How the U.S. meddled in Haiti

July 7, 2011

With the country now in the hands of Michel Martelly, the U.S.-backed candidate who a presidential runoff election earlier this year, Haiti's crisis remains as difficult as ever--as a result of the natural disaster of the 2010 earthquake, but also decades of U.S. intervention.

Kim Ives is a journalist and editor with Haiti Liberté, a weekly newspaper published in Port-au-Prince and New York City. He talked to Ashley Smith about what's ahead for Haiti under a new president, as well as the recent Wikileaks revelations about U.S. meddling in the country and what the return of ousted former Jean-Bertrand Aristide has meant so far.

MICHEL MARTELLY recently won the recent election for Haitian president. Can you explain how Martelly won and what his plans are for Haiti?

MARTELLY ONLY won through U.S. intervention into the Haitian elections. The first round of the election was complete chaos--a total mess in November 2010. In fact, all but the three frontrunners--Michel Martelly, Mirlande Manigat and Jude Célestin--pulled out of the race and called for the annulment of the election.

Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council, which is supposed to be a final arbiter of Haitian elections, announced after the first round that the runoff election would be between Manigat and Célestin, who edged out Martelly by a very small margin of about 7,000 votes.

The U.S. immediately cried foul and deployed the Organization of American States to intervene to change the results. Actually, that's not even quite accurate. It wasn't really the OAS. It was primarily a group of Canadians and Americans who came in, threw together a formula to alter the vote totals and replacing Célestin with Martelly as the runner-up to Manigat. They wanted to go forward with a runoff between Martelly and Manigat.

Haitian Presdent Michel Martelly surrounded by the media
Haitian Presdent Michel Martelly surrounded by the media (Rozanna Fang)

But as the Center for Economic and Policy Research has shown, the formula was completely invalid, a statistical nonsense, and the tabulation of vote totals was a sham.

Nevertheless, they overruled the Provisional Electoral Council and pressured them to capitulate. The U.S. went so far as to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Haiti in the middle of the Egyptian uprising to browbeat Préval and his Electoral Council into accepting this ultimatum.

The run-off election was held in March, and Martelly apparently won, but yet again, his victory is very open to question. Less than a quarter of the electorate voted, a record low for a presidential election, not just for Haiti, but also for all of Latin America. Thus, Martelly has no mandate for his policies.

Martelly's program is very clear. He was a supporter of the dictator Baby Doc Duvalier. He was a very close associate of the army figures who carried out the first coup against Aristide in 1991 and a cheerleader for the paramilitary forces that carried out the second coup against Aristide in 2004.

I think we can expect to see a predictably repressive policy from him. And he's also made no bones about the fact that he's going to follow a neoliberal path. He keeps saying that he intends to make Haiti a "business-friendly" country. In a very strange and symbolic act, he met with the Colombian foreign minister and said, "We're going to follow the Colombian development plan"--that is, neoliberalism enforced at gunpoint.

MARTELLY HAS floated the idea of bringing back the Haitian Army. Why is he pushing for this now?

THE RIGHT wing and the ruling classes have been demanding the reconstitution of the army ever since Aristide disbanded it in 1995.

Washington is, of course, very sympathetic to this as well. They see a new army--really, the old army--as their insurance policy. If bullying and bribery doesn't work and a resistance to the occupation challenges the U.S., it could always resort to the army to keep control of the country.

Martelly made the return of the army one of his campaign promises. He's selling it on the basis that it will provide jobs and get rid of the much-hated UN military occupation. But any reconstituted army will merely put a Haitian face on the foreign military occupation. The U.S. did the same thing toward the end of their 19-year military occupation of the country from 1915 to 1934. The U.S. Marines created and trained the Garde d'Haiti, the Haitian guard, as their surrogate military force to rule the country after they left.

The U.S. sees Martelly as a reliable enough ally to set up a Haitian army to replace the UN troops, which it has been using for the past seven years to occupy the country. It will turn over the keys to the Haitian jail to a Martelly-led army.

Martelly's forces dominate the airwaves with calls for the army to return. But increasingly, the Lavalas sector and the popular sector have been speaking out against Martelly's plan as it begins to move towards fruition.

WHAT HAVE the Wikileaks cables revealed about the U.S. and Haiti?

FIRST OF all, the cables have exposed the depth of cynicism of the U.S. in Haiti. Not that anybody had doubts about it before, but when you get it from the horse's mouth, it has a reinforcing effect.

We've just begun to go through these 2,000 documents, which I think will reveal all sorts of facets to the U.S., French and Canadian oppression of the country. What they do to Haiti is emblematic of what they do throughout Latin America and the Global South.

We're analyzing these cables through a series of articles. In our first article, we revealed how the U.S. embassy went into high gear to try to sabotage the deal that Haiti had struck with Venezuela's oil company, an accord called Petrocaribe. The U.S. embassy, along with U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Texaco-Chevron, saw this deal as a threat to their ability to dictate economic policy in Haiti. In the end, they failed to undermine the deal.

The government of Haitian President René Préval managed not only to get Petrocaribe oil into Haiti, but made the U.S. oil companies effectively distribute Petrocaribe oil. We chose to launch our analysis of the cables with this article because it was a victory of sorts for Haiti against the U.S.

Next, we analyzed cables that demonstrate how the U.S. fought to keep wages low in Haiti. Over a decade ago, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised the minimum wage from 25 gourdes to 70 gourdes--about $1.75 a day. A Haitian deputy, Stephen Benoit, introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $5 a day. As the bill hit obstacles, workers backed by students and the whole population started to mobilize for its passage.

The assembly factory owners and the companies that use them, such as the Hanes, Fruit of the Loom and Levi-Strauss, fought this tooth and nail. They managed to keep the minimum wage down to only $3 a day. They won a partial victory, delaying the wage raise, but as of last October, the minimum wage in the assembly sector has finally gone up to $5 a day. But that's still the cheapest labor in the Caribbean.

WHAT HAVE you found in the cables about U.S. interference in Haiti's political process?

WE KNEW already that the U.S., Canada and France had orchestrated the coup against Aristide in 2004, and through the U.N. have occupied the country ever since. This occupation put the U.S. in the position to manipulate Haitian politics to its advantage. We saw in one cable from December 2009 how the U.S., the European Union and a number of other countries tolerated the violation of the democratic process.

Former President Preval's Provisional Electoral Council had illegally disqualified Artistide's Lavalas Family, the largest political party in Haiti, from the upcoming elections. The cables reveal that the imperial powers thought this disqualification was going to alienate the public. They even considered withdrawing support for the election.

But in full knowledge of the corruption of the democratic process, they pushed Haiti to go ahead with the election. They knew it was a problem, they knew it was flawed, and they knew it was rigged. But they said, "We've got too much invested, let's go forward with it."

The cables also reveal that the U.S. was more worried about their own puppet parties in the election than the illegal exclusion of Lavalas Family. The U.S. has cultivated these parties through the National Endowment for Democracy's two arms, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI). They were worried that these parties had been, in the words of U.S. ambassador Kenneth Merten, "emasculated."

The U.S. was eager to "level the playing field," going so far as to buy radio advertisements in support of them and against political forces aligned with the popular movement. They thus meddled in the Haitian electoral process, looking for a way to underwrite their puppet parties.

WHAT HAVE the cables demonstrated about the U.S. response to the earthquake?

ANSEL HERZ just wrote an excellent piece looking at what the cables show about the U.S. deployment of 22,000 troops immediately after the earthquake.

The U.S. took over the airport and began to divert planes, which were bringing in humanitarian and medical aid. In the process, they alienated France, Italy and Latin American countries that were trying to land with inflatable hospitals, medicine, doctors and so forth. The U.S. blocked these relief missions while they used the capital's sole runway to offload all sorts of weapons and military equipment.

On top of that, the cables reveal how the U.S. colluded with the disaster capitalists who flocked to Haiti. Merten described how American contractors were lining up in "a gold rush" to get a piece of the $10 billion in aid pledged to Haiti. People like Gen. Wesley Clark were coming in to hold press conferences and front for the companies seeking these contracts.

We also ran an article about how the cables prove the Haitian bourgeoisie transformed the Haitian police into their own private army. They bought arms for the police and essentially told them to guard their factories and warehouses. The Haitian elite went to the U.S. embassy to get them to take over their illegal operation of issuing arms to the police.

Another discovery we made in these cables about the hijacking of the police was that the U.S. knew there was a cabal of criminals inside the de facto government that they set up after the 2004 coup. The cables admitted that at the center of it "was a small nexus of drug dealers and political insiders who control a network of dirty cops and gangs that are responsible for committing kidnapping and murders."

So we've learned many interesting things from these cables. But as they say in Creole, "Sa se twokèt la, chay la deyè"--"That's the front of the carriage, the carriage is still coming."

IT'S BEEN a year and a half since the earthquake. What has become of the U.S. promises to help Haiti reconstruct its society and economy?

HAITI IS still reeling from the effects of the earthquake. The Interim Haitian Recovery Commission (IHRC) is at best a dismal failure. Only about one-third of the $5 billion, which was pledged for the first two years, has been disbursed. A recent report says 93 percent of all international aid to Haiti has gone to NGOs, not the Haitian government.

Conditions for people in and around Port-au-Prince are still deplorable. There are still hundreds of thousands of people still living in tent cities. Most of Port-au-Prince is still covered in rubble.

The international leadership of the IHRC is made up of 13 foreign bankers and ambassadors, and 13 members of the Haitian bourgeoisie or their lackeys. Their performance has been quite pathetic.

Many of these Haitians are actually part of the cabal of criminals I was just describing. For example, businessman Reginald Boulos, who sits on the board of the IHRC, was one of the bourgeois named in the Wikileaks cables as hijacking the police into becoming his own private militia. These are the wolves that are in charge of the chicken coop. They are in charge of the billions for Haiti's rebuilding, and they're doing a terrible job.

But these rich Haitians are incompetent wolves. Only 2 percent of all the contracts for Haiti's rebuilding have been given to Haitian companies. The real wolves are the international disaster capitalists.

WHAT HAS been the impact of Aristide's return on the process of rebuilding the popular movement?

I WOULD say that process is just getting restarted. His return certainly lifted the Lavalas movement's morale. His presence in Haiti is helping settle much of the internal squabbling and strife in Lavalas Family. He is working to rebuild and reorganize his party.

However, he is very much on the defensive. He has basically not left his compound, since getting back in March. He's had his car, which was provided by Préval, taken away. His security has essentially been removed.

He is a constant target of all sorts of threats. Recently, for instance, there was a big rumor which began when a Macoute called a radio in Miami to say that Aristide had been shot. So all of a sudden, my phone started to ring with people asking, "Is it true? Has he been shot?" It turned out to be a lie. The reactionaries are using such rumors as psychological warfare to keep the Lavalas movement and the progressive movement generally off balance and on the defensive.

Aristide seems focused on re-launching his medical school. He plans to staff it with Cuban doctors teaching for free. When U.S. troops closed his university after the 2004 coup to use it as their barracks, it had been graduating about 125 doctors a year, twice the number of the state medical school. He hopes to start at that level, and then increase the number of graduates. It is a project that will greatly encourage and mobilize people.

Beyond Aristide and Lavalas Family, the broader left is also trying to rebuild. The Heads Together of Popular Organizations coalition (Tet Kole), which is based around the offices of Haiti Liberté and the International Office of Lawyers, is building and growing. It includes many organizations from the Lavalas base, as well as many non-Lavalas organizations, women's groups, associations of employees, and groups of state employees who have been fired. Also, the Wikileaks revelations are helping to build the movement and the counter-offensive against Martelly.

WHAT ARE the demands around which these forces are coalescing?

THE FIRST is for a trial of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former "president for life" who returned to the country in January of this year and has up until now been going about his business without any encumbrance.

While an investigative judge did visit Duvalier back in January, he has issued no formal indictment yet. Duvalier continues to eat at posh restaurants and has even been protected by government escorts. He must be brought to account for his crimes against humanity and his financial crimes.

Everyone knows how about his human rights abuses, but fewer know about his theft from the Haitian treasury. It's been well documented that when he fled Haiti in 1986, he and his cronies had looted state coffers of close to $600 million, and it may be much more.

Of course, the new Martelly government will not push for any trial of Duvalier. Martelly used to be one of the dreaded Tonton Macoutes, the thugs Duvalier used to control the population. So the movement will have to fight for the prosecution of Duvalier and the return of the stolen monies.

The second area of activism I already touched on--the struggle against the return of the army. This fight is linked to the ongoing mobilization against Haiti's military occupation by UN troops.

Finally, groups are making the same demands against neoliberalism and for progressive social change that started the whole Lavalas movement against Duvalier 25 years ago. They don't want privatization of the remaining state enterprises--basically, the Electricity Company, port and airport. People instead want hospitals, they want schools and they want accessible universities. The vast majority want to be able to work and rebuild their country in their own interests, as determined by the working people, not by the IHRC board or the U.S. Embassy.

All of this is happening as Duvalierism and neo-Duvalierism are resurgent. The Martelly government's claws are only just coming out. Some round-ups of militants have begun in Cité Soleil and other popular neighborhoods.

If repression increases, as we expect it will, it may trigger a new popular uprising, much like the one that occurred when Napoleon tried to reintroduce slavery in 1802. The result was a revolution which created Haiti and spawned a wave of liberation that swept across Latin America.

Transciption by Andrea Hektor

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