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25749: Prou: (new) FW: article on Haiti (fwd)
From: Marc Prou <Marc.Prou@umb.edu>
6/7: the massacre of the poor that the world ignored
The US cannot accept that the Haitian president it ousted still has support
Monday July 18, 2005
When terror strikes western capitals, it doesn't just blast bodies and
buildings, it also blasts other sites of suffering off the media map. A
massacre of Iraqi children, blown up while taking sweets from US soldiers,
is banished deep into the inside pages of our newspapers. The outpouring of
compassion for the daily deaths of thousands from Aids in Africa is suddenly
treated as a frivolous distraction.
In this context, a massacre in Haiti alleged to have taken place the day
before the London bombings never stood a chance. Well before July 7, Haiti
couldn't compete in the suffering sweepstakes: the US-supported coup that
ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had the misfortune of taking place
in late February 2004, just as the occupation of Iraq was reaching a new
level of chaos and brutality. The crushing of Haiti's constitutional
democracy made headlines for only a couple of weeks.
But the battle over Haiti's future rages on. Most recently, on July 6, 300
UN troops stormed the pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil. The UN admits that
five were killed, but residents put the number of dead at no fewer than 20.
A Reuters correspondent, Joseph Guyler Delva, says he "saw seven bodies in
one house alone, including two babies and one older woman in her 60s". Ali
Besnaci, head of Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti, confirmed that on the
day of the siege an "unprecedented" 27 people came to the MSF clinic with
gunshot wounds, three-quarters of them women and children.
Where news of the siege was reported, it was treated as a necessary measure
to control Haiti's violent armed gangs. But the residents of Cité Soleil
tell a different story: they say they are being killed not for being
violent, but for being militant - for daring to demand the return of their
elected president. On the bodies of their dead friends and family members,
they place photographs of Aristide.
It was only 10 years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide's return
to power as "the triumph of freedom over fear". So it seems worth asking:
Aristide is certainly no saint, but even if the worst of the allegations
against him are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted
killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted him. Turning Haiti over
to this underworld gang out of concern for Aristide's lack of "good
governance" is like escaping an annoying date by accepting a lift home from
A few weeks ago I visited Aristide in Pretoria, South Africa, where he lives
in forced exile. I asked him what was really behind his dramatic falling-out
with Washington. He offered an explanation rarely heard in discussions of
Haitian politics - actually, he offered three: "Privatisation, privatisation
The dispute dates back to a series of meetings in early 1994, a pivotal
moment in Haiti's history that Aristide has rarely discussed. Haitians were
living under the barbaric rule of Raoul Cédras, who overthrew Aristide in a
1991 US-backed coup. Aristide was in Washington and, despite popular calls
for his return, there was no way he could face down the junta without
Increasingly embarrassed by Cédras's abuses, the Clinton administration
offered Aristide a deal: US troops would take him back to Haiti - but only
after he agreed to a sweeping economic programme with the stated goal to
"substantially transform the nature of the Haitian state".
Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier
dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to "free trade" and
cut import tariffs on rice and corn. It was a lousy deal but, Aristide says,
he had little choice. "I was out of my country and my country was the
poorest in the western hemisphere, so what kind of power did I have at that
But Washington's negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept:
the immediate sell-off of Haiti's state-owned enterprises, including phones
and electricity. Aristide argued that unregulated privatisation would
transform state monopolies into private oligarchies, increasing the riches
of Haiti's elite and stripping the poor of their national wealth. He says
the proposal simply didn't add up: "Being honest means saying two plus two
equals four. They wanted us to sing two plus two equals five."
Aristide proposed a compromise: Rather than sell off the firms outright, he
would "democratise" them. He defined this as writing anti-trust legislation,
ensuring that proceeds from the sales were redistributed to the poor and
allowing workers to become shareholders. Washington backed down, and the
final text of the agreement called for the "democratisation" of state
But when Aristide announced that no sales could take place until parliament
had approved the new laws, Washington cried foul. Aristide says he realised
then that what was being attempted was an "economic coup". "The hidden
agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all
the state public enterprises."
He threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatisations.
"Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn't respect my word, when
they were the ones who didn't respect our common economic policy."
The US cut off more than $500m in promised loans and aid, starving his
government, and poured millions into the coffers of opposition groups,
culminating ultimately in the February 2004 armed coup.
And the war continues. On June 23 Roger Noriega, US assistant secretary of
state for western hemisphere affairs, called on UN troops to take a more
"proactive role" in going after armed pro-Aristide gangs. In practice, this
has meant a wave of collective punishment inflicted on neighbourhoods known
for supporting Aristide, most recently in Cité Soleil on July 6.
Yet despite these attacks, Haitians are still on the streets - rejecting the
planned sham elections, opposing privatisation and holding up photographs of
their president. And just as Washington's experts could not fathom the
possibility that Aristide would reject their advice a decade ago, today they
cannot accept that his poor supporters could be acting of their own accord.
"We believe that his people are receiving instructions directly from his
voice and indirectly through his acolytes that communicate with him
personally in South Africa," Noriega said.
Aristide claims no such powers. "The people are bright, the people are
intelligent, the people are courageous," he says. They know that two plus
two does not equal five.
· Research assistance was provided by Aaron Maté.
· A version of this column was first published in the Nation
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005