Make a donation to Haiti by reading and speaking up about it

by Joe Emersberger

Please donate the time required to read the books about Haiti that I discuss below, at least one of them, and then speak up about what you learn.

An impressive, and growing, body of work explains how the “international community” (the USA and a handful of allies) worked with the Haitian elite to make a murderous and very successful assault on Haitian democracy as the twenty-first century began. It is an assault that continues today as the generosity that millions of people around the world displayed towards Haitians after an earthquake has been scandalously wasted and even used to bolster the Haitian and foreign elites who run Haiti. Peter Hallward’s “Damming the Flood” thoroughly refutes the lies that were sold, and are still sold, about the “international community’s” role in Haiti since 2000. Unfortunately, Hallward’s book was written before the 2010 earthquake that killed perhaps as many as 250,000 Haitians, and before Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables. Thankfully, two new books about Haiti – Justin Podur’s “Haiti’s New Dictatorship” and Jeb Sprague “Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti” – update and greatly expand on Hallward’s work.

The very ugly story these books tell begins in the year 2000 when free and fair elections in Haiti were widely smeared as “fraudulent” or “deeply flawed”. There were legislative and presidential elections in 2000 that resulted in a landslide victory for Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas party. A murderous, low intensity terrorist campaign based in the Dominican Republic gathered momentum against Haiti’s government between 2000 to 2004. Deadly hit and run attacks plagued Haiti while the “international community” and the human rights industry looked the other way. As terrorists assailed Haiti throughout these years, the “international community” implemented extremely harsh economic sanctions against Haiti’s democratically elected government. At the same time, tens of millions of dollars in assistance flowed to Aristide’s political opponents – many of whom were financing terrorists as Sprague shows in detail. Legitimate attempts by the Haitian government to defend itself against terrorists were denounced as “human rights abuses”. NGO’s like Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, and Amnesty International did a lot to make the sanctions seem reasonable by putting out shoddily researched statements that were heavily influenced by a well-connected anti-Aristide minority in Haiti. The Dominican Republic based paramilitaries inflicted a great deal of damage but were probably incapable of overthrowing Aristide’s government. They were ultimately upstaged on February 29 of 2004 by troops from the USA, France and Canada. US troops shipped Aristide off to the Central African Republic in the middle of the night while Canadian troops guarded Haiti’s international airport. The US and its allies easily brushed off calls for the UN to formally investigate Aristide’s claim that he was kidnapped. US troops who were soon replaced by troops from Brazil, China and various other countries – MINUSTAH as the UN “peacekeeping” force in Haiti is called.

A dictatorship under Gerard Latortue (from 2004 to 2006) presided over the murder of thousands of Fanmi Lavalas partisans – at least 4000 murders according to the only scientific study done to investigate the matter. The perpetrators were mainly paramilitary groups and the Haitian police which was quickly revamped (under close US supervision) to include hundreds of the terrorists formerly based in the Dominican Republic. The UN troops (MINUSTAH) perpetrated some massacres of unarmed protestors and bystanders. However, most of the dirty work was done by the revamped Haitian police and their paramilitary allies with MINUSTAH acting in a supporting role.

Reporters Without Borders openly cheered the slaughter that took place under the Latortue dictatorship as a victory for press freedom. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said almost nothing as the human rights abuses in Haiti exploded after the 2004 coup. As Haiti easily accumulated the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere, HRW directed about 20 times more criticism at Venezuela – a fact Washington must have welcomed but that is utterly indefensible from any moral perspective. What little HRW wrote about Haiti after the 2004 coup often served to legitimize the Latortue dictatorship. Amnesty International did much better than HRW, but Amnesty lagged way behind what independent researchers with far fewer resources quickly uncovered. After the coup, Amnesty gradually distanced itself from the anti-Aristide sources HRW relied on (like RNDDDH whom I mention below), but still demonstrated appalling cowardice in confronting MINUSTAH’s most flagrant and well documented crimes.

Jeb Sprague’s book notes the case of Judith Roy, one of the wealthy Haitian  financiers of the terrorists based in the Dominican Republic between 2000-2004.

Though Roy now acknowledges her role in financing the paramilitaries, at the time she denied all involvement. Hailed as an “opposition political activist” according to various media outlets, she denied the government’s charges of her complicity in the political violence…
After her arrest, Judie C. Roy became a cause célèbre. NCHR publicized Roy’s case as government-sponsored political repression. To this day, international press reports uncritically cite NCHR-Haiti (now known as RNDDH) as if it were a credible human rights group….Roy would serve only eight months in prison before being released from prison by paramilitaries as the Aristide government fell (in late February of 2004).

Roy’s is one of many names named in Sprague’s book which is a very detailed investigation of the terrorist campaign against Aristide’s supporters that escalated drastically under foreign supervision after the 2004 coup. Through Freedom of information requests, Sprague acquired one of the bluntest and most chilling assessments of Haiti. It comes from the former US Ambassador to Haiti, James Foley:

It is equally plausible that Aristide succeeded in permanently raising the political and social consciousness (not to mention the expectations) of Haiti’s disadvantaged masses, and thus created a force which the next generation of political leaders will either have to placate or manipulate.

Paramilitary terror is one of many tactics used to “manipulate the expectations” of Haiti’s poor majority. One question Sprague explored in depth was how directly the USA assisted the terrorist campaign against the Aristide government before the 2004 coup. Sprague concluded

Support for the paramilitaries came from a collection of Haitian elites and a group of Dominican officials from within the Foreign Ministry and the Dominican Military. The U.S. role in the paramilitary campaign was more indirect, through the environment of instability it helped to create with its embargo on aid to Haiti’s state and support for the political opposition, its refusal for years to pressure the Dominican Republic to deny the FLRN a safe haven, its ensuring that Aristide’s security forces were heavily penetrated by the former military after his restoration in 1994, and the general legacy of a historical role in backing the FAd’H, Tonton Macoutes, and the FRAPH.

The “international community“ eventually allowed elections in Haiti in 2006. Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, was not allowed to participate, nor has it been in any subsequent election. However, the 2006 elections were won by former president Rene Preval, once a close Aristide associate and a politician who never joined the groups who clamored successfully for a coup in 2004. Sprague observed “René Préval’s electoral victory in 2006, and the single digit support received by candidates such as Guy Philippe and industrialist Charles Baker, should have been the last nails in the coffin of elite propaganda that Aristide had lost public support by 2004. “

Through diligent use of the US embassy cables that Wikileaks released, Justin Podur’s book provides a succinct and intelligent assessment of Preval’s time in office between 2006 to 2011:

He helped “cool down” conflicts in Haiti and at several moments struck a course somewhat independent from what the U.S. wanted. That he was not able to do more for the Haitian people probably says more about the structural constraints of Haiti’s new dictatorship than it does about Preval’s inclinations.

The Embassy cables show that Rene Preval clearly understood how easily he, like Aristide, could end up being hounded by spurious allegations if he did not sufficiently appease Washington. Podur astutely remarked that the “shelf life” of the lies about Aristide was quite short. Nevertheless, those lies were successfully used to have Aristide overthrown and then exiled for several years.

Podur provides a very good overview of the international led response to the 2010 earthquake. NGOs successfully aquired well over a billion dollars. Foreign NGOs in Haiti provided an easy way for non-Haitians to act on feelings of compassion and generosity. Unfortunately, making foreign donors feel good has done scandalously little for Haitians. The facts Podur cites are grim indeed. A year after the quake, over 60% of the money given to private charities remained in their bank accounts earing interest. Meanwhile nearly half a million people made homeless by the earthquake remain in squalid camps. A year after the quake, only about 1% of destroyed homes had been repaired.

Haitians cannot vote any NGOs out of Haiti, nor do they have a government capable of regulating, or better still replacing, NGOs. Most perversely, foreign NGOs often have a vested interest in opposing Haitian sovereignty which would impose greater NGO transparency and accountability to Haitians. There are foreign NGOs in Haiti doing impressive work in a way that does not trample Haitian sovereignty. Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health in an obvious example, but non-Haitians will have to read the work of authors like Hallward, Sprague and Podur to learn about them.

In 2011, thanks to considerable US bullying, the rightist Michel Martelly was elected president in an election with less than 22% turnout. That year, former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier – the US backed despot who was responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Haitians – returned to Haiti as if to put an exclamation point on the “international community’s” successful efforts to move Haiti backwards. MINUSTAH continues to evade responsibility for a cholera outbreak its negligence caused in 2010. Scientific evidence of MINUSTAH’s guilt is overwhelming. The outbreak has killed over seven thousand Haitians. The spectacle of international impunity and depravity in Haiti always manages to reach new lows.

Sprague’s book, in particular, discusses some friction that exists between elements of the Duvalierist elite in Haiti and their foreign allies. For various reasons, even the Duvalierists will be somewhat frustrated with foreign interference in Haiti.

If malevolent foreign interference in Haiti ended tomorrow, the vast majority of its inhabitants would still face a difficult battle against deeply entrenched local elites, but history shows that a non-violent popular movement would eventually emerge victorious. Such a movement has won partial but very important victories since 1990 despite foreign interference. The complete defeat of the Haiti’s democracy movement has not been achieved. It will take the development of much more vibrant democratic movements within imperial countries such as the USA and Canada to end destructive foreign meddling in Haiti and many other poor countries around the world.