HAITI’S ACHIEVEMENTS UNDER ARISTIDE AND LAVALAS – NOW LOST SINCE THE U.S. LED COUP OUSTING HIM – BY STEPHEN LENDMAN
The long-suffering people of Haiti suffered a catastrophic blow in February, 2004 when U.S. Marines kidnapped and deposed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The U.S., supported by Canada and France, forced him into exile, forbade him from even returning to the hemisphere, and reestablished a despotic interim puppet government backed and enforced by so-called UN peacekeepers and a brutal Haitian National Police. U.S. officials also threatened Aristide with a second abduction followed by a trial and imprisonment in the U.S. [on totally fraudulent charges of looting the Haitian treasury, money laundering and taking payoffs from drug traffickers] if he dared act or speak out forcefully against his ousting, forced exile and the deplorable situation now in Haiti. These charges are currently included in a baseless lawsuit the so-called Interim Government of Haiti has filed against President Aristide even as they carry out a reign of terror against the Haitian people. And as they do it, conditions in the country continue to deterioriate as the occupying forces clamp down on the people ahead of so-called Presidential and legislative elections in January. With Haiti an occupied country, the freedom and democracy they had is now lost and along with it a decade of impressive social, economic and political gains they never had before.
Why did the U.S. plan and carry out this act of savage banditry against a leader beloved by his people and last reelected in 2000 with 92% of the vote? It was because he cared about the 80% or more desperately poor and disadvantaged Haitians and was committed to improving their lives. He was determined to serve their interests rather than those of his dominant northern neighbor. That policy of any nation, especially less developed ones, is always unacceptable to the predatory neoliberal agenda of all U.S. administrations, the giant transnational corporations whose interests they serve, and in Haiti, their elite junior business partners. The Bush administration, in league with these dominant business interests, intends to return this nation of 8.5 million people, the poorest in the Americas, to its pre-Aristide status of virtual serfdom. To do it they destroyed Haiti’s freedom and first ever democracy in its history and turned the country into a killing field. And to justify what they did, they conducted a shameless disinformation campaign, aided by a complicit and corrupted corporate media, falsely claiming the Aristide government was rife with corruption, trafficked drugs and violated human rights. They also claimed Haiti was poorly governed by inherently inept people [shameless racism]. They called it a failed state needing “reform” and “humanitarian intervention.”
For U.S. corporations and the Haitian business elite, Haiti has always been a paradise for some of the cheapest labor on the planet. It’s also had a long-term endemic problem of men, women and children being victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, debt bondage and chattel labor. No one leader or party, no matter how well-intentioned, could solve all these problems easily or quickly. But Aristide tried. He wanted something better and for ten years accomplished impressive achievements with little outside financial support and against great odds. What Lavalas administrations accomplished is explained below.
SOCIAL GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
1. HEALTH CARE
The Aristide government renovated and built health clinics, hospitals and dispensaries and added improved medical services. It greatly increased the number of health care workers including doctors. It spent a larger percentage of its budget on health care than any previous Haitian government. It began a meaningful AIDS prevention and treatment program praised by international experts that reduced the HIV prevalence rate from 6.1% to 5% and the mother to child transmission rate from 30% to 9%. In a cooperative effort with Cuba it sent hundreds of Haitian medical students to that country to study to become doctors and were aided by many more hundreds of Cuban health care workers coming to Haiti to work in rural areas. It established a new medical school in Tabarre which provided free medical education for hundreds of Haitian students and planned to open a nursing school which the 2004 coup prevented.
Overall, health care availability and improvement made impressive gains from its formerly dismal state. One measure was the decline in infant mortality from 125 to 110 per 1000 and a drop in the percentage of underweight births from 28% to 19%.
Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas implemented a Universal Schooling Program intending to include all Haitian children. 20% of Haiti’s budget was devoted to education, and between 2001 – 2004 school enrollment rates rose from 68% to 72%. Under Lavalas administrations, 195 new primary schools and 104 new public high schools were built including in rural areas where no schools ever before existed. To supplement further, Fanmi Lavalas provided thousands of scholarships for children to attend private schools. It subsidized schoolbooks and uniforms and expanded school lunch programs to serve 700,000 hot meals a day to children who otherwise might have had no meal.
The Aristide government also began a national literacy campaign, printed 2 million literacy manuals, and trained thousands of students as literacy workers. It opened 20,000 adult literacy centers many of which combined a literacy center with a community kitchen to provide low cost meals to communities in need. Between 2001 – 2003 this program taught 100,000 people to read, and from 1996 – 2003 reduced the illiteracy rate from 85% to 55%.
3. JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Contrary to the demonization and disinformation campaign against Aristide and Lavalas, human rights and conflict resolution achieved significant gains under Lavalas administrations. For the first time ever in Haiti, the rights of the accused were respected. Those arrested had a formal hearing before a judge usually within 2 days. Court proceedings were conducted in Creole, the French derivative language all Haitians understand. Since the 2004 coup, Lavalas supporters have been routinely murdered or jailed for months without charge and without recourse to a fair trial in court.
In 1995 the Lavalas government opened a school for magistrates. It graduated 100 new judges and prosecutors between 1996 – 2003. Also, courthouses and police stations were constructed and refurbished throughout the country. Special courts for children were established, and a special child protection unit was created within the Haitian National Police. Laws were also passed prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment against children. And in 2003 a new law was passed repealing a labor code provision allowing child domestic service [mostly unpaid and thus chattel labor], and additional legislation passed prohibiting all trafficking in persons [a long-term endemic abuse in Haiti affecting adults and children].
Aristide removed the main instrument of state repression and dozens of previous coups by disbanding the hated Haitian military – trained by the U.S. to be an instrument of civilian control and to use brutal and abusive tactics to do it. This allowed the Haitian people an unprecedented level of freedom of speech, assembly and personal safety unknown before. He also created the National Commission for Truth and Justice to investigate and report on the crimes committed during the 1991-1994 coup period. It made its recommendations for a measure of justice in 1996. As a result, former soldiers and paramilitaries were tried for their crimes and convicted when found guilty in fair trials.
POLITICAL GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
Until Aristide’s election in 1990 Haiti had never before had a democratically elected President. Aristide took office in 1991, but his administration was short-lived because of a military coup that deposed him later in the year. But in a deal struck with the Clinton administration Aristide was restored to office in 1994 and served out the remainder of his term until 1996. Then, prohibited from succeeding himself by Haitian law, Aristide ally and Prime Minister in 1991, Rene Preval, was elected President with 88% of the vote. Aristide was then reelected in November, 2000 [representing the Fanmi Lavalas party he formed in 1996] and served until the February, 2004 coup deposing him.
Haiti’s independent electoral commission oversaw the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections and 3 parliamentary and local elections. In May, 2000, 29,500 candidates ran for 7,500 posts. Four million Haitians registered for the election and 60% of them voted. Many women and peasant leaders were elected to the House of Deputies, formed a caucus and worked in Parliament to improve the lives of rural farmers. For the first time ever Haitian women held the posts of Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance and Chief of Police. Also, in 1995 President Aristide established a cabinet level Ministry of Women’s Affairs to work for women’s welfare. Its purpose was multifold and included help for rape victims, improving literacy and access to education, vital health services like pre-natal care and inclusion of women to benefit from increases in the minimum wage.
During this period, the Haitian people enjoyed unprecedented freedom to organize, speak out freely and assemble. The number of radio stations in Port-au-Prince expanded to 44 and another 100 outside the capitol. 16 TV stations were registered in the capitol and 35 more nationwide. Also, the Haitian Constitution of 1987 was printed in Creole and was widely distributed so Haitians were aware of their rights which, for the first time, they really had.
For nearly 10 years the Haitian people had its only democracy in its 500 year history and a government and leaders it chose who for the first time cared about the welfare of ordinary Haitians and established policies to improve their lives. All that was lost in February, 2004. The Haitian people want it restored and resistance is growing to try and achieve it.
ECONOMIC GAINS UNDER LAVALAS
Aristide raised the minimum wage in 1995 and doubled it in 2003. He instituted an extensive land reform program distributing 2.47 acres of land to each of 1500 peasant families in the Artibonite River Valley. His government provided tools, credit, technical assistance, fertilizers and heavy equipment to farmers. Irrigation systems were repaired bringing water to 7000 farmers. As a result, rice yields [from Haiti’s main staple crop] rose from 2.7 tons per hectare to between 3 – 3.5 tons.
The government distributed tens of thousands of reintroduced Creole pigs to Haitian farmers. This reversed a 1980 U.S. International Development Agency [USAID] extermination policy done for fraudulent reasons to prevent Haitian farmers from competing with pig farmers in the U.S. This act cost Haitian farmers hundreds of millions of dollars for which they received no compensation.
The Aristide administration campaigned aggressively to collect unpaid tax and utility bills owed the government by wealthy and powerful elite businessmen. Through this effort they generated new revenues which were used for health care and education.
The government repaired and reopened the state owned sugar mill in Dabonne that enabled Haiti to process its own sugar. Also, 30,000 fishermen received technical aid and training to build boats, Haiti’s lakes were planted with fish stocks and 50 new lakes were built.
The Lavalas administrations created hundreds of community stores and restaurants which sold food at discount prices forcing the wealthy elites’ import monopolies to reduce their prices and make them more affordable to poor Haitians. As a result, by 2003 malnutrition dropped from 63% to 51%.
In 2002 and 2003 more than 1000 low cost housing units were built, and low interest loans enabled ordinary working-class Haitians to buy them.
In 1994 the Haitian government established a program to help refugees who fled the country after the 1991 coup to return. Programs included carpentry and sewing workshops and help in setting up agricultural cooperatives. This initiative helped 100,000 refugees return to their homes. The government also established an Office for Civil Protection to support the Haitian Red Cross send out early warnings of impending natural disasters and help those affected they they occurred.
All of these vital gains are now being reversed or adversely affected by the current interim U.S. installed puppet government.
OTHER NOTABLE LAVALAS ACHIEVEMENTS
Despite misinformation to the contrary, Lavalas administrations passed legislation to combat drug trafficking and money laundering and worked cooperatively with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] to inderdict drugs and deport drug dealers wanted by U.S. authorities. In addition, the National Committee Against Money Laundering, the National Committee to Combat Drug Trafficking and Substance Abuse and a Financial Intelligence Unit were created to enforce the laws passed.
The government also campaigned against public corruption by producing public service announcements and instituting new procedures to combat this abuse. Investigations of government officials and other employees involved in improper or illegal activities were conducted, and those found guilty were fired or prosecuted.
The Lavalas administrations made major investments in projects to help the Haitian people. They included important improvements in infrastructure, public transportation and agriculture. Thousands of miles of drainage canals were constructed, repaired or dredged. In Jacmel a new electric power plant was built, and the port and wharf were renovated. In Port-au-Prince the international airport and national stadium were renovated. Dozens of open-air markets [an important Haitian institution] were built or renovated in cities around the country.
CONDITIONS IN HAITI TODAY SINCE THE 2004 COUP
All the achievements discussed above were impressive and remarkable considering Haiti’s long and tragic history as a brutally exploited state – first by Spain and France and then by the U.S. However, since the 2004 coup ousting President Aristide, all of them have been adversely affected or reversed.
Most serious has been the destruction of real democracy and freedom in Haiti and the tragic and horrific fallout from it. To serve the interests of U.S. corporations and the elite Haitian rich, the Haitian National Police [PNH] and so-called UN peacekeepers [MINUSTAH] have unleashed a reign of terror against the Haitian people. President Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party has been destroyed and its officials jailed, murdered or forced to flee to avoid either fate. In addition, thousands of Lavalas supporters [the great majority of Haitians] and community and labor activists have been killed, jailed, disappeared or forced into hiding. Also, thousands of small businesses have been burned and destroyed as have the homes of large numbers of the poor. Jobs have been lost as well, including those of 4000 public sector workers hired under President Aristide immediately eliminated after the coup. As a result, the already very high level of unemployment has risen further.
The brutal and hated former Haitian military has also been reinstituted and now controls large areas of the country in an environment of martial law. In the cities the PNH operates as a de facto paramilitary force with a license to terrorize and kill with impunity. Along with MINUSTAH [led by contingents from Brazil and Chile, with a long history of repressing their home populations], the PNH conducts frequent violent sweeps through poor communities and neighborhoods, like Cite Soleil and Bel Air, attacking, arresting and murdering community leaders, activists and other Lavalas supporters.
In rural areas, absentee landlords along with armed paramilitaries have seized peasant farmer land given them as part of the Land Reform projects by Lavalas administrations. The new interim U.S. installed government headed by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue [imported from Florida for the job] ended subsidies on fertilizer vital to peasant rice farmers. As a result, the cost of fertilizer has more than doubled, and the price of rice [Haiti’s main staple crop] has risen sharply, adversely affecting the poor majority [80% or more of the population]. The interim government also cancelled school subsidies for children and textbooks and stopped funding literacy programs. Many poor families have thus been unable to keep their children in school.
U.S. agencies like the U.S. International Development Agency [USAID] and the Washington based and nominally independent Haiti Democracy Project are also deeply involved in making Haiti policy. The latter is funded by the wealthy right-wing Haitian Boulos family, USAID funded Radio Vision 2000 and other Haitian business interests. Its board of directors includes former U.S. ambassadors to Haiti, others close to the U.S. State Department and Haitian business leaders. This organization [or independent think tank as they call themselves] along with U.S. acting ambassador Timothy Carney are likely making day-to-day policy decisions in Haiti while USAID is serving overall U.S. Haiti policy objectives by attempting to “pacify” the country. It’s doing it through a sham and grossly inadequate fig leaf program of establishing a few nongovernmental organization [NGO] type operations to provide some essential services like “primary care” and “child survival services,” in place of Lavalas, while at the same time administering with an iron fist. It started the first prison for children with others for children and adults likely to follow. The overall aim is to turn Haiti into a tranquil combined open air and enclosed “prison colony” to create a favorable climate for business.
In addition, the predatory international lending agencies, including the IMF and World Bank, are demanding their pound of flesh that will further deepen Haiti’s already overwhelming and crushing poverty. In their business as usual fashion they have actively implemented their exploitative and destructive structural adjustment policies of forced privatizations and downsizings of state owned industries and elimination of Lavalas instituted social programs in return for financial aid, adding to Haiti’s already onerous debt burden [most of it “odious” debt].
The dominant U.S. corporate media and international community overall have largely ignored the ongoing tragedy and horror in Haiti since the coup. With no pun intended, Haiti today is literally a black hole, out of sight and out of mind. The U.S. now calls the shots while their complicit and subservient in-country proxies have turned back the clock to its ugly despotic past of brutal repression and even more extreme poverty, depravation and human suffering.
SCHEDULED PRESIDENTIAL AND LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS
The so-called Interim Government of Haiti [IGH] has scheduled a first round of Presidential and legislative elections on January 8 with a runoff to follow on February 15 and local elections finally on March 5. This is the fourth reset of elections dates in the last 5 months. That’s because the planning and preparation handled by the Provisional Electoral Commission [CEP] has been as flawed as the notion of a free and democratic process in a nation now led by a U.S. appointed Prime Minister in charge of a de facto military junta answerable to the Bush administration. Although reportedly 3.5 million of the estimated 4.2 million eligible to vote have registered, the list of candidates running excludes nearly all former Lavalas members. At present and subject to change, 32 candidates are running for President including Rene Preval who served a full term as Lavalas’ democratically elected President from 1996 – 2000. With Lavalas a destroyed party and out of the political process, the fact that Preval has been allowed to run means it’s likely he’s been co-opted and has deserted his former democratic allies and accepted or joined with those now in power.
The most beloved and popular man still in Haiti, Father Gerard Jean-Juste, will not be allowed to run and has been imprisoned without charge to prevent his inclusion in the election. He currently has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition requiring his release to be able to be treated properly. Without a strong outcry and intervention for him it’s doubtful he’ll get it, and that may jeopardize his life. Most other candidates are those the Bush administration finds “acceptable” including Dumarsais Simeus, a Haitian born Texas millionaire, Guy Philippe [a former police chief and paramilitary thug who led the armed coup against President Aristide in 2004] and Dany Toussaint [a suspected murderer]. In addition, over 1100 candidates are running for parliament.
Whenever these so-called elections are finally completed, the result will not represent the will of the Haitian people. With Lavalas [the overwhelming choice of the Haitian majority] mostly destroyed as a political entity, the country under a repressive foreign military occupation, and the entire electoral process deeply flawed and effectively rigged, the hope for a democratic election is nil. In addition, the likelihood of electoral fraud is very great, and the Elections Canada Monitoring Mission there to detect it is unlikely to do so because of Canada’s support for the U.S. led coup and its participation in MINUSTAH. There is also no way of knowing how many Haitians will actually vote despite the reported number registered. Those wanting to do so will be greatly hampered or unable to as the number of polling stations have been reduced from 12,000 in 2000 to 600 now, mostly in urban areas. The majority poor who supported Aristide/Lavalas are in the rural areas, hours away from where they could vote. Distance and the threat of electoral violence may stop them.
For now the dream of most Haitians remains unfulfilled and unlikely to improve any time soon. Still, in spite of their desperation and without outside support, the Haitian people remain resolute and courageous. Since the coup, they have rallied repeatedly and protested in the streets en masse for the release of political prisoners, the return of President Aristide and a restoration of their brief democracy. And despite the daily terror and violence against them, they have continued their resistance bravely. Their story needs to be told, and they deserve the full support of caring people everywhere.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org