By LEO SCHWARTZ
“Operation Uphold Democracy” was what President Clinton called the U.S./UN occupation of Haiti. The intervention that began on Sept. 19, 1994, with the landing of 21,000 troops, mainly from the United States, was to last only a few months. It has now lasted for five years.
According to The New York Times, (Aug. 26, 1999), Washington plans a pull-out of 480 GIs by year’s end. Troops from other countries will remain, as well as some members of the U.S. National Guard. But whatever happens, U.S. intervention is not about democracy or human rights.
How did the intervention in Haiti happen? The United States had supported brutal dictatorships in Haiti for decades. However, mass protests that began in 1985 threatened to topple the entire class system.
Then dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier was forced to flee on Feb. 7, 1986, on a U.S. Air Force plane. The United States brokered a new military regime to replace Duvalier, but that government was even more brutal. The protests continued.
In the December 1990 elections, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist Catholic priest, won a landslide vote of 67 percent for president in a U.S./UN-sponsored election. Aristide’s supporters were organized within the “Lavalas” (meaning “torrent” in Haitian Creole), which was and remains today a loose, middle-class-led movement.
Aristide followed a conservative economic policy geared to please Washington. The crushing economic inequality was barely touched. But Aristide did attempt to raise the minimum wage from $1.76 to $2.94 a day, which resulted in a $26 million U.S.-supported propaganda campaign against the measure.
Aristide’s boldest act was to retire several top generals and appoint Gen. Raoul Cederas, the future coup leader, as the new head of the armed forces. But Washington had Aristide agree to not permit the mass organizations to defend themselves with arms against reactionary attacks.
On Sept. 19, 1991-as in Chile-pro-capitalist forces with covert U.S. funding easily crushed the elected government. For the next three years, they slaughtered over 6000 Aristide supporters and activists.
Refusing to organize resistance, Aristide asked for a second U.S. intervention. (Previously, Aristide had said, “Never! Never! Never!” to intervention.) Also pressing for intervention were the Democratic Party’s Black Congressional Caucus, TransAfrica, The Nation magazine, and middle-class Haiti activists.
The first U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) was under the “liberal” administration of Woodrow Wilson and also under the banner of democracy. In reality, thousands of Haitian patriots were killed and the economy opened to foreign investment. The United States rewrote Haiti’s constitution, and a new army was created-trained by the United States in counter-insurgency.
The 1991 coup-makers were likewise trained in the United States and were the direct descendants of the first occupation. In fact, Clinton bowed to the racist reaction against the thousands of Black boat people arriving as refugees in Florida and reversed the promises of justice for Haitian refugees he had made before entering office.
Moreover, Clinton viewed the intervention into Haiti as an ideal opportunity to forge a new post-Soviet consensus in the UN for U.S.-led multinational interventions into the internal affairs of sovereign nations, a clear violation of the UN charter. Intervention in Haiti was also seen as sending a message to the Cuban Revolution that Washington would stop at nothing to impose its will.
Aristide okayed Washington’s plan by signing the Governor’s Island Accord on July 3, 1993. The New York Times reported that UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali told Aristide, “Don’t examine it, just sign it.” After signing, diplomats were saying, “Aristide has matured.”
The accord mandated Aristide to promote “reconciliation” between supporters of the coup and its victims. Aristide would not have a second term in office. The United States actually counted his three years in exile as completion of his first term.
In addition, Aristide, who once preached that “capitalism is immoral,” agreed to pursue an economic program designed by the U.S.-controlled World Bank, which called for austerity and the privatization of public utilities. “Privatization is democracy,” said Aristide.
After Aristide’s return, he dissolved the Haitian army in 1995 and replaced it with a “new” national police force selected and trained mainly by a special unit of the U.S. Department of Justice, the same unit that trained the brutal police force in El Salvador and Guatemala.
Although supposedly screened (mainly by the United States) for past abuses, for purposes of “reconciliation,” about half of the new 7000-member national police force were from the army and the rest were new recruits trained by U.S. officials.
This served at the administrative level to mix ostensibly pro-democratic Aristide supporters and former army personnel into a new corrupted institution that has made peace with the violent methods of the notorious Ton-Ton Macoutes.
According to a Human Rights Watch report of January 1997, police conduct included “serious human rights abuses, including torture and summary executions.” The report stated that “Haiti’s dysfunctional judicial system has made meager progress on prosecuting police abuse cases. Not one policeman or policewoman has been convicted of any killing.”
And police killings continue. In May, 11 were executed-including a 12-year-old boy, in unclear circumstances, by police near the city of Gonaives. Ten were shot in the head and one in the heart. Leading the police unit that was involved was Port au Prince Police Chief Jean-Colls Rameau, who was arrested trying to flee the country.
An official Truth and Justice Commission on coup-era abuses issued one limited report, and no trials were ever held. Today, murderers walk the streets of Haiti with complete impunity.
Contributing to what Haitians called “the insecurity” is the widespread violence and corruption due to massive unemployment, extreme inequality, and an almost non-functioning economy. Bodies are left rotting in the street.
Estimates of rural and urban unemployment and under-employment run between 70 and 80 percent. There has been no meaningful land reform. Peasant struggles have been repressed.
The neo-liberal plan called for dropping tariffs, and U.S. imports have destroyed much domestic industry. Haiti now imports cheaper price U.S. foodstuffs such as sugar, coffee, and rice-which Haiti previously produced both for domestic consumption and for export.
The current minimum wage of $2.25 a day, if adjusted for inflation, is lower than in 1980 and is less than half of the amount need to feed a family of five.
President Rene Preval has completely embraced neo-liberalism and has privatized public concerns despite union resistance. Aristide, with an eye toward next year’s election, has made limited criticisms of the neo-liberal policies.
However, no deals with the United States or the Haitian bourgeoisie will change Haiti. Only a socialist revolution can do that.