Haiti and America Latina: it is as it always was
May 6, 2009
News HaitiAction.net 
About Events Talk News Links Home

Haiti and America Latina: it is as it always was

by Kevin Pina

Originally published in Race & Class, Vol. 49, No. 2, 100-108 (2007)

Now that we have finally passed through the cycle where the American public, by virtue of 9/11, gives the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt in Iraq, it is perhaps time to re-examine one of their other dirty, little wars – in Haiti. Although the Bush administration’s actions in Haiti have received the legitimacy of a UN Security Council resolution and the support of the ‘international community’, they have resulted in the murder, torture, rape and false imprisonment of thousands of Haitians since 29 February 2004. It was on that date that the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was forced on to a plane and unceremoniously shipped off to the Central African Republic.

The Bush administration and its allies in Latin America justified the removal of Aristide as necessary. Their official line, issued through the Organization of American States (OAS), was that Aristide had to leave Haiti to avoid bloodshed. They claimed he had lost the support of the Haitian people and was facing a popular uprising. They further claimed that he had voluntarily resigned his office and requested their help to leave the country.

Soon after, Aristide made it clear to the world that he had been taken out of Haiti against his will. US marines showed up at his doorstep the very moment his government was about to receive a resupply of weaponry and ammunition, provided by the government of South Africa at the request of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The timing of his physical removal and relocation to a former French colony in central Africa ensured that his government would never have the means to defend itself. This version of events has since been corroborated by former Haitian prime minister Yvon Neptune who later spent more than two years in a Haitian jail under the USinstalled government that took power after Aristide’s ouster.

The response of the other fourteen nations of CARICOM was swift: they expelled Haiti from the organisation and refused to recognise the US-installed regime of Gerard Latortue. They were joined by the fiftyone member states of the African Union (AU) in refusing to extend diplomatic recognition and demanding an immediate and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s removal. The only Latin American nation to join them in this diplomatic action was Venezuela, the government of which was nearly decapitated in a similar Bush stratagem in 2002.

The US marines, Canadian Special Forces and the French Foreign Legion were on the ground even before the 29 February 2004 ouster of Aristide. Immediately following the coup, under a UN banner called the Multinational Interim Force (MIF), these foreign armies waged a lightning campaign to pacify the country. In the days that followed, the US marines, who controlled the capital, allowed paramilitary death squads, who had invaded Haiti in previous weeks from the Dominican Republic, to enter poor neighbourhoods resisting Aristide’s ouster. The MIF imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew but it was not applied to these paramilitary forces, which took advantage of their exceptional status to strafe those neighbourhoods indiscriminately with automatic weapons. The US marines launched a major military operation on 12 March 2004 against the poor neighbourhood of Bel Air, where residents had begun to demonstrate for Aristide’s return and against what they saw as another coup. According to video interviews I took with survivors the next day, the blood ran so thick in the streets that fire trucks arrived to hose them down before dawn. These survivors also reported that the corpses of those killed were placed into black body bags by US marines and hauled away for disposal. On 1 June 2004, the MIF was replaced by a UN military operation, undertaken by the armies of Brazil, Argentina and Chile, with responsibility for command and control passing to Brazilian commanders.

This raises a few very important questions. Why was it that the bulk of international outcry and resistance to the ouster of Haiti’s constitutional government came from CARICOM and the AU? Why did regional Latin American organisations such as the OAS and the Rio Group (RG) support the Bush administration’s position justifying Aristide’s ouster? The OAS and the RG would ultimately move beyond mere tacit support for Bush’s Haiti policy by agreeing to a US initiative in the United Nations for them to take the leadership of yet another military occupation of Haiti.

Before addressing the possible motives of the OAS and the RG in backing the Bush administration in Haiti, a closer look at the reasons behind the positions of CARICOM and the AU is in order. While Venezuela’s reasons are more easily understood, CARICOM’s interests in leading the isolation of the US-installed regime and supporting Aristide are not.

What is rarely mentioned these days is that CARICOMhad reached the end of its patience with the Bush administration in the months preceding 29 February 2004. It had worked closely with the constitutional government in Haiti to give the so-called opposition something that it could never earn at the ballot box, namely, power sharing. Aristide’s government argued that the so-called opposition was really window dressing for an initiative largely funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and France, through the European Union (EU). CARICOM specifically pointed the finger at USAID and the Democracy Enhancement Project financed by the US government. The Aristide administration also gave evidence of the role of these countries’ embassies in supporting opposition demonstrations demanding the president’s resignation. Despite this evidence, CARICOM convinced Aristide to agree to a power-sharing agreement that would give the opposition control of the prime minister’s office and all the positions of the cabinet. Again, this was a position of power in Haitian politics that the opposition, nurtured by foreign largesse against Aristide, could never have won at the ballot box.

The governments of the US, France and Canada worked behind the scenes to sabotage CARICOM’s initiatives. They succeeded in scuttling these efforts but it was clear that their surrogates could not sustain the momentum to force Aristide out. Opposition demonstrations demanding Aristide’s resignation had dwindled to a few hundred raucous voices in the streets of the capital in early February 2004. A massive demonstration on 7 February, demanding Aristide fulfil his five-year mandate, swelled to several hundred thousand in the capital, dwarfing any previous opposition rallies by comparison.

Suddenly, the door to compromise was closed forever as paramilitary forces attacked Haiti from the Dominican Republic. CARICOM diplomats and Haiti-watchers knew that these forces enjoyed the tacit and overt support of the US and Dominican military. It would have been impossible for these paramilitaries to use Dominican territory for their training camps and to procure the large weaponry they were using against the Haitian police without the consent of the US and Dominican militaries. An editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner on 4 March 2004 summed it up best:

It is curious that rather than placing pressure on the opposition to respect the tenets of democracy, Messrs. [Colin] Powell, [Dominique] de Villepin, and [Bill] Graham, quickly acquiesced. But worse, they turned the screws on Aristide. Noticeably, too, the insurgency, led by former death-squad leaders and coup planners, erupted after Aristide declared – for the second time – that he would embrace the power-sharing agreement.

So, in the end, CARICOM expended a large investment of political capital to aid the constitutional government to broker a settlement with what was arguably a foreign-funded and foreign-backed opposition in Haiti. The fact that the triumvirate of the US, France and Canada never had any intention of allowing their Haitian surrogates to end the crisis was not lost on CARICOM. It was for this reason that its members felt justified in expelling Haiti from the organisation and leading the effort to diplomatically isolate the US-installed government that followed.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was closely watching events in Haiti throughout this period. He had had his own experiences with the so-called opposition in Haiti when he attended the country’s bicentennial celebrations in January 2004. Mbeki clearly saw that the opposition forces were being led by Haiti’s economic elites, who owned most of the radio, television and print media in the country. He and his staff were aghast as they watched, heard and read the most outlandish statements and rumours broadcast and written about his visit. Mbeki was overheard, during an official state dinner, saying to one of his diplomats: ‘Opposition? These people can only be described as crazy and unreasonable.’

After the bloodthirsty paramilitaries crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and began attacking police stations and taking over townships, CARICOM requested that the government of South Africa provide assistance to the Haitian police. Mbeki responded by dispatching a cargo plane of weapons and ammunition to Haiti on 27 February 2004. At the very moment the plane was refuelling in Kingston, Jamaica, US marines, led by CIA station chief Luis Moreno, entered Aristide’s residence and gave him an ultimatum. He could get on a plane to leave Haiti or they would clear the way for the paramilitaries to enter the capital. He was told the bloodletting would be on his hands and that he would most likely be killed.

President Aristide had already seen the writing on the wall. Two of the last calls he reportedly made before Moreno showed up on his doorstep were to Jamaican President P. J. Patterson and President Mbeki. He told them that the Bush administration was urging him to resign and that the US embassy had made it plain that the South African shipment for the police would never be allowed to leave Jamaica. He also said his conversations with them had included a veiled threat of violence.

As soon as it became clear that Aristide was being taken out, Patterson and Mbeki mobilised to ensure that CARICOM and the AU would speak with one clear voice and position. Whatever government the US used to replace Aristide would not receive diplomatic recognition from their member states and an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s ouster would be demanded.

The OAS was already bought off and predisposed to accept the Bush administration’s claim that Aristide had left Haiti of his own volition. The regional group had already allowed itself to rubber-stamp an earlier smear campaign to taint the Aristide government’s reputation.

This was exactly the role played by the OAS in 2000–2003 under the leadership and influence of US diplomatic hit-men like Otto Reich, Luigi Einaudi, Lino Gutierrez and Roger Noriega. The most scandalous example of this was the OAS laying the blame for an attempted coup on 17 December 2001 on the victim. After a military assault force failed to take over Haiti’s national palace, a frightened and angry population went on a rampage and attacked the opposition, which claimed that Aristide had orchestrated the whole affair. The OAS agreed and, adding insult to injury, forced the cash-strapped government of Haiti to pay reparations to the opposition. By any objective accounting of the evidence that has surfaced since, including public admissions by paramilitary commander Guy Philippe, the opposition was probably complicit in the attack. In May 2007, Philippe corroborated long-held suspicions that leading opposition figures Evans Paul and Andre Apaid had provided funds and logistical support to his paramilitary organisation.1 The so-called ‘peaceful’ opposition to Aristide had allegedly worked in concert with the paramilitaries in the Dominican Republic to oust Aristide.

To better understand the role and position of the OAS, we should never forget the amount of aid its member states and their respective militaries receive through Pentagon funding, via InternationalMilitary Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). Military aid to Latin America is estimated to have increased to US$122 million, more than thirty-four times its year 2000 levels.2 Beyond military aid, there is annual Foreign Aid and Assistance programmes of nearly a billion dollars, not to mention the thousands of NGOs involved in every facet of social and economic ‘development’ in the region.

Therein may lie one of the answers to why the nations of Latin America provided cover and troops for the Bush administration’s policy in Haiti. It helps to explain why a number of apparently progressive governments have provided troops to the UN occupation forces in Haiti. They must appease their militaries and, by extension, the Pentagon or the same machine of destabilisation might turn against them. It is a reality all leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean have had to face since the Monroe Doctrine.

Moreover, the present-day collusion of the US-led ‘international community’ against Haiti has a long history. Since its independence in 1804, Haiti has been treated as a pariah state – punished, in effect, for mounting the world’s only successful slave revolution. Two centuries ago, the US and its primary allies were slave-holding nations whose economic development depended upon trade in human chattels. The US senate of 1806 reflected this when it called Haiti the ‘greatest threat to US interests at home and abroad’ – a declaration which actually displayed uncanny foresight, as the example of Haiti would, ultimately, be cited by the likes of Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and John Brown as inspiration for their like-minded slave revolts on US territory. Haiti’s existence established an institutional fear in the halls of US power that would lead to a crippling economic blockade of the country that lasted for more than half a century.

Compounding the effects of the US embargo, in 1825, France demanded that Haiti repay its former coloniser for the ‘property’ of slave owners that France lost as a result of the Haitian revolution. This indemnity payment left Haiti with a staggering debt, which it was still repaying after the first world war. Haiti was not recognised by the US until 1862, when Frederick Douglass became the first US ambassador to Haiti. In the lead-up to the bicentennial in 2004, Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay the sum the former slaveholders had wrested from Haiti in 1825 – which, he calculated, amounted, with inflation and interest, to over US$21 billion.

France responded with hostility, leading calls, which were joined by the US and Canadian governments, for Aristide to leave office. Beyond the well-known machinations of the self-professed leaders of the free world in the North, Latin America has never embraced Haiti as the symbol of freedom and liberty she should rightfully be. Eduardo Galeano, whom I deeply admire, best sums up the perception of Haiti in America Latina in a famous poem: In the French Caribbean islands, history books present Napoleon as the most admirable warrior of the West. In these islands, Napoleon restored slavery in 1802. With fire and sword, he forced the free blacks back into slavery on the plantations. Of this, the texts make no mention. The blacks are Napoleon’s grandchildren.3

Did Galeano not know that the great Haitian general Jean-Jacques Dessalines lined up French officers and urinated in their faces before sending them to the gallows? ‘Koupe tet! Boule Kay’ (cut off their heads and burn their houses) was his kreyol battle cry and most Haitians today would identify more with that sentiment than any offers of returning to slavery. The Haitians today are the children of Dessalines, not the grandchildren of Napoleon – he would have to run for his life to survive their ire. Latin American brothers and sisters wanting to understand Haiti should be concerned with its history and context. Had not Haiti offered arms and support to Simon Bolivar at a crucial moment to deliver the independence of Latin America?

The template for US repression in America Latina had been established in Haiti nearly fifteen years before the gringos kidnapped and assassinated Sandino in Nicaragua and hunted down Farabundo Marti in El Salvador in the 1930s. US marines kidnapped and assassinated Haitian resistance leader Charlemagne Peralte and killed more than 10,000 Haitians before they preyed upon the rest of the region.

Beginning in 1915, the US marines committed a scorched earth policy, and massacres in Haiti were meant to set an example for the rest of America Latina and the Caribbean in the decades that followed. We must never forget the common history America Latina shares with the black former slaves of Haiti.

Returning to the present, we find the armies of Brazil, Chile and Argentina leading a military force that occupies Haiti under the banner of the UN. Isn’t it miraculous how these three countries, with historically the most heinous records of human rights abuses in the western hemisphere, are transformed into ‘peacekeepers’ by virtue of a UN Security Council resolution, sponsored by the Bush administration? The truth is that a strong case can be made that these militaries are more beholden to the Pentagon than to their own civilian leadership. Research how much money these militaries still receive in arms and training from the Pentagon and study their participation in a supra-regional military command structure to combat terrorism.4 The chain of command leads to the Southern Command of the Pentagon not to Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires or any other capital in the region.

More importantly, there is a direct parallel between the military tactics utilised by UN forces under the command of Brazilian generals in Haiti and similar military operations in their own country. These are the same commanders who order soldiers to open fire in the favelas of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. A 2005 Amnesty International report on the ‘death squads’ of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo explains that when the Brazilian military police forces ‘intervene in favelas, it is often by mounting ‘‘invasions’’ – violent mass raids using no warrants or, on rare occasions, collective warrants that label the entire community as criminal. The majority of the victims of police violence are poor, black or mixed-race youths.’ 5 Similar tactics in Haiti have resulted in several high-profile massacres committed in the poor slum of Cite´ Soleil, where protestors challenged the UN’s authority by continuing to launch massive demonstrations demanding the return of President Aristide. In each instance, the entire community was demonised by the UN and the elite-run Haitian press as being criminals and gangsters and/or collaborators of criminals and gangsters. While it is true that armed gangs operated in the neighbourhood and a few claimed they were aligned with Aristide’s Lavalas movement, these military raids had a clear correlation to the ongoing demonstrations.

It is as it always was in America Latina and the Caribbean. The power of the US consumes all national dignity and sovereignty. Yet we know the Haitian people have earned their true name and reputation from Dessalines as a symbol of liberty and freedom in the world. They are dreaded by many and loved by few in the halls of power throughout the world. Bolivar understood this after Haitians offered him arms and assistance to liberate his continent from the yoke of Spanish colonialism. Unfortunately, the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay, among others, continue to pretend that they are acting in the best interests of the Haitian people as they dutifully fulfil Bush’s policy under the guise of a baby-blue banner. Can they really believe that their civilian leadership will have more control over their own militaries once they return home from Bush’s misadventures in Haiti?

Kevin Pina is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Port-au-Prince. An associate editor of the Black Commentator, he also founded the alternative news agency, Haiti Information Project.


1 ‘Guy Philippe fait des re´ve´lations embarrassantes’, Le Nouvelliste (31 May 2007), <http://www.lenouvelliste.com/article.php?PubID=1&ArticleID=44223>.

2 Frida Berrigan and Jonathan Wingo, The Bush Effect: US military involvement in Latin America rises, development and humanitarian aid fall (World Policy Institute, 4 November 2005), <http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/MilitaryAid LA110405.html>.

3 Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces (New York, W. W. Norton, June 1973). 4 See <http://www.southcom.mil/AppsSC/pages/exOps.php>.

5 ‘They come in shooting’: policing socially excluded communities (Amnesty International, 2 December 2005), <http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR190252005>.

©2009 Haiti Information Project all rights reserved

Abstract: The Bush administration’s forced removal of democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while a powersharing deal with his political opposition was being brokered in 2004, resulted in the country’s expulsion from the Caribbean Community and was condemned by the African Union. The installation of the US-backed replacement government of Gerard Latortue has resulted in the rape, torture and false imprisonment of thousands of ordinary Haitians. The only Latin American country to condemn the US’s action in Haiti, however, has been Venezuela. Other countries and organisations like the Organization of American States (OAS) have been bought over with a massive programme of civilian and military funding by the US. Keywords: African Union, CARICOM, covert action, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Organization of American States, Port-au-Prince, UN, US military

see also

Lavalas flexes its muscles in Haiti Apr 20

Poll projects low voter turnout in Haiti: Protests banned by Kevin Pina    Apr 16


Perverted Priorities: Corpses, sham elections, and sweatshops in Haiti Apr 10

Controversial Senate elections planned in Haiti Apr 6

Fanmi Lavalas: Haiti's largest political party shows no lack of leadership talent Mar2

Thousands march in Haiti demanding return of Aristide Feb 29

Propagandhi: progressive thrash, Haiti and activism on tour Feb 26

Haiti bill calling for investigation of U.S. role in 2004 Coup d'État Feb 5

The rebirth of Konbit in Haiti Dec 17

Contact us: info@haitiaction.org

click button above

Contact us: info@haitiaction.org

Haiti Action Committee pamphlet: We Will Not Forget


Contact us: info@haitiaction.org