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Volume 18, Number 9, February 25, 2004
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The Haitian Conundrum:
Aristide is the democratically elected head of state.
Failure to disarm the Haitian rebels in 1994 has been the demise of peace in Haiti, says President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We are inclined to agree although must point to 373,000 starving Haitians (according to recent releases of the World Food Organization) as a likely greater threat to the peace.
Aristide is a former Catholic priest who worked as a humanitarian within the Haitian slums for many years. In 1990, as a popularist, he became Haiti's first freely elected leader. By free democratic election in 2001 he is in power until February 2006.
In recent past Aristide has lost popularity amid accusations he condoned corruption, failed to help the poor and had thugs intimidate opponents. Sounds pretty mild compared to the U.S. Democrats' verbal assault on Governing Republicans' and their Halliburton dealings or compared to Canada's blustering government as it is bombarded with complaints of corruption in Quebec; and a lot like other complaints heard the world over.
Aristide counters allegations --so also do the facts in this regard-- pointing out that the lack of muscle to remove the plethora of military arms from the roving gangs of drug-dealing thugs in 1994 has left him with only desperate measures to ensure the safety of elected officials and the maintenance of governance.
France is annoyed at Aristide. Aristide loyalists regularly shout epithets against France, whose Foreign Minister Dominique de VillepinIf has condemned Aristide as the author of Haiti's misfortunes. Haitian teens and kids manning bulldozers and back-hoes to build barricades across the streets of Port-au-Prince holler out the war cry of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian general who ousted French colonizers from Haiti to end slavery in 1804. These Haitians have not forgotten the brutality of their French captors who exploited Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was once known by the French, for sugar crops, and enslaved its people as worker slaves.
Few people on the international bitching team of pundits and observers seem willing to support this elected official who now endures attacks from rebels led by the old army hunta as well as the international community including France and the United States which after Iraq have not the stomach for a fight in Haiti..
We have yet to hear the Canadian Prime Minister publicly label Aristide as corrupt. We don't want to hear that from him, given his current crisis over Auditor-General-alleged corruption in Ottawa which suggests the Jean Chretien (predecessor) government was stealing public funds and paying them to Liberal Party members through complex money-laundering schemes.
What government is not corrupt? "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely", is the old adage. So you arrest and try the culprits and move on. In that context it is simply not possible to legitimately intervene in Haiti on behalf of the rebel forces. Power sharing is hardly a solution either. The elected officialdom of Haiti is just that, elected. Military arms and anger are not a credible alternative to the democratic wish of a nation's free will. The people elected Aristide and the next election date February 2006, is two years away. The people are stuck with the government they elected. So are we all. And that is that.
The Haitian Opposition
The past two years have seen the re-strengthening of the Haiti army components from the 1991-1994 "Front for the Advancement of Progress of Haiti" rebel government. Building on the arms caches left over from their last coup they have used monies raised in North America to buy first-line military arms such as U.S. infantry assault rifles, automatic weapons as well as a wealth of Uzis and other black market drug-crime weapons.
While some opposition elements boast of their armed might, Mischa Gaillard yet another opposition faction leader says he has no contact with the rebels. "We don't want to be tainted with any suspicion of condoning violence," he told media.
Bolstered by the armed rebels, Andrew Apaid, a Haitian opposition leader and part of a coalition opposing the government of Haiti says that his country is "suffering from an institutional crisis and catastrophe... we can build a government of consensus... Aristide refuses and has not respected his own word in any dealings with the international community". Apaid has rejected a power-sharing agreement suggested by an arbitration team comprised of the U.S., Canada, France, the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States.
Paul Denis, another leader of the Democratic Platform opposition coalition has also rejected the power-sharing agreement.
President Aristide has vigorously anointed the proposal as a method for averting a major blood bath in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
There is no single united rebel front in Haiti, but a multiplicity of roving gangs with assorted alliances to disaffected politicians, each seeking to overwhelm their rivals in the pursuit of drug and arms marketing to the North American continent. Among each of these there is an abiding desire to control the entire country for the pursuit of their illegal trade goals. There is no legitimate anti-government complaint echoed by anyone that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world. The only credible complaint is that things are not going well. The people are poor. Many are starving. The country is non-productive. There is little in the way of natural resources and the agricultural land has been sucked dry of nutrients by over-farming. In a word, poverty, which also sums up the history of Haiti. It has always endured grave poverty and exploitation by other nations.
Aristide has complained for years that the U.S. and the U.N. pandered to the likes of Guy Philippe (married to an American from Wisconsin), Winter Etienne (who liaises with loyalists who migrated to parts of the U.S. and Quebec and now provide economic support to the Haitian rebels) and Louis Jodel Chamblain, all leaders among the disjointed rebel forces, Artibonite Resistance Front and the chimère gangs which now control half the country. This Jodel Chamblain is a former " death squad" leader in the Front for the Advancement of Progress of Haiti which formed in 1993 to the military-led regime that couped in 1991, along with the city of Cap Haitien's former police chief, Guy Philippe, have recently joined forces with the Artibonite Resistance Front.
Background - A Mosaic of Conflicted Interests?
Haiti is an unsanitary, poorly structured, poorly governed, hungry, unproductive nation where civil war, brutality, human rights violations are nourished in a climate of chaos. A super-wide-angle view photo taken during a walk through Port-au-Prince would show garbage, streaming sewage, broken glass, rocks and boulders, car parts, broken tree branches, burning tires, and armed men. This is what President Aristide seeks to protect from armed invaders.
Aristide has always claimed that the failure to disarm the well-armed (supplied by black marketers in France and in the United States using funds received from supporters in Quebec and parts of the United States) rebels has been the ultimate failing of the $320 million U.N. Mission in Haiti.
Aristide is accused of brutality in his treatment of rebel gang leaders in 1991 and recently since his last election in 2001. Those claims come from Philippe and Chamberlain who say that rebels were brutally clubbed by civilians loyal to Aristide in the 1991 uprising. Aristide responds saying Civil war is brutal and if you start one, you surely must expect to take some lumps. This is not a credible complaint against Aristide.
The United States has a legitimate problem in protecting its own sovereignty from hordes of migrating economic refugees and cannot be expected to open its beaches to a human invasion of Haitians. That simply cannot happen. Washington is obliged to protect the national sovereignty of the United States.
Once a colony of France known as Saint-Domingue, this troubled Caribbean state has had little success in governing itself peacefully since it become an independent state in 1804. France has several times tried to foster some form of peace on the Caribbean island.
Background - Repeatedly Frustrated United Nations' Effort
United Nations operations under various Missions and U.N. Resolutions have been in or around Haiti from 1993 when the first naval blockade was initiated to force out a military coup, to spring 1995 when a full peacekeeping mission (UNMIH) was first installed, through the year 2000.
The United Nations too was much frustrated in almost everything it did in relation to Haiti. Most of that had to do with reinstating, supporting and propping up the "democratically-elected" government of Aristide including the creation of a naval trade embargo, a peacekeeping force*2, a U.N. support mission and so on. That is not to say that any action of the United Nations was misguided in any manner but to say that the problem in Haiti has more to do with a society and culture that is steeped in the tradition of deprivation, starvation, human rights violations and very corrupt government bureaucracy.
The democratically elected government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was first overthrown with the loss of some 5,000 of his supporters, according to Aristide, in a September 30, 1991 military coup by the Front for the Advancement of Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). The country slipped into an abyss. Countless opponents of the ruling rebel government were unlawfully detained, executed without benefit of trial, abused and tortured by members of the Armed Forces, the Police and civilian collaborators.
The former priest, Aristide, had not lasted long. Ousted in the fall of his election year he was sent into exile and from October 1991 to June 1992, replaced by Joseph Nerette, as president. Nerette led an unconstitutional regime and governed with help from the armed forces. In June 1992, Nerette resigned and Parliament approved Marc Bazin as Prime Minister.
At the end of 1992 then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney called for an international naval blockade of Haiti to bring down the military dictatorship there. The PM insisted that Canada, the United States, France and Venezuela could and should comprise the core of nations enforcing the blockade. Mulroney also wants the U.N. Security Council to address the matter and help the Haitian population restore democracy to the troubled Caribbean state.
In June 1993, Prime Minister Marc Bazin resigned and a U.N.-imposed oil and arms embargo brought the Haitian military to the negotiating table. Exiled Prime Minister Aristide and junta leader Gen. Raoul Cedras, head of the Haitian armed forces, signed the U.N.-brokered Governors Island Agreement on July 3, 1993, establishing a 10-step process for the restoration of constitutional government and the return of President Aristide by October 30, 1993.
The Haitian Army soon derailed the Governors Island Agreement and the U.N. imposed stronger economic sanctions and a naval blockade in response.
Canada sent HMCS Preserver, HMCS Gatineau, HMCS Fraser and three Sea King helicopters from 423 Squadron which sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on 28 September 1993 to conduct training exercises off Puerto Rico. On 15 October 1993 this task group was ordered to proceed to Haitian waters and was in place by the time the U.N. interception operation began on 18 October 1993.
General Raoul Cedras continued to run the country although not from a legitimate position of authority, meanwhile the political and human rights climate continued to deteriorate as the military and the de facto government sanctioned repression, assassination, torture, and rape in open defiance of the international community's condemnation.
Things were not going well. Embargos were not effective against this nation already accustomed to deprivation. In May 1994, Cedras and his military cronies fielded yet a third attempt at creating a regime with some pretext of legitimacy. They selected Haitian Supreme Court Justice Emile Jonassaint to be the provisional Presidency. The U.N. reacted to this extra constitutional move by tightening economic sanctions*4.
Background - Enter Bill Clinton and Jimmie Carter
Some folks are saying that the current leader of Haiti, President Aristide*1, now runs a corrupt government. What may be more truthful is that Aristide has ticked off many world leaders with his outspokenness. He heaped criticism on the U.S. for pandering to the rebel factions in 1994 which had previously masterminded the 1991 military coup, and not disarming them. Aristide has also blown the whistle on the CIA which allegedly bolstered cocaine trade that was aided and abetted by some of the Haitian military and political leaders it (the CIA) was friendly disposed toward during the 1980s prior to Aristides' time in office. It is likely those arrangements continued within the Haitian bureaucracy.
On 31 July 1994, the UN adopted Security Council Resolution 940*5 giving member states authority to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure of Haiti's military leadership and restore constitutional rule and Aristide's presidency.
The United States at no time invaded Haiti. A three-man diplomatic team, led by Colin Powell, was key in convincing the military junta to subside rather than fight the American military. Port-au-Prince invited the Multinational Force into its country to restore order and negotiate future government elections.
The U.S. had miraculously mustered a fleet of merchant marine vessels to ship military supplies to the Caribbean Island within a period of about four days and thereafter put together a huge deployment force in very quick order. This multi-National Force comprising some 20,000 U.S. forces dubbed "Operation Uphold Democracy", led by the United States was ready to move into Haiti and some 4,000 U.S. Airborne Forces were about to hit the silk, when the illicit Haitian government cried "Uncle" and agreed to allow the peaceful intervention of U.S. and multi-national forces. The U.S. went in by invitation of the ruling forces in Port-au-Prince and began an assistance program to the rural people of Haiti while keeping peace in its cities.
Then U.S. President William Clinton sent former President Jimmie Carter to Port-au-Prince Haiti leading a small negotiating team. Meanwhile elements of the U.S. military, at the invitation of Port-au-Prince moved into rural areas and assisted the public in maintaining infrastructure.
The U.S. military-led MNF*3 did a very creditable job in maintaining the structure of Haiti but did little to quash, arrest or dispel the rebel government and its army. Early in 1995 the Multi-National Force operation ended and the peace enforcement of Haiti was turned over to the Canadian-led United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) which had been on standby since 1994.
The year 1996 saw assassination threats and attempts against Prime Minister Aristide and Haitian President Preval. There were also attacks on National Police headquarters and Parliament.
"The killings of police officers might have been avoided", claimed Prime Minister Aristide in media interviews "if American troops had been more aggressive in fulfilling their original U.N. mandate.
The United States did not leave Haiti. Almost as a parallel operation to the Canadian-led UNMIH, the U.S. maintained a security presence outside of its contribution to UNMIH. Could the U.N. force really do its job? The U.N. has said yes, but appears reluctant and complains openly of the delay in its UNMIH operation.
During Clinton's campaign for a second term in office, in 1996, Washington sent a squad of U.S. State Department security agents with 500 U.S. Marines and members of the 82nd Airborne (officially declared to be on training maneuvers) to support and protect President Rene Preval during a purge of his personal security unit.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is now the problem say many within Canada and the U.S. Why? Because he pointed out the corrupt and poorly advised actions of both the United States and Canada with the United Nations. Canada in the lead on the U.N. mission stood back and watched as U.S. President William Clinton royally screwed up Haiti in the mid-1990s. Neither nation has done anything effective to prevent the monies nor arms which have flowed into Haiti. Aristide has never said it any differently and so now some feel he must be discredited in order to diminish the impact of his allegations.
Meanwhile Aristide and a band of barely armed civilians plus civilian police stand guard over their capital city of Port-au-Prince while several coordinated groups and a greater number of uncoordinated groups of rebels poise ready to attack.
Micheal J. O'Brien
*1In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, won 67% of the vote in a presidential election that international observers deemed largely free and fair.
*2 The United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) of 1994 was comprised of forces and contributions from: Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Canada, Djibouti, France, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Jordan, Mali, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Suriname, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and United States
*3 Operation Uphold Democracy began in September 1994 with the deployment of the U.S.-led Multinational Force IN Haiti. The operation officially ended on March 31, 1995 when it was replaced by the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH). A large contingent of U.S. troops participated in the UNMIH until 1996. UN forces under various mission names have been in Haiti from 1995 through 2000
French and Creole are Haiti's two official languages although many also speak English.
Eighty percent of Haitians are Roman Catholic, Protestant 16% (Baptist 10%, Pentecostal 4%, Adventist 1%, other 1%).
With a population of some seven million, one out of every six Haitians lives outside of Haiti either in Canada, the United States or among the Caribbean Islands.
Port-au-Prince is capital of Haiti. Located in south west Haiti on a bay at the end of the Gulf of Gonaives Haiti's primary seaport exports mainly coffee and sugar. The city has food-processing plants, soap, textile, and cement industries. Founded in 1749 by French sugar planters it replaced Cap-Haitien (pop. 500,000, now the rebel stronghold) in 1770 as capital of the French colony of Saint-Domingue. In 1804 it became the capital of independent Haiti. Port-au-Prince has remained unsanitary and economically backward. It has suffered frequently from earthquakes, fires, and civil war. The city is laid out like an amphitheater with business and commercial quarters along the water and residences on the overlooking hills. Significant landmarks include the French-built quay (1780), the University of Haiti, the National Palace of Haiti, the Haitian National Museum, and the Basilica of Notre Dame.
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Revised: Feb 25 2004
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