U.S. topples Aristide
March 5, 2004 | Page 1
THE U.S. has ousted Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, adding another victim to the long list of democratically elected foreign leaders overthrown by the U.S. Hours after Aristide left the capital, U.S. Marines poured into Port-au-Prince, becoming effective occupiers of yet another country. They will be the real authority--not Haitian Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre, who was sworn in to replace Aristide, but must also be approved by two-thirds of Haiti's parliament, which hasn't met since the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, right-wing paramilitaries celebrated Aristide's departure--by looting and burning government buildings and carrying out revenge killings against supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas party. U.S. officials claim that they only responded to Aristide's pleas in arranging to fly him into exile. But in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday night, Aristide said that U.S. descended on his residence in the middle of the night.
"I was forced to leave," Aristide said. "Agents were telling me that if I don't leave, they would start shooting and killing in a matter of time." According to Randall Robinson, a friend of Aristide and founder of the solidarity group TransAfrica, Aristide asked him to "tell the world it's a coup."
"He did not resign," Robinson told host Amy Goodman on the Democracy Now! radio program. He was taken by force from his residence in the middle of the night, forced on to a plane, and taken away without being told where he was going. He was kidnapped. There's no question about it."
The Bush administration immediately denounced this allegation, claiming that Aristide had voluntarily resigned and requested that the U.S. provide security for his departure. But it's clear that the U.S. engineered the coup that forced the democratically elected Aristide into exile.
Two days before Aristide left, the White House issued a statement openly signaling its readiness to dispense with Aristide. "His own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern Haiti," said a White House statement. "We urge him to examine his position carefully, to accept responsibility and to act in the best interest of the people of Haiti."
And the night before his ouster, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Aristide that he couldn't expect U.S. forces to protect him from rebels threatening to storm Port-au-Prince and kill him, according to the Associated Press. Of course, these are the very same rebels that were armed and backed by the U.S.!
The crisis in Haiti can be traced back to elections in 2000, when Aristide's opponents used the pretext of seven contested Senate seats--which wouldn't have changed the balance of power in Haitian politics--to launch a campaign against Aristide's "dictatorial measures." The anti-Aristide opposition quickly came together around the most conservative elements in Haitian society.
Washington followed suit, citing the disputed elections as justification for withholding $500 million in aid--a huge sum for the tiny economy of this impoverished country, where the average annual income is $480, and 50 percent of the population is malnourished. In early February, armed thugs launched a rebellion into northern Haiti from their base in a training camp set up in the neighboring Dominican Republic--and quickly took over several key cities.
The U.S. mainstream media depicted the rebels as a rag-tag band of liberators. But as the uprising gathered steam, the role of the U.S.--and the rebels' ties to the disbanded Haitian military and the FRAPH death squads that killed 5,000 people in the years after the first coup against Aristide in 1991--was exposed. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former FRAPH leader, emerged as a central figure in the opposition's seizure of Gonaïeves--along with Guy Philippe, a former police chief in the city of Cap-Haitien who was accused of plotting a coup in 2001.
Meanwhile, many of the rebels streaming into Haiti were equipped with M-16s--in all likelihood from a weapons shipment provided by the U.S. to the Dominican Army, supposedly to help seal the border against desperate Haitians fleeing their country's economic catastrophe.
One of the uprising's chief financial backers is André Apaid Jr.--a Lebanese-American sweatshop owner and one of the richest people in Haiti. Apaid is a leader of Group 184, along with other members of Haiti's elite who ruled the country under the iron-fisted regime of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son.
Now they've achieved a long-held objective--getting rid of Aristide, who rose to prominence as mass leader from Haiti's slums. Aristide made compromises to his plans for reforming Haiti in order to be returned to power by U.S. military forces in 1994 after the first coup against him. But the U.S. continued to hound Aristide at every turn.
Washington is downplaying its role in the hopes that the new regime--whatever shape it takes--will have an independent legitimacy. We have to expose and oppose this U.S. coup. U.S. troops out of Haiti now!
Let the refugees in!
AS RIGHT-wing paramilitaries danced in the streets in celebration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's ouster, poor neighborhoods in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince were quiet. The poor of Cite Soleil--Haiti's largest slum and home to many of Aristide's most ardent supporters--were bracing themselves.
After the 1991 coup that ousted Aristide the first time, death squads killed 5,000 people suspected of being Lavalas supporters. In the days before Aristide left Haiti, hundreds of people fearing a repeat of this bloodshed tried to flee to the U.S. aboard rickety boats.
But before their vessels got within sight of the U.S.--and before they even left the Haitian coast in some cases--the U.S. Coast Guard detained the asylum seekers. They were forcibly returned to uncertain fates in the Haitian capital. "With people being shot dead in the street by gangs of criminal thugs, it was unconscionable for the United States to dump entire families into this danger zone," said Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch.
The U.S. plunged Haiti into political and economic chaos because it wants regime change and a steady supply of low-wage workers for U.S. corporations that run sweatshops. But it doesn't want the people who work in those sweatshops to flee to the U.S. to escape political persecution.
Those seeking a better life should have the right to live in the country responsible for strangling their homeland. Let the refugees in!