Haiti’s Disappeared


Returning to Haiti last month, I found a US. occupation not unlike that in Iraq, but one of which very few Americans are aware. A month after I returned from Haiti, and two months after the U.S. forced out the elected President and a so-called “multinational force” occupied the country, Haiti is in worse turmoil, with far more political repression than it has seen since the junta of 1991-1994. The UN Security Council on April 30 approved a “peacekeeping” mission to Haiti to replace the “multinational force” led by the U.S. The U.N. pledges 6,700 troops and 1,622 police for the new force. The UN force is set to take command July 1, but U.S., French, Canadian and other troops from the original occupation will continue to take part, despite condemnation from many quarters in Haiti (including some in the current government) of what they call “a foreign occupation.” Despite a UN report in late April that called the situation in Haiti “extremely volatile” and said that crime and violence in general had increased since the departure of Aristide, the Security Council praised the U.S. and its allies for their occupation since Feb. 29. Of the approximately 3500 troops under U.S. command, more than 2000 are U.S. marines. (AP dispatches, April 30, May 1, 2004)

There is far more violence in Haiti than revealed by U.S. outlets like CNN, FOX and the Associated Press, but perhaps not enough to whet the scandal appetite of these media. In fact, in light of the extreme poverty (the worst in this hemisphere) side-by-side with a tiny, ostentatiously rich elite, and the extreme actions of ultra-right wing putschists and the U.S. occupiers, it is surprising there was not much more violence. When Haiti’s poorest – the slum dwellers of Cite Soleil, Dessalines and Bel Air in the low-lying areas of Port au Prince – saw their elected President snatched and his dignity demeaned, it is surprising they did not take the hand-guns which the U.S. has alleged were supplied to them by Aristide’s government (the government denied this) and slaughter a few score of the mostly light-skinned millionaires in the up-hill suburb of Petionville. But they did not. Dr. Paul Farmer, the public health worker universally praised for his work against AIDS, malaria and TB in Haiti (and elsewhere), explained, “I personally, in all my years in Haiti, have never once seen a peasant with a gun. And almost all of the ones around these parts are members of Famni Lavalas (FL – Aristide’s party). Now I’ve tended to many gunshot wounds, but they’ve been inflicted by former soldiers, police, or people who have cars to drive– not peasants.” (email from Paul Farmer, May 3, 2004)

Haiti made headlines for about three weeks. The U.S. media first covered a “rebellion” against a “dictator,” President Jean Bertrand Aristide, and finally his abrupt removal in the middle of the night, Feb. 29. The U.S. called this a voluntary departure which allowed the “restoration of democracy.” This is the version spun by corporate media. Aristide, CARICOM (Haiti’s Caribbean neighbors) and the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus insisted Aristide did not resign, and was forced to fly to an unknown destination. The U.S. took him to what State Department briefings call the “most violent capital in he world,” Bangui, Central African Republic.

Critics said what happened was no rebellion – they called it a U.S.-orchestrated coup. They pointed to testimony by the Creole specialist hired by the State Department to translate what the U.S. called a “resignation letter” from Creole to English. The letter was couched in the subjunctive. It began, “If I were to resign….” This was similar to a letter Aristide was forced to sign by the Haitian military in 1991, and was clearly not a letter of voluntary resignation. That view was given little coverage, and was dismissed as “ridiculous” by U.S. officials and most news commentators.

I’ve been to Haiti many times since 1977. I helped organize the New England Observer Delegations (NEOD) to Haiti between 1991 and 1998, including many prominent Boston citizens. During the previous coup period we witnessed horrible human rights abuses by the U.S. trained Haitian army and their para-military FRAPH supporters, later proven to be funded by the CIA. We also witnessed the almost universal jubilation of the Haitian urban and rural poor (85% of the population) at the time of Aristide’s return. I also went to Haiti last March, witnessing the on-going popularity among the poor for Aristide, as well as growing signs that a genuine, U.S.-backed coup was in the works.

I went to Haiti this time to see the results of that coup. Again, I saw the same conditions: massive violence against the poor, especially against Lavalas and others associated with Aristide; the very same FRAPH and former Haitian army figures committing the atrocities; continuing overwhelming – though slightly less vocal – support for Aristide among the poor (but not among the middle class professionals, some of which supported him before, and certainly not the elite who have always virulently hated him and his popular base).

I also went to Haiti puzzled and saddened by the deep rift in the Haiti solidarity movement of which NEOD had been a vital part. I understood why some were more critical of Aristide than others. But I did not understand how disillusionment with him could translate into support for an unconstitutional overthrow of a coup orchestrated by the U.S. I know that my colleagues who supported those in Haiti who called for Aristide’s ouster at any cost, would insist they do not support a U.S. occupation, and certainly not the return of the macoutes (as the Duvaliers’ henchmen were called). Yet this is what their position has helped bring about. I came home convinced they were partly right about Aristide’s alleged failings (understandable, perhaps, for a leader in a U.S.-constructed neo-liberal box) and dead wrong about what would happen if he was forced to leave.

THE “NEW REALITY” IN HAITI

What most Americans – including most American “progressives” do not know are these facts:

(1) Many Haitians (including most of the poor majority) join the countries of the Caribbean and Africa, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus and many other U.S. congress people as well as church and human rights leaders to denounce the “rebellion” as a right-wing putsch financed and supported by the U.S., and the ouster of Aristide as an outright U.S. coup against a democratically elected President.

The U.S. and France, according to CARICOM officials, have threatened to use the veto if CARICOM presses an investigation at the UN. Two important meetings of CARICOM with U.S. officials, including one with the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to discuss anti-terror measures, have been canceled because the U.S. insisted the coup-installed Haitian regime be seated and CARICOM refused. Caricom Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, said their decision not to sit at the table with representatives of the Haitian government was a principled one. “Security is very important to all of us, but I think the first thing that is of importance is the nature and regard for our community and you cannot compromise on that principle,” Mr Carrington said. (Speaking to the BBC Caribbean Service, April 29, 2004.)

One hears today in the U.S. media, that Aristide’s election in 2000 was “fraudulent.” There were questions raised by the OAS and others about the legislative elections that year. The Presidential election was monitored by international observers (Global Exchange and the Catholic-oriented Quixote Center in Maryland) and by a much-praised Haitian peasant group, KOZEPEP. The Haitian government monitor, which set up the elections, was the CEP, which included no Lavalas and several opposition members. All these monitors verified a free and fair election with nearly 3 million voters, about 61% of those registered, giving Aristide more than 90% against six minor candidates. Though the official opposition – the Convergence – boycotted these elections, Gallup polls commissioned for USAID and suppressed by the U.S., both before and after the elections, indicate that the estimated turnout was correct – and that most Haitians continued to support Aristide’s election and the Lavalas Party at least through 2002. In March 2002, 61.6% of those responding said they sympathized or were members of FL, while only 13% indicated the Convergence or any of its constituent parties. When asked to name the Haitian leader they most trusted, many said “none,” but 60% of those responding picked Aristide, with the next closest figure, Convergence leader Gerard Gourgue, receiving 3.7%. (I have a copy of the CID-Gallup polls from 2000-March 2002, commissioned by USAID, and leaked by a USAID employee. A final Gallup poll was done in March 2003 and similarly repressed. Those who have seen the results say FL continued to receive support from more than half of those polled, and from two-thirds of those identified as “poor.”) The difference between the Lavalas government and the current “de facto” regime on elections is that Aristide went along with the rules that said opposition parties must be part of the election council (CEP) which sets up elections. In late April, after holding a conference with more than 1000 members attending – many coming out of hiding due to severe persecution – the FL Party refused to select a representative to the CEP, siting the widespread violence against FL members. Religious leaders of the Ti Legliz (so-called “little church” groups organized by liberation theology advocates, similar to “base communities” in Nicaragua) held a protest demonstration on April 29 at St. Jean Bosco church in La Saline, a staunch Lavalas neighborhood. This is the site of a massacre in 1988 at Aristide’s parish church. Ti Legliz demanded an end to what they called widespread persecution, including murders and arson against their members. “No fair elections can take place in this environment,” a Ti Legliz spokesman said. (Agence Haitien de Press, April 29, 2004). Nevertheless, Gerard Latortue, the de facto Prime Minister, says he intends to go right ahead with elections – without Lavalas, clearly the largest organized party in Haiti. The difference is that the U.S., OAS – and evidently the UN – will go along with an election in a climate of fear that excludes a major segment of the country’s poorest people.

(2) The very same para-military and former Army officers who terrorized Haiti during the previous coup are doing so today. Their victims are mostly the poor and their popular organizations who supported (and still support) President Aristide and FL. We interviewed many of these victims who said they recognized their tormentors (and in one case rapists) as the same men who had victimized them a decade ago. Among those terrorizing Haiti today are many common criminals who were let out of the National penitentiary by the “rebels,” as well as major convicted human rights abusers and mass murderers like Jodel Chamblain and Jean “Tatoune.”

Chamblain staged his “surrender” at a posh Petionville hotel. He seems poised to overturn his convictions and be re-invented as a “freedom fighter.” Brian Concannon is a U.S. lawyer and human rights expert who advised the prosecutors in the Raboto massacre trials (where Chamblain was convicted in absentia). Concannon says of Chamblain’s surrender: “…under the current circumstances, any case against [Chamblain] will be a travesty. First, the victims are in hiding because his allies have been terrorizing them. Second, the de facto Justice Minister publicly said earlier this week that Chamblain has nothing to hide, which makes it clear that the Justice Minister intends to do a whitewash. Third, the judge in the Raboto case was beaten up by Chamblain’s people on March 30, so obviously you’re not going to have a judge that will follow the case seriously. And finally, the house of the Raboto trial’s lead prosecutor was burned down in February. So it’s unlikely that you’re going to have a zealous prosecutor take this case.”

One former Haitian officer, Remissanthe Raix, calls himself the current army head, commanding more than 1600 soldiers, and adamantly refuses to disarm. “We ARE the army and we are back,” said Raix. In the Central Plateau, another former Haitian army officer, Joseph Jean-Baptiste, refused to disarm his troops, welcoming the Chilean occupiers so long as their 30 soldiers didn’t challenge his 400 in the Hinche area. Shortly after the Chileans arrived (April 20) to spend days in Hinche, going back to a Port au Prince base each night, two police stations and the Hinche FL headquarters were burned.

(3) A violent repression is going on that approaches the level of the last coup – 3000-5000 over three years. Several delegations of U.S. solidarity leaders and human rights lawyers have documented and denounced this on-going repression – among them the Quixote Emergency Observer Delegation of which I was part, the EPICA (Ecumenical Program in Central America and the Caribbean) delegation, the National Lawyers’ Guild delegation, the Black Lawyers’ Association delegation, and the first Amnesty International delegation since the coup. These are the first serious attempts to investigate and document human rights violations in Haiti since Feb. 29. (See Let Haiti Live “Human Rights Report,” May 1, 2004 – www.haitireborn.org) Their indictment of the “de facto” government for its failure to investigate such cases and its apparent complicity with the perpetrators is scathing.

As a member of one of these delegations, I interviewed families of victims and eyewitnesses to violent attacks on Lavalas. Based on conversations with such witnesses – including those who were victims of the first coup, now re-victimized by this one – as well as interviews by the NLG delegation of morgue personnel – I believe at least 1000 political murders can be documented during March, possibly more, and as many as 40-60 deaths from U.S. marine gunfire. Even the French soldiers, who have yet to fire a single shot (possibly one shot, according to one account), called the Americans “trigger happy.” The U.S. marines I interviewed, some fresh from Iraq, defended “pre-emptive” violence, by claiming that “every Haitian we see could be the enemy.” One marine told me of an incident where he and others on patrol almost killed a Haitian they thought had a gun – “Lucky for him he turned his back and we laid him flat – it was just a boy with a stick, and we almost killed him.” (4) An “interim” regime has been installed, headed by a Haitian exile (shades of the Provisional Government in Iraq), chosen by a “council of elders” (again Iraq), and including no members from the largest party in Haiti, Lavalas. The Prime Minister, Gerard Latortue, lived for nearly 14 years in exile, most recently in a mansion in Boca Raton, Florida – where several of his Cabinet ministers also live. This is what many Haitians call the “Boca Regime.” Latortue was a member of a previous coup-installed government in 1988. The U.S.-installed government includes far-right officials from the previous coup regime of Raoul Cedras and from the regimes of the infamous Duvaliers. The Minister of Interior is Herard Abraham, a former Haitian general who intends to re-establish the Haitian military. The bulk of the Cabinet are exiled technocrats who worked for the World Bank, IMF, USAID and the UN. They are champions of structural adjustment and other neoliberal policies. They would implement what our NEOD delegation heard characterized a decade ago as the “U.S. Death Plan” for Haiti. It is ironic that many leftists criticized Aristide for compromising his own socialist program and accepting elements of neoliberalism as a pact to allow his return by U.S. soldiers in 1994. Now the whole neoliberal nine yards is being put in place.

THE AMERICAN LEARNING ZONE

Driving back to Port Au Prince from Jacmel on Friday, I photographed a cow munching on garbage by a sign in English advertising one of the many schools aimed at Haiti’s small but important middle class. The sign proclaimed “An American Learning Zone.” Haiti is an American learning zone in more than one sense. The U.S. State Department point man on Haiti is Roger Noriega, former aide to Jesse Helms who has been writing anti-Aristide speeches since before Aristide’s first election in 1991. Speaking just after Secretary of State Colin Powell at the April 2003 conference of the Council of the Americas in Washington, Noriega linked U.S. policies toward Haiti to those toward Venezuela and Cuba. He congratulated the OAS for overcoming its “irrelevance in past years” by recently adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Article 20, he said, “lays out a series of actions to be taken… in the event that a member state should fail to uphold the essential elements of democratic life…” Noriega saw Article 20 as a formula for intervention. He added, “President Chavez and President Aristide have…contributed willfully to a polarized and confrontational environment…It is my fervent hope that the good people of Cuba are studying the Democratic Charter…” If they were not before Feb. 29, they must be now. One of the first acts by U.S. marines after landing in Haiti this year may have been to establish a perimeter around Mole St. Nicolas, the peninsula opposite Guantanamo, jutting out into the narrow strait between Haiti and Cuba. Venezuela and Cuba beware!

The George W. Bush regime has learned to do “coups right,” or as some have parodied, “coup lite.” CIA support for the FRAPH and training for the Haitian military junta have been well-documented under the first George Bush (see Alan Nairn, The Nation, April 24, 1994). But the U.S. under Clinton was divided about a coup clearly approved by his predecessor. When Clinton inherited this policy, his liberal allies became squeamish about swaggering tyrants who terrorized the poor and profited from the drug trade and elite payoffs. The U.S. did not manage that coup very well. The results went out of control.

This time around, the U.S. has learned many lessons. U.S. handlers micro-manage every facet of the “new reality” in Haiti – including massive sweeps of Lavalas neighborhoods on the one hand, and the Hollywood style “surrender” of the fascist, Jodel Chamblain, on the other. Chamblain was cheered by his supporters, as he tearfully surrendered – shedding his camouflage flak jacket for a neat gray suit – in the presence of U.S. military and the interim justice minister. Prime Minister Latortue called him and other FRAPH members “freedom fighters” while visiting Gonaives (site of the first atrocities by the self-styled rebels). Now Chamblain is promised a new trial – despite two internationally acclaimed convictions for murder and massacre. The interim government also raised the likelihood that Chamblain and others will be pardoned, because of their “contributions” to democracy recently! Bush and his minions are talented in Orwell’s “double-speak: war is peace; justice is impunity for the guys on our side.”

Haiti should be a learning zone for all Americans who would understand and counter an imperial U.S. policy of intervention world-wide. If the U.S. can get away with covert and overt support for a “rebellion” in Haiti led by former military and para-military, many of whom have been convicted of murders and other human rights violations dating to the last coup, it will be psyched for similar operations in Venezuela and perhaps even in Cuba.

The evidence is clear: U.S. weapons (intended for the Dominican army) were smuggled into Haiti by former Haitian military and para-military, many of whom were trained and long funded by the CIA and other U.S. agents. U.S. money, both government and private, flowed into the coffers of NGOs attached to the “opposition” – the right-wing Convergence and the neo-liberal “Group of 184″ led by the Haitian business elite (including the sweat-shop owners) and widely publicized by the ultra-conservative “Haiti Democracy Project”) in Washington, D.C. Among the funders and organizers of the opposition were the IRI and NDI, the international NGOs closely tied to the U.S. Republican and Democrat Parties respectively. In Jacmel, we met students, women and union organizers who had formed specifically anti-Aristide groups to demand the ouster of Aristide earlier this year. They proudly asserted their connection to USAID, the State Department Democracy Enhancement program and the NDI. “They trained us and taught us how to organize, and we organized the groups you see here to demand the corrupt government of Aristide be brought down.”

COMPLICITY IN THE COUP BY HAITIAN AND U.S. PROGRESSIVES Republicans and Democrats were involved in forcing Aristide from power. This time the coup was also “done right” in terms of U.S. politics – with support even from U.S. progressives. “Left-wing” anti-globalization, peasant and women’s groups must be held to task for apparent complicity with events that led to the current chaos. Most of these groups are financed wholly by U.S. and other international NGOs which call themselves progressive.

Among groups with close ties to the U.S. are the MPP (a large peasant group based in the Central Plateau, whose leader, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and two of his siblings, spent the first coup period in Boston exile); PAPDA (an anti-neoliberal coalition) and several women’s groups (SOFA, CONAP, ENFOFANM) supported by many U.S. progressive NGOs including Grassroots International; and NCHR (National Council for Haitian Rights), with a parent group, NCHR-U.S., based in New York, funded by USAID and major U.S. foundations. All of these groups became involved with the political opposition (controlled by elite business interests) and all were muted in their criticism of the atrocities committed by the so-called “rebels.” I met with all these groups many times between 1991 and 2004 – and only MPP refused to meet me last year or this.

MPP is a very special case. Chavannes Jean-Baptiste is a rather similar figure to Aristide – prepped by Aristide himself, he is charismatic and close to his large base – but he is also convinced his leadership is essential to the future of Haiti. Chavannes was very close to Aristide – serving as his spokesperson when he returned after the coup. Shortly after the majority groups within Lavalas chose Preval to succeed Aristide, Chavannes announced his break with Aristide. At the time there were indeed ugly confrontations between Chavannes and Lavalas activists in Mirebalais, Hinche, Maissade and elsewhere in the Central Plateau. By the 2000 election, Chavannes openly embraced his former worst enemies, and joined the Convergence. Later Chavannes joined the more media-savvy, but clearly neo-liberal, Group of 184, headed by sweat-shop owners and other elite businessmen. MPP has now endorsed its “Social Contract” – which seems to be the opposite of the populist agenda put forward by MPP.

More than one peasant from Mirabalais in the Central Plateau, as well as union organizers and priests, reported to me evidence that most of the weapons and men moved from the Dominican Republic to start the rebellions in Gonaives and Cap Haitien in early February, came through Chavannes’ turf. “No way could that have been done without his active support.” Chavannes is said to be considering a position in the de facto government – as minister for peasant affairs. I was with Chavannes and his mother when they wept on seeing the ruins and vandalism at their offices in Papay on their return after the first coup in 1994. That damage was done by the very same para-military and military who now occupy much of the country. Another dissident peasant whom I met told of Chavannes’ embracing and throwing a feast for Chamblain, the convicted murderer and FRAPH member who “liberated” Hinche, the MPP base. Such alliances may be just strange bedfellows in wartime, but on a personal level, they are hard to understand.

When I criticize PAPDA, SOFA, CONAP, and ENFOFANM, I do not mean these groups purposely supported a coup. I just mean that they do not represent the poor people of Haiti, based on their record and the evidence of their growing lack of connection to the base. I believe they maintain coherent progressive ideologies about globalization, neoliberalism and the role and position of women. One does have to question their close collaboration with OPL – the small political party of Gerard Pierre Charles, which eventually joined the Convergence, but which actually put many of the neoliberal policies into law when OPL was in the Preval government. Whatever their ideology, I maintain that their unrelenting focus on ousting Aristide by whatever means played into the hands of the neoliberalists and far-right militarists – and that this was predictable.

I believe their anger and – yes – hatred of Aristide clouded their vision. It was understandable – Aristide and his government made too many compromises with structural adjustment and other U.S. policies. Aristide’s government was riddled with corruption and responsible for human rights abuses – but, I would insist not nearly as compromised as any other Haitian government – except Preval’s – and far less than the current de facto regime. At most, twenty to thirty political murders may be attributed to Lavalas over three years. More than that many murders of Lavalas can be confirmed in several single nights in March of this year. I find it not creditable that SOFA called the Aristide government after 2000 “worse than Cedras or Duvalier.” I met these women in hiding during the previous coup period and found them terrorized. I saw them last year, under Aristide, openly functioning from their office in downtown Port au Prince. These small liberal think tanks and feminist groups were not “putschists,” but their positions aided the putschists and the U.S. imperial goals that lay behind them.

In 2003, Anne Sosin, a Dartmouth fellow, worked with SOFA about four months. In a letter sent to SOFA and groups with which SOFA works (including Grassroots International), she wrote, “the grassroots movement that brought organizations like SOFA to fruition failed to evolve into a truly democratic and representative citizen sector. SOFA…. failed to negotiate the tension that exists between organizational management and popular representation. Like many civil society organizations in Haiti” (PAPDA, even more so, I might add) “SOFA is led be educated, French-speaking women from the Haitian middle class, and has become politically aligned with the elite political movement.” Sosin insists that most of the original SOFA members left to join more grassroots popular organizations. She details the way in which SOFA became active in an elite-dominated opposition movement and “used its position to reach the international community…. Their position (on Aristide) was not derived from a vote of a dwindling membership, but rather reflects the sentiments of a small handful of paid leaders.”

Perhaps worst of all, I listened again – along with others on a delegation (as I had a year ago) to the litany of abuses the NCHR says it documented against officials of the Aristide government and Lavalas. They rightly protested the unsolved murder of journalist Jean Dominique and a dozen other high profile attacks on opposition activists and as many as three opposition journalists. Yet during the two years leading up to this latest coup, they adamantly refused to investigate now-verified allegations of murders, arson and bombings against the government and Lavalas by former military and FRAPH. They scoffed at the alleged coup attempt at the National Palace in December of 2001, though Jodel Chamblain now boasts that was an initial coup attempt.

Although they were the only human rights group in the country adequately funded and having trained monitors throughout Haiti, the NCHR became completely partisan: anti-Lavalas, anti-Aristide. This is simply not proper for a group calling itself a “Haitian Rights” organization. During the final month before the coup, they abandoned any pretext of impartiality, joining calls for the ouster of Aristide, without reference to the means. After Feb. 29, they continued to site abuses by “chimere,” whom they call simply “Aristide gangs,” without documenting the connections. Though they told our group they had “heard about” violence against unarmed Lavalas, including the possible complicity of U.S. marines in an incident in Bel Air, the NCHR said they “lacked access” to the pro-Lavalas shanty-towns. Of course they lacked access: they lacked any shred of credibility as a human rights monitor.

NCHR continues to claim it has always investigated human rights violations even-handedly. Yet as recently as April 26, NCHR joined PAPDA, CONAP and other “progressive” anti-Aristide groups in a demonstration at the National Palace. Totally ignoring the massive wave of repression against Lavalas documented by international delegations to Haiti in late March and early April, NCHR and the other groups only demanded the immediate arrest of Aristide’s last Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune and many other Aristide officials. Protesters said “it is not normal that the accused are still walking the streets.” Yet NCHR and the other groups made no mention of crimes carried out by the criminals who escaped from the penitentiary, or of the well-documented atrocities carried out by members of the former Haitian army, the FRAPH and others among the former “rebels.” So much for impartiality in human rights investigations.

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, in an article published by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, points to a problem with the whole discourse of “human rights” – and I might add, his analysis is valid for the “anti-globalization” and “anti-neoliberal” discourses as well. His article is called, “Why More Africans Don’t Use Human Rights Language,” but he might have been talking about Haiti or any impoverished and oppressed nation. “The current human rights movement in Africa…appears almost by design to exclude the participation of the people whose welfare it purports to advance. Most human rights organizations are modeled after Northern watchdog organizations, located in an urban area, run by a core management without a membership based…and dependent solely on overseas funding. The most successful of these organizations only manage to achieve the equivalent status of a public policy think-tank, a research institute, or a specialized publishing house. With media-driven visibility and a lifestyle to match, the leaders of these initiatives enjoy privilege and comfort, and progressively grow distant from a life of struggle…. Far from being a badge of honor, human rights activism is…increasingly a certificate of privilege. Part of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs lies with the overseas sponsors of our human rights organizations….Local human rights organizations exist to please the international agencies that fund or support them.”

The primary lesson to be learned for funders and NGOS, and for all solidarity activists, is that solidarity must first of all be with the people of Haiti – by the assertion of their will by voting, as Haitians did for Aristide in 2000 (the OAS and international NGOs certified that at the time). Beyond that, international funding and solidarity groups (and here the criticism is equally valid for those who were wholly supportive of Lavalas without critique) must not put on blinders when they visit Haiti. They must listen critically to all sides. They must watch for concrete evidence of the mass base of the organizations they fund – and evidence that the rank and file feel as the “leaders” do.

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. empire will gain more from its exercise in the learning zone of Haiti, or the international solidarity movement. Let us hope for the latter – since the next learning zones may come sooner than we expect, especially if the Bush regime lives through its debacle in Iraq and survives the November election.

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Material for this article was compiled partly from observations and interviews in conjunction with the Emergency Haiti Observation Mission, a group of 24 diverse people from throughout the U.S. and Canada, coordinated by the Quixote Center in Maryland from March 23 – April 2, 2004. The ideas expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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