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In the last three months Haiti has seen a spate of political assassinations of Lavalas militants, charges of government complicity in the killings by the opposition, and the corporate media’s constant trumpeting of the evils of “Aristide’s Lavalas regime.” These intrigues finally climax into a media circus on November 14th with the opposition Group 184 holding an anti-Aristide demonstration in front of the national palace with a heavy contingent of international press in tow. The much smaller opposition Group 184 is overwhelmed and outflanked by over ten thousand angry Lavalas supporters. Group 184 is forced to withdraw as the Haitian police fire teargas and give orders to disperse in an effort to keep the two groups from clashing. Furthermore, two members of Group 184 are arrested for possession of weapons and are immediately pronounced to be “political prisoners” by the opposition group. Condemnation of the government by the new U.S. Ambassador and the international community is swift as greased lightning. A new round of propaganda begins against Lavalas hammering the theme that freedom of expression is now impossible in Haiti. This media-ready event is touted as further evidence that Aristide is actually a dictator in democrat’s clothing.
Whose Democracy is it anyway?
So who is Group 184 and how have they managed to garner so much media savvy in such a short period of time? How has their leader Andre Apaid been transformed from a reactionary businessman, who forces union organizers off his property at gunpoint, into “Andy” the democratic leader of the opposition? The answer to these questions, as is so often the case, lies in Washington D.C. not in Port au Prince.
Let’s start from the beginning with a Washington D.C. based organization called the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) that has fashioned itself into the arbiter of Bush administration policy towards Haiti. According to Tom Reeves, in an article published last October in Dollars and Sense magazine, “This July, even the departing U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Brian Curran, lashed out against some U.S. political operatives, calling them the "Chimeres of Washington" (a Haitian term for political criminals). The most recent of these Chimeres have been associated with the Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), headed by James Morrell and funded by the right-wing Haitian Boulos family. In December 2002, the HDP literally created from whole cloth a new public relations face for the official opposition, the "Coalition of 184 Civic Institutions," a laundry list of Haitian NGOs funded by USAID and/or the IRI (International Republican Institute), as well as by the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce and other groups.” So who is this mysterious Haiti Democracy Project (HDP) that created the Group 184 and believes it is qualified to intervene in Haiti’s internal political affairs and thereby represent the hopes and aspirations of 8 million Haitian citizens?
Novelist cum journalist, Herb Gold, knows the HDP well. Gold recently joined the negative hit-piece parade against the Haitian government and wrote in the SF Chronicle last October 19, “Of course, there are still folks who love Aristide; Mussolini also has his loyalists. The variety-pack of current issues in Haiti includes fraudulent elections, street violence, an entrenched drug distribution apparatus, and state-implicated murders and disappearances.” What Mr. Gold doesn’t mention is that his presence in Haiti had been conjured by a notable HDP founding board member eleven months earlier to the day. On November 19, 2002 at the opening of the HDP in Washington, D.C., former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Timothy Carney pleads, “There needs to be something done to begin to get this process under way. I think that the seminars that the Haiti Democracy Project has in mind doing in an effort to spark a debate are probably the only thing that can be done given the fact that there aren’t any journalists worth their salt to go down and write about Haiti. Where’s Herb Gold? I hope he is still alive. Yes, he is still in San Francisco.”
“Who else is writing on Haiti in anything other than desultory fashion? We need a lot more focus in America on what’s going on in Haiti today. And I would hope that the Haiti Democracy Project is going to do that…”
“Herb Gold could write when he was there in the early 1950s about how worried everyone was that there were four hundred thousand people in Port-au-Prince. You just have to go to that town today and you will be appalled of what has become of the facilities, the infrastructure, and the future of the children of Haiti. So what do you do?” The real question should be what hasn’t this Washington suit, and his right-wing Haitian allies, done to destabilize Haiti? And again, just who is the HDP anyway?
all begins with HDP's director James Morrell, who
was asked to leave the Center
for International Policy (CIP), a "liberal" think-tank
founded by former US
There were notable Haitians in attendance at the Haiti Democracy Project’s grand opening held in the Brookings Institute on November 19, 2002. Among them was founding member Rudolph Boulos. Boulos is infamous for once being summoned for questioning in February 2002 concerning the assassination of one of Haiti’s most popular journalists, Jean Dominique. Dominique publicly lambasted Boulos for having sold poisoned children’s cough syrup through his company Pharval Pharmaceuticals. Over sixty children died from diethyl alcohol contamination of "Afrebril and Valodon" syrups, the deadly concoction brewed in Boulos private laboratories.
Among the other right-wing notables at the founding of the HDP was Stanley Lucas of the International Republican Institute, whose relations in Jean Rabel, Haiti were implicated in a 1987 massacre of peasants. Also in attendance was Olivier Nadal, the former president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, who is implicated in a peasant massacre in the Haitian township of Piatre in 1990. (Ears close to Haiti’s courts say an indictment and arrest warrant, in connection with the Piatre massacre, are due to be issued for Mr. Nadal soon.) To round it off and give the semblance of a Haitian center-right coalition, James Morrell chose as a co-founder Clotilde Charlot who is a Social Development Specialist who works for the Women in Development Unit of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB). Jocelyn McCalla, founder and former executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), was also in attendance. Creole language radio stations in New York and Miami as well as officers in Haiti’s police force recently accused NCHR of taking sides with the opposition in Haiti. It must have been a lonely night for Dr. Joseph Baptiste of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH) whose website states “NOAH's active participation in the democratization of Haiti continues, and was most recently evidenced when the organization was invited to witness the inauguration of the newly elected, President Jean Bertrand Aristide."
Even more interesting is the cadre of Washington suits who attended the HDP’s grand opening. Many in this elite group are also founding members or advisory board members of HDP. The list includes:
This impressive list is the crème de la crème of Washington’s “big thinkers” on Haiti and they are out for nothing short of regime change. Former Ambassador Carney summed up their position in a Reuters interview November 27, 2002, “The big question is whether Aristide is going to understand that he has no future,” said Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti. "Without massive reform, Haiti is once again headed for the kind of chaos that has intermittently dogged its history.” It is now clear that HDP’s version of “massive reform” is predicated upon the removal from office of a constitutionally elected president, and the Lavalas movement of the majority of the poor that supports him, whose reputation they have systematically sought to destroy.
Unfortunately, to HDP’s chagrin and angst, Aristide’s popularity among the poor majority of Haitians remains intact. In a backhanded and slanted acknowledgement of this fact Paisley Dodds of Reuters wrote on November 18, “Now opponents say Aristide, who remains the country’s most popular leader, is becoming a dictator.” What Ms. Dodds fails to write is that the “opponents” she refers to include a large helping of white American citizens in the HDP who work, or have worked, for the U.S. government in Haiti.
Intellectually first among equals in the HDP is Ira Lowenthal, former Democracy Enhancement Project guru, who wrote a OP-ED piece in the Miami Herald on October 31 entitled; “Aristide has made a mockery of constitutional rule in Haiti.” In it he repeats in sound bite fashion the major themes that have been spinning in the corporate media about Haiti for the past three months. Written as an attack against the Congressional Black Caucus’s support for immediate elections in Haiti Lowenthal railed, “The Oct. 27 column by U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee and John Conyers, Avert Constitutional Crisis, reads as though it were penned by one of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's lobbyists. There is no constitutional crisis pending in Haiti, nor could there be. Aristide has seen to it that he, his cronies and henchmen have trampled every basic constitutional precept protecting this suffering nation from the reemergence of one-man rule, kleptocracy and repression.”
In a bizarre political twist, Lowenthal seems to play the race card when he continues, “Yet Lee and Conyers counsel Haitian democrats to put 'political interests aside' and move toward 'successful' elections under Aristide's unchallenged stewardship. Disingenuous? Perhaps. Self-serving? Surely. For there is nothing more alluring to Congressional Black Caucus members than standing along with Aristide on Jan. 1, 2004 – the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence.” We can guess from this statement he means that the Congressional Black Caucus suffers from the inability to know the difference between his definition of democracy and the Black Caucus’s own short-sided vanity. Is there a racial stereotype in there or does he mean that his superior knowledge of Haiti better qualifies him to decide what is best for the world’s first black republic? In classic fashion, Lowenthal makes the arrogant assumption that HDP and their small band of rightist Haitian intellectuals, are far superior and smarter than the average poor Haitian who continues to support Aristide. This error in analysis is easy to make when Lowenthal confuses interventionist thinking for acceptance of the suffering and reality facing the majority of the poor in Haiti. It is patently clear that Lowenthal’s bloated ego has never been tempered by a day without food and money in his life. The same can be said for the members of the HDP and their artificial surrogates in Haiti.
The Effects of Low-Intensity Conflict
This latest cycle of political violence and negative press over the past three months fits into a pattern of destabilization summed up by Tom Reeves in Dollars and Sense magazine when he wrote, “Aristide was unfortunate to be elected (for the second time) in 2000, the same year as George W. Bush. Elitane Atelis, a member of Fanm des Martyrs Ayibobo Brav (Women Victims of Military Violence), put it bluntly: today, her country faces ‘what every Haitian baby knows is Bush's game.’ The game is low-intensity warfare, a policy mix long familiar to observers of U.S. policy toward ‘undesirable’ regimes in Latin America and elsewhere. The mix includes disinformation campaigns in the media; pressure on international institutions and other governments to weaken their support of the ‘target’ government; and overt and covert support for rightist opposition groups, including those prepared to attempt a violent overthrow.”
The effects of this policy are clearly evident in Haiti today as prices for basic goods continue to rise in tandem with increasing crime and violence. The only hope of organizations like the HDP, and their surrogates in the Group 184, is that this will lead to increasing disillusionment with the Aristide government and its eventual overthrow. As Reeves eloquently points out in his Dollars and Sense article, the average poor Haitian continues to see it “differently.”
Anatomy of a Failed Political Coup: A Timeline
September 2: The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) releases a report alleging the police have created an auxiliary force comprised of “Lavalas gangsters.” NCHR equates this alleged paramilitary force with Duvalier’s Ton Ton Macoutes and the former death squads or Attachés under the Cedras dictatorship.
September 18: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide accepts the credentials of the new US Ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley at Haiti's National Palace
September 19: President Jean-Bertrand Aristide holds a press conference reiterating that local and parliamentary elections will be held this year. The opposition responds by continuing to paralyze the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) by refusing to appoint its designated members according to an agreement brokered by the Organization of American States (OAS).
September 21: Amiot Metayer is slain and the opposition blames Aristide for the killing. Jean Tatoune, a former commander of the CIA inspired Front for Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), leads violent demonstrations against the government.
October 7: Transparency International (TI) releases its Corruption index, which labels Haiti the third most corrupt country in the world. Several British organizations on the left describe TI as “a tool to destabilize Governments for corporate interests under the guise of exposing corruption.” Last January 11th Beth Aub, founding member and Secretary General of the TI-Jamaica chapter, resigns alleging “corrupt practices among others.”
October 12: Novelist Amy Wilentz, former Aristide biographer and confidant, writes an article entitled “HAITI; A Savior Short on Miracles” for the Los Angeles Times. In it she gives credence to the opposition charge that Aristide had Meteyer killed in order to silence him.
October 16: Jane Regan publishes “Former Haitian allies become enemies: Weeks of protest have followed the killing of a government opponent” in The Christian Science Monitor. Reagan echoes Wilentz and the opposition’s accusation that Aristide had a hand in Metayer’s slaying.
October 19: Novelist Herb Gold, follows with an article in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled, “Haiti is the tragedy you can dance to: Iraq and Afghanistan should take note of the Caribbean's failed experiment in nation-building.” In it he describes Metayer as a “megathug” and reinforces the notion of Lavalas cast as armed gangs. He also echoes NCHR in comparing them to Ton Ton Macoutes and Attachés.
October 26: Jean Tatoune leads “anti-government protesters” to attack the Gonaives police station and gunfire kills a 17 year-old girl on her bicycle. The police chief and two officers are wounded.
October 27: The Haitian police enter the Raboteau neighborhood in Gonaives and arrest a dozen people in response to the police station attack the day before. A female bystander is shot and killed and two people are wounded in the raid.
October 31: Ira P. Lowenthal, a founding member of the Washington think-tank the Haiti Democracy Project, publishes an OP-ED piece in the Miami Herald entitled “Aristide has made a mockery of constitutional rule in Haiti.” In it he repeats NCHR’s assertions of “Aristide's armed thugs, whose operations recall those of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes and paramilitary forces that supported Haitian dictators.” Lowenthal directly accuses Aristide of Metayer’s murder. He then attacks the Congressional Black Caucus’s support for new parliamentary elections in Haiti by accusing them of being “self-serving” and wanting to stand next to Aristide during the upcoming bicentennial celebrations. He announces that Haiti’s “leading artists, intellectuals and writers” have begun circulating a petition to boycott the January 1, 2004 celebrations.
November 1: The Front of Youth for Saving Haiti, a group close to the opposition in the Port au Prince neighborhood of Carrefour, announces it is armed and intends to overthrow the government through “civil war.”
November 4: Wilson Lemaire, described by AP as a Lavalas gang leader from the Port au Prince slum of Cite Soleil, is assassinated and his alleged followers demonstrate calling on President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign. Opposition party spokesman and former Sen. Paul Denis claims “Aristide uses them and then disposes of them when they become an inconvenience.” The government denies the accusations.
November 5: Newly appointed Ambassador James Foley announces ''the government has not assumed its responsibilities'' in preparing for the tentatively scheduled parliamentary elections. Foley says the international community will not accept the results “if the government organizes unilateral elections.”
November 10: Group 184 calls for a demonstration against the Haitian government to take place in front of the National Palace on November 14.
November 13: The Group 184 attempts a trial run for their demonstration scheduled for the next day. AP first reports “over a thousand” demonstrators participate but photos taken by independent observers forces them to lower the number to “hundreds” by the end of the day.
November 14: The Group 184 attempts to organize a demonstration calling on President Aristide to resign. While several hundred of the opposition attempt to rally, over 10,000 government supporters control the main road in front of the National Palace. Several members of the Group 184 are arrested on possession of weapons charges and the opposition declares them “prisoners of war.” The Group 184 is forced to withdraw as it becomes clear they are greatly outnumbered and police fire teargas into the crowd in an effort to keep the two factions from clashing.
November 17: The Group 184 calls for a national strike that is a near repeat of the strike they called last January 24. Businesses that largely cater to Haiti’s small upper and middle classes shutter their doors while the majority of small marketplace women, known as ti machann, remain open for business.
NEXT: Intervention 101: Bush’s State Department Takes the Haitian Opposition on Tour