Gibert Wesley Purdy: The Theater of Coup


Gibert Wesley Purdy

The Theater of Coup
Dramatis Personae: Roger Noriega and "The Opposition".

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The tiny Caribbean country of Haiti is in the news again. For those who know it vaguely, it is no surprise to learn that it is in the midst of a coup. Now that the President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has fled the country, surely there is no reason to pay further attention to the matter.

But coups are not all of a kind - even in a land in which, in recent times, they are attempted more often than elections - and coups do not end with the flight of their intended victim. In the case of Haiti, in particular, we may be well advised to ask how and why the coup occurred, and what the principals intend to accomplish in the wake of their having disposed a lawfully elected president of a sovereign country.

The superficial coverage by the main stream media might have been expected, Haiti being a tiny, impoverished country, but the result was that the events of February 5th to 29th seemed to amount to nothing more than a clash between two well defined forces: the government of Aristide and some 300 armed rebels. When the American point man, Roger Noriega, offered to mediate between "The Opposition" and the President of Haiti, few in the media felt it necessary to mention that "The Opposition" was not a reference to the rebels at all. The rebel leader Guy Philippe was making it a point, during his press conferences, as he proceeded across the country, on his way to capture Port Au Prince, to clearly say that he was not associated with "The Opposition".

The question might reasonably arise (or might have arisen if the story had been reported): Why, then, is Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega acting as intermediary between Aristide and "The Opposition"? Who is "The Opposition"? What is its relation to the coup? And, most importantly, if both the rebels and "The Opposition" deny that "The Opposition" is in any way party to the coup, what made Roger Noriega think that coming to terms with it could possibly bring an end to the rebel incursion?

When U. S. Assistant Secretary of State Noriega offered both the Haitian President and "The Opposition" a compromise, Aristide immediately accepted. "The Opposition", on the other hand, refused. The rebels had announced a pause in their progress, from city to city, across Haiti. When "The Opposition" refused the proffered compromise, the rebels began on their way once again.

Who, then, refused the alleged compromise offer of Noriega? The answer to this question is that Andre Apaid refused the offer. But who is this Andre Apaid whose name appeared in no mainstream news story - who has been described euphemistically throughout as "The Opposition"? Apaid, it turns out, is the de facto leader of the Group of 184, a group of Haitian non-government organizations recently assembled for coordinated activities against the Aristide government. "The Opposition" specifically refers to the leadership of the Group of 184.

The Group of 184 is not your average Haitian political entity, however. It is run by the wealthiest members of the society. It can command the votes of only a tiny percentage of the electorate of the country. Instead it has relied upon massive foreign assistance - financial and technical - in order to remain viable. It has among its regular advisors, the International Republican Institute: a group of proactive, generally neo-conservative members of the U. S. Republican Party headquartered in Washington, D. C. The IRI has been established to advise third world business interests on how to package their efforts more effectively in order to have greater success in influencing the governments of their countries. Many of its members are actively serving in the Congress.

The IRI has distanced itself from any activities that might appear unseemly, by doing just what it has likely advised the Group of 184 to do. It has created a front group, the Haitian Democracy Project, with no ostensible ties to the IRI, to advise the Group of 184 on how to network its way to success. Media manipulation is clearly a major part of the 184 tool-kit. Coöpting token members of their political opposition and advertising them as proof of non-partisan action is also a new addition to their tactical array. In short, the means utilized by the neo-conservative far right in the U. S. political arena have been slightly modified to fit the exigencies of Haitian politics and the leadership of the Group of 184 has been thoroughly trained in their use. Right-wing radio talk shows have sprung up, wherever there are Haitian communities, excoriating Aristide and accusing him of every kind of crime. They have become the sources of stories that are often dutifully reported as fact in the U. S. press.

The original funding for the Haitian Democracy Project was provided by Haitian millionaire businessman, and Group of 184 insider, Rudolph Boulos. The project was founded in November of 2002. The founding members and present board members are almost entirely neo-conservative Republicans. On the newer of its two web-sites, the Project proudly posts the "Unity Statement of the Group of 184". While the mission statements of The Haitian Democracy Project are very general statements of support for the Haitian people, it functions as the executive committee of the Group of !84, a tiny minority group working to return the wealthiest citizens to control of the country. Its members provide virulent anti-Aristide commentary to some of the United States' largest media markets.

Beginning in mid-2003, the leaders of the Group of 184 apparently felt that they were ready to try the methods they'd been taught by the IRI and the HDP. They had already sponsored a number of talk-radio hosts and launched a number of anti-Aristide newspapers with accompanying web-sites. Through their Washington handlers, they had the ear of an already sympathetic U. S. administration and a very considerable number of right-wing journalists. The Group began staging protests and actively attempting to paralyze the Aristide government. They shut down many of Haiti's schools, blamed every murder in Haiti on Aristide personally, and obstructed scheduled elections while accusing him of failing to provide vital government services and attempting to rule outside of the constitutional process. Their Haitian and U. S. media machine dutifully churned out "official verification" of their allegations.

At the same time, the U. S. Government also joined the chorus accusing Aristide of drug trafficking and repressive tactics against "The Opposition". It represented the Haitian President's election, in 2000, as illegitimate, claiming that independent observers had declared it corrupt. While these various activities weakened Aristide, he remained the clear choice of the people of Haiti. "The Opposition" had little to show for their efforts and the efforts of their mentors. The leadership of the Group of 184 is reported to have flown to the Dominican Republic to meet secretly with representatives of the IRI.

On February the 5th, of this year, shortly after a Group protest, in Gonaives, ended in bloodshed, a force of armed rebels arrived over the border from the Dominican Republic, approximately one hundred miles to the east, to "restore order" to their beloved country. The U. S. has soldiers posted in the Dominican Republic, to patrol the border with Haiti, but somehow these three hundred rebels managed to get past them. It is not difficult to understand, actually, as the rebels were armed with American issue M-16's, and wore American style fatigues and body armor. They could easily have been mistaken for a small detachment of American soldiers.

As events unfolded, the Bush Administration chose not to support Artistide while speaking of the advent of a more democratic Haiti. Immediately after Aristide left the country, U. S. troops were ordered to prepare for deployment. They are already being sent to assist the democratic forces in Haiti to bring the situation under control. Those democratic forces, of course, will consist of the leaders of the Group of 184 and their handpicked men. It may be predicted, with some confidence, that it will be quite some time before free elections will prove to be possible.

A final note: The guests in attendance for the gala opening of the Haiti Democracy Project, on November 20, 2002, included many of the biggest names in U. S. neo-conservative politics.  Among the names was one of particular concern to the Haiti watcher now: the name of Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs: the Bush administration's point man for the Haitian crisis - its purported mediator between Aristide and "The Opposition".

I refer the reader to Kevin Pina's exceptional article on the situation in Haiti, written during 2003 and posted on The Black Commentator web-site, for more detail on a number of the items included in this article.

Gilbert Wesley Purdy's work in poetry, prose and translation, has appeared in many journals, paper and electronic, including: Jacket Magazine (Australia); Poetry International (San Diego State University); Grand Street; SLANT (University of Central Arkansas); Orbis (UK); XS; Eclectica; and The Danforth Review (Can.). His work in journalism has appeared in The Schenectady Gazette, The Source (Albany, N.Y.) and the Eye on Saratoga. Query to