By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
October 21, 2004
Haiti emerged on the world's geo-political center-stage in the 19th century. And the three major events that have fashioned and/or molded the island's national identity are the liberation of Haitians from under the yoke of French bondage in 1791, the attainment of independence through revolution on 1 January 1804 led by former slaves Toussaint L'Ouverture, Henri Christophe and Jean Jacques Dessalines and the pro-longed American occupation from 1915-1934. In the 19th century, Haiti "had twenty-six presidents, twenty-five of whom were generals." Governance was implemented to the extent that "power was won with the aid of troops, mobilized for the most part in the (peasant) country areas, which mounted largely bloodless campaigns before defeating their rivals." (Hector and Casimir 2004,20). The unique significance of the Haitian revolution is that it was the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere.
A second but most unique significance is that in 2003, Haitian government officials "claim(ed) their country was held-up at gun-point in broad daylight in 1825 and now they want (their former slavery-era master) France, to replace the stolen wealth to the tune of US$21.7billion", as a form of reparations payment.
Under then President Jean Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian government disclosed "the 1825 'agreement' that initially forced Haiti to pay to France 150 million francs in exchange for liberty" (Damu 2004). This so-called "exchange" was in fact compensation "payable mainly to French planters who had lost their property in the revolution." (Damu 2004). The stark reality, however, is that having successfully defeated French colonialism in the 19th century, Haiti has now been saddled with American re-colonization in the 20th century.
History of Relations with the United States
Haiti has been "the sick man of the Caribbean for most of its two hundred years." As such, its history of relations with the United States can best be summed up by desdain, occupation and paternalism. After the successful slave revolution in 1804, the United States did not officially recognize Haiti until 1862 at the height of the American Civil War. However, because of its strategic geographic location, Haiti has always been vital in terms of United States national security concerns. And it is this necessity that precipitated the U.S. military occupation of Haiti. By this invasion, President Woodrow Wilson established and cemented the United States as the sole arbiter of public policy and governance in Haiti. Haiti was thus transformed into a re-colonized, totally dependent American State -- a status it has maintained as of this writing (September 2004).
When Francois Duvalier or "Papa Doc" Duvalier came to power in 1957 as "President for Life", the United States had already laid and solidified the ground rules and modus operandi for its position as the dominant partner in this skewed alliance with Haiti, ad infinitum. "Papa Doc's" rule was marked by rampant and wanton corruption and brutality, denial of human rights, elimination of all opposition parties, repression of all student political activities, dissolving of all trade union activities, forcing all political rivals into exile and burning and/or attacking opposition newspapers. In addition, more than 50,000 Haitians were killed and/or executed through state-sponsored terrorism carried out by Duvalier's U.S.-trained 'Ton Ton Macoutes' gang. The United States government knew of these blatant undemocratic and fascist atrocities but did nothing to destabilize, overthrow or remove the government of 'Papa Doc' in order to restore democracy to Haiti. When 'Papa Doc' died in 1971, he was succeeded by his nineteen-year-old son, Jean Claude or 'Baby Doc'. This succession took place because in 1964, 'Papa Doc'decreed that he had the sole authority or divine right to appoint his successor.
'Baby Doc's rule was no different from 'Papa Doc's'. The 'Ton Ton Macoutes' continued their reign of terror, killing and carnage. The United States again did nothing to terminate such a dictatorial regime. However, in 1986, the masses (proletariat) finally rose up against 'Baby Doc'. He was rescued and flown into exile to France with the assistance of U.S. Embassy officials in Port-au-Prince. 'Baby Doc' is reported to have relieved the Haitian treasury of US$128million before he left the country.
As former U.S. embassador to the united Nations, Dr. Jeanne J. kilpatrick, once aptly surmised the role of a Third World dictator vis-a-vis U.S. national security interests :"He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but at least he is our son-of-a-bitch."
In the 1980s, the United States government was overtly concerned about illegal Haitian immigration (the influx of "boat people" off the shores of Florida) and Haiti as a major transfer point in the massive drug trafficking business and trade.
And in this regard, increased economic assistance was given to the new, short-lived Avril government. However, on 16 December 1990, democracy and peace came to Haiti for the first time in its history with the election of social-reformist Father Jean Bertrand Aristide as President. Aristide received sixty-seven per cent of the Haitian vote. This result both astonished and completely flabbergasted the United States because the U.S. government preferred choice was Marc Bazin- a right-wing economist with pro-American corporate leanings.
On 29 September 1991, General Raoul Cedras organized, mounted and engineered a brutal military coup d'etat in collusion with the United States against the democratically-elected government of President Arisitide.
The fall-out of the coup was as follows: 3,000 killed, 300,000
displaced, 40,000 encamped at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and 50,000 fled to the Dominican Republic.(Nantambu 1993,9).
By November 1991, repression reached its zenith in Haiti and this precipitated the fleeing of Haitians in boats to the United States. They became Haitian refugees. However, the George Bush, Sr., administration immediately shipped most of them back to Haiti claiming that they were 'economic migrants' and not 'political refugees'. This foreign policy-decision by the Bush administration compelled U.S. District Judge in New York, Sterling Johnson,Jr., to rule as follows: "This court is astonished that the United States would return Haitian refugees to the jaws of political persecution, terror, death and uncertainty when it has contracted not to do so."(Nantambu 1993,9).
The illegal military regime remained in power until 15 October 1994. It was on this date that with the direct intervention of former president Jimmy Carter and then President Bill Clinton that Aristide was once again sworn in as President of Haiti after being exiled in the United States. Prior to assuming office, Aristide requested that the Clinton administration should give him back the three years of the presidency he had lost while in exile. His request fell on deaf ears in the White House. The Clinton administration was solely bent on ending the Haitian refugee crisis and instead of acceding to Aristide's initial request, the administration decided to return Aristide to power, on condition that he implemented certain private sector investment-oriented economic policies. In Aristide's own words: "In order to restore democracy, we were asked to agree to an economic plan which could once again mortgage the future of the country." (Akkee 2004,27). Aristide left office in 1996. Rene Preval then assumed the presidency. He, however, was only regarded as a caretaker, interim ruler until Aristide's return---- an event and/or reality that anathema to the United States. Preval was impotent to garner the funds in foreign economic assistance necessary to implement social-economic programs. His impotency was further compounded by the decline in private sector investment, drug trafficking, political instability, violence, endless poverty and misery and hopelessness. Eventually, on 7 February 2001, Jean Bertrand Aristide was sworn in for his second term as President of Haiti. The United States and France refused to send official delegations to Aristide's inaugural. The United States was only represented by its ambassador. In his inaugural address, Aristide said in Creole: "I am the president of all Haitians without distinction. All we need to do is get along. There's only one road you can take, that can take us to deliverance, that is peace." (Dodds 2001).
In the post 2001 era, former Aristide supporters accused his political party, La Famin Lavalas, of adopting some of the same methods of the infamous 'Ton Ton Macoutes' gang to stay in power. Aristide was facing an awesome, scary and uphill battle to restore sanity, civility and transparency to public policy and governance to Haiti. His formidable tasks ranged from intractable problems of unemployment and a decadent housing sector to massive, sweeping malnutrition, illiteracy, non-existent infrastructural development and environmental decline. Aristide thus needed tremendous assistance/aid from the international community, in general and from the United States, in particular, to successfully overcome these hurdles. Haiti's eight million people were eagerly expecting a second miracle from Aristide. It never happened. Instead, Haiti became a country under the vicious cyclical siege of daily internationally televised internecine gang warfare, violence and fighting, "Black on Black crime", ministerial corruption and nepotism, economic destitution, social depression and malaise. The population was beginning to turn against once loved President Father Jean Bertrand Aristide.
It was just a matter of time before his political dam came loose. It must be hastily pointed out here that most of the publicly televised incidents of violence on the streets of Port-au-Prince was organically orchestrated, organized and financed by the U.S.-CIA overseas field office in the country. Emmanuel 'Toto' Constant, head of the U.S.-founded FRAPH movement/organization, confessed on the American television CBS "60 Minutes" program in December 1995, that he was paid US $700 per month by the US-CIA head of covert operations in Haiti to stage, manufacture and manipulate daily violent acts of fighting, killings, burning and looting, carnage and total mayhem (geocities.com 2004). This confession is prima facie evidence of the United States government's complicity, collusion and conspiracy in the overthrow and eventual ouster of President Aristide.
During Aristide's second term in office, the United States government imposed a trade/economic embargo on Haiti and also prevented multilateral development lending agencies from assisting Haiti. This foreign economic aid void completely crippled the economy and severely hindered any chance for social mobility and relief. In the midst of all these ever deepening hardships plaguing and confronting the Haitian people on a daily basis, the time had come to get rid of President Aristide. The poor just couldn't take any more. To compound the chaotic situation, the disgruntled insurgents who were forced to flee to the Dominican Republic during the coup, began to mount surgical attacks against the regime. At this crucial juncture, survival juncture, President Aristide was vulnerable and too weak to launch any potent counter-attack because he had previously dismantled the army in 1995. Ergo, this decision had backfired on him and assured his downfall. The George Bush Jr., administration went along with this master-plan to terminate Aristide's presidency. The denouncement came on 29 February 2004 when President Aristide was forced to leave Haiti, having been 'kidnapped' by "heavily armed white men (who) surrounded the National Palace" and "forced (him) to sign his letter of resignation."(Reuters 2004).
In an interview on CNN (1st March 2004), former President Aristide stated that "he was forced to leave Haiti (at gunpoint) in a 'coup d'etat' (engineered) by the United States."(CNN 2004,3). For its part, the Bush administration has vigorously and categorically rejected President Aristide's assertions that he was 'kidnapped' by U.S. military troops. Secretary of State Colin Powell has termed them 'baseless'. General Latortue was then installed by a U.S.-backed advisory council as interim President of the Haitian government. The United States position is that this interim government is "constitutional and needed support from the region"; however, to date, CARICOM leaders are 'split' on any decision to recognize the interim Haitian government." (Trinidad Guardian 2004, p.13).
The clouded ouster/departure of the democratically-elected President of Haiti, Father Jean Bertrand Aristide, has only served to re-ignite the dormant flames of 'Big Brotherism','Big stick diplomacy', 'gun-boat diplomacy' and 'dollar diplomacy' that have informed the recent historical relations between governments of the English-speaking Caribbean and the United States. In this specific regard, these Caribbean political leaders are mindful of United States illegal military invasion of Grenada, a CARICOM member, on 25 October 1983 and the Reagan administration's policy toward that small nation-state with a population of only one hundred thousand – a policy that reflected all the above-mentioned dormant flames.
The historical litany is as follows: first, CARICOM political cannot forget that in June 1981, the Reagan administration colluded with countries of the eastern Caribbean to establish the OECS Treaty of Association and to ratify Article 20 which states that "decisions and directives shall be unanimous and shall be binding on all (States in) the preservation of peace and security against external aggression." (Nantambu 1983,54). The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) consists of Antigua-Barbuda, Dominica,St. Lucia, St.Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla, Grenada and Montserrat.
Regrettably, it was this Article transmitted through an "urgent, formal request" from five members of the OECS along with Barbados (under then Prime Minister Tom Adams) and Jamaica (under then Prime Minister Edward Seaga) that President Ronald Reagan invoked to militarily invade the sovereign Caribbean nation-state of Grenada. The fact of the matter is that the decision to seek U.S. assistance in the wake of 'perceived' threat to the national security of these countries from the putative Communist-Cuban military build-up in Grenada was not 'unanimous' because three of the OECS members abstained. Therefore, the OECS request was illegal and so was the U.S. invasion, by extension. This was 'gun-boat diplomacy' at its zenith. The decision was also not 'unanimous' among CARICOM member states because seven out of the thirteen members opposed the invasion. Second, CARICOM leaders cannot forget that at their November 1982 summit meeting at Ocho Rios, Jamaica, 'Big stick diplomacy' and 'Big Brotherism' were both employed by the Reagan administration to collude with Barbados, Jamaica and Dominica (under Prime Minister Eugenia Charles) to introduce a motion to amend the pre-amble of the 1973 Treaty of Chaguaramas by getting "a written-in commitment of member countries to uphold principles of human rights in the region as they apply to the system of parliamentary democracy." (Nantambu 1983,63). The reality is that this motion was implying that the holding of free and fair elections under the British Westminster model, should be a pre-condition for membership in CARICOM; as such, it was not only a covert attempt by the Reagan administration to get Grenada expelled from CARICOM membership but also an attempt to cajole Caribbean governments to isolate Grenada as a ‘communist outpost'. Maurice Bishop became Prime Minister of Grenada through armed revolution by militarily overthrowing the Eric Gairy government on 13 March 1979. The Reagan administration had repeatedly demanded the holding of free and fair elections in Grenada ever since Bishop came to power. These CARICOM members were thus used as pawns to carry out the Reagan administration's acerbic, hostile policy toward Grenada.
Published reports also reveal that the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Jamaica, W. Robert Warne, remained in very close personal contact with Prime Ministers Seaga, Adams and Charles and with the press throughout the meeting. In fact, the American press was urged to ask questions designed to get negative responses about Grenada from CARICOM leaders. Third, ‘dollar diplomacy' came to the fore in President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) economic assistance proposals in February 1982. When President Reagan unveiled this plan, Grenada was not allowed to participate in or benefit from, it. The CBI allocated US$50million to Jamaica and US$20million to the OECS as a quid pro quo for their collusive role in the invasion of Grenada.
Fourth, CARICOM leaders cannot forget that the 15th century European ploy of Divide and Rule was most evident in 1983 with the truism that then Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and chairman of CARICOM, George Chambers and Prime Minister Forbes Burnham of Guyana were purposefully and deliberately excluded from this geo-political loop by the United States ---- only pro-U.S. Caribbean leaders were included in pre-invasion discussion and planning.
As Prime Minister George Chambers recounted to the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament on 26 October 1983 (the day after the illegal invasion): " to date, I have received no notification from any CARICOM member country of any intention to request assistance from the government of the United States to intervene militarily in Grenada nor have I been informed by any CARICOM member country that such a request had in fact been made." (Nantambu 1983,67). The mind-set/world view of CARICOM leaders today is: "never, never again."
CARICOM-Haiti Perspectives on the United States
The double-edge sword of contention between CARICOM and the United States over Haiti is entangled in these two issues: "the legitimacy of Haiti's interim government and whether Haiti should be allowed to return to the Caribbean Community." (AP 2004). The backdrop in putting these twin issues in their proper historical perspective is that it was the Haitian interim government itself that initially suspended membership in the regional bloc immediately after Jamaica granted temporary refuge status to ousted President Aristide. As a result, CARICOM was forced to withhold recognition to and support for, this interim government in March 2004, and more specifically, since Aristide leveled accusations of a U.S. - orchestrated coup. (Ibid). The interim Haitian government, therefore, brought the issue of CARICOM's non-recognition upon itself. In fact, CARICOM Heads of State have always strongly rejected any 'unprecedented haste' by the United States to recognize the interim government.
On 27 March 2004, CARICOM leaders concluded after twelve hours of intense deliberations "they will not recognize the U.S.-backed interim government in Haiti" and "asserted that the restoration of democratic rule in the troubled nation is essential to its involvement in the regional community." However, on a matter of geo-political principle, they decided "to continue recognizing Haiti as a member state and pledged support for and participation in any activities that will lead to the alleviation of the plight of the Haitian people." (Browne 2004,4). CARICOM leaders should be complimented for taking such a principled geo-political position they recognized the broader picture of Caribbean unity in time of crisis and uncertainty.
CARICOM leaders also decided not to support insidious efforts by the U.S.-backed interim government to extradite former President Aristide to face scurrilous charges of corruption and human right abuses. Yet, despite and against "intense pressures from the United States of America to influence recognition of the interim regime in Port-au-Prince", CARICOM leaders have decided to put such recognition on a "frozen" footing. CARICOM's position is to insist on a "United Nations -sponsored independent probe into the controversial circumstances surrounding how President Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed from office on 29 February 2004" (Singh 2004). This is the most vexing bone of contention in CARICOM-Haiti- United States relations. In February 2004, CARICOM called on the United Nations "to launch an independent investigation into Aristide's departure but nothing (came) of this". According to Knowlson Gift, Foreign Affairs Minister of Trinidad and Tobago:" we'd made an overture to the UN seeking that the matter be ventilated and investigated there. Unfortunately, due to the strength of the UN as a body, it needed the approval of the Security Council. If a single one of these objected, the matter would have died right there, so what we did in CARICOM was to revert to the OAS to call for the inquiry" (Alexander 2004). This was a quintessential brilliant tactical move by CARICOM because as permanent members of the UN Security Council and with veto power, it was an automatic conclusion that France and the United States would have vetoed any such independent investigation. Let us recall that France and the United States were the co-conspirators who provided the international forces to remove Aristide from office in Haiti: "Aristide was flown into exile on an American military aircraft" (Singh 2004). So now, France and the United States are powerless to prevent CARICOM from taking this international issue to a Special Session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS). And that's exactly what CARICOM has done.
On 13 May 2004, CARICOM forwarded an official request to the OAS "to assess the state of constitutional governance and the democratic order in Haiti that would include the circumstances of President Aristide's departure from office in the face of an armed rebellion." (Singh 2004). This action was taken within the specific context of Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Article 20 reads as follows: "In the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, any member state or the Secretary General may request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation and to take such decisions as it deems appropriate."(Singh 21 May 2004). In its reaction, the United States Ambassador to the OAS, John Maisto, publicly appealed for CARICOM "to withdraw its request." The request stands without fear of intimidation or retaliation.
In the final analysis, if the United States denies it had any involvement in the ouster of President Aristide from office then an independent international investigation as requested by CARICOM from the OAS is the best operational mechanism to get to the truth. Conversely, if the United States has the slightest trepidation as to the core findings of this investigation then it may wield its 'Big stick diplomacy' bat and read the 'riot act' to members of the Permanent Council of the OAS in an attempt to thwart any movement on CARICOM's request.
CARICOM stands to face a very leery and hostile future in terms of its relations with the United States if and when the findings of this OAS investigation are made public. Some skeptics may have already classified these findings as: "I told you so." Haiti has always been an embarrassing, nagging and contentious thorn in the side of France and the United States since 1791; thus, it need occasion no great surprise that these very same countries were joined at the geo-political hip to remove Aristide from office. The old defeatist wounds have not gone away. How to heal them is the unknown and maybe unsolvable variable in any future CARICOM-Haiti-United states relations.
One can only hope history will absolve CARICOM leaders for taking such a precedent-setting position on behalf and protection of the first Black sovereign independent nation-state in the Western Hemisphere. Future relations suggest that the United States should realize that the loudest message coming out of the Caribbean as enunciated by its CARICOM leaders is that these governments are not only determined to be independent but also and most importantly, are determined to act independently.
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