When asked about the overthrow of Haiti's Aristide government in a television interview, Condoleezza Rice lent credibility to Hugo Chavez's claim that she is an illiterate by saying, "We believe that President Aristide, in a sense, forfeited his ability to lead his people, because he did not govern democratically." She later said, "Haiti is moving forward. There's a new president. There is a new prime minister. There is a new chief of police. There's an Eminent Persons Council that is trying to guide that process." So let me get this straight: becoming president by winning an overwhelming majority of the vote in free and fair elections is not democratic, but being arbitrarily appointed by a council of "eminent persons" is?
Let's step through the process by which this new puppet government has been created. First, the "Council of Wise Men" was to be named by 3 representatives, one from Lavalas, one from the opposition, and one from the "international community." This arrangement is already grossly anti-democratic. The "international community" is a warm and fuzzy code phrase which actually means "the powerful countries in the world." In this case, the United States and France. Given the fact that the U.S. and France have always been on the side of Haiti's wealthy elite, one can expect the opposition and the "international community" to vote together, giving them a 2 to 1 advantage over Lavalas.
Aristide's opposition has never had the support of more than 6-15% of the population, yet they are effectively given 66% of the influence over the political process under these circumstances. This means that right at the outset, the Lavalas movement had been all but shut out from the formation of the new government. Lavalas is the most popular political organization in Haitian history. It represents the poorer, blacker masses of Haitian society. Apparently, the U.S. sees no reason to allow those folks any meaningful say in how they are to be governed.
These representatives then went on to pick a seven member "Council of Wise Men" to form the new government of Haiti. The obvious implication of having a "Council of Wise Men" creating the new government would be that the Haitian people are not "wise" enough to choose their own leaders, which is the obvious sentiment of Washington. Every time they are given the opportunity, Haitians seem to pick someone who represents their interests rather than the interests of multinational corporations and international financial institutions. That all looks like it's about to change, however, under this new government. The "Council of Wise Men" picked Gerard Latortue as the new prime minister. Latortue is a neoliberal economist and former Haitian official who has been living in Florida since the late 1980s. He will undoubtedly carry out the IMF reforms that Aristide resisted, despite the fact that they will further eviscerate the Haitian economy. Haiti's economy has already been undermined by low-priced imports, odious debt, the withholding of humanitarian aid, and the selling off of state-owned enterprises for only a fraction of what they're worth.
One of Latortue's first actions was to call for the return of the Haitian military. The military was disbanded by Aristide in the 1990s, an act that is widely considered to be the greatest victory for human rights in recent Haitian history. Even many of Aristide's opponents applauded the elimination of the military. The only people who want the military to return are the wealthy elite who once used the military as attack dogs to guard their large estates and intimidate union organizers. Many former members of the military have been working with the armed group of thugs and killers that have been terrorizing Haiti's rural areas and slums with brand new M-16s provided by the U.S. government. The armed bands have emptied Haiti's largest prisons, setting free many known human rights abusers.
The new government and its thug army are undoing every one of Aristide's accomplishments. A medical school founded by Aristide is reportedly being occupied by U.S. soldiers. The government decided to discard the very successful literacy program started under Aristide. Radio Timoun, the children's radio station founded by Aristide, has been ransacked by gangs. The Aristide Foundation for Democracy has also been looted along with the homes of many Lavalas supporters and public officials, including the home of President Aristide. Dr. Paul Farmer's clinic in rural Haiti has been harassed by "rebel" gangs. Schools have been shut down and attacked by the gangs. Essentially anything that has any relation to President Aristide or Lavalas is being attacked or destroyed (including, according to one report, a young girl whose only crime was handing a flower to President Aristide in a photograph).
Not a single one of the 13 ministries of the government were given to members of Lavalas, despite claims by the new government that they are leading Haiti through a period of "reconciliation." According to Latortue, Lavalas has only themselves to blame for being shut out of the government: "Had there been an organization that sponsored a Lavalas member, I would have been happy. But there weren't any," he told Reuters. Perhaps the reason nobody came forward is because they are afraid of being killed. Many Lavalas leaders are in hiding. The police (who have apparently made an unholy alliance with the gangs) have started indiscriminately arresting Lavalas supporters.
Reports of atrocities in the countryside and the slums have been coming in on a daily basis. In one incident a container full of people was allegedly thrown into the water, allowing the people to drown. Another reported incident involved people being herded into an outhouse that was subsequently doused with gasoline and set on fire. None of these events have been confirmed, and it is unlikely that we will know the true scope of the atrocities for some time. Appeals are being made to human rights organizations to launch an investigation. In Port-au-Prince, people with dreadlocks, a hair style sometimes associated with a certain political culture, are reportedly being shot at night. Aid workers and missionaries who attempt to provide help to people are being intimidated by the armed gangs.
The disturbing events surrounding this crisis aren't limited to the island nation. Here in the United States, the media has played the role of cheerleader for the coup. White liberals, I am ashamed to say, have been eerily silent on this issue. Around the time of the coup there were a spate of articles and commentaries which lightly condemned the Bush administration, but most white liberals seem to have already forgotten where Haiti is on the map. Some have even fallen for the propaganda and declared Aristide's ouster a victory for human rights. The left should be up in arms over what this administration has done to Haiti, and not just for moral reasons.
Attacking Bush on Haiti could be sound political strategy as well. How can the Bush administration reconcile supporting the Haitian death squads with its "War on Terror?" How can the Bush administration reconcile its alleged goal of sprinkling the seeds of democracy all around the world with the overthrow of a democratically elected president and the establishment of a markedly anti-democratic puppet government (one which CARICOM, Venezuela, and the African Union have refused to recognize)? These are questions that could put the Bush administration in a pretty awkward position, especially when it becomes clear that the U.S. has been actively supporting the "armed opposition."