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This essay was first printed in The Dream Antilles on March 23, 2008. I’m republishing it here, because it might help in putting the horrific events in Haiti in perspective.
This morning’s NY Times has an extremely strange story about Haiti. The premise is that things are now so bad in Haiti, that some Haitians wish they still had Papa Doc or Baby Doc Duvalier back as their military despot:
But Victor Planess, who works at the National Cemetery here, has a soft spot for Mr. Duvalier, the man known as Papa Doc. Standing graveside the other day, Mr. Planess reminisced about what he considered the good old days of Mr. Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who together ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986.
“I’d rather have Papa Doc here than all those guys,” Mr. Planess said, gesturing toward the presidential palace down the street. “I would have had a better life if they were still around.”
Mr. Planess, 53, who complains that hunger has become so much a part of his life that his stomach does not even growl anymore, is not alone in his nostalgia for Haiti’s dictatorial past. Other Haitians speak longingly of the security that existed then as well as the lack of garbage in the streets, the lower food prices and the scholarships for overseas study.
Haiti may have made significant strides since President René Préval, elected in 2006, became the latest leader to pass through the revolving door of Haitian politics. But the changes he has pushed have been incremental, not fast enough for many down-and-out Haitians.
The article is worth reading in its entirety, primarily because of its conceit that Haiti, seething on one end of the island of Hispaniola in the midst of the US sphere of influence in the Caribbean, has developed its present dystopia all by its lonesome self, without any assistance worth mentioning from its gigantic hemispheric neighbor, the United States.
The United States has always stirred the pot in Haiti. The first United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915 and ended almost two decades later in mid-August, 1934. Other US occupations began in 1994 and in 2004, and were conducted under the auspices of the United Nations.
Memory for events in this hemisphere is unbelievably short. Some may recall that four years ago, in 2004, the elected– the 2000 election in Haiti, like the one in the US was disputed– Haitian president Bertrand Aristide left the country in circumstances that are still debated:
On March 1, 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Aristide family friend Randall Robinson, reported that Aristide had told them (using a smuggled cellular phone), that he had been forced to resign and abducted from the country by the United States. He claimed to be held hostage by an armed military guard.
Aristide later repeated similar claims, as in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on March 16. He was pressured to resign from office by U.S. soldiers and James B. Foley, U.S. Ambassador to Haïti, on February 29. An aircraft provided by the U.S. carried Aristide and his wife, Mildred Trouillot Aristide, into exile to the Central African Republic. Goodman asked Aristide if he resigned, and President Aristide replied: “No, I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a ‘new coup d’etat,’ or ‘modern kidnapping.'”
Many supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party and Aristide, as well as some foreign supporters, denounced the rebellion as a foreign controlled coup d’etat orchestrated by Canada, France and the United States (Goodman, et al., 2004) to remove a publicly elected President. A new book on the subject, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward, scrupulously documents the events leading up to February 29, 2004, and concludes that what occurred during the “rebellion” was in fact a modern coup d’etat, financed and orchestrated by forces allied with the US government. /snip
Some have come forward to support his claim saying they witnessed him being escorted out by American soldiers at gunpoint.
Sources close to Aritistide also claim the Bush administration blocked attempts to reinforce his bodyguards. /snip
According to a Washington Times, article of April, 2004
Mr. Aristide, who accuses the United States and France of conspiring to force him out of power, filed a lawsuit in Paris last week accusing unnamed French officials of ‘death threats, kidnapping and sequestration’ in connection with his flight to Africa.
The Bush administration insists that Mr. Aristide had personally asked for help and voluntarily boarded a U.S. plane. ‘He drafted and signed his letter of resignation all by himself and then voluntarily departed with his wife and his own security team,’ Mr. Powell said.
The US have denied the accusations. “He was not kidnapped,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said. “We did not force him onto the airplane. He went on the airplane willingly and that’s the truth.” The kidnapping claim is “absolutely false,” concurred Parfait Mbaye, the communications minister for the Central African Republic, where Aristide’s party was taken. The minister told CNN that Aristide had been granted permission to land in the country after Aristide himself – as well as the U.S. and French governments – requested it.
According the US, as the rebels approached the capital, James B. Foley, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, got a phone call from a high-level aide to Aristide, asking if the U.S. could protect Aristide and help facilitate his departure if he resigned. The call prompted a series of events that included a middle-of-the-night phone call to President Bush and a scramble to find a plane to carry Aristide into exile. He traveled voluntarily via motorcade to the airport with his own retinue of security guards, including some contracted Americans. Before takeoff, Aristide gave a copy of his resignation letter to Foley’s aide.”
Following Aristide’s departure, the first elections were held two years later, on February 8, 2006 to elect a new President. Rene Preval was declared to have won:
Partial election results, released on February 9, indicated that he had won with about sixty percent of the vote, but as further results were released, his share of the vote slipped to 48.7% – thus making a run-off necessary. Several days of popular demonstrations in favour of Préval followed in Port-au-Prince and other cities in Haiti. On February 14, Préval claimed that there had been fraud among the vote counts, and demanded that he be declared the winner outright of the first round. Protesters paralyzed the capital with burning barricades and stormed a luxury hotel to demand results from Haiti’s nearly week-old election as ex-President Rene Preval fell further below the 50 per cent needed to win the presidency. On February 16, 2006, Préval was declared the winner of the Presidential Election by the Provisional Electoral Council with 51.15 percent of the vote, after the exclusion of “blank” ballots from the count.
And what did Preval do right after being declared the winner? Upon his taking office he immediately signed an oil deal with Venezuela and traveled to the United States, Cuba, and France. But it’s the economic connection of impoverished Haiti with Venezuela that may be upsetting to the present United States government:
Haiti under Preval has been cooperating diplomatically and fraternally with its fellow countries of Latin America. The slowly-stabilizing country has seemingly benefited in a rather solid economic partnership with Venezuela. This recently-forged friendship between Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and the Haitian president has resulted in various economic agreements. 4 power plants (a 40 megawatt, a 30 megawatt, and two 15 megawatts) are set to be constructed in Haiti. An oil refinery is also scheduled to be installed in the country, with a production capacity of 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Venezuela’s assistance to Haiti is founded upon a historic act where the newly-independent Haiti welcomed and tended to Simón Bolívar and provided military power to aid Bolivar’s cause in liberating much of South America. Haiti’s Latin American alliance provides the country with much of its needed aid. Fidel as well as Raul Castro and other Cuban diplomats such as Vice President Esteban Lazo Hernandez have thanked Haiti for consistently voting in the United Nations General Assembly against the United States embargo against Cuba.
And so, despite long term United States occupation and repeated military involvement, Haiti has begun to reach out to its wealthy southern neighbor and forge bonds with Venezuela. And just as the United States is upset by Chavez’s alliances with Bolivia, and Chile, and Nicaragua, and Cuba, so too an alliance of Haiti with Chavez marks a loss of US influence in its own backyard.
Is that why the New York Times is today talking to its readers about the potential return of Duvalier? Is that why the Times claims that changes in Haiti aren’t proceeding quick enough for the poorest of the poor and implying that a rightwing military despot might be a better choice?
My thoughts today are with Haiti. I hope this essay provides some perspective.