The coup in Haiti and the objectives of US Imperialism

The following is the text of the presentation given by Prof. Isaac Saney to the Halifax Political Forum organized by the People's Front (Halifax) held on 3 March 2004 on the theme "Justice for Haiti; No to US intervention, No to Canada's ignominious role." Dru Oka Jay, editor, The Dominion, also presented on "Media disinformation about Haiti".

THE REMOVAL of the legitimate government and presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide has both roots not only in Haiti's history as a victim of colonialism and imperialism; not only in Washington's determination to reassert total control, but, also in the immediate goals of US imperialism to create the conditions and precedents for further intervention in the region, particularly against Cuba and Venezuela The events in Haiti, coupled with other actions by the US government, underline the very real dangers that face Cuba. As in the case of Haiti, we must be prepared for a deluge of disinformation, lies and fabrications as Washington seeks to create a pretext to "justify" the unjustifiable: the destabilization and outright military assault on Cuba and Venezuela.

Historically, the US government, via the CIA and other agencies, has repeatedly interfered in Haiti's internal affairs, for example, propping up the notorious dictatorship of the Duvalier family and the Haitian ruling circles. Interference in Haiti is merely one aspect of this regional and global pattern.

These illegal covert activities against Haiti further the Bush Administration's policy of pre-emptive regime change. Such actions, as well as the kidnapping of a head of state, are flagrant violations of basic principles of international law, including various provisions of the United Nations Charter that are intended to protect sovereign countries from both violent and peaceful foreign intervention in matters that are solely within the country's domestic jurisdiction.

The determination to remove Aristide from power was frequently and openly stated by various US government officials. For example, $500 million USD in loans were denied when Aristide returned to the presidency in 1994. The opposition and determination to rid Haiti of Aristide intensified after 2000 when Aristide won the presidency with 92 per cent of the popular vote. Washington imposed a series of economic measures designed to cripple the Haitian economy. It forced the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel $650 million USD in financial aid. The inability to obtain loans, even from the IMF or World Bank, sabotaged the social programs that Aristide had launched in education, health care, housing and water service.

Further signaling Washington's hostility to the Aristide government was US Attorney General John Ashcroft who declared on April 2003 -- in the midst of Haitian poverty caused by a history of imperial intervention and subjugation -- that Haitian refugees constituted a "national security threat" to the United States.

Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It has an infant mortality rate of more than 100 per 1,000 live births, the highest in the Western Hemisphere. 85 per cent of the population of 8 million exist on less than $1 USD per day. Unemployment approaches 75 per cent. Life expectancy is only 52 years for women; 48 for men.

Within this great ocean of poverty 1 per cent of the population controls more then 50 per cent of the country's wealth.

Of course, we cannot forget the historical context of Haiti's present condition.

When the enslaved African population rightfully rose in revolution and seized the island from French colonialism just two centuries ago, they established the First Independent Black Republic, which was a potent challenge to the system of plantation slavery and imperial domination. With historical poignancy, the experience of an independent Haiti presaged that of the Cuban Revolution. As was to happen to Cuba after its revolution, Haiti was subjected to an economic and diplomatic quarantine by former trading partners.

To overcome this isolation, Haiti had to pay enormous indemnities to "compensate" European powers and former slave owners. More than $20 billion USD was extorted. As the United States began to assert its own power in order to realize its own imperial ambitions, its military sites fell on Haiti. From 1849 to 1913, the US navy violated Haitian waters 24 times under the pretext of protecting "American lives and property." In 1915 the US invaded Haiti and occupied the country for 19 years. A constitution and legal structure was imposed ensuring that Haiti would be completely open to US corporations. When the US military forces left in 1934, a client regime, was left in place; a pattern that culminated in the Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier dictatorships that were established in the 1950s.

However, this pattern was broken by a popular uprising that toppled Baby Doc in 1986. As a consequence Aristide - an activist priest who had played a key role in Baby Doc's ouster - was elected president. Subsequently, Aristide was removed by a military coup lead by Raoul Cedras. The Haitian people once again rose up. And it was directly in response to this upsurge, particularly the fear that the people might go beyond mere regime change to actual seizure of state power - a precursor to fundamental transformation of the country -- that lead the Clinton administration to intervene militarily to reinstall Aristide.

Aristide was reinstated on the basis that he follow the various prescriptions of the IMF and World Bank. Thus, the Haitian government lowered import tariffs as demanded, leading to massive dumping of US goods. For example, the influx of rice devastated and destroyed local rice producers. However, when the government fined US rice growers for evading custom duties, Washington froze tens of millions in aid.

Price controls were abolished and a freeze on wages implemented, indeed, wages in the public sector were lowered. As a consequence, the daily minimum wage declined from $3 USD in 1994 to $1.5 USD to $1.75 USD in 2004.

Despite the strictures imposed on his government, Aristide did attempt to implement a variety of social programs that increasingly were unacceptable to the Washington, even though they were small deviations from the US imposed dictates. However, he began to increasingly challenge the edicts of the IMF and World Bank. Aristide refused the US demand to privatize Haitian state monopolies and also led a campaign to have France pay Haiti $22 billion USD in reparations for the act of extortion against the newly-independent Haiti in the 19th century.

Thus, the Bush regime sought the return to power of those elements and social formations that were historically utterly compliant and subservient to Washington: those, whose very vested interests lay with ensuring US hegemony.

However, the determination by Bush to remove Aristide is also linked to broader regional objectives.

In April 2003 Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, stated at the Council of the Americas conference that was held in Washington, that U.S policies and actions toward Haiti was closely connected to those against Venezuela and Cuba. Noreiga congratulated the Organization of American States for overcoming "irrelevance in the past years" by adopting the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Article 20, he said, lays out a series of actions and steps to be taken in the event that a member state failed to satisfy the essential elements of democracy. He further stated that "President Chavez and President Aristide have contributed willfully to a polarized and confrontational environment. It is my fervent hope that the good people of Cuba are studying the Democratic Charter."

The recent statements and actions of the Bush regime, including among others, the formation of a committee that must submit a report before 1 May 2004 on ways to expedite and hasten the end of the Cuban Revolution; the unilateral suspension of the migratory negotiations; the false charges that Cuba engages in and supports terrorism,; the constant refrain that the island has biological weapons, despite the fact that this has been refuted time and time again; the assertion that Cuba is destablizing Latin America; the increasingly vociferous campaign about so-called "human rights violations" and the denial of Cuba's right to defend itself; the developments in Haiti -- where the US-backed thugs and former death squad members are given full rein to seize power -- are aimed not only at securing Washington domination but also at establishing Haiti as a US base to be used against Cuba etc.

*Isaac Saney, author of Cuba: A Revolution in Motion (Fernwoord Publishing), lectures in the Transition Year Program, College of Continuing Education, Dalhousie University, and the International Development Studies program at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, NS, Canada. He may be reached at:

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