U.S.-SPONSORED REGIME CHANGE IN HAITI
by Nirit Ben-Ari
with Bill Weinberg
In the wee hours of March 1, US Marines landed in Haiti hours after
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide reportedly succumbed to demands from an
armed opposition movement that he step down and go into exile--although
persistent rumors on the ground maintain he was actually arrested by US
forces. As rebel troops entered the capital Port-au-Prince, the UN Security
Council approved a resolution authorizing a multinational force to restore
order, and French troops are also on the way.
The rebel army, hobbled together from anti-government gangs and militias
and led by former army officers, has achieved its aim of Aristide's ouster.
It seems the cost will be the loss of Haiti's sovereignty to foreign
occupation troops--yet again..
Cycles of Destabilization
This overthrow had been in the making since December 1990, when Haiti's
first free election was held. The winning candidate, with two-thirds
majority, was the populist priest Aristide, backed by a vigorous grassroots
movement known as Lavalas. But seven months later, Aristide's government
was overthrown in a military coup. No government on earth recognized the
military junta, but as Noam Chomsky noted: "Washington maintained close
intelligence and military ties with the new rulers while undermining the
embargo called by the Organization of American States, even authorizing
illegal shipments of oil to the regime and its wealthy supporters."
In July 1993, Aristide was made to sign the Governor's Island Accord, a
US-backed "peace accord" with the illegal military junta that terrorized
Haiti for three years. The Accord forbade Aristide from running for
re-election once he was restored to power, and gave amnesty to the
death-squad terrorists of the junta. The junta then refused to abide by the
accord, prompting President Clinton to send in troops in September 1994.
Aristide finished his term, although conditions imposed on him as the cost
of returning to power--such as an IMF-style "free market" reform of the
economy--eroded his popularity. But Aristide continued to stand up to the
IMF and international creditors, demanding a better deal that would not
impose yet harsher austerity on Haiti, the poorest country in the western
In 1995 Rene Preval, a close friend of Aristide, was elected as president.
His government faced serious political deadlock, and in 1999 Preval
declared that Parliament's term had expired and began ruling by decree.
The last elections took place in November 2000. Aristide won his second
non-consecutive term--amid allegations of irregularities by the US and the
opposition. Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official backed by the White
House, won only 14% of the votes. To the dismay of Washington, Aristide was
The US and international donors blocked financial aid, maintaining the
elections were "flawed." Arisitide, in need of funds to implement his
social plans for the country, was immobilized. Only in July 2003, the
Inter-American Development Bank resumed loan programs.
At the same time, the arming and funding of Aristide's
opposition--including paramilitary leaders who were at the forefront of the
terror campaign in the 1991-94 military junta--continued. Ira Kurzban,
general counsel to the Haitian government, told Pacifica Radio's Democracy
Now Feb. 25 that the US government was directly involved in a new military
coup attempt against Aristide--and that the rebels fighting to overthrow
his government were backed by Washington. "This is a military operation,"
he said, "it's not a rag-tag group of liberators, as has often been put in
the press." Kurzban denied media reports that the armed groups were using
weapons originally distributed by Aristide. Among the weapons used by the
paramilitaries are M-16s with armor-piercing ammo and rocket-propelled
grenade launchers, he said.
France was the first to call for Aristide's resignation as the rebels
seized the northern half of the country in late February. The French hold
grudges against Aristide for his demand last April that France pay back the
$22 billion (adjusted for inflation and interest) that Haiti had to pay in
1863 for French recognition of the republic, which became independent in
1804--the second in the hemisphere after the US in 1776, and the first
independent black republic in the world. Ironically, the new uprising came
weeks after Haiti had celebrated the bicentennial of its independence.
U.S. State Department Behind Coup?
In a Feb. 12 letter to Secretary of State Colin Powel, US Rep. Barbara Lee
(D-CA) wrote: "Our failure to support the democratic process and help
restore order looks like a covert effort to overthrow a government. There
is a violent coup d'etat in the making, and it appears that the United
States is aiding and abetting the attempt to violently topple the Aristide
Government. With all due respect, this looks like 'regime change.' How can
we call for democracy in Iraq and not say very clearly that we support
democratic elections as the only option in Haiti?"
And US Rep Maxine Waters (D-CA), also in a letter to Powell, said she was
"outraged" at the State Department willingness to sabotage democracy and
the rule of law in Haiti. "It has been clear to me for some time that the
state department has been trying to undermine President Aristide… I am
convinced that this effort to force President Aristide out of office by any
means is a power-grab by the same forces that staged a coup d'etat and
forced him out of office in 1991. The opposition that claims to be peaceful
is not peaceful and they are responsible for the violence in Gonaives and
other parts of Haiti. Should these actions by Andre Apaid and his Committee
of 184, thugs and violent protestors receive support or encouragement from
the United States, thereby increasing the risk of a coup d'etat, there may
well be a bloodbath on the streets of Haiti." She called the State
Department to "discontinue" its actions in support of "violent protesters
and thugs" in Haiti.
The New York Times reported Feb. 12 that US officials "hint[ed]" the Bush
administration might support replacing Aristide--although he had two years
left in office.
Who Is Andre "Andy" Apaid?
The Haitian political opposition--allied with the armed rebels--was led by
Andre "Andy" Apaid, also head of Alpha Industries, one of the oldest and
largest assembly factories in Haiti. As New York's Haiti Progress reported
in November, Apaid's father was a close friend to dictator Jean-Claude
"Baby Doc" Duvalier. Apaid was born in New York and claims to be a Haitian
citizen, although Haitian law does not allow dual-nationality and he has
not renounced his US citizenship. In a recent interview broadcast by the
BBC Caribbean Service, Apaid voiced support for rioters in Gonaives who had
torched government buildings. He is also known for pulling a gun on
demonstrators organized by the Batay Ouvriye trade union who tried to
picket in front of his plant. Apaid lead the opposition's "Group of 184," a
supposedly broad front of "civil society" organizations modeled on similar
anti-government coalitions in Chavez's Venezuela and Allende's Chile.
Reuters reported Feb. 21 that the armed rebel leadership includes Louis
Jodel Chamblain, a prominent death-squad leader from the country's 30-year
Duvalier dictatorship. In 1993, Chamblain joined with Emmanuel "Toto"
Constant--now exiled in New York--to form the Front for the Advancement of
Progress of the Haitian People, (FRAPH), which terrorized Haiti following
the first coup against Aristide. He recently crossed back into Haiti from
exile in the Dominican Republic to lead paramilitary units. Several other
exiled figures from the regime that deposed Aristide in 1991 are also among
the rebel leadership.
Otto Reich and the Contra Connection
Kevin Pina of Berkeley's KPFA Radio, writing for the on-line Black
Commentator last April, noted that Otto Reich, President Bush's envoy for
Western Hemisphere Initiatives, had arrived in Haiti the same week bombs
began falling on Iraq. Reich came as part of a delegation representing the
Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community Council with a
stated mission of brokering an agreement between the Haitian government and
the opposition. His visit coincided with reports from the Haitian police
that uniformed soldiers of Haiti's abolished army had begun regular armed
incursions into the Central Plateau region of the country from the
Otto Reich is a veteran of another US-sponsored armed insurgency against a
popular government in a small, impoverished Latin American nation. Reich
was the director of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD)
for Latin America and the Caribbean from 1983 to 1986--at the height of the
Reagan administration's covert wars in Central America. In 1987, he was
accused by the Congressional probe into the "Contragate" scandal of
engaging in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities" in his efforts to
promote the Reagan administration's "contra" guerilla army in Nicaragua. He
is today a top ideological and strategic mastermind of the
counter-insurgency war in Colombia, and has been named as a
behind-the-scenes figure in the failed April 2002 coup against President
Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
Police Out-Gunned, Out-Numbered
Haitian police--a force of fewer than 5,000 in a country of 8 million--were
outnumbered and outgunned in many areas by the rebel forces, and the
traditionally conservative army had been abolished by Aristide following
his return to power in 1994. In mid-February, as rebels seized Cap-Haitien,
the second-largest city, and numerous other town across the country, police
stations and government offices were looted and burned.
At least 70 people had been killed in three weeks of internal war as
February drew to a close, about 40 of them police officers. "Should those
killers come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands of people who may be
killed," Aristide told the AP. "We need the presence of the international
community as soon as possible."
Late on Feb. 29, as government loyalists and opponents of the paramilitary
gangs were preparing resistance in Port-au-Prince, the international press
reported that Aristide had fled by plane to the Central African Republic,
announcing that he would seek asylum in South Africa. Days later, he told
reporters he had been forced to flee Haiti at gunpoint by US troops. "It
was a real coup d'etat," he told CNN. The US denies the charge, while
admitting it supplied the plane that flew him from the country.
Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexander, next in line under Haiti's
constitution, has claimed the presidency--despite the fact that he has not
been approved by parliament, as mandated by the constitution.
Guy Philippe, a former police chief who has emerged as public voice of the
armed rebellion, told CNN he would welcome foreign troops. Philippe, who
fled into exile in 2000 after being charged in a coup plot, insists he has
no desire to rule Haiti, but does seek to restore the military, which
Haitian Refugess Denied Entry
On Feb. 25, the Dominican Republic repatriated to Haiti 37 police and local
officials who had fled the country, while Dominican leaders worry that the
conflict--or a flood of refugees--could spill over the border. The UK
Guardian reported Feb. 26 that the number of Haitians fleeing the deadly
uprising in their homeland has escalated, with the US Coast Guard saying it
has intercepted 546 people at sea over three to four days. US officials,
however, denied the seriousness of the increase, saying it "doesn't signal
a mass exodus." For years, Haitian refugees detained by the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS, now reorganized under the Homeland Security
Department) have been forcibly repatriated upon landing at US
shores--unlike Cuban refugees, who are granted political asylum
automatically upon arrival.
Given the violence and intimidation prevailing in Haiti, the new Haitian
boat people are clearly war refugees and not economic migrants, as
Washington has traditionally claimed.
For background on the conflict see Madre's primer at:
On the role of the United States in Haiti
Haiti Progress on Apaid:
The Black Commentator on Otto Reich:
For more on Reich see WW3 REPORT #s:
For more on the Haitian refugees see WW3 REPORT #92
For more on Toto Constant see WW3 REPORT #16
Chomsky quote from The New Military Humanism, 1999, p. 70