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After engineering the coup that toppled Aristide...
Washington sides with Haiti's killers

By Eric Ruder | March 12, 2004 | Page 12

HAITI'S RIGHT-wingers and ex-military thugs are bolstering their position following the ouster of the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And the U.S. government is lending its support.

Last weekend, mainstream media stories from Haiti were filled with reports that two gunmen--allegedly supporters of Aristide--fired on a march of 1,000 anti-Aristide demonstrators, killing five people. But the media haven't reported on the bodies of Aristide supporters that are piling up in morgues--after being hunted down and killed by the murderous "rebels" that Washington supports.

As Bill Fletcher, president of the solidarity group TransAfrica, said, "The assassinations have already started, and what is the United States doing? What are the French doing? Nothing." The U.S. media also underreported a massive march of Aristide supporters that numbered more than 10,000 two days earlier.

U.S. forces have denied armed protection to Aristide sympathizers calling for the return of the ousted president. Yet they accompanied the demonstration in support of the coup leaders, with .50-caliber machine guns and assault rifles at the ready.

These marchers called for a trial of Aristide and demanded that U.S. forces arrest Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide supporter. This dovetailed with the demands of Guy Philippe, the most prominent leader of the armed rebellion that swept across Haiti, setting the stage for the coup that drove Aristide into exile.

Philippe last week declared himself head of the new Haitian military--only to announce the next day that he was disarming his supporters. But after the protest this weekend, Philippe again warned that unless Neptune was arrested and Aristide's supporters disarmed, he would "reunite my men and take up arms."

Philippe showed the true colors of the U.S.-backed opposition to Aristide when he told a reporter that his two favorite political figures were ex-Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet and former President Ronald Reagan. Can there be any doubt about Philippe's commitment to Washington's agenda--or his enthusiasm for using murderous means to achieve its goals?

One week after he left Haiti, Aristide made his first public appearance in the Central African Republic--and repeated the allegations he had made by telephone to supporters that he was "politically abducted" by U.S. military forces and forced into exile. "I am the democratically elected president, and I remain so," Aristide said. "I plead for the restoration of democracy."

U.S. officials denounced Aristide's claims last week and insisted that the former president had asked for American help and left Haiti voluntarily. But Aristide's version of the story--that he was confronted by dozens of U.S. soldiers who told him that he could either leave, or be killed by right-wing rebel gangs advancing on his residence--first surfaced through the alternative media and has since been widely reported.

Aristide appealed to his supporters to organize "a peaceful resistance" to the U.S. occupation of Haiti. This could spell trouble for Washington. With Philippe "parading through the streets like a conqueror," as the New York Times put it, frustrations among the poor slum-dwellers of Port-au-Prince--Aristide's main base of support--are growing.

"The Americans are only here to protect those who helped oust Aristide," one resident, Ednar Ducoste, told the Associated Press. "If we had guns, we would be fighting against them right now." Another, Pierre Paul, added, "We will do the same thing that they are doing in Iraq."

Last week, after Aristide was ousted, George W. Bush gave a statement claiming, "President Aristide resigned. He has left his country. The constitution of Haiti is working." What an outrage!

The democratically elected president of Haiti is driven from office by armed thugs and U.S. troops, and Bush claims that the constitution is working? U.S. forces have now held two ceremonies to swear in former Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre as president.

But no matter how many photo ops they hold, Washington has two problems. The constitutional problem is that Haiti's legislature--which must vote to confirm Boniface--was dissolved in early January. But the more basic issue is that Aristide remains broadly popular compared to the right-wing thugs who ousted him.

"The notion that Aristide has lost his popularity is utter bullshit," said Stan Goff, a former special forces soldier who was part of the U.S. invasion of Haiti in 1994 and is now a leading member of Bring Them Home Now, the campaign of military families and veterans opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"If you look at the pictures of these [right-wing demonstrations], you'll note that they do just like they did in Venezuela and other places," Goff said after returning last week from a visit to Haiti. "They tighten the lens up enough to make the crowd look as big as possible. In fact, there were far, far larger mass mobilizations in support of the government than there were against it."

The next step in the U.S. government's "democratic occupation" of Haiti will be the selection of a new prime minister this week by a seven-member "council of elders." But across the Caribbean and Latin America, government responses to the U.S. intervention ranged from fear to outrage. "The removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere," said Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, who is also the chairman of the 15-nation Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

Days before Aristide was forced to flee, CARICOM had asked the United Nations (UN) to intervene to provide protection for Aristide--and was refused. But after Aristide was toppled, the UN immediately sent troops. "We cannot fail to observe that what was impossible on the Thursday could be accomplished in an emergency meeting on the Sunday," said Patterson.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to patrol the waters off Haiti to pick up and immediately return Haitian refugees fleeing the armed gangs loyal to Philippe and other coup leaders. This policy is inhumane. We have to demand that the U.S. grant immediate asylum to Haitian refugees--and that Washington's imperialist intervention end immediately, with Aristide allowed to return to Haiti.

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