—by Matthew Rothschild
What we’re witnessing now in Haiti is the second coup against Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
The first one occurred in 1991, shortly after Aristide was elected president in a historic break with the Duvalier dictatorship, which had brutally ruled for generations.
The new junta lasted until 1994, and during this time a CIA-funded death squad called FRAPH killed 3,000 supporters of Aristide.
Finally, the Clinton Administration sent US troops in and overthrew the junta. But the Aristide who returned was not the same man who came to power with so much promise and with vast popular appeal.
Instead, he bowed to the dictates of the World Bank and the IMF, which further impoverished the country. He disbanded the army, only to have groups of thugs loyal to him crush protests and engage in extrajudicial killings. And he has opposed trade unions.
After Bush came to power, Haiti had to contend with a hostile United States, which refused to give aid because of disputed elections back in 2000. Those elections weren’t perfect, but Aristide’s supporters did win most of the votes.
In February 2001, Aristide (after a few years of being only formally out of power) was elected President for the second time, but he has faced constant turmoil ever since.
The Bush Administration has been content to slowly strangle Haiti’s economy by maintaining an international aid embargo against the country, an embargo that former Senator Jesse Helms helped initiate in the final months of the Clinton Administration.
Rightwing ideologues in the Bush Administration have done all they can to undermine Aristide. The Latin America team features Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, his deputy Daniel Fisk, and White House adviser Otto Reich. All three “were protégés of ex-Senator Helms,” notes the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. “It was this group of zealots and hardliners who, off the record, let it be known to all concerned that the Bush Administration would countenance regime change in Haiti.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell has been playing good cop to these bad cops, as Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica has noted. Powell recently said that the “elected president” should not be “forced out of office by thugs.”
But that appears to be in the works.
Today, the country is on the brink of a civil war, and the capital of Port-au-Prince could be hit any day.
The opposition forces include some of the people who participated in the coup in 1991 and others who committed brutal atrocities during the junta’s rule. While Aristide has accepted the need to compromise and has even offered to share power, they have not, though they have but 20% support in the country, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
This is a delicate moment for Haiti. Aristide, for all his faults, is the only legitimate leader of Haiti. If the rebels overthrow him, much bloodshed is likely to flow.
And some of that will land on Bush’s hands.