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Haiti and Latin America: It is as it always was
Monday, 18 June 2007 07:45
by Kevin Pina

Kevin Pina gives a swift accounting of recent history in Haiti and the role of the Bush adminstration. He also gives an accounting of Latin American force serving under the UN banner and their motives for participating in yet another "Bush adventure."

Now that we have finally passed through the histrionics where the American public, by virtue of 9/11, gives the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt in Iraq, it is perhaps time to re-examine its other dirty little war, in Haiti.  While the Bush administration made it clear it was willing to take unilateral military action against Iraq, it took an entirely different approach in 2004 to landing US marines in Haiti. The official version of events portrays unanimous international action undertaken to save Haiti from herself, but the reality was quite different and exposed a political breach in international opinion that fell mainly along racial lines.

The Bush Administration’s coup in Haiti, neatly sanctioned by the UN Security Council, gave the appearance of international unanimity while very little attention has been given to the dissenting voices.  Those dissenting voices came primarily from other black nations in the Caribbean and Africa while the nations of Latin America, with the sole exception of Venezuela, either remained silent or gave their overt support to the operation. The reasons behind this have rarely been addressed and go far beyond the simplistic explanation of race solidarity. It can be argued this was a factor but CARICOM and the AU also made it clear that sanctioning the ouster of the democratically elected government of Aristide set a bad precedent that might ultimately come back to haunt them should they not come forward and condemn it. However, the same can be said for any nation in Latin America but again, it is a statement of fact that most nations in the Organization of American States and the Rio Group remained silent or gave their overt support to Aristide’s ouster. 

The truth is that institutional racism has always affected Haiti’s relationship with the so-called ‘international community’, a term that is really shorthand for international action undertaken in the interests of the wealthiest and most developed nations. First among equals in this lexicon of international diplomacy and expediency remains the US government.

Since her inception, Haiti was treated as a pariah by an earlier historical formation of the ‘international community.’  Led by the US then as now, that version of ‘international community’ punished Haiti for winning her independence in 1804 as the world’s only successful slave revolution. The US and its primary allies of the time were slave-holding nations whose economic development depended upon trade in human chattel. The US Senate of 1806 reflected this when they called Haiti, “The greatest threat to US interests at home and abroad.”

This declaration by the esteemed white gentlemen of the U.S. Senate actually displayed uncanny foresight as the example of Haiti ultimately would be cited by the likes of Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and John Brown as inspiration for their like-minded slave revolts on U.S. territory. Haiti’s existence established an institutional fear in the halls of power in the U.S. that would lead to a crippling economic blockade of the country that lasted for more than half a century.

Compounding the effects of the US embargo, in 1825, France demanded that Haiti repay its former colonizer for the “property” of slave owners that France lost as a result of the Haitian revolution. This indemnity payment left Haiti with a staggering debt, which it was still repaying after the First World War. Haiti was not recognized by the US until 1862 when Frederic Douglas became the first US Ambassador to Haiti. [Footnote: He actually resigned protesting “To them[US businessmen], the welfare of Haiti is nothing; the shedding of human blood is nothing; the success of free institutions is nothing, and the ruin of neighboring country is nothing. They are sharks, pirates and Shylocks, greedy for money, no matter at what cost of life and misery to mankind.”

In the lead-up to Haiti’s bicentennial in 2004, Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded that France repay the sum the former slaveholders had wrested from Haiti in 1825--which he calculated amounted, with inflation and interest, to over 21 billion dollars. France responded with hostility, leading calls, which were joined by the US and Canadian governments, for Aristide to leave office.

In February 2004, these three governments supported a coup d’etat against Haiti’s elected government. The Bush administration and its allies justified the removal of Aristide as necessary.   Aristide made it clear to the world that he was taken out of Haiti against his will. US marines showed up at his doorstep the very moment his government was about to receive a re-supply of weaponry and ammunition, provided by the government of South Africa at the request of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The timing of his physical removal and relocation to a former French colony in central Africa ensured that his government would never have the means to defend itself. This version of events has since been corroborated by former Haitian prime minister Yvon Neptune who later spent more than two years in a Haitian jail under the US-installed government that took power after Aristide’s ouster.

The response of the other fourteen nations of CARICOM was swift: they expelled Haiti from the organisation and refused to recognise the US-installed regime of Gerard Latortue. They were joined by the fifty-one member states of the African Union (AU) in refusing to extend diplomatic recognition and demanding an immediate and thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s removal. The only Latin American nation to join them in this diplomatic action was Venezuela, the government of which was nearly decapitated in a similar Bush stratagem in 2002.

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The US marines, Canadian Special Forces and the French Foreign Legion were on the ground even before the 29 February 2004 ouster of Aristide. Immediately following the coup, under a UN banner called the Multinational Interim Force (MIF), these foreign armies waged a lightning campaign to pacify the country.  In the days that followed, the US marines, who controlled the capital, allowed paramilitary death squads who had invaded Haiti weeks previous from the Dominican Republic, to enter poor neighborhoods resisting Aristide’s ouster. The MIF had imposed dusk to dawn curfew that was not applied to these paramilitary forces that took advantage of their exception to indiscriminately strafe those neighborhoods with automatic weapons. The US marines launched a major military operation on 12 March 2004 against the poor neighborhood of Bel Air, whose residents had begun to demonstrate for Aristide’s return and against what they saw as another coup. According to video interviews I took with survivors the next day, the blood ran so thick in the streets that fire trucks arrived to hose them down before dawn. These survivors also reported the corpses of those killed were placed into black body bags by US marines and hauled away for disposal. Having lived in Haiti for five years prior to the coup, I was on the ground during this period. Most of the US marines I saw during this time were Caucasian, conjuring the collective memories of Haitians in poor neighborhoods of the capital of the US military invasion of their country in 1915.

On 1 June 2004, the MIF was replaced by a UN military operation. Combined, both military initiatives resulted in the murder, torture, rape and false imprisonment of thousands of Haitians.
The current UN operations, since they replaced the MIF, have been carried out under the command and leadership of the armies of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Responsibility for command and control of the operation was given to the Brazilian commanders.

This raises a few very important questions. Why was it that the bulk of international outcry and resistance to the ouster of Haiti’s constitutional government came from CARICOM and the AU? Why did regional Latin American organisations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Rio Group (RG) support the Bush administration’s position justifying Aristide’s ouster? Was it merely a question of race solidarity and the fact that those nations opposing the Haiti intervention were African or descendants of African slaves? The OAS and the RG would ultimately move beyond mere tacit support for Bush’s Haiti policy by agreeing to a US initiative in the United Nations for them to take the leadership of yet another military occupation of Haiti. The “others” would move to isolate the regime that replaced Aristide and demand an explanation of the circumstances of his removal from office.

Beyond the well-known machinations of the self-professed leaders of the free world in the North, Haiti has never been embraced as the symbol of freedom and liberty she can rightfully claim in Latin America. Eduardo Galeano, whom I deeply admire, best sums up the perception of Haiti in a famous poem:
In the French Caribbean islands, history books present Napoleon as the most admirable warrior of the West. In these islands, Napoleon restored slavery in 1802. With fire and sword, he forced the free blacks back into slavery on the plantations. Of this, the texts make no mention. The blacks are Napoleon’s grandchildren.
We must believe Galeano knew that the great Haitian General Jean-Jacques Dessalines lined up French officers and urinated in their faces before sending them to the gallows! ‘Koupe tet! Boule Kay’ (cut off their heads and burn their houses) was his Kreyol battle cry and most Haitians today would identify more with that sentiment than any offers of returning to slavery. The Haitians today are the children of Dessalines, not the grandchildren of Napoleon – he would have to run for his life to survive their ire. Also remember that Dessaline was not racist, his commander in charge of his artillery units was the defected white French officer Lieutenant Tesroit. Latin American brothers and sisters wanting to understand Haiti should be concerned with its history and context. The Haitian people earned their true spirit and reputation from Dessalines as a symbol of liberty and freedom in the world. Bolivar understood this after Haitians offered him arms and assistance to liberate Latin America from the yoke of Spanish colonialism.

The template for US repression in Latin America had been established in Haiti nearly fifteen years before the gringos kidnapped and assassinated Sandino in Nicaragua and hunted down Farabundo Marti in El Salvador.  White US marines (usually speaking with a southern drawl) kidnapped and assassinated Haitian resistance leader Charlemagne Peralte and killed more than 10,000 Haitians before they preyed upon the rest of the region. Beginning in 1915, the US marines committed a scorched earth policy and massacres in Haiti meant to set an example for the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean in the decades that followed. We must never forget the common history Latin America shares with these former black slaves of Haiti. 

Despite this history, the OAS and the RG would uncritically support the Bush administration in ousting Aristide in 2004 while CARICOM would lead a movement to isolate the US-installed regime that followed. What is undeniable is that most of CARICOM’s members are former slave colonies while most Latin American nations are not. However, there is more to the story than differences of race, historical origin and development.

What is rarely mentioned these days is that CARICOM had reached the end of its patience with the Bush administration in the months proceeding 29 February 2004. They had worked closely with the constitutional government in Haiti to give the so-called opposition something they could never earn at the ballot box, namely, power sharing.

Aristide’s government argued that the so-called opposition was really window dressing for an initiative largely funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and France, through the European Union (EU). They specifically pointed the finger at USAID and the Democracy Enhancement Project financed by the US government.  The Aristide administration also gave evidence of the role of these countries’ embassies in supporting opposition demonstrations demanding the president’s resignation. Despite this evidence, CARICOM convinced Aristide to agree to a power sharing agreement that would give the opposition control of the prime minister’s office and all the positions of the cabinet. Again, this was a position of power in Haitian politics that the opposition, nurtured by foreign largesse against Aristide, could never have won at the ballot box.

The governments of the US, France and Canada worked behind the scenes to sabotage CARICOM’s initiatives. They succeeded in scuttling these efforts but it was clear that their surrogates could not sustain the momentum to force Aristide out. Opposition demonstrations demanding Aristide’s resignation had dwindled to a few hundred raucous voices in the streets of the capital in early February 2004. A massive demonstration on 7 February, demanding Aristide fulfill his five-year mandate, swelled to several hundred thousand in the capital, dwarfing any previous opposition rallies by comparison.

Suddenly, the door to compromise was closed forever as paramilitary forces attacked Haiti from the Dominican Republic.  CARICOM diplomats and Haiti-watchers knew that these forces enjoyed the tacit and overt support of the US and Dominican militaries. It would have been impossible for these paramilitaries to use Dominican territory for their training camps and to procure the large weaponry they were using against the Haitian police without the consent of the US and Dominican authorities. An editorial in the Jamaica Gleaner on 4 March 2004 summed it up best:
It is curious that rather than placing pressure on the opposition to respect the tenets of democracy, Messrs. [Colin] Powell, [Dominique] de Villepin, and [Bill] Graham, quickly acquiesced. But worse, they turned the screws on Aristide. Noticeably, too, the insurgency, led by former death-squad leaders and coup planners, erupted after Aristide declared – for the second time – that he would embrace the power-sharing agreement.

So, in the end, CARICOM expended a large investment of political capital to aid the constitutional government to broker a settlement with what was arguably a foreign-funded and foreign-backed opposition in Haiti. The fact that the triumvirate of the US, France and Canada never had any intention of allowing their Haitian surrogates to end the crisis was not lost on CARICOM.  It was for this reason that they felt justified in expelling Haiti from the organisation and leading the effort to diplomatically isolate the US-installed government that followed.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was closely watching events in Haiti throughout this period. He had his own experiences with the so-called opposition in Haiti when he attended the country’s bicentennial celebrations in January 2004. Mbeki clearly saw that the opposition forces were being led by Haiti’s economic elites, who owned most of the radio, television and print media in the country. He and his staff were aghast as they watched, heard and read the most outlandish statements and rumours broadcast and written about his visit. Mbeki was overheard, during an official state dinner, saying to one of his diplomats: ‘Opposition? These people can only be described as crazy and unreasonable.’

After the bloodthirsty paramilitaries crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and began attacking police stations and taking over townships, CARICOM requested that the government of South Africa provide assistance to the Haitian police. Mbeki responded by dispatching a cargo plane of weapons and ammunition to Haiti on 27 February 2004. At the very moment the plane was refueling in Kingston, Jamaica, US marines, led by CIA station chief Luis Moreno, entered Aristide’s residence and gave him an ultimatum.  He could get on a plane to leave Haiti or they would clear the way for the paramilitaries to enter the capital. He was told the bloodletting would be on his hands and that he would most likely be killed.

President Aristide had already seen the writing on the wall. Two of the final telephone calls he reportedly made before Moreno showed up on his doorstep were to Jamaican President P. J. Patterson and President Mbeki. He told them that the Bush administration was urging him to resign and that the US embassy had made it plain that the South African shipment for the police would never be allowed to leave Jamaica.  He also said his conversations with US representatives had included a veiled threat of violence.

As soon as it became clear that Aristide was being taken out, Patterson and Mbeki mobilised to ensure that CARICOM and the AU would speak with one clear voice and position. Whatever government the US used to replace Aristide would not receive diplomatic recognition from their member states and an investigation into the circumstances of Aristide’s ouster would be demanded.

The OAS was already bought off and predisposed to accept the Bush administration’s claim that Aristide had left Haiti of his own volition.  The regional group had already allowed itself to rubber stamp an earlier smear campaign to taint the Aristide government’s reputation in 2000–2003, under the leadership and influence of US diplomatic hit-men like Otto Reich, Luigi Einaudi, Lino Gutierrez and Roger Noriega. The most scandalous example of this was the OAS laying the blame for an attempted coup on 17 December 2001 on the victim.  After a military assault-force failed to take over Haiti’s national palace, a frightened and angry population went on a rampage and attacked the opposition, who claimed that Aristide had orchestrated the whole affair.  The OAS agreed and, adding insult to injury, forced the cash-strapped government of Haiti to pay reparations to the opposition. By any objective accounting of the evidence that has surfaced since, including public admissions by paramilitary commander Guy Philippe, the opposition was complicit in the attack. As recently as May 2007, Philippe has publicly confirmed long--held suspicions that leading opposition figures Evans Paul and Andre Apaid had provided funds and logistical support to his paramilitary organization. The so-called “peaceful” opposition to Aristide had actually worked in concert with the paramilitaries in the Dominican Republic to oust Aristide.

 To better understand the role and position of the OAS we should never forget the amount of aid its member states and their respective militaries receive through Pentagon funding, via International Military Education and Training (IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). According to Frida Berrigan and Jonathan Wingo, writing for the World Policy Institute, military aid to Latin America has increased to $122 million, more than thirty-four times its year 2000 levels. Beyond military aid there is annual Foreign Aid and Assistance programmes of nearly a billion dollars. Add to this the thousands of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) funded through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) who are involved in every facet of political, social and economic ‘development’ in the region. Certainly this lesson is not lost on President Chavez who is the latest object of US ire by actively pursuing a policy of using Venezuela’s petro-dollars to offset US influence in the region.

Now we find the armies of Brazil, Chile and Argentina leading a military force that occupies Haiti under the banner of the United Nations. Isn’t it miraculous how these three countries, with historically the most heinous records of human rights abuses in the western hemisphere, are transformed into ‘peacekeepers’ by virtue of a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by the Bush administration? The truth is that a strong case can be made that historically these militaries have been more beholden to the Pentagon than to their own civilian leadership. Research how much money these militaries still receive in arms and training from the US and study their participation in the inter-regional military exercises called “Fuerzas Commando” led by the Pentagon to combat terrorism (http://www.southcom.mil/AppsSC/pages/exOps.php). The chain of command leads to the Southern Command of the Pentagon (USSOUTHCOM) not to Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires or any other capital in the region.

Therein may lay one of the answers to why the nations of Latin America provided cover and troops for the Bush administration’s policy in Haiti.  It helps to explain why a number of so-called Latin American progressive governments have provided troops to the UN occupation forces in Haiti.  They must appease their militaries and, by extension, the Pentagon or the same machine of destabilisation might be aimed against them. It is a reality all leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean have had to face since the Monroe Doctrine and very little has changed. There is also the added benefit of transferring the most reactionary troublemakers in their own militaries to Haiti instead of them remaining in their own countries where they might cause problems. For example, remember the historical roles of the Brazilian, Argentinean and Chilean armed forces remain highly controversial in their own countries to this day. Transferring them to UN “peacekeeping” operations in Haiti has been a convenient safety valve to temper internal debate over their previous undemocratic roles in their respective countries.

The Brazilian military has responsibility for leadership of the UN military forces in Haiti and they have been authorized to use deadly force. They are at the top of the command structure and their influence on the overall mission should not be understated. It is important to note that I have seen with my own eyes the differences between black soldiers and brown soldiers in the Brazilian military in Haiti. The upper echelon is almost exclusively lighter skin color while the darkest faces are almost always found among the soldiers on the street. A case can be made that what has been identified as racism in Brazilian society is mirrored in the composition of the high command of the Brazilian armed forces. Simply go to their website to see what I mean (www.exercito.gov.br/NE/2004/12/10189/capa189.htm).

More importantly, there is a direct parallel between Brazilian military tactics utilized by UN forces in Haiti and similar military operations in their own country. These are the same commanders who also order Afro-Brazilian soldiers to open fire in the slums of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro called favelas. This was highlighted in an Amnesty International report “Brazil: 'They come in Shooting': Policing socially excluded communities” released on December 2, 2005. The report stated,

“The violence was highlighted by an incident in March, in which 29 people were shot dead by a ‘death squad’ -- believed to consist of members of Rio de Janeiro's military police force -- in the Baixada Fluminense District of the city; it was the worst massacre in the city's history, but not a new or isolated phenomenon.”

It should be noted that the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo are around 70% black and the rich in all the main cities are predominantly light-skinned (in Haiti this racial divide is more pronounced). The same Amnesty report continued,

“When [military] police do intervene in favelas, it is often by mounting ‘invasions’ -- violent mass raids using no warrants or, on rare occasions, collective warrants that label the entire community as criminal. The majority of the victims of police violence are poor, black or mixed-race youths.”

These are the same tactics authorized by the Brazilian generals in Haiti. It has resulted in several high-profile massacres committed in the poor slum of Cite Soleil where protestors challenged the UN’s authority by continuing to launch massive demonstrations demanding the return of President Aristide.  In each instance, the entire community was demonized by the UN and the elite-run Haitian press as being criminals and gangsters and/or collaborators of criminals and gangsters. While it is true that armed gangs operated in the neighborhood and a few claimed they were aligned with Aristide’s Lavalas movement, these military raids had a clear correlation to the ongoing demonstrations.

Cite Soleil was terrorized on July 6, 2005 when Brazilian commanders authorized a raid by UN forces with the stated aim of routing gangs in the area (http://www.haitiaction.net/News/HIP/7_12_5.html). For supporters of the ousted president, the raid was viewed as a preemptive strike by the UN to dampen the impact of protests on Aristide's birthday, planned to take place only nine days later on July 15.  By the time UN guns stopped firing, countless unarmed civilians lay dead with the majority having been killed by a single high-powered rifle shot to the head. 

December 16, 2006 saw another large demonstration for Aristide that began in Cite Soleil and only six days later Brazilian commanders would authorize a second deadly raid by UN forces that residents and human rights groups say resulted in the wholesale slaughter of innocent victims (http://haitiaction.net/News/HIP/1_21_7/1_21_7.html). The unspoken parallel of Brazil’s role in leading the UN’s military strategy in Haiti is the fact that terror tactics such as these have been their modus operandi in their own country.

Unfortunately, the governments of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay, among many others, continue to pretend that they are acting in the best interests of the Haitian people as they dutifully fulfill Bush’s policy under the guise of a baby-blue banner.  Can they really believe that their civilian leadership will have more control over their own militaries once they return home from Bush’s misadventures in Haiti? When their troops finally do return home it is more likely these Latin American nations will find their military commanders even more dependent upon and partial to the dictates of USSOUTHCOM rather than less.  US military commanders, even in UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti, remain at the top of the food chain.

Historically, the power of the US military has always trumped national dignity and sovereignty in Latin America and the Caribbbean.  US foreign policymakers have traditionally relied upon local economic elites and the militaries they created and trained to serve as proxies for their interests in the region. When that didn’t work, by virtue of popular resistance from the target population, the US military would then intervene directly. Haiti has been among the nations who have suffered the most at the hands of US policymakers in the region exactly because of their level of historical resistance to foreign domination.  Today’s efforts at subjugating Haiti by US foreign policymakers may be under a different guise and under a different banner, but the goal remains the same as it ever was. Whether it was slaveholding nations, led by the US following Haitian independence, or Latin American “peacekeepers” sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution, the goal remains to subjugate the independent will and resistance of Haiti’s poor majority, by force if necessary. It is a denigration of the memory of Haiti’s aid and assistance to the great Simon Bolivar that Latin American support for this project continues uncritically.
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Comments (3)add comment

a guest said:

Brasil military/police - clearing up some confusion
I would like to clear up some confusion about the difference between the Brazilian military and police forces.

The Policia Militar in Brasil, which has been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International among others, despite its somewhat confusing name, has absolutely nothing to do with the Brazilian military. They are part of the civilian police force. The Brazilian military (army) presence in Haiti is in no way connected with the Policia Militar that is involved in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. The Policia Militar in Brasil are controlled by the respective states they operate in (every state has its own force) not by the nation's Ministry of Defense, unlike the army. They are totally separate entities.

With very few exceptions, such as in 2003 and again in 2006, since Brazil's return to democracy in 1985, the government of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been very careful not to give the military any sort of formalized law enforcement role in Brazil. In fact, members of Lula's Partido dos Trabalhadores have often been among those calling for increased accountability and transparency in the law-enforcement regime currently in place in Brasil.

Having spent time in the favelas of Rio de Janiero, I can say that, much as it has been in Haiti, the situation in the favelas is often one in which heavily-armed gang members are squaring off against an often-equally brutal police force with thousands of civilians helplessly caught in the middle.

June 19, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

a guest said:

Distiguishing between the Brazilian military and police
You are correct and I did not mean to say they are the same institutions...the only congruous institution is the Brazilian state and the same "law enforcement" tactics used in in the favelas are the same tactics being utilized by Brazilian generals in Haiti. It is the tactics of the two that beg comparison. That is where the twain meets.
June 20, 2007
Votes: +0

a guest said:

Brazilian military police is part of the militar
There is no big difference between the military police in Brazil and the Army. Their historical role has been the same: to keep in place the dangerous classes (mostly blacks). The military police is formally part of the armed forces, their iternal structure is military, and their highest rank is "coronel", never general. Thay are formally a support and reserve force of the Army, and subordinated to the Army, their officials must obey orders from Army commanders.

The role of the Brazilian armed forces in internal affairs has been enshrined in the 1988 constitution. Lula has been keen in using the Army for internal affairs, for example in the events last year in São Paulo, when police stations were attacked by so-called organized crime: Lula put at the disposition of São Paulo State governor 10 thousand military.
June 25, 2007
Votes: +0

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