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.


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