Documents released by WikiLeaks to the left-of-center Haitian weekly Haiti Liberté, in partnership with The Nation magazine, unveils a cozy U.S. relationship with Haiti’s reactionary, corrupt elite. They also offer insight into the bipartisan U.S./UN occupation mislabeled a “humanitarian intervention.” The revelations show that U.S. policy has changed little since the founding of the world’s first Black republic in 1804.
The 1918 WikiLeaks cables cover the period beginning April 17, 2003, nearly 10 months before a CIA-backed rightist coup on Feb. 29, 2004, against Haiti’s elected reformist president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A U.S.-led UN force of 9000 soldiers occupied the country and sent Aristide into exile. The occupation allowed the coup to consolidate its power and repress his Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party and all worker-peasant movements. Some 3000 Haitians died under the regime.
Cables from the U.S. Embassy, which might have directly implicated the U.S. in the 2004 coup, started in March 2005, although there is one cable from March 2004. The occupation force became known as MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti).
The U.S. militarily occupied Haiti in 1915, 1994, 2004, and again in 2010 in the aftermath of the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake. The WikiLeaks cables end on Feb. 28, 2010, about a month after the quake devastated the capital, Port au Prince, and the surrounding area.
In 2009, thousands of students, workers, and others demonstrated in the streets of Port au Prince demanding a minimum wage increase from $1.75 a day to a mere $5 a day. WikiLeaks documents show U.S. officials were on the side of Haiti’s international sweatshops.
“[T]he U.S. embassy in Haiti worked closely with factory owners contracted by Levi’s, Hanes, and Fruit of the Loom to aggressively block a paltry minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers,” wrote Haiti Liberté. In the end, the minimum wage was increased to only $3 a day for assembly workers, $5 a day for all others; later increased to $5 a day and $6.25 a day respectively in October 2010.
Keeping a lid on Haiti’s explosive mix of coups, inequality, repression, and widespread malnutrition (unemployment exceeds 80%) requires repression. Wiki-Leaks revealed that the economic elite, whose support of CIA-backed coups was essential to U.S. policy, was arming police into private armies. A U.S. Embassy cable by then U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James Foley was fully aware of these developments and warned “against private delivery of arms” to the Haitian National Police. “Some business owners have already begun to purchase weapons and ammunition from the street and distribute them to local police officials in exchange for regular patrols.”
Fritz Mevs, one of the richest Haitians, told the U.S. Embassy that the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Reginald Boulos, had “distributed arms to the police and had called on others to do so in order to provide cover to his own actions.” The elite worried about rebellious pro-Aristide strongholds in the Port au Prince slums Bel Air and Cité Soleil. Boulos currently sits on the board of Bill Clinton’s Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), which controls the spending of billions donated to rebuild Haiti after the quake. Boulos is a close friend of the new Haitian president, Michel Martelly, who assumed office in May after a rigged election last November, which excluded Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party (FL), Haiti’s largest party. Martelly is pro-coup, pro-U.S., with many ties to the old Duvalier family dictatorship (1957-1986) and its paramilitary thugs.
Also on Clinton’s IHRC board is Gary Lissade, the lead counsel for General Raoul Cedras, the leader of the bloody 1991 coup, during his negotiations with Aristide in 1993. Lissade, a prominent right-winger, is part of a “cabal,” says Mevs, of what Foley labeled “a small nexus of drug-dealers and political insiders that control a network of dirty cops and gangs.”
On July 6, 2005, there was a massacre by MINUSTAH forces, mostly Brazilian. MINUSTAH opened fire on Cité Soleil, unleashing 22,000 rounds of ammunition. Dozens were killed, but the official toll was six. “It remains unclear how aggressive MINUSTAH was, though 22,000 rounds is a large amount of ammunition to have killed only six people,” wrote then U.S. Ambassador James Foley in a July 26, 2005, Embassy cable obtained by Professor Keith Yearman through a FOIA request.
The UN claimed it killed Aristide loyalist and “gang leader Dred Wilme and five of his associates,” while noting that “at St. Joseph’s hospital near Cité Soleil, Doctors Without Borders reported receiving 26 gunshot victims from Cité Soleil on July 6, of whom 20 were women and at least one was a child.”
In August Foley was praising the Brazilians in another cable (obtained by Yearman’s FOIA requests) entitled “Brazil Shows Backbone in Bel-Air.” Since 2004, Brazil has had the largest contingent of troops in Haiti, after redeployments of US troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Socialists demand, “U.S./UN out of Haiti, now!”
The U.S. response to the Jan. 12 quake was to dispatch 22,000 troops to occupy Haiti, officially a UN mission. Scandalously, U.S. personnel prevented the arrival of aircraft carrying private emergency medical personnel like Doctors Without Borders and Cuban medical teams, for example. The top U.S. priority was suppressing non-existent food riots. (For more see the February and March 2010 issues of Socialist Action.)
WikiLeaks reveals how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, stung by media reports on the blockage of emergency medical aid by the U.S. military, ordered staff to track down “irresponsible journalists” worldwide to “get the story straight.” U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten spoke of a “gold rush” to describe the post-quake atmosphere for U.S. corporations, lured by billions in international aid.
The 2011 legislative and presidential elections, postponed in 2010 by the earthquake, were organized by President René Preval, an ex-protegé of the exiled president who, like his mentor, had supported U.S. occupations. The election was widely viewed as a fraud, even by the U.S. embassy. Millions of dollars went to anti-FL parties from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, two tentacles of the CIA-linked National Endowment for Democracy.
Diplomats at a Dec. 1, 2009, meeting of representatives of the European Union, United Nations, Brazil, Canada, Spain, and the U.S. expressed reservations about the sham election. Nevertheless they agreed to provide funds for the vote since “the international community has too much invested in Haiti’s democracy to walk away from the upcoming elections, despite its imperfections,” according to a U.S. cable (HL 5/25/11-5/30/11). A mere 23% of eligible Haitians voted last November.
Earlier, President Obama had successfully pressured the South African government to not permit the exiled Aristide to return to Haiti during the election. Aristide finally returned on March 18.
In reality, there cannot be “fair” elections under an occupation, despite Fanmi Lavalas’ willingness to run if not for its exclusion. Its lack of principled opposition to occupation reflects the on-again, off-again support for interventions within Aristide’s reformist camp, a far cry from the fiercely independent Haitian revolutionaries who overthrew French slavery and colonialism in 1804. Haiti is in need of another revolution.
> The article above was written by Marty Goodman, and first appeared in the August 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.