Imperial Arrogance


Maybe I should have known better, but I almost couldn’t believe my eyes when I read a recent piece in the Miami Herald about Haiti.  In describing the Bush administration’s reaction to Jamaica briefly hosting President Aristide and allowing him to reunite with his daughters, the report said, “Jamaica’s decision … has infuriated Bush administration officials … Asked whether the United States will take any concrete measures against Jamaica, U.S. officials say the Bush Administration will not cut aid to fight AIDS in the region or reduce other kinds of humanitarian assistance.”  How utterly gracious of the Bush administration!  You know a country has become too powerful for its own good when it refrains from denying life-saving aid to a tiny, helpless country and considers it an act of courtesy.
 
Officials did warn, however, that “other nonhumanitarian bilateral programs could be slowed down.”  The U.S. is attempting to force Jamaica to send Aristide to Nigeria, a place which he has expressed no interest in visiting.  The U.S.-installed Prime Minister of Haiti has complained about Aristide’s visit, despite the fact that he himself took refuge in Jamaica during the dictatorship of “Papa Doc” Duvalier.  General James T. Hill, head of the U.S. Southern Command, warned President Aristide to “keep his mouth closed” while in Jamaica.  This sort of dastardly arrogance has typified U.S. policy toward our neighbors in the Americas, and it has been especially prevalent with regards to Haiti.  It is assumed that we have the right to meddle in the affairs of countries less powerful than us and punish them when they disobey our commands, as President Aristide was guilty of.  Sadly, this shameful disrespect for national sovereignty cuts across party lines.  A report in a 1995 issue of Haiti Progres describes a not-so-cordial visit Al Gore made with President Aristide:
 
“Gore read the riot act to Aristide on adhering to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) … Gore went beyond diplomatic niceties, and forcefully insisted that Aristide implement the SAP, leave office in February, and retain [unpopular neoliberal] Prime Minister Smarck Michel.  ’We discussed the need for continuing international assistance to meet the developmental requirements of Haiti and the steps the government of Haiti and its people need to take in order to ensure the continued flow of these funds,’ Gore smoothly threatened.”
 
When a country is as dependent on aid as Haiti is, a threat to cut off aid amounts to nothing short of a death threat to hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent Haitians, especially children.  This is why President Aristide referred to the cutting off of aid as “economic terrorism.”  It had the effect of suffering and death, just as a bomb or a missile would.  Now that Aristide is gone, however, expect the flow of aid to become uncharacteristically generous.  The U.S. and France will do everything in their power to prop up and support the new puppet government that came to power through a violent coup.
 
Remember, the reason given for cutting off aid to the Aristide government was the bogus charge that the 2000 legislative elections were “flawed.”  The charge was that seven Senate seats out of 3,500 positions filled that year should have gone to a runoff.  Instead, the person with the most votes won.  Apparently, this offended the democratic sensibilities of the U.S. government.  It seems a bit strange then that the same U.S. government has no qualms about giving aid to a “government” that came to power by violently overthrowing the legitimate leader and having a “Council of Wise Men” arbitrarily fill the vacated government posts.  Haiti Progres made a rather poignant observation after the 2000 elections here in the United States:
 
“Fraud, corruption, voter intimidation, confusing ballots, racial profiling, lost ballot boxes, destroyed ballots, incompetent and abusive polling site supervisors, polling sites closing early, and many other irregularities have all come to light due to the incredibly tight U.S. presidential race between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore …  Meanwhile, for many Haitians, the U.S. election fiasco is proof that there is a God… and that he has a sense of humor … It was God himself who made this thing happen the way it happened, so that the whole world can see how the Americans have absolutely no moral authority to go supervise or judge any election in any other country.”
 
Meanwhile, the thugs have been rampaging across the countryside killing, raping, kidnapping, intimidating, looting, and emptying prisons.  According to a report in the Kansas City Star, “after weeks of political violence in the capital had added to the corpses piling up in the morgue, three trucks rumbled off in the middle of the night, carrying more than 700 bodies.”  Damages from looting are estimated to be around $300 million.  The leader of the new puppet government, Gerard Latortue, recently visited Gonaives and gave a speech praising these killers as “freedom fighters.”  These are the same people the Bush administration had denounced as “thugs,” claiming they had no connection to the “political opposition.”  Latortue was brought to the city in a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter and gave his speech surrounded by black-shirted and heavily armed guards.
 
Gonaives was the site of the infamous 1994 Raboteau Massacre.  Jean Tatoune was convicted to life at hard labor in connection with the massacre, but had escaped from prison and participated in the coup against Aristide.  One has to wonder what the residents of the Raboteau slum thought about Latortue’s exaltation of Tatoune as a “freedom fighter.”  He also praised Amiot Metayer, a very popular leader and former Aristide backer in the Gonaives area who had been recently assassinated.  Aristide has been falsely accused of ordering the assassination.  It is more likely that Metayer was killed by the other side, perhaps by one of Guy Philippe’s armed bands.  They are obviously the ones who benefited from Metayer’s killing.
 
Philippe, a known human rights abuser and drug trafficker, has been described by the New York Times as a “gentleman” who is “personable.”  He and his armed gangs have refused to give up their weapons and continue to kill and intimidate pro-democracy activists, many of whom are in hiding.  Philippe claims they need to keep their guns in order to maintain “security.”  Aristide backers in the slums of Port-au-Prince, on the other hand, have voluntarily turned in many of their weapons after urging from the occupying forces.  Aristide backers who have refused to turn over their arms are being forcibly disarmed by the occupying forces whereas zero effort is being made to disarm Philippe’s gangs.
 
Aristide’s supporters are being derisively referred to as “chimères,” a term coined to demonize supporters of Lavalas.  Whenever I read the word “chimères” I think of how the word “gook,” the term used to demonize NLF peasants during the Vietnam War.  The occupying forces have attacked and killed several alleged “chimères” in the cities.  Others have been caught in the crossfire or shot because they didn’t obey instructions due to the language barrier.  According to AHP News, A man named Louis René Balmyr was shot seven times because he didn’t stop quickly enough at a checkpoint.  Despite being shot seven times, he was handcuffed and not taken to the hospital until 20 minutes after the incident.  The report said that “For many weeks now, citizens of Port-au-Prince have been locking themselves up inside their homes as soon as night falls because of the ever-growing sense of insecurity in the streets.”
 
The situation remains the worst outside of Port-au-Prince, however, where it seems the brutal former military is in charge.  Jean Charles Moise, the mayor of Milo, reported from hiding that “They come into your home. They take you, they beat you up, they kill you. They burn down homes. They do anything they want, because they are the only law in town.  The journalists are in Port-au-Prince, but here in the north no one is reporting what’s going on, that the former Haitian military is killing people. They are killing about 50 people a day in Cap Haitian. It’s happening not just in the northern department but also in the central plateau, in the Artibone region.”  Father Paul Carrier, a missionary who had just returned from Haiti, painted an equally grim portrait:  ”People you could tell are afraid and intimated by the rebels in charge. They’re driving around with guns drinking rum, drunk. People disappear in the night. People are raped. It’s living under terror.”
 
Many reports indicate that the police are working with the thugs and former military people.  When the rebels attacked the Haitian countryside, many people who expected they might be targets fled to “safe houses” that they had arranged to hide in before the attack.  These safe houses were established in cooperation with the police.  However, once they got to the safe houses, they found them full of Haitian police and former military.  This is the same police force that was once accused of being “politicized” in support of the Aristide government.  That same police force is now indiscriminately arresting and harrassing Aristide supporters.  According to Carrier, this situation has made people reluctant to even talk about politics:  ”They can’t talk to each other because they don’t know what side people are on and people literally disappear. Rebels take them, they’re killed and bodies wash up on the seashores.”
 
CARICOM will be meeting this week in St. Kitts to discuss the current crisis and what to do about it.  Thus far, CARICOM has bravely stood up to the world powers and their allies in the Haitian opposition.  However, enormous pressure is being brought to bear by the U.S. and others, and the 15 small, vulnerable countries of CARICOM will not likely be able to stand up to the U.S. as the threats become more serious.  They need the help of us citizens in the United States to bring pressure onto our leaders and the world community to support democracy in Haiti.  The media has already forgotten about Haiti.  Even some of the alternative press has stopped paying attention.  We must keep Haiti under the radar.
 
Justin Felux can be contacted at [email protected] 

Leave a comment