The American occupation of Haiti has begun again, now that Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been neatly pushed out. Again, there are 3,000 foreign troops on Haitian soil. Again, the Haitian premier has been handpicked by outsiders. And again, the Haitian people have been excluded from their own governance.
Gérard Latortue, hastily chosen by a team of US-approved Haitian “wise men,” is a modern-day Phillipe Sudre Dartiguenave. Dartiguenave, who presided over Haiti during the first phase of the Marine occupation of 1915-1934, was a foreign-imposed caretaker and figurehead who, like Latortue, had almost no power to govern his own country. (The last time American troops were in Haiti was in 1994, when they restored Aristide, a democratically elected president, to the office from which he had been ousted three years earlier in a military coup.)
Latortue does not seem to mind the by now almost comic place he will hold in Haitian history–that of a stock figure, his position of cheerful, outside-imposed leader having become part of the formula whenever Haiti changes regimes. Latortue’s jolly face is everywhere. Recently, he made a special trip up to Gonaïves, the first town taken over by anti-Aristide forces, and was photographed hugging various thugs who led the small but very effective rebellion. He called them “freedom fighters,” although among their ranks are many well-known human-rights abusers.
Those who have watched the slow-cooked coup against Aristide over the past three years have observed with interest that not a single prominent member of the entrenched opposition to Aristide has been given a place in the new government. This opposition–made up of leaders of tiny political parties, former brief presidents, longtime presidential hopefuls and nongovernmental organization directors–was coddled, financed and trained in “democracy” by US organizations and groups funded by the United States. The lack of such a presence in the new Cabinet could lead to the suspicion that the supposedly democratic opposition, which for those three years refused all overtures for negotiation by Aristide and his party, was being used to foment and mask what was essentially a coup against democracy by the island’s elite, in concert with right-wing elements of the Republican Party. (Latortue has also pointedly not included anyone from Aristide’s party in his government.)
The opposition whines now about how it has not been welcomed into the bosom of the new regime, but if you successfully oppose a democratically elected government (and Aristide made repeated if not wholehearted offers of inclusion), you can’t expect that the autocrats you’ve empowered will then include you in. In recent years, puffed up with importance, this opposition effectively ended all ability of the elected government to run Haiti and certainly contributed a little bit extra to Aristide’s slide away from the rule of law. Only now are opposition figures beginning to see what their refusals have wrought. Useful idiots are not often needed after the real goal has been achieved, which in this case was simply the ouster of Aristide and the return to the Haitian status quo.
One of those whom Latortue has included in his Cabinet is Hérard Abraham, the new interior minister and a former general in the Haitian army, which was disbanded by Aristide upon his return to power in 1994. Abraham supports the re-establishment of the Haitian army, which historically has been the instrument through which the Haitian elite maintained its hold on the country and ruled it as a kind of kleptocracy. It was this army that ousted Aristide in 1991, little more than half a year after he took office.
Meanwhile, CARICOM–the umbrella organization of the Caribbean nations–has bravely condemned the ouster of Aristide, and the deposed president himself is staying with his family in Jamaica, where he remains uncharacteristically silent. The government of P.J. Patterson, while showing signs of loyalty to a freely elected Caribbean counterpart, also does not want trouble with the United States, and has apparently asked for Aristide’s silence in return for hospitality.
Aristide doesn’t play by the rules–this is one of the reasons he became intolerable to his American foes. He flirted with Castro and welcomed hundreds of Cuban doctors to Haiti; he spoke on behalf of the poor and outcast; he attacked the elite, by name and vociferously (not that he was much of a leftist in economic practice). In the end, having been summarily ousted, he proved his lack of respect for diplomatic and international norms by ranting in cell phone calls to the international media about the Americans’ “modern-day kidnapping” of a democratically elected leader.
Really not very gentlemanly.
In 1991, when Aristide was inaugurated, it seemed that Haiti had come through its darkest days and that a new phase was beginning. That was incorrect. Today, the army is to be reinstated, the elite holds the reins of power and a Franco-American occupation patrols the streets. The Haitian newsreel is being played in reverse. If only we could assume the best, in a sort of USAID-induced hallucinatory fantasy: that the Americans would be wise trustees, that Haitian technocrats would be elected in free balloting and run the country honestly, that the occupation would remain only long enough to build roads and bridges and clinics and schools. But this, unfortunately, is not what recent events foretell.