Why Washington Won’t Allow Democracy in Haiti
One area of U.S. foreign policy that the WikiLeaks cables help illuminate, which the major media has predictably ignored, is the occupation of Haiti. In 2004, the country's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown for the second time, through an effort led by the United States government. Officials in Haiti's constitutional government were jailed and thousands of its supporters were killed.
The Haitian coup, besides being a repeat of Aristide's overthrow in 1991, was also very similar to the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, which had Washington's fingerprints all over it. Some of the same people in Washington were even involved in both efforts. But the Venezuelan coup failed, partly because Latin American governments immediately and forcefully declared that they would not recognize the coup government.
In the case of Haiti, Washington learned from its mistakes in the Venezuelan coup and gathered support for an illegitimate government in advance. A UN resolution was passed just days after the coup and UN forces, headed by Brazil, were sent to the country. The mission, still headed by Brazil, has troops from a number of other Latin American governments that are left of center, including Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. They are also joined by Chile, Peru, and Guatemala.
Would these governments have sent troops to occupy Venezuela if that coup had succeeded? Clearly, they would not have considered such a move, yet the occupation of Haiti is no more justifiable. South America's progressive governments have challenged U.S. foreign policy in the region and the world, with some of them regularly using words like imperialism and empire as synonyms for Washington. They have built new institutions such as UNASUR to prevent these kinds of abuses from the North. Bolivia even expelled the U.S. ambassador in September of 2008 for interfering in its own internal affairs.
The participation of these governments in the occupation of Haiti is a serious political contradiction for them and it is getting worse.
The WikiLeaks cables illustrate how important the control of Haiti is to the United States. A long memo from the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince to the U.S. Secretary of State answers detailed questions about current Haitian President Rene Preval's political, personal, and family life, including such vital national security questions as "How many drinks can Preval consume before he shows signs of inebriation?" It also expresses one of Washington's main concerns: "His reflexive nationalism and his disinterest in managing bilateral relations in a broad diplomatic sense, will lead to periodic frictions as we move forward our bilateral agenda. Case in point, we believe that in terms of foreign policy, Preval is most interested in gaining increased assistance from any available resource. He is likely to be tempted to frame his relationship with Venezuela and Chavez-allies in the hemisphere in a way that he hopes will create a competitive atmosphere as far as who can provide the most to Haiti."
This is why they got rid of Aristide, who was much to the left of Preval and why we won't let him back in the country. This is why Washington funded the recent "elections" that excluded Haiti's largest political party, the equivalent of shutting out the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. And this is why MINUSTAH (the UN-backed military mission) is still occupying the country, more than six years after the coup, without any apparent mission other than replacing the hated Haitian army, which Aristide abolished as a repressive force.
People who do not understand U.S. foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington because it is poor and has no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington operates, as the WikiLeaks cables illustrate.
For the State Department and its allies, it is all a ruthless chess game, and the pawns matter. Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so. The poorest countries—like Honduras—present the most opportune targets. A democratically-elected government in Haiti, due to its history, would inevitably be a left government and one that will not line up with Washington's foreign policy priorities for the region. Hence, democracy is not allowed.
Thousands of Haitians have been protesting the sham December 2010 elections, as well as MINUSTAH's role in causing the cholera epidemic, which has taken more than 2,300 lives. Judging from the rapid spread of the disease, there may have been gross criminal negligence, i.e., large-scale dumping of fecal waste into the Artibonite River. This mission costs over $500 million a year, when the UN can't even raise a third of that to fight the epidemic that the mission caused or to provide clean water for Haitians. Now the UN is asking for an increase to over $850 million for MINUSTAH.
It is time that the progressive governments of Latin America quit this occupation. It goes against their principles and the will of the Haitian people.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis, writes a weekly column for the Guardian (UK), and has written numerous articles on economic and foreign policy.