From Socialist Review, No. 169, November 1993.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
For most of this century the Haitian people have had their necks under the boot of American imperialism. This year for a few short months they hoped things might change. George Bush had mouthed pious words about democracy and turned back the refugees. Bill Clinton promised that the US would restore the exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
The agreement was that Aristide would return and the military would step down. A joint mission of the UN and the Organisation of American States would be sent to monitor human rights, followed by police and military teams to oversee the ‘professionalisation’ of the armed forces. As part of the deal there was to be an amnesty for crimes committed since the coup which overthrew Aristide’s government.
It was a pretty sick deal. The butchers of more than 2,000 Haitians were to be left unpunished. And as for professionalisation, many Haitians must have wondered who had been responsible for training the military in the first place? But it was the only deal on offer. Washington made it clear to Aristide that if he didn’t accept it, they would wash their hands of him just as they had done with the refugees.
From the first it was clear that the military and the ‘attachés’ – the armed gangs who act on behalf of the profiteers and gangsters who run the country – would not accept even this rotten bargain. Threats were followed by murder. The most prominent of Aristide’s supporters, Antoine Izmery, an Arab businessman and philanthropist, was dragged out of a church service by a group of attachés and forced to kneel in the street before being shot dead, right in front of the UN observers. In the days before the murder, he had repeatedly reported death threats to the UN mission. Everyone knew he was the number one target. The UN did nothing to protect him. One attaché allowed himself the remark: ‘He was only a Palestinian’.
As the deadline for Aristide’s return grew closer, the military grew bolder, encouraged by the ambiguous messages about Aristide coming from Washington. In private, and increasingly in public, the CIA and right wing Republicans cast doubt on Aristide’s fitness to govern. After all he had only won 70 percent of the vote?
Night by night the attachés stepped up their terror campaign against the people. Dead bodies began to reappear in the rivers. Aristide’s minister of justice was ambushed, both he and his aides were shot dead.
Finally, the US marines arrived – carrying sidearms and with strict instructions not to fire. Not surprisingly they were sent packing, giving the attachés all the excuse they needed to run riot in the streets of Port au Prince.
The American commitment to Aristide was always paper thin: now the US has imposed a blockade which is supposed to bring the military to heel But the previous blockade mainly resulted In the profiteers who run the military making a fortune. Goods were smuggled in from the Dominican Republic at a vast mark up. On the central plateau, rice was burned to the fields so the merchants could make a fortune from imports. Even if the military is forced to negotiate, it will do so from a position of strength.
There are two stark lessons from Haiti. One is that US commitments to restore democracy are not worth the paper they are written on. The other is that the Haitian people can only rely on their own forces. One day they will rise, machetes in their hands, and chop their oppressors to pieces. Let us hope the reckoning comes soon.
Last updated: 1 March 2017