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HAITI

U.S. backs Aristide's opponents

By Pat Chin

As we go to press on Feb. 25, the crisis unleashed in Haiti remains unresolved. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide continues to insist that he will serve out the term to which he was elected by the Haitian people, but he has accepted a U.S.-backed plan that would bring business-led opposition political groups into the government. However, these groups have rejected the plan, demanding that Aristide step down so that they, self-styled "demo crats" who have not been elected to anything, can take over and run the country.

Meanwhile, heavily armed gangs led by former soldiers and known death-squad leaders have shot their way into towns and cities in the north, including Cap Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city. Popular organizations in Port-au-Prince have erected barricades on the roads leading into the city expecting that the coup forces may attempt to take the capital. And the U.S. has sent in 50 Marines, supposedly to guard the U.S. Embassy there.

Washington is embroiled in Haiti on many levels. Semi-official groups like the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute have for some time been giving open financial and political support to the opposition political groups led by Haitian business owners. The U.S. media gave credibility to these groups' charges that elections in 2000 were "fraudulent," even though Aristide and his Lavalas party are acknowledged by all observers to have clearly won the popular vote. These forces have been preventing new parliamentary elections by boycotting the process. Haiti now has no legislature because of this.

At the same time, secret U.S. agencies like the CIA have a history of collaborating with the armed assassins and coup makers from former dictatorships who have attacked and taken over the northern cities. While claiming to respect the Aristide government, Washington has not denounced the coup leaders as the terrorists they are, instead giving them time to take more territory and put pressure on the popular forces around Aristide. The coup leaders, in turn, have been urging the U.S. to intervene, and some of the gunmen even wear shirts made of U.S. flags.

However, Washington has to be careful not to be seen as aiding a coup against a popularly elected president. That would set off a firestorm of protest in many parts of the world, something neither the Bush administration nor the U.S. ruling class need at this time.

The Haitian opposition is clearly hoping that the upsurge in violence will force Aristide to resign. Washington had even announced beforehand that any international assistance to stop the armed onslaught was contingent on an agreement between the two sides.

Bush and 'regime change'

The U.S. capitalist establishment started years ago laying the groundwork for the bloody chaos now engulfing Haiti. It has long wanted to replace the Aristide government with one more compliant to corporate globalization interests. Even though its pressure forced Aristide to implement IMF restructuring plans, Washington still wasn't satisfied. But it did cause him to lose some popular support, which the U.S. is also exploiting.

Bush might not have declared Haiti a part of his "axis of evil," but in April of last year Attorney General John Ashcroft made a ruling that Haitian refugees presented a "national security" threat to the United States. This was part of the White House "regime change" strategy, backed by the European Union, that has long put pressure on Aristide to force his total capitulation to capitalist financial interests, or be ousted.

For example, $500 million in loans promised in 1994 were indefinitely frozen. The money, on which Haiti is still forced to pay interest, was designed to stimulate the economy. An aid embargo, imposed in 2001, froze humanitarian projects, undermining basic humanitarian services relat ed to water, housing and medical care. This destabilization campaign has been unleashed on the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, where many people must walk for miles to get water, family members sleep in shifts because of the dire shortage of adequate housing, and the infant mortality rate is over 100 per 1,000 live births, the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Washington also funded and backed the anti-Aristide "opposition" made up of the big landowners, many media bosses, the business elite, their armed gangs and others. U.S. media coverage greatly exaggerated the size of opposition protests while ignoring larger demonstrations in support of the government.

'U.S. is playing games'

"The United States is playing games with Haiti," said Haitian-born Robert Fatton, Jr., chair of the Government and Foreign Affairs department at the University of Virginia. Referring to the National Endowment for Democracy, he said, "Politically connected groups within the country are openly funding Aristide's overthrow while the Bush administration is saying publicly that Aristide should finish his elected term." (www.bet.com, Feb. 20)

The Feb. 19 web edition of Black Com mentator said, "Washington had expect ed to remove the former priest through massive demonstrations--a counter-revolution by acclamation--hopefully before this year's celebrations of Haiti's 200th anniversary. U.S. and European media tried mightily to paint a picture of overwhelming popular disaffection with Aristide. However, the Haitian people are intimately familiar with the faces and history of the 'opposition,' gathered opportunistically under the banner of Group 184. ..."

Sweatshop magnate Andrew Apaid is an opposition leader. After a trip to Haiti, U.S. Congressperson Maxine Waters, who represents a largely African American district in Los Angeles, roundly denounc ed Apaid at a Feb. 11 press conference in Washington, D.C., in which she detailed a long list of his shady dealings.

She said she was "deeply concerned about the growing violence organized by the so-called opposition and what now appears to be gangs in the northern part of the country being supported in their violent activities by this so-called opposition."

She challenged the U.S. government to denounce Apaid and his Group of 184: "How can the State Department remain silent while Andre Apaid, who allegedly holds an American passport, creates so much dissension, disruption and violence in this small, impoverished country?"

Waters has also criticized Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega--whom she labels "a Jesse Helms political appointee"--as the author of "right-wing garbage" attacking Haiti. (www.bet.com, Feb. 20)

At first the White House feigned a hands-off policy towards the turmoil it helped to create, giving the armed opposition a chance to advance. It was only after France, Haiti's former colonial power, took a more active role that the Bush White House "shifted" its policy by co-sponsoring the power-sharing plan.

Aristide has lost some support among the masses because of Haiti's disastrous economic decline, exacerbated by the aid and loan embargo and his implementation of the IMF's structural adjustment program. But a Feb. 20 poll of 600 Haitian Americans by the Pacific News Service found that, although disillusioned over the worsening economic situation, 52 percent believed Aristide should remain in office. Only 6 percent supported the armed wing of the opposition. "Over half of Haitian Americans, 55 percent, believe that the opposition movements are just interested in power; only 22 percent said those groups are fighting for democracy," reported the news service.

Hundreds of Haitians and U.S. progressives demonstrated against a coup on Feb. 13 in front of the UN. Another demonstration is planned for 11 a.m. on Feb. 28, gathering at Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and marching to Grand Army Plaza.

Reprinted from the March 4, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

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