May 20, 2004

Coup d’Etat – This Time in Haiti

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In 1953, the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government. It took 47 years to report that coup d’etat to the American public. Twenty-seven years after the CIA engineered the coup that ousted Chile’s democratically elected president, the agency’s report finally saw the light of day. How long will it take for the United States government to admit its role in forcibly removing the Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose people had elected him with 80% of the vote?

Colin Powell, now denying Bob Woodward’s explosive report about the Iraqi debacle, also denies the U.S. did anything untoward when the Marines put the Aristides on a plane to the Central African Republic on February 29. Yet the Bush Administration adamantly opposes an independent investigation of the Aristides’ departure and the quick installment of a de facto government in Haiti.

If it has nothing to hide, why did the U.S. State Department threaten the Caribbean Countries (CARICOM), who called for the United Nations to investigate the situation in Haiti? Indeed, the Bush Administration has made a habit of resisting independent investigations – of the Cheney energy task force, the 911 Commission, and the lead-up to the Iraq war.

The irony of George W. Bush’s claim that he invaded Iraq to bring democracy to the Iraqi people was not lost on President Aristide and his wife, whom I visited in Jamaica last month. President Aristide is grieving not just for himself, but also for the millions of Haitians, many of whom are in hiding from the notorious criminals who are the power behind Haiti’s de facto government.

President Aristide told us the coup was not just about 8 million people and democracy in Haiti. It is also, he said, about the right of the African people to reparations for the bitter legacy of slavery in Haiti. When threatened with a French invasion and the restoration of slavery in 1825, the Haitian government agreed to pay France 150 million francs in return for recognition as a sovereign state. France insisted upon restitution for its loss of slave “property.”

That debt has crippled Haiti ever since. It took 100 years to repay, and in the process, Haiti’s education, healthcare system, and infrastructure were eviscerated. President Aristide incurred France’s wrath by demanding the French pay restitution to Haiti, $21 billion in today’s currency, for the unjust debt. France joined the United States in engineering the removal of President Aristide from Haiti.

What did President Aristide do to offend the United States enough to remove him from power? During his first term, President Aristide had resisted privatization. The U.S. feared this threat to globalization would spread to other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America – the old domino theory. Since President Aristide’s election in 2000, the U.S. tried to sabotage Haiti’s fledgling democracy by imposing a crippling economic aid embargo, which prevented $550 million in promised international aid from reaching Haiti.

The coup in Haiti was executed through surrogates in the Dominican Republic, as well as members of the dissolved Haitian army and former paramilitary organizations. U.S. diplomats told the Aristides they would be killed if President Aristide did not sign a resignation letter. Under extreme duress, he signed a letter, which the State Department-hired interpreter would not characterize as a resignation. The Aristides were held incommunicado for 20 hours as they were flown to the Central African Republic. The U.S. had refused to send troops to protect the Aristide government. Yet one hour after he left Haiti, the U.S. ordered troops to Haiti.

The National Lawyers Guild delegations to Haiti verified brutal and indiscriminate repression against the civilian population since the coup. It is incumbent upon the United Nations to immediately address this emergency. The forcible removal of the Aristides from Haiti violates the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, a treaty ratified by the U.S.

Since March 15, the Aristides have been in Jamaica, where they were granted temporary asylum. The United States has exerted intense pressure on Jamaica and the other CARICOM countries to recognize the de facto government in Haiti. As a result, the Aristides must leave Jamaica and travel to South Africa, which has granted them asylum until the situation in Haiti stabilizes and they can return. Spokesman Joel Netshitenzhe said the South African government supports the call for an investigation into President Aristide’s removal from Haiti and seeks to build an international consensus against unilateral regime changes.

As we took leave of the Aristides in Jamaica, President Aristide quoted the slave general Toussaint l’Ouverture, who led the successful rebellion that ousted the French from Haiti in 1804: “In overthrowing me, you have cut down in San Domingo [Haiti] only the trunk of the tree of black liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep.” The Haitian people, who have endured insufferable hardships at the hands of colonial powers, hold the roots of liberty within themselves.