Sunday, July 17, 2005
Haiti: Two Plus Two Don't Make Five
The UN presence in Haiti has been depicted in the mainstream press as a stablizing force that was in fact criticized last month for "a lack of aggressiveness" in putting down the enemies of the Bush/Helms-backed junta:
The 7,400-strong U.N. force has been criticized for a lack of aggressiveness in cracking down on militants since the February 2004 armed uprising that forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee Haiti. On Thursday, Roger Noriega, the U.S. assistant secretary for western Hemisphere affairs, urged the Brazil-led force to be "more pro-active" in combating gangs, which he said were trying to derail election scheduled for October and November. Clashes between pro- and anti-Aristide gangs, Haitian police and peacekeepers have killed more than 700 people since September, when Aristide supporters stepped up calls for his return from exile in South Africa. Human rights groups have warned voters could be too scared to vote in the fall elections. A top aid to Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Jorge Armando Felix, was traveling to Haiti on Saturday to evaluate stabilization efforts and discuss the possibility of new technical help for the interim government.Note that I've put the name of Roger Noriega in bold. Here's why:
...But almost all Haiti-watchers agree that various anti-Aristide forces have been at work in the U.S. capital for as long as the former Catholic priest has been leading his campaign on behalf of the poor in the western hemisphere's most impoverished nation. Those opposition elements include the International Republican Institute on International Affairs, linked to the National Endowment for Democracy, which has worked closely with the civil opposition in Haiti. Politicians from Bush's Republican Party like former Senator Jesse Helms demonized the former president, who was forced to flee the country Feb. 29 as armed rebels seized control of major cities in Haiti's north and descended toward the capital Port-au-Prince. Helms in turn influenced such right-wing officials as Roger Noriega, a member of his staff for several years and now assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, and Otto Reich, the presidential envoy for western hemisphere affairs, who worked with Helms on anti-Cuba legislation as a lobbyist in the 1990s. With the Bush administration intent on waging its "war on terrorism", these lower-tier officials were able to apply heat to Haiti's political tinderbox. [...] "There was something about Aristide that really generated profound hatred on the part of members of the Haitian elite and some right-wing Republicans. You can even sense that (now), because Noriega said (after Aristide's ouster), 'we're certainly not going to spend any money or American lives on Aristide'," Fatton told IPS. "I think Aristide from the very beginning -- we're talking about 1990 when he was elected -- always was perceived by the right wing in the Republican Party as an enemy of the United States, as someone who was trouble, a wild card, and a dangerous man -- when they (Republicans) came back in power with Bush the son, I think that antagonism was reactivated".This hatred existed and exists despite the fact that Aristide, far from being the reincarnation of Ché Guevara that the Helms/Noriega faction claimed him to be, was cooperating with the World Bank to slash the decades of Duvalier-created debt, an action that angered many people, especially on the left, as it was seen as a sellout to the very forces that had helped keep Haiti's people poor and downtrodden. Which is why it shocks and dismays the Helms acolytes that Aristide is still wildly popular among Haiti's common people:
When United Nations troops kill residents of the Haitian slum Cité Soleil, friends and family often place photographs of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on their bodies. The photographs silently insist that there is a method to the madness raging in Port-au-Prince. Poor Haitians are being slaughtered not for being "violent," as we so often hear, but for being militant; for daring to demand the return of their elected president. It was only ten years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide's return to power as "the triumph of freedom over fear." So what changed? Corruption? Violence? Fraud? Aristide is certainly no saint. But even if the worst of the allegations are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted Aristide and continue to enjoy free rein, with full support from the Bush Administration and the UN. 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 Charles Manson. 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: "privatization, privatization and privatization."What does Aristide mean by that? Well, he was elected in 1990, then ousted in 1991 under the auspices of the first George Bush and Jesse Helms. When Bill Clinton took office, the Helms faction was temporarily set back sufficiently to allow Clinton to negotiate a return to power for Aristide. Unfortunately, the cost of the return was Aristide's agreeing to the demands of the World Bank, and when Aristide refused to play ball, the Helms faction -- buoyed by the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and absolutely elated by the Bush takeover of 2000 -- slowly started to tighten the screws, cutting off the promised $500 million in aid to Aristide's government even as they funnelled millions to his opponents. Aristide, however, grimly managed to hang on well into Bush's first term, fleeing only in February of 2004. And even after his forced exile,
...the war continues. On June 23 Roger Noriega, 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 Falluja-like collective punishment inflicted on neighborhoods known for supporting Aristide. On July 6, for instance, 300 UN troops stormed Cité Soleil, blocking off exits and firing from armored vehicles. The UN admits that five were killed, but residents put the number of dead at no fewer than twenty. 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 twenty-seven people came to the MSF clinic with gunshot wounds, three-quarters of them women and children. Yet despite these attacks, Haitians are still on the streets--rejecting the planned sham elections, opposing privatization 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--surely Aristide must be controlling them through some mysterious voodoo arts. "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.
Haiti has been the target of irrational American hatred for almost two centuries. It is the child we whip to assuage our fears of impotence. Now, in a particularly evil act, we are teaching other nations to whip it.
The island has been drowned in blood and sorrow so extreme it should have been washed to sea.
And yet the people hope.
And yet the people resist.
These are the virtues that Americans worship on the Fourth of July. These are the virtues we have surrendered as we have become the slave nation that Haiti refused to become.
Aristide was so dangerous because he taught non-violent resistance. One of his first acts was to disband the army, which had been used by every tyrant in Haiti's history to crush the people. The army would have served him had he been a tyrant. But he sent them home.
As Naomi Klein says, he is not a saint. But he is the least violent leader that Haiti had since the American occupation (1915-34)... maybe the least violent leader in its history. The poor clearly love him.
Many people take up as their cause righting injustices in places like Sudan, China, Palestine, Cuba, and so on. I applaud them. There are injustices there, and they need champions to fight for them.
But I take up as my cause the nations nearest to the United States, those whose deaths were inflicted with my own tax dollars, and for which I bear a personal responsibility. The shedding of blood has at last slowed down in Central America. But in Haiti, the violence seems to be just beginning.
I grieve for them and do not forget their sorrows.
-- Both men are flawed but basically well-intentioned persons determined to bring democracy and freedom and prosperity to their people.
-- Both men have made the same enemies; namely, those persons who might stand to lose some of their personal wealth if everyone in the country was prosperous and free.
-- George W. Bush and his allies (who include, alas, some Democrats) have tried to take down both men. They have not succeeded with Chavez, and the longer he stays in, the less likely it is that they will. They succeeded, for the moment, with Aristide -- but only because they convinced France to back Bush's drive to send in UN troops to prop up the drug lords who now rule where Aristide was democratically elected.
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