Today in Latin America, Haiti’s Long Decade (Part 2)

This is Part 2, in a 3 part series on Haiti’s ‘Long Decade.’ My first piece can be read here. This second part covers the year 2000 until the departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Haiti. Part 3, coming sometime next month, will explore Haiti post-Aristide. The timing for Part 2 coincides with the most important feature of this article, for it was 5 years ago this week (technically Feb. 29) that Aristide was forced from Haiti for a second time, in exile to this day in South Africa.


So Go the Troops
As we left off last time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti for the second time, as subsequent reelections are against the terms of their constitution. Aristide, of course, was driven from Haiti as a result of his first election in 1994. He returned to Haiti in 1996 to finish his term. 2000 would be much the same.

The elites that have plagued Haiti for centuries would not stand for his election in 2000. They used the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) to petition the US and the world that Aristide is somehow illegitimate to run the country. By the first months of his presidency he already had: Convergence, an alliance of Aristide’s opposition (including leaders in Duvalier’s dictatorship), declare their own president of Haiti; NGO’s threatening funds; the EU deciding to block $49 million in aid to Haiti; the US calling Haiti’s election undemocratic, (this has changed since Barack Obama has taken office in January of 2008, even with countries we don’t support [i.e. Venezuela, Bolivia] we do not question the democratic nature any longer); and others calling for new elections to be held.

Some called for interventions. The last foreign troops in Haiti had left in 2000. Aristide tried to weather this storm by proposing new elections to be held in in 2001, but the opposition declined the offer. The next three years were a mixture of violence and scarcity – which culminated into a few weeks in 2004.

Happy Anniversary
Haiti was supposed to turn 200 years old in 2004 with pomp and celebration as the first black republic in the history of the world. Yet things turned out differently, and the 200th anniversary of Haiti holds the same overtones as Haiti in 1804, as Saint-Domigue in 1680.

It began with unrest in the cities in the Fall of 2003 – some could see it as a response to prices or food or, as the people of Haiti should be, just fed up with the system. But this unrest broke out into violence in the days leading up to January 1 – the date that Haiti became an independent nation. In accords, as if on schedule, CARICOM members (members of the Caribbean community) all abstained from the celebration – boycotting the events in response to the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Former president Mbeki of South Africa, one of the major CARICOM members who attended, compared Aristide to Nelson Mandela to much criticism. Haitian artists including Franketienne, Gary Victor, Lannec Hurbon, Dany Laferriere, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot boycotted as well, stating:

In the face of this slide toward totalitarianism, we, artists, writers, intellectuals, and educators, declare: that we refuse to associate ourselves with official celebrations through which the government seeks in vain to legitimize itself. This refusal to associate ourselves with the government is not an opposition to Haitian unity, but on the contrary a defense of it.

The Coup
HAITI-UNREST-VIOLENCEOn February 5, 2004, the city of Gonaives was taken over by a gang known as the “Cannibal Army” (now National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti) in retaliation for its believed involvement of Aristide in the death of their leader Amiot Metayer. From this takeover came support, as Dominican Republic convoys rode into Gonaives and other cities to offer assistance, something it is believed the rebels did not predict. On February 22, the rebels took over Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city. They were closing in on Port-au-Prince.

A crisis was declared. CARICOM tried to mediate this conflict with the US, Britain, France, and Canada (it looked like 1804 all over again!). There was no deal made, but the opposition (Convergence and the Group of 184 made up with “students, teachers, and even former Aristide supporters who have become disillusioned with his government’s performance.”) made it clear that any deal was Aristide in power was no deal.

On February 29, Aristide resigned the presidency, flew to the Central African Republic, and has been in Africa since. He told viewers in Haiti that his leaving was “a modern way to have a modern kidnapping.” He told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!: “No, I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a ‘new coup d’état,’ or ‘modern kidnapping.” According to Peter Hallward, who immensely cites evidence in his book Damning the Flood, the events in Haiti were indeed a modern coup backed by the US government (see below)

In a sense, despite the leftist intentions and solidarity with the poor and the international sanctions – these past 5 years have only risen Aristide’s stock. He paraphrases Toussaint L’Ouverture:

I declare in overthrowing me they have uprooted the trunk of the tree of peace, but it will grow back because the roots are Louverturian. (the original: “In overthrowing me, they have uprooted in Saint-Domingue only the trunk of the tree of the liberty of the blacks; it will grow back because its roots are deep and numerous.”)

The poor in the slums of Port-au-Prince follow Aristide with vigor, as they are the root, they say. Billboards after his resignation drew parallels between June 1802 when L’Ouverture was captured by Napoleon’s forces and himself, captured by American forces. In a letter to the people, which the US manipulated by taking out the “if” in following:

Tonight, February 28, 2004, I am still decided
To respect the Constitution and to make it respected.
The Constitution is the guarantor of life and peace.
The Constitution must not drown in the blood of the Haitian People.
That is why, if tonight it is my resignation that can avoid
A bloodbath,
I accept to go with the hope that there will be life and not death.

us-solider-in-haiti-2004Boniface Alexandre, Supreme Court justice, took over the country as interim president. He called on the UN for a peace-keeping army, which was granted. 1,000 US Marines arrived in Haiti within one day followed by Canadian, French and even Chilean soldiers. By June, the UN sent a 7,000 strength force to Haiti with involvement across Latin America and the world.

The US Role

CARICOM denounced the “removal” of Aristide: it sets “a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces.” It attempted to seek a UN inquiry into the removal of Aristide, but never did. Most assume that the US played a role in suppressing the request. It did not recognize the interim government until in 2006, as René Préval was elected president again.

The juiciest detail for me, who was leaving high school at the time, was the lack of outrage and attention in the media. The reports by Maxine Waters among others that Aristide was kidnapped never made it to my ears. I remember seeing Marines in Haiti but I heard nothing from Aristide – for me, it all appeared to take place in a vacuum. It seemed odd then, and now there is massive evidence that it seems odd now.

For those who read part one, the second deposing of Aristide from Haiti looks familiar. According to Deborah Jenson:

The sense of a sequel to the Haiti interventions of the administration of George Bush the elder during Aristide’s first regime led Haiti expert Robert Maguire to borrow from Yogi Berra in describing to a congressional committee the parallelism between the current difficulties and “the kind of murder and mayhem that characterized the country between 1991 and 1994” as “deja vu all over again.”

(The deja vuex- tended to the fact that at the time of the 1991 coup against Aristide, not only was George Bush in the White House, but Noriega was in the State Department in charge of Haiti policy, Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense, and Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Kofi Annan editorialized in the Wall St. Journal that the U.N., for its part, had “been there, and done that,”20 in Haiti in 1994 but was nevertheless in it again for “the long haul” (leaving readers to wonder whether “been there, done that” signaled the irony of returning no matter how many times foreign interventions might destabilize conditions in Haiti).

HAITI-COUP ANNIVERSARY-DEMONSTRATIONThere have been reports that Aristide was taken to the plane headed out the country at the gunpoint of American soldiers. Of course, the US denies this.

The Bush administration:

That’s nonsense…I’ve seen some of the reports [and they] do nothing to help the Haitians move forward to a better, more prosperous future.

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State:

He was not kidnapped…We did not force him onto the airplane. He went on the airplane willingly and that’s the truth.

Parfait Mbaye, communications minister of Central African Republic:

absolutely false

Obviously, Haiti is still a contentious place to be. Half the people expect Aristide to come back and there are periodic calls for his return among the people.It is clear, that Aristide was a man with his back against the wall. He was effectively alienated from the world community and thus, was unable to accomplish much (except disbanding the military in 1994). A leader that may have been forgotten will now always be remembered in the same breath with Allende, Arbenz and other leaders who were, or even had any inkling of being, deposed by the United States.

Haiti did not throw Aristide off its back into prosperity, Haiti today looks like Haiti of 2004, of 1991. The events of 2004 serve as a reminder that things haven’t changed too much in Haiti.


~ by Daniel on March 1, 2009.

One Response to “Today in Latin America, Haiti’s Long Decade (Part 2)”

  1. […] in the late 1980s and the rise of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, culminating with his re-election in 2000. Part 2 looked at post-2000 and the international forces aligned against Haiti and culminated in the […]

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