29 February 2004

With Friends Like These

Common Sense
John Maxwell
Sunday, February 29, 2004

There is something positively Nixonian about the tribulations of Haiti. 'Benign Neglect' may be applied to the malign but covert subversion of Haitian democracy; President Aristide may be seen in Washington as 'twisting slowly in the wind" and the Haitian people may be described in that deathless aphorism of Charles 'Chuck' Colson: "when you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

Colin Powell, secretary of state, speaks glibly about not recognising thugs or any thuggish overthrow of the Haitian Government, but his hands-off attitude suggests that he would rather be in Bosnia. President Bush has, in his usual statesman-like fashion, announced that he has made sure that the Coast Guard clearly understands that no Haitian refugee is to be allowed to set foot in the United States. The UN Convention on Refugees - like most international law, is not something he allows to worry his pretty head.

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, who felt it preferable to take a holiday in Tobago than to attend the Haitian bicentenary and find out what was going on, is, like an old colonial civil servant, dithering for all he is worth. His masterly inactivity would have made any Jamaican colonial secretary proud.

And of course, there are the three mouseketeers, Patterson, Manning and Knight.

Haiti, with its long, heroic, honourable and mostly unknown history, is once again to be sacrificed on the altar of greed, expediency, ignorance and racism.

Behind everything said about Haiti by the major players one gets the feeling that out of an abundance of ignorance they don't want to soil their hands on Haiti. Rather like Simon Bolivar, who, having been fed, watered, financed and armed by Haiti in his quest to liberate South America, promptly forgot his promises to Haiti that having freed the slavemasters from the Spanish yoke, he would free their slaves.

In the whole constellation of stars in this Grand Guignol minstrel show, the only person to emerge with any honour is President Jean-Bertrand Aristide himself.

He is perfectly prepared to die, to defend Haitian integrity and sovereignty, as Henri Christophe declared: "We will never become a party to any treaty, to any condition, that may compromise the honour, or the independence of the Haitian people; that, true to our oath, we will sooner bury ourselves beneath the ruins of our native country, than suffer an infraction of our political rights."

Aristide says the only way he leaves the Presidential Palace before his term is up is if he is dead.

That, of course can be arranged. And, watching the progress of the psychopathic face-choppers and torturers this last week, it may very well have already been arranged.

The press has been squared, the world prepared for Aristide's unfortunate demise, and you may be sure that the entire ignoble cast of characters will have their representatives at his funeral.

What Caricom and the Organisation of American States and the United States have made out of Haiti is an ungovernable mess.

When Aristide was elected first in 1991, there was no democratic tradition in Haiti. The politicians and intellectuals had been killed or driven into exile, and after 20 and 30 years, they were not likely to return, having made lives elsewhere.

Haiti in 1991 was rather like Germany after the Second World War, its dictator gone, but gone too were the working appurtenances of a democratic state, political parties, trade unions, a judicial system etc, because Hitler destroyed them. Aristide had to play the cards he was dealt. A parish priest - a slum priest as the Western press prefers to call him - is unlikely to develop statecraft ministering to an oppressed and desperate flock while trying to escape assassination.

Aristide was always a symbol - with big ideas, it is true - but without the praxis, without the experience and network of contacts to put his ideas into place. He was surrounded by people who depended on patronage, whether rich or poor, and since old habits tend to linger, they proceeded to behave exactly as they had before.

It was Aristide who appointed Cedras who deposed him. And it was because he knew he couldn't trust the army that he dissolved it when he returned to power. Without an army and with a laughably small and half-trained police force, it was always in the cards that gangs would develop in Haiti, as they have in Jamaica, Brazil and other countries, to fill the hiatus left by the state's armed forces. To describe such a situation as an example of Aristide's corruption is not only self-serving, it is dishonourable.

The Americans never liked Aristide. The CIA circulated a rumour in 1993 that he had been treated in a Montreal mental hospital. It was easy for the Americans to decide to withdraw aid when Aristide refused to hand over his Government completely to the World Bank and the IMF. It was easy for his opponents to paint everything that followed as Aristide's fault.

It is almost incredible that Caribbean politicians, reputed to be intelligent, can have fallen for the warmed-up mess of propaganda pottage served up by Aristide's enemies, demanding that he should yield, when it was plain that it was the Opposition which was always intransigent, unreasonable and anti-democratic. Before Aristide was re-elected, the Opposition was saying that it would not recognise him. On the day of his inauguration they decided to inaugurate a president of their own. The situation has only gone downhill from there.

Complicating the equation is the American decision to channel whatever aid they were giving Haiti through NGOs. This, in effect, established a new stream of patronage which, it was obvious, would soon create its own arena of anti-Aristide claimants who could logically blame Aristide for the lack of economic activity and then add rumour, insult, slander or whatever to the mix.

The murder of Haiti's most prominent journalist has been ascribed to Aristide supporters - which in Haiti covers a great deal of ground. Since politics is either pro- or anti-Aristide, Aristide must be the author of any lunacy perpetrated by anyone who claims to support him. On the other hand, the so-called Opposition does not claim that the armed gangsters who support their programme have anything to do with them.

But since the gangsters now appear have superiority of arms, it will be interesting to see what accommodation Messrs Apaid and his fellows make with the Front for Advancement of Progress in Haiti (FRAPH) face-choppers and their assorted hoodlums if they ever ride into Port-au-Prince in their SUVs.
The Haitians clearly saw themselves as their brothers' keepers when they exported revolution in the 19th century. Having gained their own freedom, they decided that it was their duty to help all others in slavery to gain theirs. And in some ways they did, if only by putting pressure on the British by their incendiary example. And to them, the issue of freedom was not a racial issue, but a moral one.

Sad therefore, that 200 years later, in the bicentenary year of the Haitian revolution, the people they helped free have betrayed them for the second time in 10 years, abandoning Haiti to its predators.
In 1994, when Cedras and FRAPH terrorised Haiti, I wrote suggesting that we had a duty to go into Haiti with armed force to chase out the face choppers and restore to the Haitians some semblance of their dignity and rights. Tanzania did a service to Uganda and the world when Nyerere finally decided that Idi Amin needed to go.

In 1994, after months of pressuring Aristide, then in exile, the Americans worked out the 'Governor's Island accords' which, among other things, undertook the reformation and retraining of the army and the police and the peaceful retirement of Cedras with an enormous pension. As the first earnest of this undertaking, the USS Harlan County, a tank-landing ship, was supposed to land the first US troops. Unfortunately for them, FRAPH organised a small mob who fired off some ancient blunderbusses, made 'monkey-faces' at the US ambassador and made the Americans so uncertain about their reception that they weighed anchor, made their excuses and left.

According to an account in the Military Review by Lieutenant Commander Peter J A Riehm, US Navy officer who was part of the expedition: "Television cameras captured the Harlan County turning and steaming out of Port-au-Prince harbour. CNN broadcast the tape of the unceremonious withdrawal with the commentary that the ship had been thrown out of Haiti. The Front for Advancement of Progress in Haiti, an anti-Aristide political organisation, celebrated the first-ever Haitian repulse of the US Navy."
Lt Cmdr Riehm has some further comments on the affair:
One curious dimension to this incident was the identity of the unruly mob. FRAPH had organised the protesters. According to its leader, Emmanual Constant, the anti-Aristide political organisation had been formed in mid-1993 at the urging of the Defence Intelligence Agency and was paid by the CIA to balance what some US agencies perceived as pro-Aristide-Lavalas extremism. . .It thus appears that FRAPH was intended to be a counterpoise to Aristide's liberation theology.

By October 1993, the nascent FRAPH was still without any real political clout. It needed a vehicle to shape an image and establish credibility. Fearing retribution should Aristide return, many protesters were reluctant to seek publicity. Persuaded and bribed with whiskey, FRAPH members were thrilled when they realised they had successfully thwarted the US Navy's attempt to enter Port-au-Prince. The Harlan County's departure signaled the solidification of FRAPH as a viable political entity in Haiti.

As Constant stated, "My people kept wanting to run away. but I took the gamble and urged them to stay. Then the Americans pulled out! We were astonished. That was the day FRAPH was actually born. Before, everyone said we were crazy, suicidal, that we would all be burned if Aristide returned. But, now we know he is never going to return."
Sounds familiar?

And now, you do understand democracy, don't you!

22 February 2004

The Caricom/OAS Minstrel Show

Common Sense
John Maxwell

As I write on Friday morning, an international troupe of diplomats is heading for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to lay down the law to Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The group is not using the unfortunate words of Trinidad's Patrick Manning - "Shape up or ship out!" but the intentions are the same.

Caricom, the Organisation of American States (OAS), the United States and Canada have now identified President Aristide as The Haitian Problem. The US secretary of state, Mr Powell, says he wouldn't mind if Aristide were to resign. Earlier, he had to deny his subordinates' prior assertions that Aristide had to go.

Mr Powell is now backing the Caricom-devised "power sharing plan", under which Aristide's Government would effectively be castrated and power handed over to a prime minister appointed ('approved') by the Opposition. Asked by ABC's Sam Donaldson to clarify his position on whether Aristide would be asked to 'step down', Mr Powell said:
No, it's not a possibility yet. That is up to President Aristide and the political opposition. [sic!!!] We are not suggesting that. We are not encouraging that. We are not predicting that. He is the elected President of Haiti, and we cannot allow these thugs to come out of the hills, or even an opposition to simply rise up and say, "We want you to leave," in an undemocratic, non-constitutional manner.
Unfortunately for Haiti, the US Government's position is not as clear as Mr Powell's statement suggests.

In the OAS in Washington on Friday, US Ambassador John Maisto declared that Haiti's crisis "is due in large part to the failure of the Government of Haiti to act in a timely manner to address problems that it knew were growing". He said it hadn't fought police corruption, strengthened its judiciary or restored security. He did not choose to explain how Aristide could have done those things, given his circumstances.

In an interview on Fox Television, Mr Powell, reaffirming his belief that Aristide shouldn't be driven from office by thugs, also said: "But I must say that 10 years after we allowed and permitted [my italics ] and got President Aristide back into this office, I regret that we haven't seen more progress than I had hoped we would see when I was a participant in these events back in 1994."

It's impossible to know how well Mr Powell, or Jamaica's P J Patterson or any of Mr Aristide's detractors might have performed had they been put in Aristide's position, asked to create a functioning modern state out of the moribund corpse of a country pillaged and raped for 200 years.

Foreign assistance

In 1994, at the height of the Haitian refugee crisis, I suggested that Jamaica and the Caricom should set up a programme of assistance to Haiti since we knew that the country had been so ravaged that it could not help itself. The institution for which I work part-time, the UWI's Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, devised a project funded by the Dutch Government, in 1995 - a training scheme for Haitian journalists. Six years later, at the FTAA summit in Quebec, I was recognised by several of our Haitian graduates who were accredited to the conference while I was being tear-gassed outside. It was a poignant moment.

Cuba has sent 700 medical personnel, including more than 300 doctors, to deal with the diseases that afflict Haitian peasants and to teach them and their children to read and write. About 1,000 Haitian children are at school in Cuba.

I don't know of anything useful done by the Caribbean hypocrites who are now so ready to praise democracy and pass resolutions. There are, of course, brigades of American missionaries - 5,000 of them, including a battalion of Mormons. It wasn't so long ago that the Mormons taught that black people were cursed by God.

Haiti needed then and needs now, teachers, doctors, nurses, public health workers, agricultural instructors, and the technical assistance and materials for building water supplies, roads, houses, electrical power distribution systems, telephones and the other infrastructure which permit nations to live a quasi-civilised life. The US, the World Bank, the IMF, the European Union and all the other responsible adults refused to help unless Haiti conformed to their image of capitalist democracy, particularly by privatising the meagre assets still retained by the destitute Haitian state.

In fact, presidents Rene Preval and Aristide did give way to some of these foreign pressures, including Structural (!!!) Adjustment with the result that the Haitian peasant became even poorer and more miserable than he had been. No wonder that many say Aristide has failed. When it is understood that the government's security largely depends on strong-arm supporters responsible to no one, it can hardly be argued that Haiti is a democracy as most people understand it. Haiti is twice the area of Jamaica with three times as many people - but its police force is less than half the size of ours.

Zombie Democracy

In Friday's San Francisco Chronicle, Stephen Dudley reports an encounter with some of those who want to take over the Government of Haiti:
Butteur Metayer is the face of the Haitian revolution.

The 33-year-old gunman's eyes hide behind dark sunglasses with gold-plated rims. He wears shorts and a blue shirt with a Nike logo and a black felt cavalry hat. He sits in a wilted metal chair with a machete and bottle of rum within reach. His handlers slouch on crusty couches, with M-4 carbines and Uzi submachine guns lying across their laps.

They call themselves the Gonaives Liberation Front. But they are almost too drunk to say why they are here, at the centre of a revolt that began as an act of vengeance and has turned into a nationwide uprising that threatens to topple the Government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
According to one of the leading spokesmen for the Haiti Opposition, armed struggle is a legitimate means of opposing Aristide.

I have been assailed by various people in Haitian communities around the world, for referring to the Opposition as if it consisted only of some loud-mouthed agitators and various collections of thugs. The problem is simple: no one that I know of has been able to get any sensible statement from the trade unions, student organisations, community groups and others who allegedly comprise the Haitian Opposition. All we hear are the vulgar rantings of people like Andy Apaid and Evans Paul and the gangsters who claim to support them. I believe the world would welcome some message from the non-violent Opposition.

It is as if the intransigents have captured the 'civil society' groups and turned them into zombies - creatures without volition, directed by sinister outsiders for their own benefit.

Writing from Jamaica and depending on a variety of sources, some of questionable reliability, it is difficult enough to discover what the Haitian population really feels. One can deduce that most Haitians still prefer Aristide to his Opposition from the simple observation that if they did not, Aristide could not remain in Haiti. The Cité Soleil - City of the Sun - is a slum in Port-au-Prince which contains the equivalent of the population of Barbados. There is nothing in Jamaica since 'the Dungle' as miserable, as destitute, as hopeless and as abandoned by the state as Cité Soleil. Yet, it is the people there who really control Haitian politics. If they decided that Aristide should go, Aristide would go. The Opposition has been unable to mobilise Cite Soleil against Aristide.

How Haitians really feel

The 20th century story of Haiti is one of economic and social strip-mining, of rapacious exploitation on a scale that is almost incomprehensible. As one of my correspondents says, Haiti is an international crime scene. For decades the Haitian people have been driven abroad to seek some sort of dignity, livelihood and an end to suffering. The brightest people, including journalists, have been murdered or are in voluntary or involuntary exile.

Haiti needs help, not interference. The people of goodwill, in Haiti or outside, must be brought into a dialogue of respect for each other, to devise solutions, made by Haitians for Haitians. But they need help, simply to build the basic infrastructure for dialogue, for communication, for education and for health. Haiti is a war zone, where the rich have scorched the earth so thoroughly that the emotional landscape seems to have been sown with salt.

Last week, Haitians in the United States were asked for their opinions on what should happen in Haiti. A poll among Haitians across the United States was done by the New California Media Coalition, an association of ethnic media companies.

Surprise! More than half (52 per cent) of those polled said they believed President Aristide should stay in office 'in the interest of democracy'. Just over one-third (35 per cent) believed he should resign. More than half - 55 per cent - felt the Haitian Opposition was fighting for "power"; only 22 per cent believed it was fighting for "democracy".

Given these figures and the facts reported elsewhere, it would seem a little crazy for Caricom/OAS and the US to be putting pressure on Aristide to dismantle his Government to give power to an Opposition which refuses even to discuss its differences with Aristide.

If Caricom, the US, Canada, France and the others are serious, they must first of all prevail on the Opposition to agree to talk and to disavow or call off the thugs. Unfortunately, the OAS coalition has loaded the dice against Aristide in many ways, not least by including in the delegation to Aristide the notorious Roger Noriega, who spent his formative years as an adviser to one of the leading US racists, Senator Jesse Helms. If the outsiders are serious, it appears to me that they need to begin from a position of neutrality and respect for Haitian integrity and dignity and for the Haitian people's democratic choice.
There is no other way.

What, for instance, will Messrs Patterson, Manning and Powell do if Aristide is removed from the scene and Cité Soleil flexes its muscles?

We really do not need a Caribbean version of Iraq on our hands, or a Bosnia or a Rwanda.

15 February 2004

Killing Them Softly

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Many people speak of poverty as if it is a sacred responsibility to be assumed by certain people in the same way the British 'nobility' assume their titles and honorifics at birth. Some of us, it seems, are called to poverty, as holy men are called to the service of God. This concept has made its way into a hymn about "All things bright and beautiful":
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them each and every one
And ordered their estate.
We know better. And the church now knows better. It has erased that verse from modern hymn books.

Even if we have never heard of Karl Marx, the annual reports of the IMF and World Bank make it plain that poverty is the result of deliberate policy and action by people who have seized the power to extract tribute from the rest of us. Structural Adjustment Programmes, overseen by the IMF and the World Bank, are the main engines of this unjust reallocation of resources from poor to rich. The theory behind this malignant behaviour is that 'wealth' will trickle down from 'investors' to those lucky enough to catch the crumbs which escape the rich man's grasp.

But since wealth is created by labour, why is it that it has to go up before it comes down? In the long run, we are told, wealth will trickle down so well that poverty will disappear. In the long run, as Lord Keynes said, we are all dead. But most of us will not perish in miserable slavery to utopian fantasies.

'God made them - every one.'

For most of its history, the Haitian state, its military and a small elite class have ruthlessly extracted what wealth they could from the country's poor majority. The result is massive inequality, with one per cent of Haitians controlling 50 per cent of the country's wealth and over 75 per cent of the population living in severe poverty.

The burden of inequality has fallen particularly hard on the agricultural sector, where 70 per cent of the population makes its living. . .more than 80 per cent of government revenue has historically been drawn from the peasant farmer, while over 90 per cent of government expenditures have been made in the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

(Lisa McGowan, Structural Adjustment & the Aid Juggernaut in Haiti. The Development Gap, 1997)

As McGowan points out in her paper, the foreign programmes of aid to Haiti, when they were actually working, made it impossible for the Preval government to respond to the expressed (and obvious) needs of the poor people of Haiti. The result in 1997, before Aristide's return, was that "popular frustration and cynicism are palpable and the deepening polarisation of Haitian society increasingly evident".

Now, under Aristide, the trickle of aid has been stanched, because the Haitian Government is unable to provide the US State Department and foreign investors with the level of comfort and confidence they require in order to go to the rescue of the only people who managed to abolish slavery on their own and make themselves into free men.

As I have said before, they have never been forgiven for their temerity and their military success, and the Western capitalist democracies have spent the last 200 years re-ordering their estate and putting them, explicitly, outside the gated community of modern democracy.

Ira Lowenthal, an authority on Haitian voodoo and politics, explains the problem as seen by the Opposition (which he advises): ". a populist demagogue, his cronies and his clients - all apparently quite willing to pervert the nation's fledgling transition in the interest of consolidating their own personal powers and privilege - emerged as the greatest threat to Haitian democracy. Surely, there is precious little comfort to be drawn from noting that at least this time, the leader of this ongoing assault has been 'duly elected'." (Ira Lowenthal, The US Policy Imperative in Haiti, and How to Achieve It. wehaitians.com)

Democratic Convergence leader and Aristide opponent, Evans Paul, recently declared "We are willing to negotiate through which door he [President Aristide] leaves the palace - through the front door or the back door." (This vulgar sentiment should be eerily familiar to Jamaicans who lived through the 70s).

Of more immediate concern is the fact that the recent insurrection by armed gangs has cut off important sectors of population from the rest of the country. Haiti's infrastructure is almost non-existent. The few roads are hellish obstacle courses even without the gangsters.

A Jamaican Red Cross plan to deliver food to Cap Haitien has been aborted and the United Nations a few days ago issued a warning that the violence was shutting off deliveries of necessities to thousands of needy Haitians, threatening a broad humanitarian crisis. Bertrand Ramcharan, the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, urged "all concerned to stop the violence and resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and constitutional manner".

This warning will, like most others, fall on deaf ears. After all, the North Atlantic powers have been perfectly at ease watching Haiti starve, watching the rapacious progress of AIDS as it decimates the Haitian population, and perfectly happy to wait until starvation, violence and abject misery force the Haitians to capitulate to the American Imperative, which is, after all, more important than Haitian lives and welfare.

' . . .and ordered their estate'

The result of the failed Structural Adjustment Programmes, combined with the embargo on further financial aid has had predictable results. "Nutt'n nah gwaan", as I've pointed out before, and, as might be expected, many who thought that Aristide heralded a new day for Haiti have been turned against him and his Government because they cannot deliver the goods. "Old-time people used to sey 'yu cyan mek brick widout straw'". You can't provide drinkable water without filter plants and pipes.

Unfortunately for Democratic Convergence, the Committee of 184 and their associated gangs, their patron, the illustrious President George Bush, has new troubles of his own which seem to preclude his making any new adventures in the area of nation building.

If confidence in Aristide has dropped in Haiti, confidence in Bush has plummeted in the United States. And while Aristide began from a much sounder electoral base and good title to his presidency, President Bush's legitimacy is questionable and his fellow citizens no longer overwhelmingly consider him a trustworthy person, according to the latest polls.

There is no way of measuring support for Aristide expect by the wholly empirical evidence that the Opposition has been unable to hold a rally in Port-au-Prince because of the 'intimidation' of pro-Aristide people.

Since both sides depend on 'gangs' it should be easy for the majority to impose its will. In Gonaives, where a small but well-armed gang ousted the public administration recently, people are reported to have fled from the tender mercies of the Opposition forces. A website sympathetic to the Cannibal Army (since renamed) was displaying pictures this past week of rebels brandishing the severed leg of a dead policeman and another of a dinner plate on which lay the severed ear and thumb of another dead policeman.

So much for civil disobedience.

All things bright and beautiful

Meanwhile, it is reported that the pro-Aristide militias are retaking some of the towns interdicted last week by the rebels.

The American secretary of state was forced on Wednesday to hurriedly deny his underlings' promise that Aristide must go. Instead, like the true, sea-green incorruptible democrat he is, Colin Powell affirmed that usurpation of authority was not, just now, on the democratic order paper.

The Democratic Convergence, and the Group 184 financed by the European Union and USAID, now appear to be gradually disabusing themselves of the idea that they might be rescued by the intervention of the US Marines. Instead, they are seeking terms of surrender for their supporting cast in the countryside, as Powell retreats and the militias of Aristide advance.

But, no matter who comes out on top in the latest skirmish, the war against Haiti's poor will continue, despite, as Ira Lowenthal contends, a convergence of interest between the US and the Haitian poor in getting rid of Aristide: "Not incidentally, of course, such progress is expected to relieve the pressure of illegal emigration to the United States, whether by economic or political refugees, and to reduce the threat of another mass exodus, as occurred in the early 1990s.

"Yet, this US interest also broadly (and happily) coincides with that of Haiti's poor majority, for whom the delivery of even minimal government services and a marginal increase in real incomes would be an enormous advance over their current desperate - and deteriorating - straits."

Meanwhile, Haitians can wait for democracy, while happily dying (in their own best interest, of course) from officially sanctioned starvation, AIDS and communal violence. And the English-speaking Caribbean people will 'wait for Grandma to cough'.

The US, obeying the Precautionary Principle enunciated in Agenda 21, is preparing Guantanamo Bay for a reprise of the 1994 exodus from Haiti, just in case some Haitians resume the habit of 'chopping off other people's faces' - as Bill Clinton graphically described it 10 years ago.

In these circumstances it may be instructive to remember that: "Deliberately inflicting on [any] group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" is one of the definitions of genocide enunciated in the Convention Against Genocide. That convention, not incidentally, was signed the day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations.

08 February 2004

The Cannibal Army

Common Sense
John Maxwell

My columns on Haiti have drawn more feedback than any before. Most of my respondents agree with me, as may be expected, but I have received some reasoned arguments against my position.

My position, briefly, is that Haiti is too important to the cause of Liberty and to black people all over the world for anyone to be allowed to hijack the nation for any reason whatever. Haiti must be Haitian, ruled by Haitians for Haitians.

As Lou Dobbs plaintively said of the USA this week on CNN "this is not just a market, this is a nation."

Haiti needs help, to constitute itself into the dream of all those who fought and won Haitian independence, for those inspired by Haiti to throw off the chains of imperial Europe, for all those who understand the significance of slaves freeing themselves, a feat never before accomplished in human history.

Haiti needs help just to survive.

This week, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters denounced those who said Haiti had nothing to celebrate in this bicentennial year. " We must understand that this Ônothing to celebrate' talk is consistent with the long-standing attitudes of those who never supported the Haitian people, and never wanted Haiti to be owned by Africans. It is consistent with those who have always had their hands deep in the Haitian economy, and who are determined to deny the Haitian people pride in themselves and pride in their spectacular history."

'An International crime-scene'

One of the people from whom I got feedback suggested that President Aristide is a 'rightist authoritarian' who appeared to be behind an 'orchestrated campaign' which included the 'brutal repression' of the student movement by gangs paid for and organized by the Aristide government. He suggests that I should go to Haiti to see for myself that what he says is true.

On the other hand I have got letters from people, including an expatriate civil rights lawyer working in Haiti for several years. He wrote "Your recent column was one of the most lucid and perceptive accounts I have seen. Keep up the good work, Haiti's poor need (and have always needed) more people like you."

Another of my correspondents eloquently described Haiti as an 'international crime scene', a nation hijacked and sequestered from its freedom by forces outside of its control.

I have received responses from people inside and outside of Haiti, residents, citizens and non-citizens, from journalists and others, most of whom feel that the present situation in Haiti has been engineered to curtail Haitian freedom, and to deny the ordinary Haitian the chance to become a free citizen of the world.

On Friday, the news agencies announced that a gang describing itself as "the Cannibal Army" had taken control of Haiti's fourth largest municipality, Gonaïves. Gonaïves is a city of about 60,000 in the north east of the gulf formed by the two peninsulas which stretch out towards Cuba. Gonaïves is significant for two reasons: first is that it is the site where Haitian Independence was proclaimed 200 years ago; second, it is the site of a murder which Aristide's enemies attribute to forces controlled by Aristide.

According to the anti-Aristide forces, a former Aristide supporter named Amiot Metayer was murdered by Aristide forces because he had turned against Aristide. Metayer was a popular hero, a so,eti,e Aristide strongman who had been serving time in prison. He was also the leader of the Cannibal Army gang. A jail-break by forces still unidentified released Metayer and several other people. Metayer was shortly afterwards murdered.

The pro-Aristide forces maintain, however, that the 'springing' of Metayer from jail was a cover for the freeing of a number of anti-Aristide gangsters, members of the FRAPH a right-wing terrorist force allied to the Cedras dictatorship. According to the pro-Aristide side, Thursday's capture of Gonaïves by the "Cannibale Armée" completed the second part of a plot to free the FRAPH gunmen remaining in prison after the prison break which freed Metayer.

Intransigence and Obfuscation

I do not pretend to be an authority on Haiti and particularly not on what is happening on its streets at this moment., It should be clear, however, to anyone who has followed what's been reported about Haiti over the past few years that the Haitian Opposition is a collection of people who do not appear to care what damage they do to Haiti as long as they get their way. In the 1970s the Jamaica Labour Party behaved in somewhat the same fashion but never went as far as saying that it did not recognise the government or in attempting to set up a parallel administration, in say, May Pen.

Three years ago on February 7, 2001 on the eve of the second inauguration of Jean Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti, the opposition coalition announced that it was forming an alternative government. The coalition, calling itself the Democratic Convergence announced that it had selected a President, Geffrard Gourgue, a law professor who had in 1987 been briefly part of the junta which succeeded Jean Claude Duvalier.

At that time the government (of President René Preval) and the Opposition had been negotiating about various differences between them, mainly to do with the disputed elections of seven senators Essentially, the dispute was about a technicality.

The Opposition had first proposed installing a provisional government, then a three member junta and finally what it called a Government of National Consensus. To them, Aristide was simply unacceptable, despite his getting legitimately 67% of the votes cast.

The Aristide Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family Lavalas meaning Landslide, Avalanche or Cloudburst) rejected the oppositions demands as unconstitutional.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters believes that the opposition in Haiti is trying to foment a coup d'état. "They claim that they are staging peaceful protests, but that is not what they are actually doing. It is my impression that the opposition, led by Andy Apaid, is simply involved in a power grab. They want to place a council of their choosing in charge of the government and the country, instead of accepting the will of the people and respecting Haiti's democratically elected president. And they want to make sure that the governing council represents only their interests as members of Haiti's bourgeoisie. They want their group, 'the elite', to totally control Haiti. The opposition's protests are becoming increasingly violent and the United States Government, my government, is not providing the required leadership. It is not meeting its responsibility to help de-escalate the crisis in Haiti. The situation there is serious." The Congresswoman wants the US to "get tough" with the Haitian Opposition.

In all the negotiations over the years the Opposition has simply refused to have any dealings with the country's lawfully elected President Aristide who has a much better title to his office than President George Bush.

The leader of this Opposition, André Apaid, is a millionaire businessman of Middle Eastern extraction whose family has been in Haiti for decades. He is the leader of the elites, the unreconstructed class of light-skinned and white Haitians who have never forgiven the blacks for defeating France, Spain and Britain on their way to independence. They were extreme racists 200 years ago, and some of them still are today, although one imagines that like the elites in Jamaica, many would have accommodated themselves to reality.

Cheap Labour the only Resource?

Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries and Dr Paul Farmer, who I mentioned last week, was reported by Tracy Kidder in the Nation (Oct 2003) as saying "there's no topsoil left in a lot of the country, there are no jobs, people are dying of AIDS and coughing their lungs out with TB, and the poor don't have enough to eat. These are problems in the here and now. Something has to be done. Haiti is flat broke"

According to some businessmen, cheap labour is Haiti's only resource.

Opposition leader Apaid owns several factories of the free-zone kind maquiladoiras in which Haitians work for low wages. In 1997 the American anti-sweatshop NGO the National Labour Committee described his operation:
"Alpha Sewing produces industrial gloves for Ansell Edmont of Coshocton, Ohio, which is owned by Ansell International of Lilburn, Georgia, which in turn is owned by Pacific Dunlop Ltd. of Melbourne, Australia. Ansell Edmont boasts in its promotional literature that it is the world's largest manufacturer of safety gloves and protective clothing, but the workers at Alpha Sewing do not have even the most basic safety protection. They produce Ansell Edmont's "Vinyl-Impregnated Super-Flexible STD" gloves with bare hands; Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), the chemical that toughens the glove, also takes off layers of skin. And the dust from the production of the "Vinyl-Coated Super Comfort Seams-Rite" gloves gives many workers respiratory problems. Hours at the plant are from 6 am to 5:30 pm, Monday through Saturday, and often from 6 am to 3:30 pm on Sunday as well--a 78-hour work week. Approximately 75% of the workers make less than the [Haitian] minimum wage. In April, 1995, a worker who refused to work on Sunday so that he could go to church was fired. When he returned to pick up his severance pay, the manager called the UN police and reported a burglar on the premises. The UN police arrived and promptly handcuffed the worker. After protests from the other employees, the UN police finally let the worker go. The next day, management began firing, three at a time, four at a time, all those workers who had protested the arrest."
According to the National Labour Committee "Apaid is a notorious Duvalierist. When asked at a business conference in Miami soon after the coup in 1991 what he would do if President Aristide returned to Haiti, Apaid replied vehemently, 'I'd strangle him!' At the time, Apaid was heading up USAID's PROMINEX business promotion project, a $12.7 million program to encourage US. and Canadian firms to move their businesses to Haiti."

Apaid reportedly has US citizenship, having been born in the US

It is of course, perfectly possible that a businessman-politician who owns sweatshops is a die-hard democrat. Whatever Apaid's ideology, for the Haitian Opposition to attach itself to an organisation calling itself the Cannibal Army would not seem to encourage confidence. As Congresswoman Waters asks: "Why can't the Haitian Opposition submit itself to elections like any other party in this democratic world? What makes them so special?"

It is a question Caricom should be asking.

01 February 2004

The End of Nationhood

Common Sense
John Maxwell

All the signs, all the portents and omens point to one thing: the Caricom intervention in Haiti is almost certain to make things worse, much worse.

The world's savants, including Dr Rickey Singh; the editor of the London Guardian; and Caricom's leaders appear to be agreed that what's wrong with Haiti is Aristide and if they can get rid of him, all will be well in the worst possible of all republics.

A racist, right-wing American publication, the National Vanguard, put it well in 1994: "What they cannot do, however, is change the nature of the Haitian people." According to the National Guardian, Haitians are corrupt, brutal and uncivilised and are unable to absorb the multifarious benefits of western capitalist democracy.

he basic proposition is that Aristide is the symbol of all this, and as the National Vanguard said, a decade ago, Aristide has all the qualifications for a Haitian bogeyman - "He is a Marxist priest of the Roman Catholic persuasion instead of a rightist priest of the Voodoo persuasion like "Papa Doc" but he agrees with the latter that the proper way to control one's political opponents is to terrorise and murder them."

Scarcely to be wondered at then, is the London Guardian's headline "Haiti's despot Aristide stirs up people's revolution" conflating two unsupported assertions - that Aristide is a despot and that there is a people's' revolution in progress.

The Wall Street Journal (July 6, 2001) in a story by Mary Anastasia O'Grady, editor of the Americas section, says "Mr Aristide bears direct responsibility for his country's hardship. His extortion practices aimed at the few productive sectors of the economy have suffocated growth and investment. He has overseen the complete collapse of justice and personal security, and implemented a tyrannical crackdown on political dissent."

I would advise readers, whenever they read anything about Haiti, including my column, to make sure their B-S detectors are turned to full power. It has been my contention that most of what is written about Haiti is toxic waste and totally unfit for human consumption. Obviously, I believe that I am writing the truth, and presumably so do many others who are willing to weigh in on Haiti, many of them from an abundance of ignorance and ideological and racist hostility.

American influence

I believe that it is an incontestable fact that the Haitian majority has been in total control of their own affairs for only an infinitesimal portion of their 200 years as free people - people who freed themselves from slavery and imperialist control against all the rules of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Any intervention in Haiti which does not take account of that fact is doomed to failure. Haitians have already proved that they will fight with machetes and hoes, with clubs and improvised spears, against trained soldiers armed with machine guns and dive-bombers. The one constant in Haitian history is the burning desire to be free.

According to the National Vanguard "When the United States sent a military mission to Haiti in 1958 in order to help "Papa Doc" reorganise his army, the US personnel who arrived were as appalled by the conditions they found as the Marines had been 43 years earlier. Historian Robert Heinl, who was a Marine colonel with the US mission in 1958, found the "telephones gone. roads approaching non-existence. ports obstructed by silt. docks crumbling. sanitation and electrification in precarious decline." (Bringing Democracy to Haiti; National Vanguard No 114 Nov-Dec 1994)

The situation has only got worse since then.

Despite this, when the US deposed the usurper, General Cedras in 1994, it made absolutely no attempt to help Haiti out of its largely foreign-sponsored difficulties. Since Aristide was distrusted by all right-thinking Americans, there was no question of his being allowed to complete his term of office - it was decided that the Cedras interregnum would count as part of Aristide's term and he was allowed to complete the few months left. He was succeeded by a sympathiser, Rene Preval, elected by the overwhelming majority movement, the 'Family Lavalas' which supported Aristide. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that Aristide would be back. In view of this, it was decided by the North Atlantic rulers of the world that the Haitian government should get no assistance unless it sold off its pathetic economic patrimony and accepted the dictates of the IMF and hold new elections.

Since the Haitians refused to do this, no aid was forthcoming. They would have needed money for elections anyway.

On strictly humanitarian grounds alone, Haiti, whatever its government, represented what Newsweek magazine once called "a basket case" - an economic paraplegic, unable to fend for itself. Unlike the people of former Soviet countries, however, Haiti is largely black, and blacks batten on 'welfare'. No dole then for Haiti.

It is clear from this crude (but factual) summary that Aristide, Preval and the Family Lavalas are the authors of their own misfortune - if the whole tragic history of Haiti, including the dive-bombers, is assumed to be their responsibility. They suffer from an original sin which makes them and their suffering invisible to the outside world.

Flies in the Ointment

The present situation is dire. In the Jamaican vernacular, "Nutt'n naw gwaan" which, when translated, means that economic activity is at a standstill, electricity doesn't work, the roads are roads in name only, the hillsides are bare and the streets of the capital are distinguished by heaps of rubbish and heaps of firewood. The other important reality is that most Haitians remain loyal to Aristide and the Family Lavalas.

Haiti is beyond dirt poor. It is, as Newsweek described it, a "basket case". Which is why, 10 years ago, after the floating barracoons were removed from Kingston Harbour, I suggested that Caricom should immediately set up a technical assistance group to help Haiti. In the parish of the poor, it is the poor who rescue the poor. We, however, preferred to re-institute Emancipation Day rather than work for the final emancipation of the black people whose revolution helped to end slavery and free the rest of the Americas. It was the example of Haiti which fired the likes of Bolivar and Marti, of San Martin and O'Higgins, who went on to free their countries from European domination.

The Haitians have never been forgiven for that.

In a story headlined "8 years after Invasion, Haiti Squalor Worsens" New York Times reporter, David Gonzalez, reported people living in "Apocalyptic poverty", some of them in a former prison which they have captured, Jamaican style. Gonzalez quoted one young man who tried to leave Haiti during the Cedras dictatorship but had been caught by the Americans and returned.

"The same America that. . .restored Mr Aristide to power in 1994," Mr Arince said, now makes life impossible. We are human beings and we do not like to live like this. Only animals should live here."

Gonzalez also quoted an American doctor, Paul Farmer, who founded a clinic in Port-au-Prince in 1980 and has been working there since. Dr Farmer, in referring to the United States' decision to withhold aid, said: "One of the world's most powerful countries is taking on one of the most impoverished.
"Anybody who presides over this blockade needs to know the impact here already."

The alleged cause of the present Haitian problem is the elections of May 2000 which the Haitian opposition factions claimed were "flawed". The problem for them is that even if the elections complained of were flawed, the opposition stands no chance of having a majority in the Haitian parliament. In any case, these elections predated Aristide's presidential re-election.

The election flaw is a red herring

According to the Wall Street Journal of Friday, July 5, 2001:
"Haiti doesn't need international aid to get back on its feet. It needs modern democratic institutions that will attract private capital and brains. This conflicts sharply with Mr Aristide's most basic instincts, which run more along the lines of his chum Fidel. It is folly to believe that in exchange for multilateral aid the leopard will change his spots."

Deliverance - neo-liberal style. Jamaicans and other structurally adjusted peoples will understand.

When the Supreme Court delivered the White House to George W Bush, there was celebration in Florida and in elite Haitian neighbourhoods. A few weeks before the US presidential election, Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been swept back into power with an overwhelming majority of his own, a majority that no one, not even the opposition seriously questions. In the parliamentary elections in May, the Family Lavalas had won all but one of the 29 seats in the Senate and 80 per cent of the seats in the lower house. Aristide captured 92 per cent of the vote in an election boycotted by the opposition. This boycott has assumed mythic proportions, since most eligible Haitian voters voted for Aristide anyway.

But the Haitian elite (like the Venezuelan elite) sees the Republican takeover in Washington as the lever to return them to power. They have the active collaboration of Bush's envoy, the disreputable Otto Reich and of USAID, which apparently sponsors the so-called Haiti Democracy Group. But even before Bush, the Clinton administration had blackballed Haiti. A US Embassy spokesman in Port-au-Prince said "the president (Clinton) together with the international community has made it known to the Haitian authorities that their failure to address well-documented election irregularities puts into question their commitment to democracy".

It is all quite simple, really. A country whose infrastructure has been destroyed, whose best and brightest have fled after a century of sponsored abuse, is expected to pull itself up, as Americans say, by its own bootstraps. As you will discover if you try, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps simply breaks your back. Another way is, of course, possible. As Haiti endures the ravages of disease of all kinds, but especially of HIV/AIDS, there is one country which is helping. There are now nearly 1,000 Cuban medical personnel in Haiti, 700 of them doctors. Like the Good Samaritan, Cuba did not pass by on the other side. Perhaps Caricom could examine this example, and they certainly should get the facts of Haiti before charting a course that might mean racial civil war next door to Jamaica and the United States.