Remembering the coup in Haiti

Edna Bonhomme looks at the anniversary of the coup that removed Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in Haiti, and why activists continue to carry on the fight for justice.

SEPTEMBER 30 was an international day of solidarity with the Haitian people.

After a series of political, economic and physical transformations in the 1980s, Haitians democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president in 1990. The people were elated that a president elected with a majority of the votes (67 percent) would represent their interests and concerns. Aristide's presidency was seen as a period of hope after years of totalitarian rule and ephemeral leadership.

In an interview with Peter Hallward, Aristide said:

"If the people cannot go to Puebla, Puebla will remain cut off from the people." In other words, it isn't a matter of struggling for the people, on behalf of the people, at a distance from the people; it's a matter of struggling with and in the midst of the people.

Indeed, it's important to include the people in a democratic process and not to merely speak on their behalf. Even more importantly, Aristide indicated that rule by an oligarchy is not a true democracy. His intentions were to provide the people with an alternative to the dictatorial rule of past regimes.

However, his platform was thwarted by powers greater than himself. As CLR James wrote, "Where imperialists do not find disorder, they create it deliberately." With the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, Aristide was removed from power by a coup d'etat led by Raoul Cédras on September 30, 1991.

The CIA's strategy included attempting to create disorder in the Haitian state. After Aristide's departure, the military exercised its force on Aristide supporters. This led to a series of human rights violations such as sexual assault and mutilation. Men were politically targeted through physical deformation, such as cutting off a hand.

Thus, physical violence was used as a tool to silence the people from exercising their political will. Professor Erica C. James referenced the impact of the military coup on Haitian women in her article "The Political Economy of 'Trauma' in Haiti in the Democratic Era of Insecurity," stating:

The use of systematic rape during the coup years was questioned and said to be part of Haitian culture, rather than a strategy of war. The implication of this statement was that Haitian sexuality was naturally violent and depraved. The United States explicitly charged that the reports of human rights abuses were fabrications. The implicit message, however, was the incommensurability between the suffering of poor black men and women in Haiti with that of the embattled ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia.

provisions stipulated by international loan programs. Although Aristide contends that he resisted the neoliberal project, these programs subsequently led to a reduction in economic funds available for infrastructure and social services.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

NINETEEN YEARS after the Cédras military bandits resumed power, a woman's group occupied the streets in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

On a partly cloudy morning near downtown, 100 women walked near the municipal buildings to commemorate the victims of the coup. The women were affiliated with KONANAVID, an all-women Lavalas group. They wore white-and-blue shirts that read "Bay Kou Bliye Pote Mak Sonje Non! Nou Pa Ka Bliye" ("To hit and forget carry me to remember! We will not forget!")

They demonstrated because they wanted to reclaim justice for the victims who were targeted on the day of the coup d'etat. They marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince for Jean Dominique, Pé Ti Jean Pierre-Louis, Antoine Isméry, Jean Lamy, Lovinksy Pierre-Antoine, Francois Robert and the many unknown victims.

Kerline, an organizer with KOMANAVID, informed me that their membership had gone from 1,500 members to 500 members. Many of the women perished during the January 12 earthquake.

After the march, the participants met at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) facilities, a public interest group affiliated with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, to discuss the significance of the day and to talk about the current political issues.

The success of these cohesive grassroots initiatives brings the current gross injustice of Haitian electoral politics into sharp relief. The Provisional Electoral Council in Haiti has excluded the Famni Lavalas Party, along with 13 other political parties, from the November 28 national election. On another note, the post-earthquake situation excludes many internally displaced people from participating in the election because they do not have official identification cards.

These two circumstances are both undemocratic and unjust to the many Haitians that have historically fought for material freedom and political representation for the masses. As Rep. Maxine Waters indicated in a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton:

Although some may argue that Haiti has more pressing problems, allowing flawed elections now will come back to haunt the international community later. Haiti's next government will be called upon to make difficult decisions in the reconstruction process that will have a lasting impact on Haitian society, such as land reform and allocation of reconstruction projects among urban and rural areas. Conferring these decisions on a government perceived as illegitimate is a recipe for disaster.

If Haiti is to be rebuilt by Haitians, the decisions that are made have to be determined by the Haitians themselves. Just as slaves fomented political unrest to liberate themselves from the shackles of slavery, there is currently a wave of activism by grassroots organizers to demand social reform.

Near the conclusion of the KONANAVID rally, activist Jocie Philisten garnered strength from the crowd by stating, "We didn't have 1,000 people today but we have determination. We need to search for solidarity."

History is a weapon in the struggle against our own oppressors. As the members of the KONANAVID demonstrated through their observance of September 30, we should be fighting to ameliorate the lives of Haitians by giving them the ability to assert their self-determination and their political will.

It will not happen through occupation or imperialist interests, but through the activism of the masses.