Amy Goodman on the U.S. role in Haiti's coup
March 12, 2004 | Pages 6 and 7
HAITI REMAINS in turmoil after the coup that forced democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile. U.S. officials claim that Marines in the capital of Port-au-Prince are keeping right-wing fighters in check until a "democratic" government is established in Haiti. But Washington's fingerprints are all over the armed uprising that spread across Haiti during February--and the early-morning confrontation at the presidential residence two weekends ago that resulted in Aristide's ouster.
AMY GOODMAN is the host of the left-wing radio show Democracy Now! on the Pacifica network. On the Monday after the coup, while the rest of the media were repeating the State Department line that Aristide had voluntarily resigned, Democracy Now! broke the story of Aristide's claim that he was kidnapped. Goodman spoke last week in Chicago. Here, with permission, SW prints excerpts from her remarks.
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THERE'S NO time like now that makes me realize how critical it is to have a national forum for independent media to break the sound barrier. From 1991 to 1994, there was a U.S.-backed coup in Haiti.
Journalist Alan Nairn exposed in the Nation magazine the links between U.S. central intelligence and FRAPH, [the right-wing Haitian paramilitary group that slaughtered thousands during the coup]. It was launched by Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, who was on the payroll of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Do you remember when President Clinton went on the airways in 1994 and announced that he was sending in the military to Haiti--some 20,000 troops--saying that we had to root out the murderers, the thugs, the rapists? And yet the people that he wanted to root out were on his payroll. Go figure.
But we're not just talking 10 years ago. After the democratically elected government of President Aristide was returned to Haiti, Constant came to the U.S. Yes, he was jailed for a while--but now he walks the streets freely in Queens, New York. As President Bush talks about the "war on terror," there are terrorists walking on our streets. Why don't we begin at home?
Who was the number two man in FRAPH? Louis-Jodel Chamblain. Who was the leader of this current overthrow of Aristide? Louis-Jodel Chamblain. Chamblain was found guilty by a Haitian jury of murder of the justice minister of Haiti during the coup. October 17, 1993. I still remember the picture on the front page of the New York Times--of Guy Malary lying in the street in his own blood. It was Chamblain who was found guilty of that murder.
In fact, the Center for Constitutional Rights obtained a CIA memorandum under the Freedom of Information Act that talks about that morning--the meeting of three men, including Toto Constant and Jodel Chamblain. It doesn't matter what position you take on President Aristide--what you think of his government.
He has had a lot of problems, and he's changed a lot from 10 years ago when he first came into office. You're talking about a very different president this time around. In 1991, he represented a movement that overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship. It's many years later after the first coup of 1991--and even then, when he returned to Haiti in 1994, he wasn't pushing through the agenda that he originally supported.
But the fact is that he was democratically elected--both times. And when you look at who was responsible for his overthrow, why doesn't CNN, Fox and MSNBC explain what these men's records are? These men have been convicted of murder and massacre. They have connections to the U.S. government. It's important for you to know.
So what happened to Aristide on the night of the coup? The New York Times let us know. They had a front-page piece that I would call just part of the psy ops operation of this government. Why do I say that? The story laid out, step-by-step (not that they were there) what exactly Aristide said on the night of the coup--or what they said he said, or what they said an unnamed official said that he said.
When you look at these kinds of pieces, either on television or in the main paper of record, why couldn't they name these secret administration officials who were telling the story? There's no place for unnamed sources when they are simply putting out the administration line, and they don't want the lies traced back to them. Then journalists are simply acting as megaphones for those in power. And that's not our job.
We got calls on Monday's program from Congress member Maxine Waters and Randall Robinson, the founder of TransAfrica, who now lives in St. Kits. Randall Robinson is a very close friend of Aristide, and on Monday, Aristide called Waters and Robinson from the Central African Republic to say that he has been kidnapped--that he was told that all security would be removed from him, that he would die.
We also were told by Randall Robinson that Tavis Smiley, the journalist, had gotten a call from Ron Dellums, the former Congress member, who is now a paid lobbyist for Haiti. Dellums said that he had gotten a call from Colin Powell on Saturday saying that he should tell Aristide that if he didn't leave, he would be killed.
Aristide then talked to CNN, where he said, "It is a coup." When Robinson and Waters went on CNN, the media personalities (you can't call them journalists) said to Robinson and Waters, "Don't you think this is a stretch? Why would you believe him?" Now I actually think this is a fair question to ask. A journalist should ask hard questions, no matter who is telling the story. But did they ask the same question of the U.S. administration, which was claiming that Aristide simply resigned and left Haiti?
"It's nonsense." I think that's the way Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, responded to a reporter saying that Pacifica has reported that this was a U.S.-backed coup d'etat. You know you're on the right track when a government official says, "Nonsense."
The White House team on Latin America
IN PUBLIC, the Bush administration talks about bringing "order and stability" to Haiti. But behind closed doors, you can bet there's a lot of high-fives and backslapping going on. That's because the Bush administration's Latin America "team" is brimming with hardcore neoconservatives bent on carrying out a crusade against popularly elected, left-leaning governments in Latin America.
Noriega's star has risen rapidly--in part due to his close ties with former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), for whom Noriega served as chief of staff. "Helms didn't just dislike Aristide," said Larry Birns, of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. "Helms loathed Aristide, because he saw in Aristide another Castro."
Two years ago, Reich had high-level contacts with right wingers who staged a failed coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Two decades before that, Reich ran the Reagan administration's media disinformation campaign to demonize the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua--and pump up the contra oppositionists trying to overthrow the Sandinistas as "freedom fighters."
Corporate America's sweatshops
GRINDING POVERTY, low wages and high unemployment make Haiti the ideal location for U.S. sweatshops. The U.S. is Haiti's chief commercial outlet, accounting for about 60 percent of the country's exports and imports. U.S. multinationals dominate the production of everything--from baseballs to textiles to sugar to bauxite.
During the 1990s, Disney used Haitian sweatshops to produce all sorts of retail goods--paying workers just 11 cents an hour. Meanwhile, in 1996, Disney's CEO Michael Eisner "earned" more than $185 million in pay and stock options. It would take a Haitian worker sewing Disney garments 156 years to earn what Eisner was paid...in just one hour.
For every pair of Pocahontas pajamas sold in the U.S. for $11.97, a Haitian worker got 7 pennies. After it became the target of anti-sweatshop activists, Disney largely closed up its operations in Haiti--rather than pay workers more.
Last fall, Levi Strauss announced plans to shut down its North American factories and move production to several poorer countries, including Haiti. What's more, the International Finance Corporation, a division of the World Bank that finances corporations, is providing $58 million to "help" Grupo M--a Dominican sweatshop operation with contracts to make clothes for Levi Strauss, Liz Claiborne, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger--get an "export processing zone" (EPZ) up and running in Haiti.
Andy Apaid, a U.S. citizen and sweatshop mogul in Haiti, is a leader of the opposition to Aristide. It's easy to see why Apaid wanted to get rid of Aristide. Against strong opposition from the business community, Aristide doubled the minimum wage.
But it's already clear that sweatshop owners feel a newfound confidence since Aristide's removal--and a strong bond with the "rebels." After a strike at plant in the EPZ on March 3, bosses called in the armed rebels, who handcuffed some workers, roughed up others, threatened still more and forced them back to work.
U.S. sends a message
AS ANTI-government demonstrations grew, military figures began plotting a coup against the democratically elected president. The howls of the rich and powerful, opposed to even mild reforms promised by the government, grew louder. U.S. officials echoed claims of the opposition that the government was using "authoritarian measures"--and when the opportunity came, the U.S. gave the green light.
This description fits the toppling of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. But if you go back two years, it also fits Venezuela. The U.S. failed to oust Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez--because of a massive mobilization of workers and the poor.
The U.S. had already recognized Pedro Carmona, head of Venezuela's main business organization, as the new head of state. U.S. officials were in close contact with the coup plotters, giving them advice on how to proceed.
With the toppling of Haiti's Aristide, the U.S. hopes to erase the embarrassment of its failed coup in Venezuela--and perhaps set the stage for another try. In fact, Chavez issued a statement that threatened to cut off exports of Venezuelan oil to the U.S. if the U.S. attempted to invade or stage another coup.
Is Chavez paranoid? Hardly. In early 2003, the Wall Street Journal reported that paramilitaries continued to prepare for a future coup attempt in Venezuela--at training camps in Florida. This shouldn't be surprising.
For more than a century, the U.S. has asserted its "right" to intervene militarily in its "own backyard." Haiti's low wages are attractive for big U.S. corporations. But more importantly, the coup in Haiti removed a figure long despised by U.S. neoconservatives--and sent a message to the rest of Latin America's that the U.S. government plans to get its way, or else.
The U.S. wants governments with an unswerving commitment to neoliberal economic policies--and that offer no resistance to America's imperialist agenda. As far as Washington is concerned, free and fair elections don't make a country democratic, but free markets do--no matter how repressive the regime.