Haiti Coup: International Implications in the U.S. and Haiti

The United Haitians

Thursday, April 8, 2004, 14:32:42

The Haiti saga is such a volatile issue that if you are not plugged into a reliable news source, you can quickly lose track of what´s going on. One moment the region´s first Black republic is gearing up for its bicentennial, Jan. 1, 2004. Next, its first democratically elected president is being whisked away at gunpoint in the wee hours of the morning.

Jamaica, where Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has temporary asylum, refuses along with other CARICOM nations to recognize the unconstitutional U.S.-backed government currently occupying Aristide´s seat. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell´s visit to the region this week is just a ruse to detract from the lawsuits filed separately against the U.S. government and France by the Haitian president´s attorneys for kidnapping a head of state.

Powell´s accusations against the president – he called him a “drug trafficker’ - has no validity. Aristide invited the U.S. during his first and second term to help Haiti monitor its borders – land and sea - to curb the illegal drug activity. The Haitian government was working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

Last week, the San Francisco Bay Area was privileged to have internationally known Haiti activists in town for a series of speaking engagements to present a panoramic view of what´s happening on the ground now that their democratically elected president is in exile.

Wednesday´s program, entitled “Haiti Coup: International Implications in the U.S. and Haiti,’ took place at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. The panelists were introduced by Moira Feeney, Hastings law student and a highly visible member of the Hastings to Haiti Project. She then turned the program over to Dennis Bernstein, host of Flashpoints on KPFA 94.1 FM, who began with typical irony. How dare the “white trash’ on Capital Hill tell the “African president in Haiti’ to leave office!

Joined by panelists Brian Concannon Jr., human rights attorney, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Port au Prince, Haiti; Rev. Jomanas Eustache, co-founder and dean of the Catholic Law School of Jerémié, Haiti, and visiting professor at Seton Hall Law School; and Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza, international human rights law professor at UC Berkeley´s Boalt Hall School of Law, the evening was enlightening to say the least.

The guests panelists were so engaging perhaps because each had a handle on the historic and political issues at hand – men like Victim´s Rights Advocate Pierre Antoine Lovinsky, whose work involved personal risk and danger. When Lovinsky, psychologist, and founder of Fondasyon Trent Septemn or the 30th of September Foundation, so named for the horrific massacre that day in 1991, spoke of his narrow escape with his two sons and niece from the country, the audience sat clutching the edge of our seats.

For Lovinsky, the week was one whirlwind of speaking engagements. What I marveled over was his eloquence, attention to detail and disregard for his own safety, if that disregard furthered the freedom of his country and his people.

“If you don´t speak, the rocks will be speaking for you,’ he said to us at a private dinner later that week at a friend´s house. An enemy to the monied elite, members of death squads, and paramilitary or FRAPH for the “in your face’ policy of the his September 30 Foundation, Lovinsky´s call for the records, which the U.S. now has, which list the names of those who participated in the 1991-1994 coup to bring them to justice is just another feather in a cap that made him more of a target as events culminated in a foiled assassination attempt on President Aristide Feb. 28 and the president´s kidnapping Feb. 29.

What the “false democrats’ had in mind when they supported the Lavalas candidate - at that time Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide - Lovinsky said, was someone whom they could set up as a puppet and pull strings. What a rude awakening they had! These supposed former Lavalas members, many of whom hold government positions, began to strategically undermine Aristide´s government right from the start in 1991, then again in 1994.

When talking about the “opposition,’ the question arose as to who Lovinsky meant. He said he was speaking of FRAPH, former military officials, non-governmental organizations like Andre Apaid´s Group 184, even Amnesty International, which to his knowledge took no stand, and of course the state controlled media.

“They´re all one and the same,’ he said. “They all want to end democracy.’ The activist regularly called these people to task in press conferences. He wanted to go on record denouncing the human rights abusers.

Part of this “they’ is the reason he´s in exile here now.

A fixture in the U.S. embassy, where his framed picture, showing him outfitted in a Che Guevara t-shirt and beret, is on the wall not to be admired but as a man to watch, Lovinsky regularly denounced the embassy for its monetary support for the “network against democracy in Haiti’ on his radio show.

Because he´d lived through previous coup d´états, Lovinsky said that he “could smell it in the air’ and knew that it was time for him to get out of the country, even though the September 30 Foundation, in the first coup against Aristide's government, “tried to avert it by holding massive demonstrations – millions of people armed with nothing more that justice.

“The U.S., which was monitoring the situation, saw this support for Aristide and realized that the economic sanctions (hadn´t) succeeded in making the population rise up against their democratically elected president. So the International Republican Institute gave money to Lavalas opposition to form sweatshop owner Andre Apaid´s group, a.k.a. Group for a Civil Society. (They received) $90 million to overthrown the Haitian government.

“Meanwhile, more (money), $43 million, was pumped in through USAID to destabilize Haiti. (The) government also continued to exercise control through the media. Yet, despite all the money and economic embargoes and campaigns of misinformation, on Feb. 29, 1 million Aristide supporters showed up at the capital (in Port-au-Prince).’

This, Lovinsky said, shook up the opposition which had strongholds in cities throughout the island. In one city, the mercenaries killed a police chief in an exchange of gunfire, while the huge barricade blocking the north and east entrance to the capital city, Port-au-Prince, also offered safety to President Aristide, because nothing could get through to the U.S. embassy, to anyone. President Aristide´s order to remove the barricade, Lovinsky felt was a bad idea; however, the people stayed mobilized as they followed the executive order and removed it “instead of building it higher.’ The blockage returned after 6 p.m. daily. Then, on Feb. 28-29, a serious battle between the mercenaries and civilians took place.

“The U.S. embassy saw that the mercenaries were going to fail even though they had heavy weapons. The shear numbers of people would have finished them off. So the U.S. dispatched 50 Marines to Port-au-Prince. It was a trick. No local embassy was threatened. There was no one in Port-au-Prince who thought in terms of the government failing or losing the battle for democracy,’ Lovinsky said.

If the U.S. hadn´t acted when it did, later that same day the legitimate Haitian police force would have had tear gas and other supplies to control the massive insurgence that threatened to consume their manpower. South Africa had responded to Aristide´s plea, and a plane with supplies sat in a Jamaica hanger the same day Artistide was flown to the Central African Republic, Feb. 29. Talk about ships passing in the night.

“So the U.S. made a quick move to shift everything to what we have now,’ Lovinsky said. “The U.S. looked at the situation and turned it to their advantage. The mercenaries would have killed too many people, and even then they still might have lost. And if the people won the battle, it would have been bad for the U.S. (which wanted Aristide out of there).’

In the BelAir neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, two men, Paul Raymond and Rene Civile, both in hiding now to avoid execution, engaged in resistance – supporting the stronghold for Aristide. The destabilization attempt was not successful. In this case, the people ran the mercenaries out of town. So the sudden move to take out the “king’ was the best alternative, especially once Guy Phillip, suspected drug trafficker, managed to enter Port-au-Prince from the north.

“I realized that this was the end and started calling comrades to see what decisions needed to be made,’ Lovinsky said. “I took my two children and two others Feb. 29, 4 a.m., and we fled.’

A permanent U.S. resident since 1985, Lovinsky and his family chose asylum here as the easier route.

“(From) my hiding place in Haiti, I heard my name on the radio. I began calling various embassies to request political asylum. The embassy was in Port-au-Prince; the plane left on March 2 at 7 a.m.

To get there I´d have to leave home at 6 a.m. The curfew was from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. I felt vulnerable, so I said, ‘I´ll send the kids (with a friend to the airport).´’

When Lovinsky arrived at meeting place near a nightclub later that morning, the plane hadn´t taken off, so he filled out all the forms, he said. Then at 11:30 everyone was told to get on the bus headed for the airport, everyone except him. Officials had Lovinsky and his family disembark, get their luggage from the bus and head away from the airport towards the U.S. embassy.

He didn´t realize until he was in the car that he was under arrest. After a few hours, the same car returned them to the airport where they took off for Miami as planned.

“I was very scared for my life,’ Lovinsky said. “I was close to death.’ Yet he was not so panicked that he didn´t have his wits about himself enough to call comrades here and elsewhere to tell them that he was headed away from the airport to the embassy with his family and to call for help. There were Haiti Action Committee members, like Doug, who said “his heart stopped’ when he heard the news via phone as Lovinsky was headed who knows where. Haitian radio bulletins announced his escape, while former members of FRAPH were at the airport to prevent Lovinsky´s flight. The detour might have actually saved his life; however, Lovinsky says that this is why his life is still in danger and he is not staying with his wife and children.

“I´m not out of danger. I´m still in that tunnel. I have a strong sense of democracy. I want to say certain things even though I can´t say everything. I´m committed to speaking out until democracy returns. Americans can keep applying pressure on our government until democracy has returned to Haiti.’

Professor Rohr-Arriaza

At the Hastings´ forum, Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza set the philosophical and historic staging area for the evening as she lined the runway with strategic questions and puzzling queries that toppled the U.S. party line many Americans not present that evening are buying. Lovinsky gave pertinent examples based on his recent arrival from the tumultuous nation, seconded by Concannon, who was on the ground also, while Father Jomanas looked at the events as a jurist holding two books, one law.

Professor Rohr-Arriaza´s points had to do with international laws set in place to promote democracy in the Americas. Ratified by the United States and most of the other nations, she called the question: what new rules were at play here and why?

“There´s been a development over the past 10 years (since 1991), of something unique to the Americas,’ Rohr-Arriaza stated, “‘the right to democracy.´ There are a number of legal instruments that purport for states in the Americas for the right to democratic governments. Let me tell you a little bit about how this was developed and how to apply it here….

“In 1991 the Organization of American States General Assembly passed Resolution 1080, also known as the Santiago Commitment. It says that all states in the Americas agree to maintain for themselves and defend for the other nations their right to democratic rule. When that right is interrupted, a procedure should be put in place which includes calling for an immediate meeting with the OAS Permanent Council within three days to be followed by a meeting of the foreign ministers or the OAS General Assembly.

“This Santiago Commitment, Resolution 1080, was used in the 1991 Haiti coup. There was a meeting in three days. That resulted in the suspension of diplomatic ties, aid, freezing of assets of the coup leaders, suspension of trade decreed by the OAS, and led to negotiations, which eventually led to the Governor´s Island Agreement, which was broken by the military.

“Eventually, in 1994, the resolution led to a military intervention to restore a democratic government to Haiti. The same Resolution 1080 was also used in Peru in 1992 when President Fujimori dissolved Congress, closed the courts and suspended the Constitution. There was immediate denunciation and a withdrawal of aid. Eight days later, the OAS foreign minister strongly deplored the coup and pushed Fujimori to reinstate the Congress.

“May 1993, in Guatemala, President Serrano decided to devolve Congress and abolish the Constitution. That same day the OAS Permanent Council condemned the coup, sent the secretary general to Guatemala and began to pressure the government to back down from this interruption in democratic rule. About 10 days later, Serrano resigned, Congress and Constitution are reinstated. Similarly in Paraguay, 1996, the same sort of thing. So that´s that resolution.

“1992 the OAS Charter is amended by the Protocol of Washington. The Washington Protocol says that a state´s participation in the OAS shall be suspended if a democratic government is interrupted or overthrown by force. The U.S. has ratified this. Haiti as of 2001 hadn´t.

“Fast forward a little bit, 2001, the Summit of the Americas (drafts) the Quebec Declaration, (which) says that any unconstitutional alteration or interruption of the democratic order is an insurmountable obstacle to the participation of that state in the Summit of the Americas.

“Finally, in 2001, there was a Inter-American Democratic Charter adopted, (which) says very similar things. It says that unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order or unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order is cause for the … OAS General Assembly to suspend participation in any of its commissions or specialized agencies.

“The U.S. has been a strong supporter of all of these issues. So okay, where is this whole mechanism now? Why hasn´t it be into place? As far as I can tell, the only thing we have is the 15 CARICOM countries who have called for respect for democratically elected leaders and have not acknowledged the present unconstitutional government in Haiti and Venezuela.

“Where are the Brazilians? Where are the Argentineans? Where are the Mexicans? Where are all these other countries? Many which are led by people who it is hard to say are U.S. puppets. Where are they? Why haven´t these mechanisms been put into play in this case?’

Perhaps the silence is the result of economic blackmail – Internal Monetary Fund debt, European Union pressure, or U.S.-imposed sanctions are reason enough for these countries to turn a blind eye to the sovereign nation across the water.

“There is considerable information that the international banks, under orders from the United States, blocked aid to Aristide´s government. They said that they were doing this to leverage change after a ‘questionable´ 2000 election. The question arises, though, as to whether this is an appropriate source for leverage.’

It´s definitely effective, because it plays into the hands of the opposition, who were looking for ways to discredit the president. He did a lot yet was unable to make good on all of his campaign promises because there were no resources. “Is this just another variation on the embargo on Allende in Chili in 1970?’

Even if the swift removal of the president was confusing to some nations, their inaction due to the result of the incessant media campaign to malign his character still looks suspicious. It doesn´t take critical thinking skills to realize that a candidate who wins with 80 or so percent of the vote – confirmed through a U.S. polling source - can´t be that bad.

Father Jomanas

“Haiti is experiencing an extremely difficult time in its history – a 200-year history, right after the U.S.,’ Father Jomanas stated in an impassioned and fiery speech, unlike Monday evening when I met him at the Haiti Sanctuary Committee meeting at the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, where the tone was more relaxed. There he spoke of his founding in 1995, with Bishop Willy Romelus, of the Jerémié Law School “to train professionals to restore Haiti´s legal system, which has been eroded by decades of dictatorship.’

"This is not a legitimate government," Father Jomanas said. "The Constitution says that within three months there is supposed to be an election, but it might be one to two years before there is another election. First the (new government officials) say they can't have an election with Aristide in office, then they say it's too soon to organize an election."

Monday evening he stated that "whenever there is a change in government, everything is erased - even the good is erased, because the former leader is evil." So the hospital was trashed, libraries and other public monuments to Aristide's work, gone. It's almost like the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict: "Burn, baby, burn."

“The international community decides who will take control - they have the power.’ And while the ‘rebels´ might not like ‘la blanc´ (white people), they would never have succeeded without them, is the law professor's read on the situation.

"We'd host seminars on negotiation and tolerance for the general community," Jomanas explained. "We can disagree, but we can still remain friends." The people in Jerémié applied this formula to the current unrest, and so far the town is in check. Both views coexist in a place where retaliation and killing are not the only solution.

“The mentality of corruption goes way back, before Duvalier,’ Jomanas continued, then gave an example that showed that people are sometimes labeled a little too quickly. Take, for instance, a former Duvalier supporter who teaches at the law school. His political affiliation doesn't necessarily mean that he is evil or that a Lavalas party supporter is a saint.

"Many of our students are police. Good information can (go a long way) to establish a rule of law," Father Jomanas said, then gave another example of a case he watched that made international news. Supposedly, a Haitian police officer beat a journalist whose credibility and ethical reputation was already shaky.

"I knew him. He was a charming guy," the professor said of the accused, not that "charm from a policeman, a person you can't trust anyway, is a vote of confidence." Based on this premise, the student's status was contingent on the verdict. The journalist not only didn't see who hit him, he also had not one witness who did. The point of the story was that the penalty got front page coverage, yet the verdict clearing the policeman's name did not.

What was clear after listening to Father Jomanas was how complex the situation in Haiti is and why President Aristide's political strategy was gradual, rather than radical change, something the West and other shortsighted people were not interested in acknowledging or assisting.

Two days later at Hastings School of the Law, his talk more suitable to a law school, the scholar focused on the legality of the situation and how important laws were to a society such as Haiti. More a call to action than a mere speech, Fr. Jomanas laid out the principles that guide Haitians such as himself, Pierre Antoine Lovinsky, and our own Pierre and Maria Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee.

“We are facing a difficult time – polarization, division, hatred, violence, death. The Constitution is put aside. As a lawyer, I should talk about the Constitution. I have to tell you that the Constitution has been put aside unfortunately by the international community.

“In this terrible situation, we ask the Haitian people to come back to the Constitution, to the rule of law. We ask that the international community come back to the rule of law, what they like, what they love to say is (Haiti is) ‘the poorest country in this hemisphere.´’

Yet despite this, President Aristide was building schools, clinics, parks and housing complexes for the homeless. This because, though there were minimal resources, there was law and order as defined by the Constitution, what Father Jomanas defined as “the fundamental charter, the modern law of the country. This law defines the life and the duties of a citizen, and it is the power of the rulers.’

“Citizens ought to obey and respect the constitution and should act with regard to the Constitution …. The respect of the Constitution and the law is very important because the law is the ‘salve´ of the city. People have to fight for the respect of their laws, as for the protection of their voices. It is the proof of a citizen´s freedom. It is his protection from the oppression of a tyrant and from the privileged class’ – often one and the same. It is his guarantee for the freedom and for his future.

“Acting against the law is offending its own country, its own community. Athens, Greece, was not destroyed by the decree of the gods, but by citizens themselves because of their greed and eagerness for money, their carelessness and disregard for the laws. At this particular time and situation in Haiti, we need all the more credible and audible voices to stand with us to encourage dialogue, compromise, to act courageous and call for mutual respect (respect for others) – something we teach at the law school. It is where I´d love to take you. Teachers and students from Hastings travel to Haiti to study and teach the rule of law. (This year because of the unrest, they sponsored this forum instead.)

“Violence creates or gives birth to violence. Finally, in this climate of division and all kinds of bad things, we need firefighters in this situation to help us extinguish the flames of division and impunity that is consuming this charming place once called the ‘La Perle Antilles´ (Pearl of the Antilles) my country, our country (he refers to Pierre Antoine Lovinsky). This country is ours - it´s still ours.’

Brian Concannon

“Haiti has just finished a democratic rule of a little more than nine years that beats the previous record of a little over seven months. There were a lot of challenges in living up to Haiti´s democratic promise, a lot of work, a lot of frustration. It´s difficult as Americans to identify with the struggles that Haiti has undergone, but it´s only difficult if you don´t look in the mirror.

“If you look at our own history, (on) July 4, 1776, we declared that ‘it was self-evident that all men were created equal.´ A white man, non-landowner, on that day would not have been able to vote in some states. A Black male born into slavery would still be a slave for almost 90 years. A woman on that day wouldn´t have been able to vote until the 1920s. An African American woman wouldn´t be able to effectively vote until the 1960s.

“How long will it before a woman is nominated for president is still a question. I think we need to look beyond if we´re going to have any insight on Haiti´s democratic transition. We need to look at it in light of our own difficulties as a nation in order to have a democratic nation.’

“Look at the timing of the coup: it´s just in time for the legislative session to ratify the amendment to abolish the army, which still exists on paper until this happens. Of course this won´t happen now that democracy is suspended. Haiti and Costa Rica are the only countries who ever tried to abolish their armies. In Haiti there was no domestic obstacle. The citizens saw this as a good thing.

“Before the Lavalas party, no president had ever served out his term of office. There was every belief that a voluntary transfer of power would be possible a third time, Feb. 7, 2006. There were no contingency plans made just in case something untoward happened.

“In Aristide´s Haiti, the law school in Jérémie graduated five classes, the September 30 Foundation held protest vigils across from the National Palace every Wednesday for six years without exception – bad weather, carnival, etc. - to remember those who died that day, similar to the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina and Chili.’

Never before in Haiti´s history had there ever been human rights trials before the Raboteau Massacre trials of April 1994, conducted by Bureau des Avocats, where Concannon worked for nine years.

“For once justice was served. Prior to that, justice was always for those who had the guns and money. This time those imprisoned were three top members of the military hierarchy, including the second in command (Louis Jotel Chamblain),’ whom the attorney believed was the highest ranking person ever deported from the U.S. to face human rights charges.

“Haitians are not losing hope. The timetable is just a little longer.

Remember 200 years and five months ago, Concannon said as he retold the story of the Battle of Versailles, the definitive battle between the Haitian slaves and Napoleon´s army. As the general known as Capois-La-Mort´s hat was shot from his head, he kept moving forward. Legend says when his horse was shot from under him, he got up, pulled out his saber and kept moving forward.

“His bravery was so astounding that French Gen. Rochambeau ordered a drumroll (cease-fire) so that he could congratulate the general and give him a horse. After the ceremony they resumed fighting and Capois-La-Mort won the battle Nov. 18, 1803, signifying with the capture of the port, Haiti´s freedom.’

Concannon´s example of Haiti´s fearlessness was a great example of how when things are at their lowest, you stay the course, even if you´re on foot and everyone is on a horse.

The evening closed with questions that addressed the $21.7 billion in today´s currency owed to Haiti by France for reparations, and the fact that we should support the Jamaican government with letters. An attorney whose client has bi-polar disease and is being deported back to Haiti asked a question about mental health. Lovinsky said that in a country with only one physician per 11,000 people, mental health is often overlooked or unaddressed, especially now that people continue to be murdered or disappeared, tortured, and rape has been reintroduced as a tactic. A San Francisco attorney who specializes in immigration law asked a question about the racism and discrimination that affects Haitians seeking political sanctuary in this country despite laws that allow such immigration.


Aristide.Org created and maintained by Jay Atkinson