-Haiti.
Progressive journalists have accused these stations of exaggerating reports of violence by government supporters and ignoring violence by opposition forces. These stations air commercials inciting Haitians to overthrow the government.
Another reason for confusion is that the Bush Administration is upholding a long US tradition of talking about respect for democracy in Haiti while supporting the country's most anti-democratic, pro- business forces. o The US has encouraged the opposition to refuse to participate in elections and, at the same time, declared that elections in Haiti will only be considered legitimate if the opposition participates.
Powell says that the US is 'not interested in regime change.' But the Administration is supporting a disinformation campaign in the US media, maintaining an embargo that is intensifying hunger and disease amongst Haiti's poorest and supporting the sponsors of armed, vigilante violence that has already killed scores of people.
What is the role of the US in Haiti? The US was the main supporter of the Duvalier dictatorship. In 1986, when Haiti's pro-democracy movement finally succeeded in overthrowing the hated dictator, he was ferried to safety by the Reagan Administration.
Only with the rise of Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, did US support shift from the Haitian leadership to those who orchestrated the 1991 coup d'etat.
In 1994, public pressure and fear of an influx of Haitian 'boat people' led the Clinton Administration to reverse the coup d'etat and restore Aristide to power.
The Republican leadership strongly opposed the intervention. In 1995, when Republicans took control of Congress, they pushed to cancel US aid to Haiti and to finance the opposition by reallocating federal funds to Haitian non-governmental organizations opposed to Aristide.
In 2000, the Republicans exploited Haiti's electoral controversy as an opportunity to discredit Aristide. The Bush Administration pressured the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel more than $650 million in development assistance and approved loans to Haiti -- money that was slated to pay for safe drinking water, literacy programs and health services.
The seven contested senators are long gone, but the embargo remains in place, denying critical services to the poorest people in the hemisphere.
What is Aristide's record? The US allowed Aristide to be reinstated on the condition that he implement a neoliberal economic agenda.
Aristide complied with some US demands, including a reduction of tariffs on US-grown rice that bankrupted thousands of Haitian farmers and maintenance of a below- subsistence-level minimum wage.
But Aristide resisted privatizing state-owned resources, because of protests from his political base and because he was reluctant to relinquish control over these sources of wealth.
Aristide eventually doubled the minimum wage and -- despite the embargo -- prioritized education and healthcare: he built schools and renovated public hospitals; established new HIV-testing centers and doctor-training programs; and introduced a program to subsidize schoolbooks and uniforms and expand school lunch and bussing services.
Aristide has tried to walk a line between US demands for neoliberal reforms and his own commitment to a progressive economic agenda. As a result, he has lost favor with parts of his own political base and Haitian and US elites.
Aristide has also been criticized for turning a blind eye to human rights abuses committed by his supporters and by advocates of good governance for rewarding loyalists with government posts regardless of their qualifications. (a patronage system even more extensive than the one that has filled the Bush Administration with former CEOs and corporate lobbyists.)
So Should Progressives Support Aristide? The current crisis is not about supporting or opposing Aristide the man, but about defending constitutional democracy in Haiti. In a democracy, elections-and not vigilante violence-should be the measure of 'the will of the people.' Aristide has repeatedly invited the opposition to participate in elections and they have refused, knowing that they cannot win at the polls.
How Should the Crisis be Resolved? MADRE supports the proposal of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, a consortium of Caribbean governments) which:
Rejects any violent overthrow of the government and insists that any change in government be in compliance with Haiti's constitution.
Calls on the opposition to accept Aristide's offer to take part in elections in order to break the impasse that has frozen Haiti's government for the past several years.
Calls on the international community to provide economic assistance to Haiti in order to alleviate the country's grinding poverty and create some foundation for economic and political stability.
MADRE also calls on the Bush Administration to:
Unequivocally denounce the opposition and cease any financial, political or military support for its forces.
Lift the embargo that is denying urgently needed development aid and health programs to Haitian women and families.
Some Statistics on Haiti
The richest 1% of the population controls nearly half of all of Haiti's wealth.
Haiti has long ranked as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and is the fourth poorest country in the world.
Haiti ranks 146 out of 173 on the Human Development Index.*
Life expectancy is 52 years for women and 48 for men*.
Adult literacy is about 50%.*
Unemployment is about 70%.*
85% of Haitians live on less than $1 US per day.*
Haiti ranks 38 out of 195 for under-five mortality rate.*
*Source: 'Investigating the Effects of Withheld Humanitarian Aid,' a report of the Haiti Reborn/Quixote Center.
MADRE is working to deliver emergency supplies of food and medicine to women and families in Haiti. In recent weeks, armed gangs seeking to overthrow Haiti's government have prevented food supplies from reaching impoverished communities and attacked government clinics and hospitals. MADRE is working with a local, progressive community-based organization that has a long record of successfully delivering aid to those most in need, even in times of crisis.
Please support this emergency campaign for women and families in Haiti by making a tax-deductible contribution to MADRE.
Haiti Support Group press release - 23 February 2004
Return of the FRAPH/FAD'H
The reappearance of the FRAPH/FAD'H is nothing less than a stinking stain on today's Haiti. - In December 2003, the Workers' Struggle (Batay Ouvriye) organisation succinctly summed up the main protagonists in the struggle for political power in Haiti: "Lavalas and the bourgeois opposition are two rotten buttocks in a torn pair of trousers."
Today, 23 February 2004, as Haitians wake up to the news that the northern city of Cap-Haitien has fallen to a rebel force composed of former Haitian Army (FAD'H) soldiers led by FRAPH leader, Louis Jodel Chamblain, we can perhaps continue with this analogy, and say:
"The reappearance of the FRAPH/FAD'H is nothing less than the excrement that's making a stinking stain on the torn trousers that is Haiti today."
The Haiti Support Group wholeheartedly endorses Amnesty International's 16 February press release which stated, "The last thing that the country needs is for those who committed abuses in the past to take up leadership positions in the armed opposition."
As a solidarity organisation that believes that internationally-recognised human rights standards can lend valuable protection to individuals and organisations struggling to overthrow tyranny and dictatorship, we are deeply concerned that the Haitian opposition - grouped in the Democratic Platform - has failed to unequivocally condemn the emergence of notorious human rights abusers at the head of the armed movement to oust President Aristide.
We are also greatly alarmed to see statements in the media which indicate that the rebel force intends to reinstate the disbanded Haitian Army (FAD'H). Ever since its creation during the US occupation (1915-34), the Haitian Army's primary roles have been to defend the country's tiny and reactionary economic elite and to repress movements for political change. We fully expect a reborn Haitian Army to play exactly the same role.
For this reason, the Haiti Support Group - a solidarity organisation that has supported the Haitian people's struggle for justice, human rights, equitable development and participatory democracy since 1992 - cannot accept that a reborn Haitian Army will serve the best interests of the Haitian majority.
In this context, we are obliged to point out that elements within the Democratic Convergence opposition coalition have long intimated their support for the reinstatement of the Haitian Army, and that, more recently, the continued silence on this issue on the part of the Democratic Platform is a strong indication that it is willing to accept a reborn Haitian Army in exchange for the early departure of President Aristide.
As the desperately grim scenario unfolds in Haiti, we are reminded once again of this extract from an article published in The Washington Post newspaper on 2nd February 2001:
The (Democratic) Convergence was formed as a broad group with help from the International Republican Institute, an organisation that promotes democracy that is closely identified with the U.S. Republican Party.
It includes former Aristide allies - people who helped him fight Haiti's dictators, then soured as they watched him at work. But it also includes former backers of the hated Duvalier family dictatorship and of the military officers who overthrew Aristide in 1991 and terrorised the country for three years. The most determined of these men, with a promise of anonymity, freely express their desire to see the U.S. military intervene once again, this time to get rid of Aristide and rebuild the disbanded Haitian army. "That would be the cleanest solution," said one opposition party leader. Failing that, they say, the CIA should train and equip Haitian officers exiled in the neighboring Dominican Republic so they could stage a comeback themselves."
Background on rebel leaders whose forces are now in control of over half of Haiti: Louis Jodel Chamblain Chamblain was joint leader - along with CIA operative Emmanuel 'Toto' Constant - of the Front révolutionnaire pour l'avancement et le progrès haïtien, (Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress) known by its acronym - FRAPH - which phonetically resembles the French and Creole words for 'to beat' or 'to thrash'.
FRAPH was formed by the military authorities who were the de facto leaders of the country during the 1991-94 military regime, and was responsible for numerous human rights violations before the 1994 restoration of democratic governance.
Among the victims of FRAPH under Chamblain's leadership was Haitian Justice Minister Guy Malary. He was ambushed and machine-gunned to death with his body- guard and a driver on October 14, 1993. According to an October 28, 1993 CIA Intelligence Memorandum obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights: "FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant, and Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on the morning of 14 October to discuss plans to kill Malary." (Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, the leader of FRAPH, is now living freely in Queens, NYC.)
In September 1995, Chamblain was among seven senior military and FRAPH leaders convicted in absentia and sentenced to forced labour for life for involvement in the September 1993 extrajudicial execution of Antoine Izméry, a well-known pro-democracy activist. In late 1994 or early 1995, it is understood that Chamblain went into exile to the Dominican Republic in order to avoid prosecution.
Guy Philippe Guy Philippe is a former member of the FAD'H (Haitian Army). During the 1991-94 military regime, he and a number of other officers received training from the US Special Forces in Equador, and when the FAD'H was dissolved by Aristide in early 1995, Philippe was incorporated into the new National Police Force. He served as police chief in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas and in the second city, Cap-Haitien, before he fled Haiti in October 2000 when Haitian authorities discovered him plotting what they described as a coup, together with a clique of other police chiefs. Since that time, the Haitian government has accused Philippe of master-minding deadly attacks on the Haitian Police Academy and the National Palace in July and December 2001, as well as hit-and-run raids against police stations on Haiti's Central Plateau over last two years.
Ernst Ravix According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on Haiti, dated 7 September 1988, FAD'H Captain Ernst Ravix, was the military commander of Saint Marc, and head of a paramilitary squad of "sub- proletariat youths" who called themselves the Sans Manman (Motherless Ones). In May 1988, the government of President Manigat tried to reduce contraband and corruption in the port city of Saint Marc, but Ravix, the local Army commander, responded by organising a demonstration against the President in which some three thousand residents marched, chanted, and burned barricades. Manigat removed Ravix from his post, but after Manigat's ouster, he was reinstated by the military dictator, Lt. Gen. Namphy.
Ravix was not heard of again until December 2001 when former FAD'H sergeant, Pierre Richardson, the person captured following the 17 December attack on the National Palace, reportedly confessed that the attack was a coup attempt planned in the Dominican Republic by three former police chiefs- Guy Philippe, Jean-Jacques Nau and Gilbert Dragon - and that it was led by former Captain Ernst Ravix. According to Richardson, Ravix's group withdrew from the National Palace and fled to the Dominican Republic when reinforcements failed to arrive.
Jean Tatoune Jean Pierre Baptiste, alias "Jean Tatoune", first came to prominence as a leader of the anti- Duvalier mobilisations in his home town of Gonaives in 1985. For some years he was known and respected for his anti-Duvalierist activities but during the 1991-94 military regime he emerged as a local leader of FRAPH. On 22 April 1994, he led a force of dozens of soldiers and FRAPH members in an attack on Raboteau, a desperately poor slum area in Gonaives and a stronghold of support for Aristide. Between 15 and 25 people were killed in what became known as the Raboteau massacre.
In 2000, Tatoune was put on trial and sentenced to forced labour for life for his participation in the Raboteau massacre. He was subsequently imprisoned in Gonaives, from where he escaped in August 2002, and took up arms again in his base in a poor area of the city. At various times he has spoken out against the government, and at other times in favour of it, but since September 2003 he has allied himself with the followers of murdered community leader, Amiot Metayer, and vowed to overthrow the government by force.
Jean-Baptiste Joseph Joseph is a former Haitian Army sergeant who, following the disbanding of the FAD'H in 1995, headed an association of former FAD'H members. The formation of the Rassemblement des Militaires Révoqués Sans Motifs (RAMIRESM), the Assembly of Soldiers Retired Without Cause was announced at a 1 August 1995 press conference in Port-au-Prince. During 1995 and 1996, RAMIRESM was closely associated with Hubert De Ronceray's neo-Duvalierist party, Mobilisation pour le développement national, (MDN) Mobilisation for National Development.
On 17 August 1996, Joseph was one of 15 former soldiers arrested at the MDN party headquarters and accused of plotting against the government. Two days later, approximately twenty armed men, reportedly in uniforms and thought to be former soldiers, fired on the main Port-au-Prince police station, killing one bystander.
Since then nothing had been heard of Joseph, until he emerged in Hinche with the rebel forces last week. The right-wing MDN party is a leading member of the Democratic Convergence coalition.