YEAR 501: THE TRAGEDY OF HAITI
By Noam Chomsky
1. "The First Free Nation of Free Men"
Haiti was more than the New World's second oldest republic," anthropologist Ira Lowenthal observed, "more than even the first black republic of the modern world. Haiti was the first free nation of free men to arise within, and in resistance to, the emerging constellation of Western European empire." The interaction of the New World's two oldest republics for 200 years again illustrates the persistence of basic themes of policy, their institutional roots and cultural concomitants.
The Republic of Haiti was established on January 1, 1804, after a slave revolt expelled the French colonial rulers and their allies. The revolutionary chiefs discarded the French "Saint-Domingue" in favor of the name used by the people who had greeted Columbus in 1492, as he arrived to establish his first settlement in Europe's New World. The descendants of the original inhabitants could not celebrate the liberation. They had been reduced to a few hundred within 50 years from a pre-Colombian population estimated variously from hundreds of thousands to 8 million, with none remaining at all, according to contemporary French scholars, when France took the western third of Hispaniola, now Haiti, from Spain in 1697. The leader of the revolt, Toussaint L'Ouverture, could not celebrate the victory either. He had been captured by deceit and sent to a French prison to die a "slow death from cold and misery," in the words of a 19th century French historian. Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer observes that Haitian schoolchildren to this day know by heart his final words as he was led to prison: "In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Domingue only the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep."
The tree of liberty broke through the soil again in 1985, as the population revolted against the murderous Duvalier dictatorship. After many bitter struggles, the popular revolution led to the overwhelming victory of Haiti's first freely elected president, the populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Seven months after his February 1991 inauguration he was driven from office by the military and commercial elite who had ruled for 200 years, and would not tolerate loss of their traditional rights of terror and exploitation.
As soon as the last Duvalier had fled Haiti," Puerto Rican ethnohistorian Jalil Sued-Badillo recounts, "an angry crowd toppled the statue of Christopher Columbus in Port-au-Prince and threw it in the sea," protesting "the ravages of colonialism" under "a long line of despots" from Columbus to Duvalier, and on to today's rulers, who have reinstated Duvalier savagery. There were similar scenes in the neighboring Dominican Republic, subjected to a US-imposed terror regime after another Marine invasion in 1965 and a victim of IMF Fundamentalism from the early 1980s. In February 1992, President Balaguer "unleashed his security forces to beat peaceful demonstrators who were protesting the exorbitant expenditures shelled out for the 500-year celebration while the average Dominican starves," the Council on Hemispheric Affairs reported. Its centerpiece is a multi-million-dollar 100-foot-high half-mile-long recumbent cross with powerful searchlights that "rises above a slum of rat-infested shacks where malnourished, illiterate children slosh through the fetid water that washes through the streets during tropical rainstorms," the news services reported. Slums were cleared to accommodate its sprawling terraced gardens, and a stone wall conceals "the desperate poverty that its beams will soon illuminate." The huge expenses "coincide with one of the worst economic crises since the '30s," the former president of the Central Bank pointed out. After ten years of structural adjustment, health care and education have radically declined, electricity cutoffs up to 24 hours are used to ration power, unemployment exceeds 25 percent, and poverty is rampant. "The big fish eat the little ones," one old women says in the nearby slum.
Columbus described the people he found as "lovable, tractable, peaceable, gentle, decorous," and their land as rich and bountiful. Hispaniola was "perhaps the most densely populated place in the world," Las Casas wrote, "a beehive of people," who "of all the infinite universe of humanity, ...are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity." Driven by "insatiable greed and ambition," the Spanish fell upon them "like ravening wild beasts, ... killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples" with "the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree" that the population is barely 200 persons, he wrote in 1552, "from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed." "It was a general rule among Spaniards to be cruel," he wrote: "not just cruel, but extraordinarily cruel so that harsh and bitter treatment would prevent Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings." "As they saw themselves each day perishing by the cruel and inhuman treatment of the Spaniards, crushed to the earth by the horses, cut in pieces by swords, eaten and torn by dogs, many buried alive and suffering all kinds of exquisite tortures, ...[they] decided to abandon themselves to their unhappy fate with no further struggles, placing themselves in the hands of their enemies that they might do with them as they liked."
As the propaganda mills ground away, the picture was revised to provide retrospective justification for what had been done. By 1776, the story was that Columbus found "nothing but a country quite covered with wood, uncultivated, and inhabited only by some tribes of naked and miserable savages" (Adam Smith). As noted earlier, it was not until the 1960s that the truth began to break through, eliciting scorn and protest from outraged loyalists.
The Spanish effort to plunder the island's riches by enslaving its gentle people were unsuccessful; they died too quickly, if not killed by the "wild beasts" or in mass suicide. African slaves were sent from the early 1500s, later in a flood as the plantation economy was established. "Saint Domingue was the wealthiest European colonial possession in the Americas," Hans Schmidt writes, producing three-quarters of the world's sugar by 1789, also leading the world in production of coffee, cotton, indigo, and rum. The slave masters provided France with enormous wealth from the labor of their 450,000 slaves, much as in the British West Indian colonies. The white population, including poor overseers and artisans, numbered 40,000. Some 30,000 mulattoes and free Negroes enjoyed economic privileges but not social and political equality, the origins of the class difference that led to harsh repression after independence, with renewed violence today.
Cubans may have seemed "of dubious whiteness," but the rebels who overthrew colonial rule did not approach that status. The slave revolt, which had reached serious proportions by the end of 1791, appalled Europe, as well as the European outpost that had just declared its own independence. Britain invaded in 1793; victory would offer "a monopoly of sugar, indigo, cotton and coffee" from an island which "for ages, would give such aid and force to industry as would be most happily felt in every part of the empire," a British military officer wrote to Prime Minister Pitt. The United States, which had lively commerce with the French colony, sent its French rulers $750,000 in military aid as well as some troops to help quell the revolt. France dispatched a huge army, including Polish, Dutch, German, and Swiss troops. Its commander finally wrote Napoleon that it would be necessary to wipe out virtually the entire black population to impose French rule. His campaign failed, and Haiti became the only case in history "of an enslaved people breaking its own chains and using military might to beat back a powerful colonial power" (Farmer).
The rebellion had broad consequences. It established British dominance of the Caribbean, and impelled its former colonies a long step further on their westward course as Napoleon, abandoning his hopes for an empire in the New World, sold the Louisiana territory to the United States. The rebel victory came at tremendous cost. Much of the agricultural wealth of the country was destroyed, along with perhaps a third of the population. The victory horrified Haiti's slave-holding neighbors, who backed France's claims for huge reparations, finally accepted in 1825 by Haiti's ruling elite, who recognized them to be a precondition for entry into the global market. The result was "decades of French domination of Haitian finance" with "a catastrophic effect on the new nation's delicate economy," Farmer observes. France then recognized Haiti, as did Britain in 1833. Simon Bolívar, whose struggles against Spanish rule were aided by the Haitian Republic on condition that he free slaves, refused to establish diplomatic relations with Haiti on becoming President of Greater Colombia, claiming that Haiti was "fomenting racial conflict" -- a refusal "typical of Haiti's welcome in a monolithically racist world," Farmer comments. Haitian elites continued to be haunted by fear of conquest and a renewal of slavery, a factor in their costly and destructive invasions of the Dominican Republic in the 1850s.
The US was the last major power to insist that Haiti be ostracized, recognizing it only in 1862. With the American Civil War underway, Haiti's liberation of slaves no longer posed a barrier to recognition; on the contrary, President Lincoln and others saw Haiti as a place that might absorb blacks induced to leave the United States (Liberia was recognized in the same year, in part for the same reason). Haitian ports were used for Union operations against the rebels. Haiti's strategic role in control of the Caribbean became increasingly important in US planning in later years, as Haiti became a plaything among the competing imperial powers. Meanwhile its ruling elite monopolized trade, while the peasant producers in the interior remained isolated from the outside world.
2. "Unselfish Intervention"
Between 1849 and 1913, US Navy ships entered Haitian waters 24 times to "protect American lives and property." Haiti's independence was scarcely given even "token recognition," Schmidt observes in his standard history, and there was little consideration for the rights of its people. They are "an inferior people," unable "to maintain the degree of civilization left them by the French or to develop any capacity of self government entitling them to international respect and confidence," Assistant Secretary of State William Phillips wrote, recommending the policy of invasion and US military government that President Woodrow Wilson soon adopted. Few words need be wasted on the civilization left to 90 percent of the population by the French, who, as an ex-slave related, "hung up men with heads downward, drowned them in sacks, crucified them on planks, buried them alive, crushed them in mortars..., forced them to eat shit, ... cast them alive to be devoured by worms, or onto anthills, or lashed them to stakes in the swamp to be devoured by mosquitos, ...threw them into boiling cauldrons of cane syrup" -- when not "flaying them with the lash" to extract the wealth that helped give France its entry ticket to the rich men's club.
Phillips captured prevailing attitudes with accuracy, though some, like Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, found the Haitian elite rather amusing: "Dear me, think of it, Niggers speaking French," he remarked. The effective ruler of Haiti, Marine Colonel L.W.T. Waller, who arrived fresh from appalling atrocities in the conquest of the Philippines, was not amused: "they are real nigger and no mistake...real nigs beneath the surface," he said, rejecting any negotiations or other "bowing and scraping to these coons," particularly the educated Haitians for whom this bloodthirsty lout had a special hatred. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while never approaching the racist fanaticism and thuggery of his distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, shared the feelings of his colleagues. On a visit to occupied Haiti in 1917, he recorded in his diary a comment by his travelling companion, who later became the Occupation's leading civilian official. Fascinated by the Haitian Minister of Agriculture, he "couldn't help saying to myself," he told FDR, "that man would have brought $1,500 at auction in New Orleans in 1860 for stud purposes." "Roosevelt appears to have relished the story," Schmidt notes, "and retold it to American Minister Norman Armour when he visited Haiti as President in 1934." The element of racism in policy formation should not be discounted, to the present day.
Such thoughts were not unusual at the time of Wilson's intervention, not only in the United States. We may recall that shortly after, Winston Churchill authorized the use of chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as experiment," denouncing the "squeamishness" of those who objected to "using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes," mainly Kurds, a policy that he strongly favored, expecting that it "would spread a lively terror." For England itself, he had somewhat different plans. As Home Secretary in 1910 he had secretly proposed sterilization of 100,000 "mental degenerates" and the dispatch of tens of thousands of others to state-run labor camps so as to save the "British race" from inevitable decline if its "inferior" members are allowed to breed -- ideas that were within the bounds of enlightened opinion of the day, but have been kept secret in Home Office files because of their sensitivity, particularly after they were taken up by Hitler.
Given the cultural climate of the day, the character of Wilson's 1915 invasion comes as no great surprise. It was even more savage and destructive than his invasion of the Dominican Republic in the same years. Wilson's troops murdered, destroyed, reinstituted virtual slavery, and demolished the constitutional system. After ruling for 20 years, the US left "the inferior people" in the hands of the National Guard it had established and the traditional rulers. In the 1950s, the Duvalier dictatorship took over, running the show in Guatemalan style, always with firm US support.
The brutality and racism of the invaders, and the dispossession of peasants as US corporations took over the spoils, elicited resistance. The Marine response was savage, including the first recorded instance of coordinated air-ground combat: bombing of rebels (Cacos) who were surrounded by Marines in the bush. An in-house Marine inquiry, undertaken after atrocities were publicly revealed, found that 3250 rebels were killed, at least 400 executed, while the Marines and their locally recruited gendarmerie suffered 98 casualties (killed and wounded). Leaked Marine orders call for an end to "indiscriminate killing of natives" that "has gone on for some time." Haitian historian Roger Gaillard estimates total deaths at 15,000, counting victims "of repression and consequences of the war," which "resembled a massacre." Major Smedley Butler recalled that his troops "hunted the Cacos like pigs." His exploits impressed FDR, who ordered that he be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for an engagement in which 200 Cacos were killed and no prisoners taken, while one Marine was struck by a rock and lost two teeth.
The leader of the revolt, Charlemagne Péralte, was killed by Marines who sneaked into his camp at night in disguise. In an attempt at psywar that prefigured some of Colonel Edward Lansdale's later exploits in the Philippines, the Marines circulated photos of his body in the hope of demoralizing the guerrillas. The tactic backfired, however; the photo resembled Christ on the cross, and became a nationalist symbol. Péralte took his place in the nationalist Pantheon alongside of Toussaint.
The invaders "legalized" the Occupation with a unilateral declaration they called a "treaty," which the client regime was forced to accept; it was then cited as imposing on the US a solemn commitment to maintain the Occupation. While supervising the takeover of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Wilson built his reputation as a lofty idealist defending self-determination and the rights of small nations with impressive oratory. There is no contradiction. Wilsonian doctrine was restricted to people of the right sort: those "at a low stage of civilization" need not apply, though the civilized colonial powers should give them "friendly protection, guidance, and assistance," he explained. Wilson's Fourteen Points did not call for self-determination and national independence, but rather held that in questions of sovereignty, "the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined," the colonial ruler. The interests of the populations "would be ascertained by the advanced nations, who best comprehended the needs and welfare of the less advanced peoples," William Stivers comments, analyzing the actual import of Wilson's language and thinking. To mention one case with long-term consequences, a supplicant who sought Wilson's support for Vietnamese representation in the French Parliament was chased away from his doors with the appeal undelivered, later surfacing under the name Ho Chi Minh.
Another achievement of Wilson's occupation was a new Constitution, imposed on the hapless country after its National Assembly was dissolved by the Marines for refusing to ratify it. The US-designed Constitution overturned laws preventing foreigners from owning land, thus enabling US corporations to take what they wanted. FDR later took credit for having written the Constitution, falsely it appears, though he did hope to be one of its beneficiaries, intending to use Haiti "for his own personal enrichment," Schmidt notes. Ten years later, in 1927, the State Department conceded that the US had used "rather highhanded methods to get the Constitution adopted by the people of Haiti" (with 99.9 percent approval in a Marine-run plebiscite, under 5 percent of the population participating). But these methods were unavoidable: "It was obvious that if our occupation was to be beneficial to Haiti and further her progress it was necessary that foreign capital should come to Haiti..., [and] Americans could hardly be expected to put their money into plantations and big agricultural enterprises in Haiti if they could not themselves own the land on which their money was to be spent." It was out of a sincere desire to help the poor Haitians that the US forced them to allow US investors to take the country over, the State Department explained, the usual form that benevolence assumes.
Elections were not permitted because it was recognized that anti-American candidates would win, hindering the US programs to help the suffering people. These programs were described as "An Experiment in Pragmatism" by one not untypical intellectual commentator, who observed that "The pragmatists insist that intelligent guidance from without may sometimes accelerate the process of national growth and save much waste." We have already seen some illustrations of that "intelligent guidance" in the case of beneficiaries from Bengal to Brazil and Guatemala. We turn to the Haitian experience in the next chapter.
The Occupation "consistently suppressed local democratic institutions and denied elementary political liberties," Schmidt writes. "Instead of building from existing democratic institutions which, on paper, were quite impressive and had long incorporated the liberal democratic philosophy and governmental machinery associated with the French Revolution, the United States blatantly overrode them and illegally forced through its own authoritarian, antidemocratic system." "The establishment of foreign-dominated plantation agriculture necessitated destruction of the existing minifundia land-tenure system with its myriad peasant freeholders," who were forced into peonage. The US supported "a minority of collaborators" from the local elite who admired European fascism but lacked the mass appeal of their fascist models. "In effect," Schmidt observes, "the Occupation embodied all the progressive attitudes of contemporary Italian fascism, but was crippled by failures in human relationships" (lack of popular support). The only local leadership it could mobilize was the traditional mulatto elite, its racist contempt for the great mass of the population now heightened by the even harsher attitudes of "ethnic and racial contempt" of the foreigner with the gun and the dollar, who brought "concepts of racial discrimination" not seen since before independence, and the "racist colonial realities" that went along with them.
The Occupation thus reinforced the internal class/race oppression that goes back to the days of French colonialism. One consequence was the rise of the ideology of Noirisme, in response to the racism of the occupiers and their elite collaborators. "Papa Doc" Duvalier would later exploit this backlash when, 20 years after the Marines left, he took the reins with the pretense of handing power to the black majority -- in reality, to himself, his personal killers (the Tontons Macoutes), and the traditional elite, who continued to prosper under his murderous kleptocracy.
"The Occupation worsened the economic crisis by augmenting the peasantry's forced contribution to the maintenance of the State," Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes. "It worsened the crisis of power by centralizing the Haitian army and disarming [citizens in] the provinces," "putting in place the structures of military, fiscal, and commercial centralization" that were to yield a "bloody finale" under the Duvalier dynasty.
Through the bloodiest years of the occupation, the media were silent or supportive. The New York Times index has no entries for Haiti for 1917-1918. In a press survey, John Blassingame found "widespread editorial support" for the repeated interventions in Haiti and the Dominican Republic from 1904 to 1919, until major atrocity stories surfaced in 1920, setting off congressional inquiry. Haitians and Dominicans were described as "coons," "mongrels," "unwholesome," "a horde of naked niggers," the Haitians even more "retrograde" than the Dominicans. They needed "energetic Anglo-Saxon influence." "We are simply going in there...to help our black brother put his disorderly house in order," one journal wrote. Furthermore, The US had a right to intervene to protect "our peace and safety" (New York Times).
Times editors lauded the "unselfish and helpful" attitude that the US had always shown, now once again as it responded "in a fatherly way" as Haiti "sought help here." Our "unselfish intervention has been moved almost exclusively by a desire to give the benefits of peace to people tormented by repeated revolutions," with no thought of "preferential advantages, commercial or otherwise," for ourselves. "The people of the island should realize that [the US government] is their best friend." The US sought only to ensure that "the people were cured of the habit of insurrection and taught how to work and live"; they "would have to be reformed, guided and educated," and this "duty was undertaken by the United States." There is a further benefit for our "black brother": "To wean these peoples away from their shot-gun habit of government is to safeguard them against our own exasperation," which might lead to further intervention. "The good-will and unselfish purposes of our own government" are demonstrated by the consequences, the editors wrote in 1922, when they were all too apparent and the Marine atrocities had already aroused a storm of protest.
Some contemporary scholars adopt the same stance. As Haiti reentered the sphere of public awareness with the fall of Duvalier, Harvard historian David Landes presented some background, explaining that the Marines had "provided the stability needed to make the political system work and to facilitate trade with the outside," though "even a benevolent occupation creates resistance...among the beneficiaries" and protest by "more enlightened members of the dominant society," a constant problem faced by benefactors. Another noted scholar, Professor Hewson Ryan of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, was even more effusive in his praise for what we had accomplished in "two centuries of well-intentioned involvement." Indeed, he observed, Haiti has been uniquely privileged: "Few nations have been the object over such a sustained period of so much well-intentioned guidance and support." He described the achievements with no little awe, particularly our kind insistence on eliminating such "unprogressive" features of the constitutional system as the provisions against takeover of lands by foreigners.
With the barriers to foreign ownership of the country now overcome -- admittedly, by somewhat "high handed methods" -- US investors quickly moved in to take large tracts of land for new plantations. Extremely cheap labor was another inducement. A New York business daily described Haiti in 1926 as "a marvelous opportunity for American investment": "The run-of-the-mill Haitian is handy, easily directed, and gives a hard day's labor for 20 cents, while in Panama the same day's work cost $3." These advantages gained prominence as the remnants of Haiti's agricultural wealth were steadily destroyed. From the 1960s, assembly operations for US corporations grew rapidly in the Caribbean region, in Haiti, from 13 companies in 1966 to 154 in 1981. These enterprises furnished about 40 percent of Haitian exports (100 percent having been primary commodities in 1960), though limited employment or other benefits for Haitians, apart from new opportunities for enrichment for the traditional elite.
In the 1980s, IMF Fundamentalism began to take its customary toll as the economy deteriorated under the impact of the structural adjustment programs, which caused agricultural production to decline along with investment, trade and consumption. Poverty became still more terrible. By the time "Baby Doc" Duvalier was driven out in 1986, 60 percent of the population had an annual per capita income of $60 or less according to the World Bank, child malnutrition had soared, the rate of infant mortality was shockingly high, and the country had become an ecological and human disaster, perhaps beyond hope of recovery. Through the 1970s, thousands of boat people fled the ravaged island, virtually all forced to return by US officials with little notice here, the usual treatment of refugees whose suffering lacks propaganda value. In 1981, the Reagan Administration initiated a new interdiction policy. Of the more than 24,000 Haitians intercepted by the US Coast Guard in the next ten years, 11 were granted asylum as victims of political persecution, in comparison with 75,000 out of 75,000 Cubans. During Aristide's brief tenure, the flow of refugees dropped dramatically as terror abated and there were hopes for a better future. The US response was to approve far more asylum claims. Twenty-eight had been allowed during the ten years of Duvalier and post-Duvalier terror; 20 during Aristide's seven and a half months in office. After Aristide's overthrow, a new surge of boat people reached several thousand a month, most of them forcibly returned in callous disregard of the grim circumstances that awaited them. For the few permitted to apply for asylum under a new policy, treatment was hardly better. One of the first was an Aristide supporter whose application was rejected on the grounds that he suffered only "petty harassment" when soldiers raked his home with gunfire and destroyed his shop.
A USAID-World Bank development strategy was initiated in 1981-1982, based on assembly plant and agro-industrial exports. The effect was to shift 30 percent of cultivated land from food for local consumption to export crops. AID forecast "a historic change toward deeper market interdependence with the United States" in this rising "Taiwan of the Caribbean." A 1985 World Bank report, "Haiti: Policy Proposals for Growth," developed the usual ideas further, calling for an export-oriented development strategy, with domestic consumption "markedly restrained in order to shift the required share of output increases into exports." Emphasis should be placed on "the expansion of private enterprises," the Bank recommended. Costs for education should be "minimized," and such "social objectives" as persist should be privatized. "Private projects with high economic returns should be strongly supported" in preference to "public expenditures in the social sectors," and "less emphasis should be placed on social objectives which increase consumption" -- "temporarily," until the famed trickle-down effects are detected, some time after the Messiah arrives. The recommendations, it is understood, are a precondition to aid, and a bright future is sure to follow.
Of the array of predictions, one came to pass: the intended migration of the rural population to urban areas, and for many, to leaky boats attempting the dangerous 800-mile passage to Florida, to face forcible return if they make it (many don't). Haiti remains Haiti, not Taiwan.
Reviewing US aid and development strategy for Haiti, Amy Wilentz writes that it "achieves two strategic U.S. goals -- one, a restructured and dependent agriculture that exports to U.S. markets and is open to American exploitation, and the other, a displaced rural population that not only can be employed in offshore U.S. industries in the towns, but is more susceptible to army control."
3. "Politics, not Principle"
In June 1985, the Haitian legislature unanimously adopted a new law requiring that every political party must recognize President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier as the supreme arbiter of the nation, outlawing the Christian Democrats, and granting the government the right to suspend the rights of any party without reasons. The law was ratified by a majority of 99.98 percent. Washington was impressed. It was "an encouraging step forward," the US Ambassador informed his guests at a July 4 celebration. The Reagan Administration certified to Congress that "democratic development" was progressing, so that military and economic aid could continue to flow -- mainly into the pockets of Baby Doc and his entourage. The Administration also informed Congress that the human rights situation was improving, as it always is when some regime requires military aid to suppress the population in a good cause. The Democrat-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee had given its approval in advance, calling on the Administration "to maintain friendly relations with Duvalier's non-Communist government."
These gratifying developments were short-lived, however. By December, popular protests were straining the resources of state terror. What happened next was described by the Wall Street Journal two months later with engaging frankness:
An administration official said that the White House concluded late last year, following huge demonstrations that hadn't been seen on such a scale before, that the regime was unraveling...U.S. analysts learned that Haiti's ruling inner circle had lost faith in the 34-year-old president for life. As a result, U.S. officials, including Secretary of State George Shultz, began openly calling for a "democratic process" in Haiti.
The cynicism was underscored by the fact that the very same scenario was then being enacted in the Philippines, where the army and elite made it clear they would no longer support another gangster for whom Reagan and Bush had expressed their admiration, even "love," not long before, so that the White House "began openly calling for a `democratic process'" there as well. Both events have, accordingly, entered the canon as a demonstration of how, particularly in the 1980s, we have "served as inspiration for the triumph of democracy in our time" (New Republic).
Duvalier was duly removed, flown out in a US Air Force jet and sent to comfortable exile in France. Armed Forces chief General Henri Namphy took power. This long-time US favorite and close Duvalier associate was "Haiti's best chance for democracy," Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams announced, revealing once again the dedication to democracy for which he was famous. Not all were pleased. A rural priest in a small church, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said that "we're glad Duvalier is gone" but "what we now have is Duvalierism without Duvalier." Few listened, but events were to prove him right in short order.
Elections were scheduled for November 1987, but Namphy and his associates, the army and the old elite, were determined that nothing would go wrong. The Tontons Macoutes were reorganized, terror continued. A particularly gruesome massacre took place in July 1987, involving the army and the Macoutes. The same groups sponsored escalating violence, leading up to an election day massacre that provided Namphy with a pretext to cancel the elections. Throughout, US military aid continued on grounds that it helped the army keep order -- which was disrupted by army-Macoute violence and atrocities. Military aid was finally suspended after the election day terror, with over 95 percent of the 1987 funds already disbursed.
A fraudulent military-run election followed, then a coup restoring Namphy to power and a rash of Duvalierism-without-Duvalier atrocities by the army and Macoutes, including repeated attacks on union offices and peasant groups. Asked about these events by US human-rights organizations, Ambassador Brunson McKinley said, "I don't see any evidence of a policy against human rights." True, there is violence, but it is just "part of the culture." Whose, one might wonder.
A month later, a gang of killers attacked Aristide's church as he was saying mass, leaving at least 13 dead and 77 wounded. Aristide fled underground. In yet another coup, Duvalierist General Prosper Avril arrested Namphy and expelled him. The Haitian head of Aristide's Salesian order authorized him to return to his church, but not for long. To the dismay of the conservative Church hierarchy, Aristide continued to call for freedom and an end to terror. He was duly ordered by his superiors in Rome to leave the country. Popular protests blocked his departure, and he went into hiding. At the last minute, Aristide decided to take part in the December 1990 elections. In a stunning upset, he won 67 percent of the vote, defeating the US candidate, former World Bank official Marc Bazin, who came in second with 14 percent. The courageous liberation theologist, committed to "the preferential option for the poor" of the Latin American bishops, took office in February as the first democratically elected President in Haiti's history -- briefly; he was overthrown by a military coup on September 30.
"Under Aristide, for the first time in the republic's tortured history, Haiti seemed to be on the verge of tearing free from the fabric of despotism and tyranny which had smothered all previous attempts at democratic expression and self-determination," the Washington Council on Hemispheric Affairs observed in a post-coup review. His victory "represented more than a decade of civic engagement and education on his part," spearheaded by local activists of the Church, small grassroots-based communities, and other popular organizations that formed the basis of the Lavalas ("flood") movement that swept him into power, "a textbook example of participatory, `bottom-up' and democratic political development." With this popular base, his government was committed to "the empowerment of the poor," a "populist model" with international implications that frightened Washington, whose model of "democracy" does not entertain popular movements committed to "social and economic justice, popular political participation and openness in all governmental affairs" rather than "the international market or some other current shibboleth." Furthermore, Aristide's balancing of the budget and "trimming of a bloated bureaucracy" led to a "stunning success" that made White House planners "extremely uncomfortable": he secured over half a billion dollars in aid from the international lending community, very little of it from the US, indicating "that Haiti was slipping out of Washington's financial orbit" and "demonstrating a degree of sovereignty in its political affairs." A rotten apple was in the making.
Washington was definitely not pleased. With its ally Duvalier gone, the US had in mind the usual form of democracy committed to the preferential option for the rich, particularly US investors. To facilitate this outcome, the bipartisan National Endowment for Democracy (NED) directed its "democracy building" grants to the Haitian International Institute for Research and Development (IHRED) and two conservative unions. IHRED was associated with Bazin and other political figures with little popular base beyond the NED, which portrayed them as the democratic movement. The State Department approached AIFLD, the AFL-CIO affiliate with a notorious record of anti-labor activities in the Third World, to join its efforts in Haiti "because of the presence of radical labor unions and the high risk that other unions may become radicalized." AIFLD joined in, expanding the support it had given from 1984 to a union group run in part by Duvalier's security police. In preparation for the elections, NED extended its support to several other organizations, among them a human rights organization headed by Jean-Jacques Honorat, former Minister of Tourism under Duvalier and later an opponent of his regime. By way of the right wing Puebla Institute, NED also provided pre-election funding to Radio Soleil, which had been anti-Duvalier but shifted well to the right under the influence of the conservative Catholic hierarchy.
Following Aristide's victory, US funding for political activities sharply increased, mainly through USAID. According to Kenneth Roth, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, the aid was intended to strengthen conservative groups that could "act as an institutional check on Aristide," in an effort to "move the country in a rightward direction." After Aristide was overthrown and the elite returned to power, Honorat became de facto Prime Minister under the military regime. The popular organizations that supported Aristide were violently suppressed, while those backed by NED and AID were spared.
One of the closest observers of events in Haiti, Amy Wilentz, writes that Aristide's brief term was "the first time in the post-Duvalier era that the United States government has been so deeply concerned with human rights and the rule of law in Haiti" (not that there was more than rhetoric under the Duvaliers). The State Department is reported to have "circulated a thick notebook filled with alleged human rights violations" under Aristide -- "something it had not done under the previous rulers, Duvalierists and military men," who were deemed proper recipients for aid, including military aid, "based on unsubstantiated human-rights improvements":
During the four regimes that preceded Aristide, international human-rights advocates and democratic observers had begged the State Department to consider helping the democratic opposition in Haiti. But no steps were taken by the United States to strengthen anything but the executive and the military until Aristide won the presidency. Then, all of a sudden, the United States began to think about how it could help those Haitians eager to limit the powers of the executive or to replace the government constitutionally.
USAID's huge "Democracy Enhancement" project was "specifically designed to fund those sectors of the Haitian political spectrum where opposition to the Aristide government could be encouraged."
All absolutely normal, simply further evidence that "democracy" and "human rights" are regarded purely as power instruments, of no intrinsic value, even dangerous and objectionable; precisely as any rational person with some knowledge of history and institutions would expect.
Before deciding to run for office, Aristide had observed that "Of course, the U.S. has its own agenda here," adding that it was natural for the rich to make investments and want to maximize return. "This is normal, capitalist behavior, and I don't care if the U.S. wants to do it at home... But it is monstrous to come down here and impose your will on another people," whom you do not understand and for whom you care nothing. "I cannot accept that Haiti should be whatever the United States wants it to be." It's obvious why he had to go.
There are few surprises here, well into the post-Cold War era with its heralded New World Order.
Immediately after taking power on September 30, 1991, the army "embarked on a systematic and continuing campaign to stamp out the vibrant civil society that has taken root in Haiti since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship," Americas Watch reported in December. At least 1000 people were killed in the first two weeks of the coup and hundreds more by December, "generally reliable Haitian human rights groups" estimated, though they knew little about what is happening in the countryside, traditionally the locus of the worst atrocities. Terror increased in the months that followed, particularly after the reconstituted Macoutes were unleashed in late December. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Many regard the terror as "worse than Papa Doc." "The goal of the repression is twofold: first, to destroy the political and social gains made since the downfall of the Duvalier dynasty; and second, to ensure that no matter what Haiti's political future may hold, all structures for duplicating those gains will have been laid waste." Accordingly, unions and popular organizations were specifically targeted for violent repression, and the "lively and combative radio stations -- the main form of communication with Haiti's dispersed and largely illiterate population" -- were suppressed. The rascal multitude must remain dispersed and scattered, without unions or other popular organizations through which they might act to formulate and express their interests, and without independent means of communication and information.
If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. In the Haitis of the world, the means can be quite direct.
De facto Prime Minister Jean-Jacques Honorat justified the coup. "There is no relationship between elections and democracy," he said. Haiti is being defamed by foreign "racists" in the press and French Embassy. It is right to return Duvalier thugs to power as rural section chiefs because "No society can exist without police." Along with landholders, they "are taking revenge against those who were persecuting them," notably priests, Christian base communities, and the nonviolent Papaye Peasant Movement, who are guilty of "terrorism." "The military was systematically persecuted" by these elements, who believed "they could do anything" under Aristide's rule, he informed the visiting human rights delegation, blaming Aristide for the coup. When a press conference of the Federation of Haitian Students at the national university was attacked by armed soldiers, clubbing and arresting participants, Honorat's wife "offered fifty of the students their freedom if they taped a statement saying they had been treated well in detention," Kenneth Roth reports.
"As Haitians began in early November to flee this violence and persecution in large numbers," the Americas Watch report continues, "the Bush Administration changed from an outspoken proponent of human rights and democracy in Haiti to a shameful apologist." The State Department "issued a fraudulent opinion asserting that political persecution of Aristide's supporters had ceased," providing "rhetorical cover to the army's ongoing campaign of repression" and laying the basis for the forcible return of fleeing refugees to the terror of the coup regime. "Evidently fearful that continuing honest and outspoken criticism of military abuses in Haiti would jeopardize the legal defense of its interdiction efforts, which had come under challenge in U.S. courts, the Administration stopped public criticism altogether. Since late October, Haiti has been immune from censure by the State Department on human rights grounds."
The Bush Administration quickly "distanced itself from" deposed President Aristide "in light of concerns over his human rights record," the press reported with no detectable embarrassment; the White House "refus[ed] to say that his return to power was a necessary precondition for Washington to feel that democracy has been restored in Haiti" (Thomas Friedman). The same day, the head of the OAS delegation stated that "We have come down with an extremely clear mandate that Aristide must be restored."
It was the notes sounded by Washington, however, that reverberated in the press. Aristide was regarded as "an insular and menacing leader who saw his own raw popularity as a substitute for the give and take of politics," Times correspondent Howard French wrote. He governed "with the aid of fear," leaning "heavily on Lavalas, an unstructured movement of affluent idealists and long-exiled leftists" whose model was China's Cultural Revolution -- the Times version of the "textbook example of participatory, `bottom-up' and democratic political development" depicted by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Aristide's power hunger led to "troubles with civil society," another concept of Times-speak, excluding the large majority of the population, which continued to support him with passion and courage. Furthermore, "Haitian political leaders and diplomats say, the growing climate of vigilantism as well as increasingly strident statements by Father Aristide blaming the wealthier classes for the poverty of the masses encouraged" the coup; such statements are outrageous and absurd, we are to understand. "Although he retains much of the popular support that enabled him to win 67 percent of the popular vote in the country's December 1990 elections, Father Aristide was overthrown in part because of concerns among politically active people over his commitment to the Constitution, and growing fears of political and class-based violence, which many believe the President endorsed."
As this well-informed correspondent knew, the "political and class-based violence" was a near monopoly of the military and the elite, whose "commitment to the Constitution" was invisible and who turned at once to terror to demolish the "politically active people" and their organizations -- which were much too "structured" and effective for the tastes of those who qualify as "civil society" by Administration-Times standards. What they call "civil society" intends to retain their traditional power and privilege, and the army, which, French assures us, "made it clear that it had no desire to hold on to power," will doubtless be happy to permit "civil society" to rule as in the past, on condition that the army can "hang on to effective control of the country and resume its highly lucrative activities such as the transshipment of narcotics from South America to North America" (Financial Times).
Ruminating on the dilemmas of the post-Cold War era, the editor of Foreign Affairs, William Hyland, observed that "In Haiti it has not been so easy to differentiate among the democrats and the dictators"; the distinction between Aristide, on the one hand, and Duvalier and his latter-day clones, on the other, is too subtle even for the discriminating eye. It should not be thought that Hyland is lacking in human concerns. Our worthy commitment to "pragmatism," he warned, should be tempered by the recognition that the US "owes a moral debt to the people of Israel"; accordingly, we must not allow policy to succumb to the "virulent antisemitism" that lies "beneath the veneer of support for Israel," and is "beginning to break through in the debate over Israeli settlements." In Haiti, in contrast, it is hard to detect anyone who might merit our support.
Commentators who found it possible to distinguish Aristide from Papa Doc and the ruling generals hoped that he would find some way to convince the White House of his good faith. A visit to Washington, Pamela Constable wrote, might "bolster his image as a reasonable leader committed to democracy and thus win him a strong public endorsement by the Bush administration" -- which, surely, was holding back only because of its reservations on this score.
The OAS at once imposed an embargo, which the US joined, suspending trade on October 29. It was denounced by the ruling elite, and cheered by those who suffer most from its effects. In the slums, "news of the O.A.S. embargo was the only thing many people could find to cheer about as hundreds of people squeezed into overloaded buses to the countryside to flee the expected nightly violence by soldiers," Howard French reported on October 9. Trade should be cut off, "anxious-looking residents" told reporters: "It doesn't matter how much misery we get. We'll die if necessary." Months later, the mood remained the same. "Keep the Embargo" was the popular refrain among the poor: "Titid [Aristide] gave us dignity and hope... We are ready to suffer if it means Titid will come back."
The embargo was loosely observed and ineffectual. Europe disregarded it, and members of "civil society" continued to fly to Miami and New York to satisfy their wants, or to trade with the Dominican Republic, a practice that provided alms for the Dominican military as well. Washington, which knows how to twist arms when some serious power or profit interest is at stake, could find no way, in this case, to call upon its allies to save Haitian democracy and stop the terror. One recalls the delicate sensibilities that prevented Bush from lending any support to Kuwaiti democrats after the Gulf war, so profound as to bar mention of the word "democracy" even in private communications to the Emir, because, officials explained, "You can't pick out one country to lean on over another." Oil tankers, mainly from Europe, arrived faster "than they can unload," a senior State Department official said in April 1992.
The Administration had not carried out such obvious measures as "freezing any U.S. assets of military officers who participated in the coup, and of their wealthy Haitian backers," or even "temporarily lifting U.S. visas to these people, who travel frequently to the U.S.," Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent Robert Greenberger reported in January 1992. But there is a reason: Aristide's defects. Liberal Democrat Robert Torricelli, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs, took time from his democracy-inspired efforts to tighten the embargo on Cuba to explain that "The democratic process doesn't always produce perfect results"; given "Mr. Aristide's record," it isn't easy to gain support for stronger action against Haiti. Cuban terrorists pose no such problems. Though "overwhelmingly elected in Haiti's first free election" and "immensely popular with the poor," Greenberger continues, "his fiery rhetoric sometimes incited class violence," something that always deeply disturbs the Journal whenever their keen eyes discern traces of it in Haiti, Guatemala, Brazil, Indonesia, and elsewhere.
Torricelli called for an end to the Haitian embargo and supported the forcible repatriation of Haitian refugees from Guantanamo, illustrating still more clearly the passion for democracy and human rights that inspires his Cuban initiatives.
Many pondered the difficult choices faced by the Bush Administration. Time suggested that Bush might "ease the toll on Haitians by loosening the embargo on plants that assemble goods for U.S. companies, restoring as many as 40,000 jobs" -- and, incidentally restoring profits to US investors, though the motive could only be to "ease the toll on Haitians" who are calling on the US to "keep the embargo," as the same article reports.
We might take note of another standard item of PC usage. The word "jobs" has taken on an entirely new meaning: "profits." Thus when George Bush takes off to Japan with a bevy of auto executives in tow, he waves the banner "jobs, jobs, jobs," meaning "profits, profits, profits," as a look at his social and economic policies demonstrates without equivocation. The press and air waves resound with impassioned proposals to increase "jobs," put forth by those who do what is in their power to send them to low-wage, high-repression regions, and to destroy what remains of meaningful work and workers' rights, all in the interest of some unmentionable seven-letter word.
Bush had wasted no time in following Time's advice. On February 4, the US lifted the embargo for the assembly plants that use cheap Haitian labor for goods for export to the US, most of them US-owned. A few months later, it was reported in the small print that while "the Administration is tightening rules on ships trading with Haiti" in accord with a May 17 OAS resolution, "it is apparently continuing to relax controls on goods going to Port-au-Prince from the United States," allowing export of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides from the US to Haiti. All for "jobs, jobs, jobs."
The Administration had been "under heavy pressure from American businesses with interests in Haiti," the Washington Post reported. The editors felt that the February 4 decision was wise: the embargo was a "fundamental political miscalculation" that "has caused great suffering, but not among the gunmen. Since it hasn't served its purpose, it is good that it is being relaxed" -- not tightened so as to serve the professed purpose, as those undergoing the great suffering plead. But for the US to repatriate refugees by force, the editors continue, is not in keeping with "its deep commitment to human rights" -- which they see manifested wherever they turn.
Washington's unilateral relaxation of the OAS embargo was condemned by the Secretary General of the OAS, who had urged the State Department against this action. The forcible return of refugees was condemned by the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNCHR), which rarely confronts the US, knowing what that entails. In November 1991, UNCHR had called on the US to admit all refugees "for determination of their refugee status." UNCHR pointed out that the UN Conventions on refugees proscribe their return "in any manner whatsoever" to territories where their lives or freedom would be endangered, with "no exception." In May 1992, UNCHR again declared the forced return to be in violation of international agreements; the adjacent column in the New York Times quotes a conservative businessman with close ties to the US, who reports "a tremendous increase" in death squad-style killings: "People are being terrorized, and a bunch of people are being killed," a "spate of violence" that coincided with Washington's decision to "directly repatriate" Haitians trying to reach the US.
The relaxation of the embargo "was greeted enthusiastically by assembly plant owners," Lee Hockstader reported, but not by "many of the workers most directly affected by the sanctions," who have "applauded them as the best way to promote the return of Aristide." "All indications are that Aristide's massive popular support among the poor majority...remains intact... It is difficult to find anyone on the street, either in the capital or in the provinces, who does not support the priest-turned-politician." His associates bitterly condemned the US move. A priest who is a close adviser to Aristide denounced Washington as having "totally" betrayed him "from the beginning." US policy, he said, is "the most cynical thing you can ever find on earth... I don't think the U.S. wants Aristide back," because he "is not under their control. He is not their puppet."
The assessment is plausible enough. That the US should have sought to establish "Duvalierism without Duvalier" could surprise only the willfully blind. For similar reasons, the Carter Administration sought desperately to institute "Somocismo without Somoza" after its efforts to salvage the tyrant collapsed, and its successor turned to more violent means to achieve the same end, with the general approval of enlightened opinion, tactical disagreement aside.
Superfluously perhaps, the priest's assessment is reinforced by a leaked secret document allegedly authored by a staff member of the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince at the behest of Prime Minister Honorat and other Haitian officials. Its authenticity was questioned by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), and denied by the State Department, but "later research has now validated [it] as being completely reliable," COHA concluded. The document lays out a plan to allow a symbolic "restoration" of Aristide as a PR ploy, with his complete removal later on, when attention has declined.
By the time the document surfaced in January 1992, most of its applicable recommendations had been implemented, COHA noted. Others were to follow shortly. The embargo was rendered still more toothless on February 4. Three weeks later, Aristide accepted what COHA described as "a near-total defeat for Haitian democracy," "a tragic sell-out by a desperate man" who was forced to agree to a "government of national unity" in which he would have only a symbolic role. Aristide "was effectively left with no option but to mutilate his own stature by signing away his powers in exchange for the still uncertain prospect of his restoration to what will now be a figurehead presidency," COHA stated. The "national unity" government brought together two partners: a group headed by René Théodore, who represented 1.5 percent of the electorate, the Haitian military and elite, and the US government; and another led by Aristide, with 67 percent of the electorate but no other assets. Given the balance, the outcome is not obscure; and it is not surprising that Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson declared his satisfaction with the agreement.
COHA raised an obvious question. Suppose that "after a hypothetical coup [in Nicaragua] in which [President Violeta Chamorro] was forced to flee for her life, she had been made to accept a major Sandinista figure as her prime minister who would exercise effective control of the country in order to be allowed back. Would Aronson be pleased with such a formula if the FSLN had overthrown and exiled her, violently had beaten and killed at least 2,000 of those who backed her, and had induced her to give up real powers in order to be restored?" Or to make the analogy more exact, if in addition the FSLN were a party with no popular base and a record of terror in the style of US clients? No one troubled to respond.
The military in Haiti celebrated the agreement, along with "civil society." One Haitian Senator commented happily that "it would be surrealistic to believe or to print that [Aristide] can return by June 30, or any other specific date for that matter." "The military thugs down there understand...that they have got a nod and a wink from the U.S. government," Congressman John Conyers said.
All that was left was to replace Théodore by the original US favorite Marc Bazin. That result was achieved in June 1992, when Bazin was inaugurated as Prime Minister. "The Vatican and the Haitian bishops' conference...walked into the National Palace and blessed Haiti's new army-backed government," the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) commented, though the Vatican was alone in extending formal recognition. The Vatican had waited until Aristide was exiled to fill the position of papal nuncio. The formal recognition "shows they're really out to get Aristide and to align themselves with Haiti's traditional powers -- the army and the bourgeoisie," a Western diplomat told NCR. Liberation and human rights were a grand cause in Eastern Europe; in the Caribbean and Central America, they must be crushed, in the service of traditional privilege, and "the preferential option for the poor" is definitely not welcome. Bazin delivered his inauguration address in French to a "stifling official gathering of men in dark suits and perfumed women in white dresses," Howard French reported; Aristide had given his in Creole, the language of the population, receiving the presidential sash from a peasant woman.
Democracy marches on.
An adviser of the Bazin government, echoing Aristide, said that "all it would take is one phone call" from Washington to send the army leadership packing. "Virtually all observers agree" that little more would be necessary, Howard French writes. But "Washington's deep-seated ambivalence about a leftward-tilting nationalist whose style diplomats say has sometimes been disquietingly erratic" precludes any meaningful pressure. "Despite much blood on the army's hands, United States diplomats consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle rhetoric...threatened or antagonized traditional power centers at home and abroad." The "counterweight" will therefore hold power with the "erratic" nationalist in exile, and class-struggle rhetoric and terror will continue with the tacit support of traditional power centers.
The New York Times sought to place the proper spin on the February 4 decision to advance the anti-Aristide scenario and benefit US businesses. Under the headline "U.S. Plans to Sharpen Focus of Its Sanctions Against Haiti," Barbara Crossette reported from Washington that "The Bush Administration said today that it would modify its embargo against Haiti's military Government to punish anti-democratic forces and ease the plight of workers who lost jobs because of the ban on trade." The State Department would be "fine tuning" its economic sanctions, the "latest move" in Administration efforts to find "more effective ways to hasten the collapse of what the Administration calls an illegal Government in Haiti." The naive may find the logic a bit obscure: how the move punishes the anti-democratic forces who applauded it, while easing the plight of workers who strenuously opposed it, is left a mystery. Until we translate from PC to English, that is. Then all is clear.
A more straightforward account appeared a few days later in a report from Port-au-Prince under the heading: "Democracy Push in Haiti Blunted: Leaders of Coup Gleeful After U.S. Loosens Its Embargo and Returns Refugees." Howard French writes that "the mood in army and political circles began to turn from anxiety to confidence that the United States, feeling no particular domestic pressure now from Haiti's problems, would leave them in peace." The same day, the anniversary of Aristide's inauguration, New York traffic was tied up by a large protest march against the US actions, as in Miami. That is not what is meant by "domestic pressure," however; mostly black, the protestors merited little notice -- though the actions were reported in the Alaska press, where one could also read the statement by Haiti's consul general in New York, who said "There is a tacit collaboration between the Haitian military and the State Department. The Americans will have the last word. And the Americans don't want Aristide's return." Time quoted a "disillusioned Republican congressional staffer" who said, "The White House is banking on the fact that people won't care. Politics, not principle, is the overriding consideration."
That much seems beyond dispute. For those who choose to hear, the italicized words tell the story that is solidly based on two centuries of history. Without popular support here, Toussaint's tree of liberty will remain deeply buried, at best a dream -- not in Haiti alone.