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Since the U.S. coup that toppled Aristide one year ago...
Haiti's year of terror

March 4, 2005 | Page 11

ASHLEY SMITH reports on Washington's crimes during the first year of its occupation of Haiti.

GEORGE W. BUSH promised that the U.S. would bring democracy, stability and respect for human rights. Instead, one year of a U.S. and United Nations (UN) occupation of Haiti has brought a new reign of terror.

At the end of February last year--during the 200th anniversary of Haiti's revolution that established it as the world's first Black republic--the U.S. orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide and occupied the country for the third time in the last 100 years.

One year later, more than 3,000 people are dead, an estimated 100,000 are internally displaced, and Haiti's right wing is on the rampage.

"The police, backed by UN forces, routinely carry out indiscriminate and unprofessional killing operations," wrote U.S. lawyer Thomas Griffin in a new study of human rights abuses by the occupation. "The undisciplined army is back protecting the rich and attacking the poor. The justice system is twisted against poor young men, dissidents and anyone calling for the return of the constitutional government. Prisons fill with young men who are arrested without warrants and are denied due process. Partisanship and corruption occupy the electoral council's attention, leaving little hope for free and fair elections."

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THIS IS the outcome of the U.S. government's crusade to get rid of Aristide--the man who a decade ago it returned to power after an earlier coup.

Aristide had led an uprising--known as "Lavalas," or the "flood"--that overthrew U.S. ally and dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in 1986. Advocating reform for the urban poor and peasantry and denouncing U.S. imperialism and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Aristide then won Haiti's first free and fair presidential election in 1990, with over two-thirds of vote.

Haiti's rulers--and their backers in Washington--refused to tolerate Aristide's minor reforms and organized to overthrow him in a 1991 coup. A military dictatorship murdered 6,000 people over the next three years, drove hundreds of thousands into hiding and turned tens of thousands into refugees who tried to go the U.S.

In 1994, facing a refugee crisis, the U.S. invaded and occupied Haiti to restore Aristide--on the condition that he abandon his reform program and adopt the IMF's plans for sweatshop development in Haiti. Aristide for the most part followed U.S. orders, gave up the three years he lost of his term to the coup and stepped down from office in 1995.

But in 2000--against Washington's wishes--Aristide again ran for president, trouncing all contenders with more than two-thirds of the vote yet again. Aristide continued to rule as a moderate, and corruption in his ruling circles alienated longtime supporters, Nevertheless, he continued to give speeches denouncing neoliberalism and imperialism, and even demanded that France repay $21 million that it had forced Haiti to pay for its independence in 1804.

Fed up with Haiti's instability and Aristide's nationalist rhetoric, the U.S. used the pretext of irregularities in the 2000 election to impose an aid embargo on the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The U.S. hoped to force Aristide into a deal with Haiti's opposition--which Washington had funded through the U.S. Agency for International Development and International Foundation for Electoral Systems. The opposition--in particular, the Democratic Convergence and Group of 184--brought together disgruntled former Aristide allies with Duvalierists and key figures from the Haitian ruling class.

But when deals with the opposition failed, the U.S. opted for a coup--not only to get rid of Aristide, but to send a signal to the region and the world that if governments like Aristide's or Chavez's in Venezuela resist U.S. orders, Washington would overthrow them and impose neoliberal policies at gunpoint.

According to Stan Goff, a U.S. antiwar activist and soldier during the 1994 invasion of Haiti, the U.S. trained Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the former head of the FRAPH death squads, and his ex-military allies, supplying them with new M-16s at a Dominican military base called San Cristobar. These forces swept across the country in February 2004 and threatened to overthrow the Lavalas government.

On February 29, the U.S. sent Marines to the capital of Port-au-Prince with an ultimatum to Aristide--leave the country or be killed by Chamblain's forces. Aristide was kidnapped, held captive in the Central African Republic and eventually released to an exile in South Africa.

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WITH ARISTIDE gone, the death squads went on a killing spree--especially in Port-au-Prince, where they murdered well over 1,000 people, whose corpses overflowed the city's morgue.

The U.S. quickly assembled a puppet regime to impose order--and repress Aristide's Lavalas Family party. Washington chose a former Haitian diplomat Gerard Latortue--who had been living Boca Raton, Fla., for the last several decades--to become prime minister. In one of his first acts as head of the state, Latortue flew to Gonaïves, where he praised the death squads that had toppled Aristide as "freedom fighters."

But Latortue could not rely on these gangsters to stabilize the country. Meanwhile, the Haitian police were understaffed and disorganized, and Aristide had disbanded the military in 1995.

So the U.S. turned to the UN to ratify regime change in Haiti--which the UN did with a unanimous Security Council resolution that supplied troops for a "peacekeeping" operation. Brazil's President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, a former left winger and outspoken opponent of U.S. imperialism, volunteered to send troops to head up the UN operation. His appointee, Gen. Augusto Heleno, made Brazil's aims clear when he declared, "We must kill the bandits, but it will have to be the bandits only, not everybody."

The U.S. and several other countries, as well as the IMF and the World Bank, promised more than $1 billion in aid to the Latortue government. Flush with cash, Latortue initiated a program not to address the crying needs of an impoverished country, but to pay $5,000 each to more than 5,000 ex-soldiers--and to hire some 1,000 of them to lead the Haitian National Police (HNP).

With UN troops and a revitalized police force in place, the Latortue regime ordered a campaign of repression against Aristide's Lavalas and its supporters among the urban poor.

According to the Catholic Church's Justice and Peace Commission, the regime has arrested and jailed 700 political leaders in Haiti, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. The HNP even arrested three deposed Lavalas senators without warrants--for speaking out on radio against human rights violations.

By contrast, the regime has released hundreds of former military and death-squad leaders who were convicted human rights abuses. Haiti's courts exonerated the coup leader, Chamblain, of all his convictions for human rights abuses.

On September 30--the anniversary of the 1991 coup against Aristide--Lavalas organized demonstrations across Haiti to demand an end to the occupation, the return of Aristide and the restoration of democracy. Latortue's police fired on the 10,000-strong protest in Port-au-Prince, killing several people and wounding many more. In turn, Lavalas has called more demonstrations over the last few months.

Meanwhile, the UN increased the number of troops in the country to 6,000 soldiers and 1,400 civilian police--directly in support of Latortue's campaign of repression. "What we have seen in this country during the last month or two has been a resurgence of brutal violence organized, probably to provoke a process of political destabilization," said Juan Gabriel Valdes, the UN secretary general's special representative to Haiti.

UN forces frequently arrest Lavalas supporters--and turn them over to the HNP, which then tortures and kills them. For example, after UN soldiers handed over Lavalas activist Jimmy Charles, the HNP murdered him and dumped his body in the streets.

The HNP and UN troops have concentrated their sweeps in the pro-Aristide slums of Cite Soleil, Bel Air and La Saline in Port-au-Prince. "The evidence gathered reveals that illegal arrests and summary punishments, including killing, have become routine for the HNP," concludes Thomas Griffin. "The rule of law has been subordinated to chaos and fear, with HNP officers, becoming 'warriors' for the interim government, poor young men becoming 'enemies,' and the citizenry losing the power and protection of its Constitution."

Bands of right-wing paramilitaries rampage through the same neighborhoods, targeting street children who support Aristide and Lavalas. Michael Brewer, an activist who works with impoverished youth, told investigators that paramilitary units "prowl the streets of the city...with high-powered military assault rifles, shotguns and 9mm pistols, wearing all black uniforms with black ski masks over their heads to conceal their identities.

"They justify the murders of these boys by referring them as 'vagabonds' and say that they are 'cleaning the streets.' There are dump zones where the decomposing bodies of little boys can be found any day of the week. I have found many. This is blatant genocide. The merciless atrocities committed on these defenseless, harmless and innocent street children go completely unnoticed, unreported and uninvestigated."

Meanwhile, the Latortue regime and its backers--like Andy Apaid who leads the Group of 184--have turned to gang leaders to police poor neighborhoods. Apaid, for example, has bought the services of Labanye, a gang leader in Cite Soleil, who has terrorized the slum to prevent it from mobilizing for recent Lavalas demonstrations.

Reports also accuse the HNP and the paramilitaries of mass rape to punish Aristide supporters. According to reporter Lynn Duff, human rights investigators say that "a growing number of girls and young women...say have been victims of mass rape committed by member of the disbanded military and their compatriots."

Journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina estimates that Latortue's regime has killed 3,000 people and driven 100,000 into hiding over the last year. Instead of international condemnation, however, the Latortue regime is supported and bankrolled by the U.S., Canada, France and the United Nations.

Despite the evidence of human rights violations, the Bush administration has refused to give Temporary Protective Status to Haitian refugees and immigrants, which would allow them to remain in the U.S. until it is safe for them to return. In fact, the U.S. has increased detentions and deportation of Haitians. "They stop Haitians on the street, in the malls where they work, everywhere," one activist in the U.S. told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I guess we're easy to be spotted, because we are Black. They take them and send them back to Haiti."

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THE AIM of the campaign of repression is to destroy Lavalas, rendering it unable either to struggle for Aristide's return or run in elections scheduled for November and December. But Lavalas is still the largest and most popular party in Haiti. It has announced that it will continue to protest--and will boycott the upcoming vote. Nonetheless, the U.S.--working through the UN--wants to press ahead with the vote, to consolidate their coup with a fraudulent election.

Since the elections may not even appear legitimate, let alone stabilize Haiti, the UN announced that it has extended its "peacekeeping" mission for another 18 months. Some diplomats have even expressed support for the UN turning Haiti into a "protectorate."

Antiwar activists must support the popular resistance in Haiti against the U.S.-UN occpation. "Without the UN forces, this phony government wouldn't last a week," one Aristide supporter told the Black Commentator. "That is why we call them occupation forces, and it is criminal for them to prop up this killing machine that is trying to destroy us. It is an insult to see them occupying the streets in front of our National Palace to keep in place a government that was not chosen by the people...We have no choice but to defend ourselves and our communities against their tanks and guns."

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