Haiti Occupied: Full Support from US, Canada for Illegitimate Regime

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August 13, 2004

Haiti Occupied: Full Support from US, Canada for Illegitimate Regime

by Harold Lavender

The Haitian people are once more suffering under the heels of a US -led occupation and a repressive regime that replaced democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide. In June thousands took to the streets to demand the return of Aristide as President. To Haitian activists the new regime under Gerard Latortue is no more legitimate than the governments of 1915-1934 under US Marine occupation. At the same time, the illegitimacy of the regime goes largely ignored in North America and Europe.

Leaders of the 15 nation CARICOM (Caribbean Community) have twice called on the United Nations to launch an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding President Aristide´s departure. Since April they have been under intense diplomatic pressure from the US to drop the matter. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that he “didn´t think any purpose could be served by an inquiry.

Canadian Ambassador to Haiti, Kenneth Cook, when asked on March 29 about Aristide´s removal, responded, “As far as I´m concerned there is no evidence of a kidnapping. I don´t have a position on the request to the United Nations by the CARICOM countries for an investigation into the circumstances of the removal of Aristide. If there were [an investigation] it should be brief in order not to interfere with the task of rebuilding the country.’

The illegitimacy of this regime has been largely ignored in Canada. The corporate media has thrown a suffocating blanket of silence over the sordid coup that toppled Aristide and the subsequent occupation and repression that followed. Canadian political leaders have, in fact, justified Canada´s role in upholding the puppet regime.

While Liberal election ads denounced Stephen Harper as the man who would have sent Canadian forces to war in Iraq, Martin noted the role of Canadian forces in Haiti and Afghanistan in providing security, stability, prosperity, and promoting democracy. During the election campaign NDP leader Jack Layton vigorously challenged Martin on missile defense and Star Wars, but failed to condemn Martin on the occupations of Haiti and Afghanistan.

The Liberals portray the presence of Canadian troops in Haiti as a justifiable intervention “into a crisis of our hemisphere.’ There is a hint that Haiti was, to use a fashionable interventionist term, a ‘failed´ state, and Canada´s mission is to restore democracy.

For over four months some 3,700 US, French, and Canadian troops have occupied Haiti as a temporary security and stabilization force. The bulk of the troops are from the US, but 500 Canadian soldiers have been involved. This force was replaced in late June by a UN Security Council-authorized force of some 6,000 troops led by Brazil. Canadian troops will remain in Haiti. But the UN mission has a vague mandate and is scheduled to last for just six months.

The Haitian coup/puppet regime of Gerard Latortue has specifically asked the US to continue its presence. But the US seems eager to get most of it troops back to Iraq. The US hopes that the newly propped-up Latortue government has got Haiti pointing in the right direction. The Latortue government wants the new UN force to act to seize weapons, that is those held by pro-Aristide forces. Meanwhile they are attempting to strengthen the police. Some 1,000 ex-army personnel and paramilitaries have already been incorporated into the new security apparatus. Eventually the government wants to restore the Haitian army justly disbanded by Aristide because of its notorious human rights abuses.

It sounds and plays out (minus spectacular violence and headlines) like the occupation of Iraq, which Canadian refused to go along with. The occupying forces seek to maintain a presence in Port au Prince doing such things as enforcing a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew alongside the reconstituted and militarized Haitian National police. US marines regularly patrol and march into the poorest neighborhoods of Port au Prince, once the backbones of Aristide popular support. It is an almost colonial effort to ‘show the natives who´s boss.´

The Marines have often invaded private homes allegedly to search for weapons –which they rarely find – often with an over-kill that surprised even occupation supporters. US Marines and Haitian national police have fired into homes and groups of people on the street. US marines have killed at least eight Haitians and some say more.

Symbolic of the brutality of the occupiers was the attack on the family compound of well-known folk singer Annette “ So Anne’ Auguste. Annette, one of the best known musicians in the Haitian diaspora, returned to Haiti in 1994 and became a popular leader in Aristide´s Lavalas Family political party. In the early hours of May 10, dozens of Marines blew open the gate and invaded the house. Members of the household, including a five year-old granddaughter, were thrown to the floor, hand-cuffed, and hauled off to jail for questioning. Nine people were held in restraints and questioned for over 6 hours.

US interrogators seemed preoccupied with questions about visits to a local mosque and connections to Aristide, then in Jamaica. Auguste herself was sent to jail while authorities figured out whether they could charge her for allegedly inciting a confrontation at the university last December.

Popular discontent has been rising as conditions in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere have gone from bad to worse. The price of basic food necessities such as rice has doubled under the occupation. Under Aristide people managed to eat at least once a day, but now some of the very poor are eating only three times a week. The price of gas has doubled, making transport for the poor increasingly difficult. Basic services such as electricity are now lacking in some neighborhoods. Unions face a difficult time with unemployment in the official sector running about 70 percent. The new government is supported by the likes of Andre Apaid, a US citizen who is Haiti´s largest and most notorious anti-union sweatshop owner. The economy and the military in Haiti remain firmly in the hands of the oppressive elite. Meanwhile the US government blames the mess entirely on the Aristide government. US Ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, accuses them “of taking everything and leaving the treasury bare.

On May 18 tens of thousand demonstrated their support for the return of Aristide as president on Haitian Flag Day. The newly formed police force called it an illegal gathering, claiming falsely that no notice had been given 48 hours prior to the march, and responded with brutal force. SWAT teams fired tear gas and shots indiscriminately into the crowd. Associated Press reported one death, while Haiti´s radio Solidarite reported at least nine killed. An American reporter witnessed two killings, and US marines taunting demonstrators.

While this repression goes unreported in mainstream North American press, evidence of its existence continues to surface. A delegation from the US National Lawyers Guild has uncovered evidence suggesting widespread summary executions following the coup. About 800 bodies were dumped and buried by the morgue in Port au Prince on March 7, and 200 more later in the month, a significant increase. Many were reportedly young men with hands behind their backs and plastic bags over their heads that had been shot. However, the delegation was denied access to bodies and records.

Some families hesitate to claim the bodies. Members or supporters of the Lavalas Party are targets of a widespread ‘witch hunt´. Right wing radio stations read lists of Lavalalas Party supporters. Anyone associated with the Aristide government or party is at risk. An elected member of the legislature was driven from his town at gunpoint. Some homes were torched by arson. Many have now gone into hiding. Anti-Aristide forces watch and visit their homes. Applications for asylum are not being accepted at the US, French, Canadian, or Mexican embassies, but many fear returning to their work and homes. Leaders of popular organizations that have worked with the Aristide Government are also key targets. Many have received death threats, and dare not sleep in their own homes.   All government support and funding for programs run by popular organizations, from shelters for the homeless to orphanages have been cut off. Human rights abuses by the new regime are ignored and unchallenged by pro US human rights groups.

So-called human rights organizations such as CARLI (funded by USAID) specialize in criticizing the dictator Aristide and have named 85 government members and Lavalas supporters as abusers of human rights, but they have been silent about the persecution of Lavalas supporters and opponents of the new regime. The Latortue government has not lifted a finger to protect its opponents. Now that Aristide is gone, their voices have fallen silent.

Elections to legitimize a new regime are scheduled for next year. Lavalas was offered one of nine seats on an electoral council, but declined on the grounds it was subject to systemic persecution. In a context of a coup, threats, persecutions, and violent suppression of demonstrations, the promise of free democratic elections seem hollow and fraudulent.

*This article originally appeared in Latin American Connexions, Summer 2004, Volume 15 #6. For more information e-mail conexion@vcn.bc.ca

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Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers Leadership
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