Haiti's ugly opposition

Submitted by Anon on 6 March, 2004 - 8:47

US, Canadian and French soldiers have moved into Haiti following the departure of the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled into exile on Sunday 29 February. Aristide found shelter in the Central African Republic and later claimed he had been forced to leave.
On Sunday night, 29 February, the UN Security Council unanimously authorised a force to stay in Haiti for up to three months to restore security and stability. It is expected to be followed by a UN "stabilisation force", which has no time limit.

US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld said he expects the total size of the multinational force to number "less than 5,000", including 2,000 US troops. Several hundred soldiers and a platoon of police officers from a special riot control unit have been sent by the French government.

In Cap-Haitien, the northern port that became a base for the armed rebels, crowds danced and sang in the street, shouting, "Aristide's gone! Aristide's out!" The fighters are led by a former army death squad commander, one of Aristide's provincial police chiefs and a former pro-Aristide street gang leader. One of the commanders said "We're going to put our weapons down when we've got a new government."

Voice of America reported, "Much of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, lies in shambles one day after the departure of President Aristide under international pressure." Guy Philippe was able to enter the capital without resistance - only 24 hours after pro-Aristide gangs, the chimeres, had controlled the streets.

Aristide signed a letter of resignation before he left. Under the constitution Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, has now become Aristide's successor. The Guardian reports that a, "tripartite commission of the opposition, members of Aristide's government and a representative of the international community will name a 'council of wise men' to run the country until elections."

One immediate result of Aristide's flight was the release from prison of ten trade union activists held for over one month. The trade unionists had been arrested during an illegal raid by Haiti's Police Nationale on the headquarters of the umbrella trade union group Coordination Syndicale Haïtienne on 24 January. They had been charged with "criminal conspiracy" and "plotting against the internal security of the State"; a charge carrying a sentence of imprisonment with forced labour for life.

The US ambassador to Haiti called on the armed groups who controlled much of the country during February to lay down their arms. Colin Powell stated that he was opposed to "some members" of the armed opposition taking part in a new government. In fact, the US troops' intervention, following pressure on Aristide, prevented the armed groups taking full control.

Any on the British left tempted to simply denounce the foreign intervention should consider the nature of the main opposition factions. Many of the opposition's leaders are worse than Aristide.

Meetings are now taking place between the so-called political opposition, who led mass protests in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the armed opposition of Guy Philippe, Jean Tatoune and Louis Jodel Chamblain.

"Political opposition" leader, and sweatshop boss, André Apaid, said, "The insurgents must be part of the solution because, after all, they are Haitians."

Rebel leader Guy Philippe, who had been massing his men for an assault on the capital, welcomed the foreign intervention, saying, "We just want peace." Interviewed by the BBC on 29 February, Guy Philippe was asked if he expected his armed force to be part of the new government. He replied: "I don't expect it. I know that we will be part of it."

Jean Tatoune and Louis Jodel Chamblain are convicted killers, leaders of the FRAPH death-squad of 1993-94.

Guy Philippe, a former Army officer, was trained by the US in Ecuador and given a top post in the new Haitian Police Force. During his tenure dozens of suspected gang members were summarily executed. The Miami Herald reports that Philippe's favourite leader is the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. Number 2 on Philippe's list is Ronald Reagan.

Following Aristide's departure and the rebels' victory the former dictator Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier has announced he intends to return.

On many occasions, the armed opposition's spokespeople have made it clear they want to re-instate the Haitian Army, which was abolished by Aristide in 1995. Some of them say it already exists - de facto. André Apaid has on several occasions stated that he favours the return of the army.

Opposition leaders have refused to negotiate with Aristide's Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune about forming a new government, and Neptune had to be rescued from an armed group by US marines.

Louis Jodel Chamblain declared the rebels will have a political voice: "What's mine is mine".

Poverty and inequality in Haiti

  • According to the World Bank, Haiti's economy has declined by an average of 0.2% per year during the 1980s, and shrunk by 0.4% per year in the 1990s.
  • The average per capita income is just $480 (£300) a year, compared to $33,550 in the United States.
  • Thousands of Haitians - especially the skilled and educated - have attempted to migrate to the US.
  • Poverty and desperation has fuelled the exodus from Haiti. In 2003, the US Coast Guard picked up 2,000 Haitian boat people trying to reach US shores, more than from any other Caribbean nation.
  • Haiti's population has increased from 5 million to 8 million in the past 20 years.
  • Over 40% of the population is under 14 years old.
  • Haiti's government has been highly dependent on foreign aid, receiving some $165m annually from the US, the EU, and the World Bank. But after the 2000 elections, the US cut off aid, charging that some 70% of assistance found its way into the pockets of corrupt officials.
  • The huge wealth gap between the impoverished Creole-speaking black majority and the French-speaking mulattos, 1% of whom own nearly half the country's wealth, remains unaddressed.
  • Furthermore, the country's infrastructure has almost completely collapsed and drug-trafficking has corrupted both the judicial system and the police force.
  • Only 50% of the population is literate, while more than half lack access to clean water or sanitation. And 50% of population is under-nourished.
  • It has the highest incidence of HIV/Aids in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 300,000 cases - 4.5% of the population.
  • As a result, life expectancy is below 50, while related diseases like TB are also spreading.

By Dan Katz

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