Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 272 | Marzo 2004



Keys to Understanding a Great Tragedy

For several years during the 1990s envío tried to document the changes taking place in Haiti. We were extremely hopeful about Jean Bertrand Aristide then. But that experience is now over and everything must start again. We’ve extracted some key points from three authors in an attempt to explain this tragedy.

Various Authors


Unlike other cases, the confused situation in Haiti does not allow us to distinguish between good and bad, between the politically correct and the despicable. The fact is that Aristide, who started out as the priest of the poor, the apostle of liberation theology, the liberator that would lead his country out of its misery, ended up being an abominable dictator. Many still retain the image of that honest man who was going to put an end to the blight left behind by the Duvalier regime. But once overthrown by the Cedrás coup and exiled in the United States, Aristide returned as an American puppet bereft of his own criteria or principles, solely dedicated to preserving his own power. He organized the chimeres,” paramilitary forces that were no different than Duvalier’s “tonton macoutes.” He committed abuses and assassinations, covered himself with ignominy. He lost his halo.

What will happen?

But those who have organized his removal are no better. They are former coup instigators, Duvalier’s henchmen, power-hungry mercenaries and hired killers who have come back looking to make it big rather than seeking the well-being of the Haitian people. This mercenary force, probably recruited and paid by the CIA, is seeking to install a force-based regime that will docilely serve US interests.

There are healthy forces in Haiti. Gerard Pierre Charles heads the Democratic Platform, a movement that could well be capable of rectifying Haiti’s ignominious path. Charles would make an ideal head of state, moving Haiti toward a government that benefits the majorities and defends sovereign autonomy and the full democratic functioning of people’s rights. An academic with a brilliant record of serving his country, an intellectual with clean principles, he would sweep away the filth and start to build on solid foundations. But it is impossible to imagine that the hired killers would let him govern. His life is probably in danger in these uncertain times of confusion and widespread killing.

It remains to be seen what denouement is being dreamt up for Haiti by those two well-known Washington thugs, Otto Reich and Roger Noriega. The Haitian people’s response capacity is quite depleted and the nation’s political education is limited after having been subjected to a succession of dictatorships over the last century. As a result, Haitians have washed their hands of their country’s problems by emigrating. Their country has the highest poverty rates, the highest unemployment rates and the most overwhelming figures for endemic diseases, illiteracy and housing shortages in the whole of the Americas. None of the outlaws who have taken power in Port au Prince by bloody force have the least intention of resolving these problems. They are more interested in how best to serve their American masters.


2004 marks the 200th anniversary of the Haitian declaration of independence, the first such declaration made in the Americas. In the midst of multitudinous protests—with the consequent terror and death that they triggered—Haitians put an end to yet another corrupt, ineffective and anti-popular government that had violated the Constitution and human rights. This time the government was that of a former progressive priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, who had sold more than just his soul to the devil.

In the final days of those protests, I interviewed the distinguished Haitian academic Gerard Pierre Charles in Mexico. Charles is coordinator of the Organization of the People’s Struggle (OPL) and a member of the directorate of the opposition Democratic Convergence alliance. He is a longtime Haitian democrat who has been a Nobel Peace Prize candidate, an academic in several of the continent’s universities, the leader of grassroots organizations, the victim of several criminal attacks and an active participant in the Defense of Humanity Movement, as well as being linked to various Latin America and Caribbean institutions.

What’s happening at the moment in Haiti?
It’s a process of peaceful revolt throughout the country that is calling for the resignation of Jean Bertrand Aristide. It is a process that has been spreading. It’s an uprising resulting from the accumulated strength of social and political groups that emerged in response to the Haitian government’s total disrespect for the Constitution. As a consequence, huge street protests started up, which the government tried to minimize. Those of us in the Democratic Convergence are behind these political forces. We have been questioning Aristide’s election for three years now. Civil society has joined the mobilization and this strengthened the group of forces representing the majority of the country that has carried out protests involving over 100,000 people.

“Aristide imposed fear”

What are the main criticisms you’ve made of the Aristide government?
First of all there’s the repression. A new police force was set up in Haiti to replace the army. Aristide corrupted the police and created a kind of parallel force consisting of people unconditionally devoted to him, people with no training, class traitors characterized by their extreme violence. Second is the generalized violation of human rights, with a succession of political assassinations and the murder of two journalists in Haiti, while the persecution of other journalists has been a constant factor. There has also been persecution
of political leaders, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that they burned down local political headquarters and leaders’ houses, including my own. Third is the rampant corruption within the government. Finally, there’s the government’s incompetence. This an incompetent government that had built up hope and a great deal of illusions, which is why people are so disillusioned right now.

Aristide betrayed and turned his back on his initial democratic project?
With respect to his initial project, what may have happened was that a lot of people tried to dress it up to make it presentable, but it was always an inconsistent project. Aristide exploited the fact that he was a priest addicted to liberation theology, but in the end he turned into a great swindler, which is why the Haitian people are so disillusioned. This is why the mobilization now includes not only the grassroots sectors but all of the country’s social levels. Civil society and civic spirit have also re-emerged because Aristide had imposed fear on the country and now society is mobilizing.

“He never wanted to yield an iota of power”

What domestic and foreign support does the Aristide government have?
Domestically, its social base has shrunk. It was supposedly supported by populations living in marginalized areas, but that support has been eroded to such an extent that it is currently using henchmen and hiring people. It’s not clear where its support is coming from, although the drug barons are supporting him. As for international support, we shouldn’t forget the negotiation process that started in 2001 when the Democratic Convergence questioned the legislative and presidential elections of 2000. At that moment, the international community recognized Aristide’s legitimacy, while we continued to question it. The negotiating process lasted two years. OAS secretary general César Gaviria came to Haiti along with other high-ranking foreign representatives to attend the negotiating process. But Aristide is a stubborn man who never wanted to yield an iota of power and didn’t want to recognize our electoral majority in the legislative body. He took complete control of parliament, personalized the police force and domesticated the country’s judicial apparatus, which made the negotiations impossible.

In the middle of those negotiations, Aristide ordered our houses and the opposition party premises to be burnt down. On December 5, 2003, the rector of the university was preparing to go to negotiations between the students and the government when armed government men burst onto the university campus. They broke furniture and smashed the facilities, as well as attacking the rector, breaking both his knees. So the students started mobilizing against Aristide. In response to all of this, the OAS adopted a complacent attitude, one of great formalism and even a certain amount of indifference in the face of Haiti’s increasingly decomposing situation. The OAS did not create the right conditions for the crisis to be resolved and ended up looking very bad in Haiti.

ArIstide has been a disgrace, a deception

What steps are the opposition and the mobilization going to take?
The people are mobilized and will stay that way until Aristide resigns. A lot of people are raising the specter of violence, but the violence is coming from the government, which is in the minority. We have never advocated or used violence. We are going to push ahead with this democratic struggle until Aristide understands that he has to go or until the international community makes him understand it.

Is a profound social crisis on the cards in Haiti?
The crisis is already installed in Haiti. We have a President who bought a house worth over a million dollars, who has become the richest man in the country while never even attempting to implement an anti-poverty plan in a country with the most infernal poverty rates in Latin America. The opposition movement has many demands and has been growing. The only thing on the cards is his resignation, because there’s already been a negotiation process and it came to nothing. The only thing on the cards is a transitional government that can create the right conditions for holding real elections in the country.

Aren’t you afraid that this will be achieved at the cost of many deaths, great repression and a lot of violence?
There is that danger. That’s why the government is raising the specter of violence. The truth is that Aristide has destroyed the republic’s institutions. When he destroyed the army, we thought it was a democratic measure, but it was really paving the way for his personal power. Now the police force responds to the dictator’s orders. So there’s a danger of violence if the hordes of Lavalas—the organization Aristide runs—are unleashed against the people. Belonging to Lavalas is not based on fanaticism, but rather on bits of paid work, on money.

The international community has ways of helping without the need for armed intervention. It has to get involved. Haiti currently has a typical case of a man who has exploited all the instruments and mechanisms of democracy to establish a personality-based, authoritarian regime. Today, Haiti is subjected to a tremendous dictatorship. The government is killing people, violating rules and human rights and violating the agreements it made with the OAS during the negotiation process. It’s a disgrace that a government in the Americas is running a country like a private farm, using archaic methods. It’s incredible to see how Aristide treats the country like his own farm. People are very angry. The Aristide government has been irresponsible and has betrayed the ideal and dream of democracy that had motivated so much grassroots enthusiasm. Aristide has been a disgrace, a deception.

“We are a single force”

Who’s leading the mobilizations?
The recently created Democratic Platform, which groups together political parties and civil society. It is the most representative organization at this historic moment. Civil society’s representation includes the student organizations, the teachers’ federation, the peasants’ federation, women’s groups and the private sector, which is playing a pretty dynamic role. All forms of non-party organization are involved. The parties belonging to the Platform include the Organization of the People’s Struggle (OPL), which was the main force in parliament; the Concertation Arena, consisting of six parties with social democratic and democratic tendencies; the Christian Movement; and the National Safeguard Movement, which involves the more traditional forces, including neo-Duvalier sectors. There’s an alliance with the Group of 184, which is an umbrella of civil society sectors. The Catholic Church, Protestants and even the voodoo church are also part of this movement. A unique form of dialogue has been created and this process is being led by a single force. All of this will be very important in the transition and in the future. These are difficult days, but we hope that they will prove to be very hopeful days as well.

*An interview with Gerard Pierre Charles by Hugo Guzmán of the Chilean news agency ANCHI a month before Aristide was forced from power.

* * * * * * * * * *


The latest act of the Haitian drama started to develop in 1986, when the Haitian people succeeded in expeling the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier, putting an end to a century and a half of US military interventions and state terrorist regimes that served Washington’s interests. Breaking the chain of gringo neo-colonialism that had kept the Haitian people in misery opened up a power vacuum in which the star of Jean Bertrand Aristide, a Salesian neighborhood priest, started to shine among the dispossessed. With a discourse based on liberation theology and a preferential option for the poor, demanding the country’s sovereign right to self-determination in the face of US dominion, and what The Wall Street Journal described with some concern as a passionate rhetoric that at times incited class violence, Aristide became a popular tribune and the majority population’s great hope for change.

The 1990 elections—the first free elections in 187 years—proved he had overwhelming popular support. Having survived several assassination attempts by rightwing paramilitary forces and having been expelled from the Salesian order at the instigation of the papal nuncio for inciting violence, Jean Bertrand Aristide won 67.5% of the votes. Washington’s candidate, former World Bank official Marc Bazin, received just 15% of the votes.

A subversive plan

The electoral results set the alarm bells ringing in the White House, which put into operation a plan to subvert and destroy the popular government; it produced results in seven months. The newly elected President took office in February 1991, only to be overthrown on September 30 by a bloody military coup. The subversive post-election destabilization plan had been preceded by a pre-electoral intervention plan that employed various measures to put an end to the rebel priest who was trying to implement what Washington considered
a “populist model” of democracy; in other words a form of democracy with grassroots participation.

The National Fund for Democracy (NED), the public wing of the US Republican and Democratic parties’ international subversion efforts, had economically supported Bazin’s followers and former members of the Duvalier dictatorship to derail Aristide’s electoral triumph. With the same objective, the NED also financed radio stations that demonized Aristide’s candidacy. At the request of the State Department, the US AFL-CIO labor union confederation helped finance rightwing unions, some of which had direct influence in Duvalier’s secret police, and the official US Agency for International Aid (USAID) subsidized and advised US-leaning rightwing forces. But these measures had not been enough to stop Aristide from winning the elections and taking office in February 1991.

A bloody coup d’état

In response to Bazin’s defeat and the “danger” of grassroots democracy, Washington organized the coup d’état that put an end to the priest’s experiment. Heading it was the drug-trafficking CIA collaborator General Raúl Cedrás, trained at the notorious School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. His right-hand man was Colonel Michel Joseph François, who also trained at Fort Benning. Together with Emmanuel Constant, another CIA agent, they controlled two institutions essential to the destruction of Aristide’s democratic government: the National Intelligence Service (SIN) and the death squads known as FRAPH, both of which had been created and maintained by the CIA. In the first two weeks of the September 1991 coup, over a thousand people lost their lives in a campaign of state terrorism that systematically destroyed the grassroots and democratic organizations that had supported Aristide. When the terror ended, Cedrás and François had murdered over 4,000 Haitians.

In collusion with the big US media, the government of George Bush Sr. immediately initiated a propaganda campaign against the overthrown President. They blamed what had happened on Aristede’s “human rights violations.” The OAS, meanwhile, decreed an embargo against the coup leaders that was never seriously applied by either the European powers or Washington. In February 1992, Bush practically lifted the embargo against the coup leaders, supported by the fervent Democratic congressman Robert Torricelli. While working to strengthen the embargo against Cuba, hoping to take advantage of the Soviet Union’s collapse to destroy the Cuban revolution, Torricelli was dedicating the same energies to lifting the embargo against the coup leaders in Haiti. He was successful on both counts: the aggression against Cuba increased and the boycott against Haiti was lifted.

Aristide finally broke under the weight of events. He signed a “national unity accord” that left him only a symbolic role in government and he became a de facto exile in the United States. Washington’s puppet, Marc Bazin, took office in June 1992 with the public blessing of the Vatican, the Haitian Episcopal Conference, the national elite and the Empire to the north.

An innocuous leader

Aristide’s betrayal and degeneration, which climaxed during his US exile, the systematic destruction of the grassroots movement in Haiti and the mass exodus of 70,000 Haitians in two years created the conditions for the return of the now innocuous leader to his country. President Clinton sent some 25,000 US soldiers, who reestablished Aristide—the legitimate President—in power. Colonel François took refuge in the Dominican Republic and subsequently in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where he spent the millions of dollars he obtained from the reign of terror and drug trafficking with the Colombian cartels. General Cedrás left for Panama City with former army chief Biambi, enjoying the same luxuries as François, their accomplice in so many murders. The flight to Panamanian exile was courtesy of the Clinton government, which guaranteed Cedrás and Biambi a beachside mansion in Panama with all costs covered by the United States.

Meanwhile, Aristide returned to a devastated country, where the grassroots sectors still saw him as a “savior,” although he represented none of the objective or subjective potential of the historic project he had led in 1990. The demolishing of his regime and his personality was profound and would inevitably end in his expulsion by the same grassroots sectors that had brought him to power 15 years earlier. This is what Washington wanted and is exactly what we are currently witnessing.

How to kill a myth

There’s no better way to kill a popular myth than to have the people themselves kill it off. It is the same thing Washington did in Ecuador with former colonel and current President Lucio Gutiérrez. His corrupt presidential practices have discredited the Armed Forces as the possible vanguard of a nationalist process, while the support of Gutiérrez by the National Confederation of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) has discredited the indigenous movement. And the handover of military bases and military sovereignty to the Pentagon has fulfilled Washington’s greatest expectations regarding Plan Colombia. The colonel has played his historic role in the service of the Empire. The only thing left now is for him to be kicked out and sent into exile. The same is true of Aristide: he has become superfluous to requirements and will disappear from the scene sooner than he imagines.

A predictable scenario

The scenario is predictable. Under the auspices of Washington, France, CARICOM or the OAS, a new “national unity agreement” will be reached, including elections that will usher some Washington puppet into the presidency. While the Democratic Platform of civil organizations has a certain degree of social force, power increasingly lies with the armed forces in northern Haiti, made up of the old torturers and officers from the Duvalier dictatorship who are returning from comfortable exile in the Dominican Republic. They include Luis Jodel Chamblain and Jean Pierre Baptiste—former leaders of the FRAPH death squads—and Guy Philippe, another cruel assassin and former head of the dictatorial police force. They are joining up with Aristide’s own paramilitary groups, who have gone over to the other side.

In a cruel historical irony, the project of domination dreamed up for Haiti by Bush Sr., which motivated the coup against Aristide, has become quite viable under the presidency of his son, George W. It amounts to Duvalierism without Duvalier. President Carter tried but failed to implement Somocismo without Somoza in the final days of the Nicaraguan dictatorship, essentially because of the “Vietnam trauma.” But Bush Jr.’s possibilities of achieving a similar objective in Haiti are much better.

The eventual installation of a rightwing government in Haiti has considerable implications for Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Northern Haiti and eastern Cuba are separated by just 90 kilometers. The Guantanamo military base is also nearby, and the Bush government could use any sea-borne exodus from Haiti to that base as a pretext to apply force in the region. A meticulous study of the Aristide experience is vitally important for Venezuela. The military coup of April 2002 failed, but a plan of subversion and destruction is still being implemented against President Chávez.

*By German analyst Heinz Dieterich, published in www.Rebelión.org

*By Cuban writer Lisandro Otero, published in the alternative web page news source www.Rebelión.org

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