Sure, Washington Has Always Supported Democracy in Haiti

Sure, Washington Has Always Supported Democracy in Haiti

Sure, Washington Has Always Supported Democracy in Haiti

American politicians’ rhetoric on Haiti remains woefully disconnected from reality.


“As in the past, the United States is taking great interest in how elections in Haiti are unfolding,” a State Department spokesperson announced a few days ago; “The United States reaffirms its support for credible, transparent, and secure elections that reflect the will of the Haitian people.” George Orwell couldn’t have said it better: “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” And we have always supported democracy in Haiti.

The remark was in response to the country’s current political crisis—a crisis largely created by Washington—that forced the postponement of a runoff presidential election. The first-round vote, last October, was so marred by fraud, corruption, and violence that all other candidates, save Washington’s favored and handpicked successor to the current president, Michel Martelly—Jovenel Moïse—were boycotting the second runoff round.

In other words, the runoff had only one candidate: Washington’s. For months, the Obama administration insisted that the runoff take place, working hard to discredit the fraud charges. The goal of the United States, the State Department said in a “Fact Sheet” updated just last week as street protests were gaining force, was “credible, inclusive, and legitimate elections that genuinely reflect the will of the Haitian people.”

Martelly—who was also installed by Washington in rigged elections in 2010—wants his would-be successor Moïse to complete the Duvalierist-death-squad restoration, which has been underway since the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. A key supporter of Moïse (and hence de facto ally of the White House) is Guy Philippe. Philippe has all the right qualifications to serve as Washington’s man in Haiti. He has deep ties to paramilitaries and is wanted (but somehow never captured) by the Drug Enforcement Administration for drug running and money laundering. In 2004, he helped the George W. Bush administration (via the International Republican Institute, a public-private organization that receives its funding from both the US government and corporations like Halliburton and Chevron) to overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. (At the time, Jeffrey Sachs was offering some of the best analysis of the motives for that coup, writing that Bush came into office hoping to oust Aristide).

Now, Philippe, himself running for a seat in parliament, is calling for a civil war against the “anarchists of Port-au-Prince”—by which he means the coalition (including Aristide’s old political party, Fanmi Lavalas) that has demanded that Martelly step down as scheduled in early February and that new elections be held. Philippe’s threatening to lead his regional stronghold, Grand’Anse, in a breakaway separatist movement.

“As in the past.” When it comes to the US memory hole, perpetual war produces historical amnesia, which, in turn, is a requirement for perpetual war. Haiti—which, as the second republic in the Americas and the first (and only) nation forged out of a slave rebellion, simultaneously affirms and reveals the hypocrisy of enlightenment values—has long been at the center of this obliviousness. Here’s a quick primer on all the ways the United States has, “in the past,” been concerned about Haitian democracy (a good part of which is drawn directly from Joel Dreyfuss’s “Haiti in U.S. History: A Timeline,” at the Root):

1915 U.S. Marines enter Haiti, ostensibly to protect US citizens from violence during political turmoil. They fight and defeat a resistance movement and establish military rule that lasts 19 years.

1917 Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state, Williams Jennings Bryan, sharing his newly acquired knowledge of Haiti, declares: “Imagine that! Niggers speaking French!”

1934 US Marines withdraw from Haiti after 19 years and return the country to civilian rule.

1957 François “Papa Doc” Duvalier is elected president of Haiti; his government becomes a bloody dictatorship. The United States supports him because of his anti-Communist stance.

1971 Duvalier dies; his son Jean-Claude, known as “Baby Doc,” takes over and becomes president-for-life.

According to the indispensable Haïti Liberté: “The U.S. had curtailed military aid and sales to Haiti after François Duvalier expelled a U.S. Marine Mission from the country in 1963. But following Papa Doc’s death in April 1971, his son “Baby Doc” inherited the “Presidency for Life” and began to repair and improve relations with the U.S., from which he wanted aid and investment.… Indeed, U.S. military aid was resumed, specifically to train units like the Leopards, which was described by the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in a 1986 report as “particularly brutal in dealing with civilians.” Researcher Jeb Sprague explains in his new book Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti that the Leopards were trained and equipped “by former U.S. marine instructors who were working through a company (Aerotrade International and Aerotrade Inc) under contract with the CIA and signed off by the U.S. Department of State. Baby Doc himself trained with the Leopards, forming particularly close bonds with some in the force. A U.S. military attaché bragged that the creation of the force had been his idea.”

1981 Between 1981 and 1990, 22,940 Haitians are interdicted at sea. Only 11 qualified for asylum.

1986 Jean Claude Duvalier is ousted by popular uprising. The United States provides transportation out of the country.

1991 Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected president of Haiti in the most democratic election in the country’s history, is ousted in a coup after seven months in office. He goes to the United States in exile.

1994 Backed by a UN resolution, the Clinton administration uses military force to restore Aristide to power. His term ends in 1995, and he is succeeded by René Preval.

The Clinton administration demands that, in return for his restoration, Aristide impose on his country a set of economic policies—in particular tariff removal—broadly known as “neoliberalism.” They devastate the country’s already impoverished economy—a fact that Clinton himself, after the 2010 earthquake admitted:

Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did. Nobody else.

OK, then.

In 2000 Aristide is reelected; then in 2004 there is a Bush-led coup against Aristide, worked on the ground by Guy Philippe. Aristide, his ability to govern already restricted due to the devil’s bargain he made with Bill Clinton, now faced this, as described by Jeffrey Sachs:

Mr. Aristide’s foes in Haiti benefited from tight links with the incoming Bush team, which told Mr Aristide it would freeze all aid unless he agreed with the opposition over new elections for the contested Senate seats, among other demands. The wrangling led to the freezing of $500m in emergency humanitarian aid from the US, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

On January 12, 2010 an earthquake leaves 250,000 dead and an estimated $11.5 billion in damages.

It would be comforting to think this shameful century-long history ended with the election of Barack Obama, followed by the earthquake, which shocked even Bill Clinton into a moment’s contrition. It didn’t.

Since 2010, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, with the aid of Brazil, France, and Canada and in league with the Clinton Foundation and other “philanthropists,” put into place something like a never-ending coup, an everlasting intervention. (Read this Jonathan Katz piece on Bill and Hillary’s “personal” relationship with Haiti, nicely titled “The King and Queen of Haiti”). The United States disenfranchised a large swath of Haitian voters, including Aristide supporters, and installed Martelly in fraudulent elections, while private capital and charity backed him to the hilt.

Meanwhile, a UN occupying force—led by a corrupt Guatemalan politician, Edmond Mulet (implicated in an illegal international adoption racket)—brought cholera (still raging), and sexually abused hundreds of women and men. An internal investigation by the UN said that “transactional sex” allowed “women and their families to continue schooling and improving their future prospects. For rural women, hunger, lack of shelter, baby-care items, medication and household items were frequently cited as the ‘triggering need’” leading to the “transaction.”

Haiti is on the brink. Washington’s bid to legitimate October’s fraudulent first-round presidential election and force last week’s runoff has collapsed. The State Department is now saying it expects Martelly to leave office on February 7 without a clear successor, handing off power to a yet-to-be-determined interim government.

“As in the past, the United States is taking great interest” in events as they unfold. Washington “reaffirms its support for credible, transparent, and secure elections that reflect the will of the Haitian people.”

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