From Haïti Progrès (English version of article) October 3–9, 2001
The city of Gonaïves, where Haiti’s declaration of independence was signed in 1804, is considered a symbol of resistance, and it was there that President Jean Bertrand Aristide celebrated the anniversary of the September 30 coup d’état which overthrew him ten years ago.
In a festive ambiance, thousands of people greeted him at the southern entrance to the city in the Descahos neighborhood. From there Aristide walked, escorted by the large crowd, to the city’s Toussaint L’Ouverture police headquarters. The day’s activities continued on Arms Square, where Aristide delivered his speech for the occasion.
Capitalizing on Washington’s declared “war on terrorism” after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, he noted how the coup leaders which toppled him for three years—Gen. Raoul Cédras, Gen. Philippe Biamby and Col. Joseph Michel François among others—were political terrorists. His not-so-subtle insinuation was that the powers which backed the putschists were too.
“It is time that these modern terrorists stop squeezing the country,” Aristide declared.
Even before this year, September 11 already was a date identified with terror in Haiti. On that date in 1988, a mob of armed men linked to the military dictatorship burned down St. Jean Bosco, the church of then Father Aristide, murdering and wounding dozens of parishoners. Aristide barely escaped with his life.
During the coup in 1993, in the middle of a September 11 mass commemorating the 1988 massacre, assassins dragged Antoine Izmery, a democracy activist, out of another church and executed him in the middle of a street with a bullet through the head.
Referring to these events and the September 30 coup, Aristide condemned terrorist acts in any form. He then said he considered the blockage of international aid to Haiti since last year, due to a contrived electoral crisis, as an act of “economic terrorism.” He charged the “modern terrorists” as being responsible for the current dilapidated state of Haiti. After his first election on December 16, 1990, “we worked peacefully and democratically to climb out of poverty but they organized the September 30, 1991 coup d’état,” Aristide said. “If we hadn’t had the September 30th coup, today how many people would be better in the country? How many people would have already escaped poverty? How many people would have escaped unemployment? How many would already be literate?… The 1991 coup was a crisis which should never happen again on Haitian soil, never, never, never again.”
Then, in even more pointed remarks, he referred to the “laboratory,” code in Haiti for Washington’s media-military-intelligence complex. “We carried out the May 21 elections,” Aristide said, referring to parliamentary and municipal contests swept by his party, the Lavalas Family (FL), last year. “The same old colonialist mentality in the laboratory fabricated a false crisis [to undermine the overwhelmingly fraud-free and well-attended election], which is holding us as a people, as a nation, by the throat.”
Noting that the people’s misery is growing, he recalled that Haiti has already paid $8 million in interest on loans which the Inter-American Development Bank has not yet released due to the so-called crisis.
Aristide established a parallel between the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and the fate of the Haitian people. “The United States is victim of terrorism,” he said. “We too are victims of terrorism… All those who are hungry, who are poor and suffer now because of the coup d’état are victims of the terrorism of the army,” which he dissolved in 1995.
The Haitian government has also used the historical moment to renew its calls for the return of Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, the leader of the CIA-paid paramilitary death squad FRAPH during the coup, who now lives and works in Queens, New York with Washington’s protection.
“The United States wants bin Laden,” said FL Senator Gérald Gilles. “We demand Emmanuel “Toto” Constant.”
President Aristide is right to characterize the authors and agents of the 1991 coup as “political terrorists” and the unjustified economic sanctions of the “international community” as “economic terrorism.” But when he complains of the lack of justice like a mere demonstrator, one is justified in wondering why he doesn’t act, being, after all, the head of state.
Worse still, Aristide used the Gonaïves rally to portray a surrender as a victory. He claimed that the Haitian government had finally taken possession of the FRAPH documents, a trove of some 160,000 documents which US soldiers stole from the offices of FRAPH and the Haitian Armed Forces (FAdH) in 1994 and spirited off to Washington. The documents include “the ‘trophy’ photographs of torture victims, audio and videotapes of torture sessions, membership applications for FRAPH, passports, identification cards, and business records,” as a September 29 press release of the London-based Haiti Support Group (HSG) reminded. “Despite subsequent requests by the Haitian government, by international human rights organizations, and by the United Nations, for this evidence to be returned to Haiti in its entirety, it remains in US possession.” Washington has insisted that it would only return the documents with the names of US citizens deleted, which a US ambassador said was 2% of the collection, equivalent to about 3,200 pages. This is just what it did.
The documents which the Aristide’s present government accepted are the censored collection, it seems, which previously had been refused by Haitian authorities. What’s more, these documents were accepted by the Haitian government back in March, according to Sen. Gilles. Why is this giant concession only being announced now?
Furthermore, Aristide has chosen to welcome “terrorists,” both “economic” and “political,” into his government. Or at least their accomplices. Planning Minister Marc Bazin acted as Prime Minister of Cédras’s “terrorist” military regime, and Justice Minister Garry Lissade was legal counsel to both Cédras and Michel François, advising them during the 1993 Governors Island negotiations.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Stanley Théard is more of an “economic terrorist,” having held the same post under President for Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and having embezzled $4.5 million from public coffers, according to an official 1986 Haitian government investigation. He bilked the Haitian treasury with the connivance of Frantz Merceron, one of Duvalier’s most notorious and corrupt super-ministers, who himself stole about $60 million in public funds from 1983-85 when he was Finance Minister, according to the Haitian government’s own legal documents.
Ironically, Frantz Merceron visited Haiti for the second time on October 1 despite voluminous government dossiers detailing his corruption. Why was he not arrested and charged for “economic terrorism”? The same for Théard. If Haiti had the millions they stole, surely thousands of Haitians from “would already be literate.”
There are many other signs of hypocrisy. The government recently forked out $1.734 million for a luxurious villa for Prime Minister Jean-Marie Chérestal, which, after a stink was made, was hastily declared the official residence of the Prime Minister. Could this sum—or a portion of it—not have better served the launching of the new literacy campaign in the Artibonite Valley, which Aristide touted in his Gonaïves speech? The real estate purchase makes Chérestal’s gesture to donate a month’s salary—$2,800 (70,000 gourdes)—to launch the literacy campaign look rather demagogic.
In another possible example of Lavalas impunity, Stanley Théard has been accused of transferring two openly Lavalas employees from Commerce to the Post Office and of rehiring a former FRAPH member chased out of the ministry on Aristide’s return in 1994.
As usual, the coup anniversary was an occasion for human rights groups and popular organizations to make their pronouncements. The September 30 Foundation, the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations, the Valiant Women of Marigot, and other countryside-based organizations all issued statements. “Doesn’t the state have the duty to lead investigations, prevent criminal action and avoid the second offense?” asked the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) about the climate of insecurity which even last year’s famous Raboteau trial has not stamped out.
The World March of Women 2000 presented a somber assessment of the past 10 years: impunity, deception, humiliation, poverty, unemployment, worsened by corruption and waste of the states meager resources on projects which are far from being priorities, like the acquisition for millions of dollars of sumptuous residences for Prime Ministers and former presidents.
Meanwhile, Jean Robert Pierre Louis of the St. Jean Bosco Small Church Community took the official line: “We would ask what the nations which are friends of Haiti want. Is it to fight only against terrorists which sow grief in their countries, or is it to fight terrorism around the world in all its forms?”
As for Amnesty International, after having noted the degradation of the human rights situation in Haiti, it conceded that: “From all evidence, the situation in human rights matters is not as dramatic as it was during the years following the coup d’état… But the country has not completely solved the serious problems inherited from the years of military rule.”
Every group makes an observation, each more dramatic than the next, and then waits for September 30… 2002. Meanwhile, the Haitian people continue to endure the violence of free-roaming criminals encouraged by impunity and the excuses of those they elected to work on their behalf and to struggle for the ideals of justice, participation and transparency.