The US Double Game in Haiti

Not quite a year ago, after returning from Haiti, I wrote for Z-net, “the United States government is playing the same game as in Iraq – pushing for “regime change” in Haiti. Their strategy includes a massive disinformation campaign in U.S. media, an embargo on desperately needed foreign aid to Haiti, and direct support for violent elements, including former military officers and Duvalierists, who openly seek the overthrow of President Aristide.” Events in Haiti today show how bloody the U.S. game has become.

Even as Colin Powell insists the U.S. does NOT seek “regime change,” the attempt to oust the legitimate elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide grows more violent by the day. During the past week, at least 50 people have been slaughtered, and probably far more, in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city – most by those whom Powell and pro-U.S. media call “rebels.” The dead include three patients waiting for treatment in a hospital. Many of the 14 police killed had their bodies dragged naked through the street, ears cut off and other body parts mutilated. Gonaives and several small towns remain in the hands of a brutal gang of thugs, with direct ties to the U.S.-recognized and Republican-financed “opposition” – the Convergence and the Group of 184, whose spokesmen are sweat shop owners and former military officers. This “opposition” seeks to distance itself from the violence, yet continue to insist that the “uprising” is justified. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security admitted it’s concern by announcing preparations for up to 50,000 fleeing Haitians in Guantanamo – indicating the U.S. is expecting to see carnage in Haiti on a grand scale.

Most recently, as the “rebels” blocked the road from the Dominican Republic and re-took two villages in the north, reinforcements arrived from across the border. According to Ian James of the AP, Feb. 14, twenty armed Haitian commandos, shot their way through the Dominican border, killing two Dominican soldiers. With them were former Cap Haitien police chief and army officer, Guy Philippe, and the head of the Duvalier death squad in the 1980s, Louis Jodel Chamblain. Chamblain was also a leader of the FRAPH, a group of para-military “attaches” during the coup years. A close associate of Chamblain, Emmanueal “Toto” Constant, has admitted its CIA funding and direction. Chamblain was revealed in documents reviewed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York as one of those present during the planning, with a U.S. agent, of the assassination of the pro-Aristide minister of justice, Guy Malary, in 1993. The U.S. refuses to release documents it seized from FRAPH during the 1994 U.S. invasion – presumably to cover up the CIA ties to FRAPH. Philippe and Chamblain were among those from the Haitian opposition, recognized by the U.S. – the Convergence – who organized conferences in the D.R. funded and attended by U.S. operatives from the International Republican Institute (IRI).

All this is new only in its intensity and scope. The brazen coup attempt which resulted in a violent attack on the National Palace, only hours after Aristide had left it, in December 2001, brought only OAS and US demands that the Haitian government pay reparations for damage to opposition property, and that it prosecute those responsible. Aristide complied. Since then, Paul Farmer, Kevin Pina and others have documented many para-military attacks on police stations, clinics and government vehicles, and the largest power station in the country (Peligre), resulting in the deaths of many government officials and others. Some of these attacks clearly involved former military in alliance with paramilitary gangs like the Armee Sans Maman, openly linked to this month’s Gonaive violence by the self-styled “Gonaives Resistance Front” and the “National Liberation and Resistance Front.” Some also involved jeeps fleeing toward the Dominican border. In none of these documented instances of violence did the U.S. government or any of the U.S.-based human rights organizations cry out – reserving their criticism for the justly deplored murders of three and possibly five Haitian journalists over a period of four years, suggesting Haitian government ineffectiveness at best in the prosecutions, and complicty with the murders at worst.

It is not surprising, then, that Powell has now only demanded that Aristide’s government respect human rights! He denounced the blocking by “pro-Aristide militants” of a “peaceful opposition demonstration.” Residents threw up barricades because they said they feared violence in Goniave could spread to the capital – though rocks were thrown, no deaths or injuries were reported. Powell said nothing of the extreme atrocities committed daily by what he variously calls “rebels” and “criminals” against police and Lavalas leaders in Gonaives. One wonders what would be the position of the Bush government if a band of criminals in Kansas City had murdered fifty government supporters and police in the name of opposing the war in Iraq, and if national anti-war leaders refused to denounce this, insisting they hold a demonstration in Washington the same week. As Harold Geffrand, a small business owner who was among those manning the barricade against the opposition’s demonstration, told the AP, “If those guys get power can you imagine what would happen? They would destroy and destroy and destroy.” The Haitian government immediately condemned the blocking of the demonstration and said these acts were not sanctioned by Lavalas or its allies. The demonstration did in fact take place two days later – with about a thousand participants, as did a much larger pro-Aristide demonstration. Both groups were kept separate and guarded by Haitian police. Opposition leaders in the demonstration repeated their “nonviolence,” but also their support for the goals of the Gonaives rebellion.” (AP, Feb. 15)

The U.S. game in Haiti has always been a double game – public lip service for “democracy” – at the same time giving concrete covert aid to the most violent anti-democratic forces. Powell pressed Aristide to “reach out to the opposition,” and insisted chillingly, “It would be inconsistent with our plan to attempt to force him from office against his will.” Powell made plain, “We will insist that Aristide stops the violence, restores order and respects human rights.” Yet the U.S.-led embargo continues to block tear gas supplies for the Haitian police, leaving police only the alternatives to kill looters and violent demonstrators, hence “violating human rights,” in the U.S. eyes; or ignore them – thus failiing to restore order.

Meanwhile, the same U.S. government players who supported the Contras in Nicaragua – Otto Reich and Robert Noriega (See Kevin Pina’s excellent series in the Black Commentator) – gave aid and comfort to those who back the Haiti contras, insisting that the right-wing dominated Convergence and it’s elite, pro-business partner, the Group of 184, have a veto over any progress toward holding elections in Haiti. Over a year ago, Noriega and Reich were linked to the planning of a secret conference near Ottawa, at which the Francophone nations were urged by U.S. agents present to be prepared to call for direct intervention and a possible U.N. trusteeship in the wake of Aristide’s departure after violence escalated in Haiti. The Canadian diplomat, Denis Paradis, who chaired the meeting was sacked when Canada’s role came to light.

No wonder, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was caught in the middle. He waffled when asked about U.S. intentions: “I guess the way to respond to that is that, needless to say, everyone’s hopeful that the situation, which tends to ebb and flow down there, will stay below a certain threshold and that there’s – we have no plans to do anything. By that I don’t mean we have no plans. Obviously, we have plans to do everything in the world that we can think of. But we – there’s no intention at the present time, or no reason to believe that any of the thinking that goes into these things day – year in and year out – would have to be utilized.”

I saw both sides of this double game when I went to Haiti at the time of Aristide’s return in 1994. I saw the U.S. helicopter that landed Aristide at the palace and the U.S. soldiers who guarded the bullet-proof box from which he was allowed to speak. I interviewed U.S. officers in the Central Plateau who said they were specifically told to treat FRAPH as a loyal opposition, and not to confiscate large weapons’ caches they stumbled upon. Most of the M-1s and M-14s seen in the hands of the Gonaives thugs today have been identified as coming from those Haitian army stockpiles left untouched during the U.S. occupation. A few M-16s, though, have begun to appear in Goniaves as well – identical to those given the Dominican army en masse just a few months ago by the U.S. government, in return for Dominican acquiescence in placing 900 U.S. troops alongside Dominican guards at the Dominican frontier – and for the Dominican agreement never to use the International Court to accuse and try U.S. citizens for war crimes. (Miami Herald, Dec. 6, 2002)

While virtually all U.S. media insist on parroting Powell and the Haitian opposition in referring to the Gonaives situation as a “uprising by the people,” they also repeat the mantra that the “rebel leaders” were originally armed by Aristide as his local goons, and that he is therefore responsible for the attacks on his own police. Such half-truths are sprinkled through media accounts. In fact, those responsible for the Gonaives violence are tied to two local gangs – or clans – entrenched in Gonaives for many years. One gang, based in the slum of Raboto, was headed by Amiot Metayer, and called itself recently “The Cannibal Army.” The other, based in Jubilee, included Jean “Tatoune” Pierre, convicted of the notorious Raboto massacre of Aristide supporters in 1994. Metayer’s group claimed to support Aristide, but when human rights groups pressed the Haitian government to prosecute him for various crimes, he was arrested. Both Metyayer and Tatoune escaped from the Port au Prince penitentiary in August, 2002, in a daring bulldozer prison break. Late last year, Metayer was murdered, with the opposition and Metayer’s followers blaming Aristide, but the government pointing at Tatoune’s followers and the opposition. Metayer’s brother returned to Haiti from the U.S. and joined Tatoune to begin a campaign against Aristide’s party, Lavalas, and the government. They are among those who control Gonaives today – along with what the Washington Post (Feb. 10) calls “higher echelons of leadership from former Haitian army officers.” Now they have been joined outright by FRAPH/CIA operatives like Chamblain, who was also convicted in absentia for the Raboto massacre.

Whatever Aristide’s mistakes and weaknesses have been (and they are many), they pale when compared to the extreme brutality of those who are today implicated in the violence in Gonaives and elsewhere in Haiti. Andy Apaid is the notorious sweat-shop owner who speaks for the Group of 184, and who, with Evans Paul, leads the anti-Aristide demonstrations in Port au Prince. Apaid spearheaded a successful campaign last year to block Aristide’s attempt to raise the minimum wage. It is about $1.60 per day – lower even than in 1995. Apaid insists the opposition does not condone violence, yet says that “armed resistance is a legitimate political expression” and that the “rebels” should remain armed until Aristide has stepped down. Apaid continues to hold U.S. citizenship, despite having received a Haitian passport, based on a fradulent claim to have been born in Haiti.

The two prongs of the Haitian attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government of Haiti parallel the two sides of the U.S. double game. One way or the other, the end game is to put in power those more amenable to U.S. policies and to the Haitian elite. It is not surprising that Marc Bazin, long the preferred U.S. candidate for the Haitian presidency, has again been floated in U.S. liberal circles as the “compromise” solution to Haiti’s problems! Whether by outright violence or by the strategies of a “coup lite” (like the U.N. trusteeship proposed by the Paradis conference last year or the Caracom initiative brokered by Jamaca and the Bahamas with Powell’s blessing) that would ease Aristide out to “avoid a bloodbath,” what the U.S. wants for Haiti is what it wants for every country with a leadership not under its control – for Cuba, for Venezuela, for Iran or Iraq: a rose by any other name – “regime change.”

The biggest question is why the American liberal establishment goes along with the right-wing Republicans in this – and why even most of the vanishing “left” in the U.S. is either silent or wrings its hands at Aristide’s failures. An incredibly effective disinformation campaign in almost all U.S. media is probably the answer: Aristide has been constructed as a tyrant, and hence all opposition to him is justified. Amy Willenz’ piece this week in the New York Times is the latest illustration of this. Willenz, who documented the U.S. game since Duvalier in The Rainy Season, reasons that Aristide has betrayed the Haitian people who brought him to power in the first place. To a great extent she is right because Aristide was playing his own “double game” – seeking to keep some shreds of his original platform to bring dignity and equity to Haiti’s poor, while having to capitulate to U.S. demands for privatization and structural adjustment in order to hold on to power. Like Powell, Willenz, too, rejects violent regime change. But like Powell, reading between her lines one gets the clear warning. He must go voluntarily, or he will be pushed – no matter what the cost in Haitian lives, and no matter what the Haitian people want.

The time is now to stop the politically correct nonsense on Aristide. The time is now to heed the lone voice crying in the Washington think tank wilderness, that of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), which has consistently exposed the link between U.S. government and right-wing circles and the Haitian opposition, and warned that a contra-style take-over could be eminent. COHA quoted Haitian human rights activist, Pierre Esperance, already in 2002: “I don’t know how this situation can last. The country could explode at any time.” The time is now to support Rep.Maxine Waters and other brave Black Caucus members in their attempt to counter U.S. government and media half-truths which blame Aristide for everything and cover over U.S. connections to the revival of those who shored up Duvalier and perpetrated the coup a decade ago.

If progressives, at least, do not expose the U.S. double game, and demand support for the democratic government of Haiti, Haiti could succumb to that game. Haitians will have been set back yet again in their two-century struggle for sovereignty and dignity. The U.S. could win its double game in Haiti not in a matter of years, but within weeks.

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