William Blum

Haiti, 1986-1994: Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist. – Dom Hélder Câmara

What does the government of the United States do when faced with a choice between supporting: (a) a group of totalitarian military thugs guilty of murdering thousands, systematic torture, widespread rape, and leaving severely mutilated corpses in the streets … or (b) a non-violent priest, legally elected to the presidency by a landslide, whom the thugs have overthrown in a coup? …

But what if the priest is a “leftist”? During the Duvalier family dictatorship – Francois “Papa Doc”, 1957-71, followed by Jean-Claude “Baby Doc”, 1971-86, both anointed President for Life by papa – the United States trained and armed Haiti’s counter-insurgency forces, although most American military aid to the country was covertly channeled through Israel, thus sparing Washington embarrassing questions about supporting brutal governments. After Jean-Claude was forced into exile in February 1986, fleeing to France aboard a US Air Force jet, Washington resumed open assistance. And while Haiti’s wretched rabble were celebrating the end of three decades of Duvalierism, the United States was occupied in preserving it under new names.

Within three weeks of Jean-Claude’s departure, the US announced that it was providing Haiti with $26.6 million in economic and military aid, and in April it was reported that “Another $4 million is being sought to provide the Haitian Army with trucks, training and communications gear to allow it to move around the country and maintain order.” 1  Maintaining order in Haiti translates to domestic repression and control; and in the 21 months between Duvalier’s abdication and the scheduled elections of November 1987, the successor Haitian governments were responsible for more civilian deaths than Baby Doc had managed in 15 years. 2  The CIA was meanwhile arranging for the release from prison, and safe exile abroad, of two of its Duvalier-era contacts, both notorious police chiefs, thus saving them from possible death sentences for murder and torture, and acting contrary to the public’s passionate wish for retribution against its former tormenters. 3  In September, Haiti’s main trade union leader, Yves Richard, declared that Washington was working to undermine the left before the coming elections. US aid organizations, he said, were encouraging people in the countryside to identify and reject the entire left as “communist”, 4  though the country clearly had a fundamental need for reformers and sweeping changes. Haiti was, and is, the Western Hemisphere’s best known economic, medical, political, judicial, educational, and ecological basket case.

At this time Jean-Bertrand Aristide was a charismatic priest with a broad following in the poorest slums of Haiti, the only church figure to speak out against repression during the Duvalier years. He now denounced the military-dominated elections and called upon Haitians to reject the entire process. His activities figured prominently enough in the electoral campaign to evoke a strong antipathy from US officials. Ronald Reagan, Aristide later wrote, considered him to be a communist. 5  And Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Elliott Abrams, saw fit to attack Aristide while praising the Haitian government in a letter to Time magazine during the election campaign. 6

The Catholic priest first came to prominence in Haiti as a proponent of liberation theology, which seeks to blend the teachings of Christ with inspiring the poor to organize and resist their oppression. When asked why the CIA might have sought to oppose Aristide, a senior official with the Senate Intelligence Committee stated that “Liberation theology proponents are not too popular at the agency. Maybe second only to the Vatican for not liking liberation theology are the people at Langley [CIA headquarters].”

Aristide urged a boycott of the elections, saying “The army is our first enemy.” The CIA, on the other hand, funded some of the candidates. The Agency later insisted that the purpose of the funding program had not been to oppose Aristide but to provide a “free and open election”, by which was meant helping some candidates who didn’t have enough money and diminishing Aristide’s attempt to have a low turnout, which would have “reduced the election’s validity”. It is not known which candidates the CIA funded or why the Agency or the State Department, which reportedly chose the candidates to support, were concerned about such goals in Haiti, when the same electoral situation exists permanently in the United States.

The CIA was “involved in a range of support for a range of candidates”, said an intelligence official directly active in the operation. Countering Aristide’s impressive political strength appears to be the only logical explanation for the CIA’s involvement, which was authorized by President Reagan and the National Security Council.

When the Senate Intelligence Committee demanded to know exactly what the CIA was doing in Haiti and which candidates it was supporting, the Agency balked. Eventually, the committee ordered the covert electoral action to cease. A high-ranking source working for the committee said the reason the program was killed was that “there are some of us who believe in the neutrality of elections.” 7  Nevertheless, it cannot be stated with any certainty that the program was actually halted.

The elections scheduled for 29 November 1987 were postponed because of violence. In the rescheduled elections held in January, the candidate favored by the military government was declared the winner in balloting widely perceived as rigged, and in the course of which the CIA was involved in an aborted attempt of unknown nature to influence the elections. 8

There followed more than two years of regular political violence, coup attempts, and repression, casting off the vestiges of the Duvalier dictatorship and establishing a new one, until, in March 1990, the current military dictator, General Prosper Avril, was forced by widespread protests to abdicate and was replaced by a civilian government of sorts, but with the military still calling important shots.

The United States is not happy with “chaos” in its client states. It’s bad for control, it’s bad for business, it’s unpredictable who will come out on top, perhaps another Fidel Castro. It was the danger of “massive internal uprisings” that induced the United States to inform Jean-Claude Duvalier that it was time for him to venture a life of struggle on the French Riviera, 9  and a similar chaotic situation that led the US Ambassador to suggest to Avril that it was an apt moment to retire; transportation into exile for the good general was once again courtesy of Uncle Sam. 10

Thus it was that the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince pressured the Haitian officer corps to allow a new election. Neither the embassy nor Aristide himself at this time had reason to expect that he would be a candidate in the election scheduled for December, although he had already been expelled from his religious order, with the blessings of the Vatican, because, amongst other things, of “incitement to hatred and violence, and a glorifying of class struggle”. Aristide’s many followers and friends had often tried in vain to persuade him to run for office. Now they finally succeeded, and in October he became the candidate of a loose coalition of reformist parties and organizations. 11

On the eve of the election, former US Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, visited Aristide and asked him to sign a letter accepting Marc Bazin, the US-backed and funded candidate, as president should Bazin win. Young reportedly said there was fear that if Aristide lost, his followers would take to the streets and reject the results. 12  Young was said to be acting on behalf of his mentor, former president Jimmy Carter, but presumably the White House also had their finger in the pie, evidencing their concern about Aristide’s charisma and potential as a leader outside their control.

Despite a campaign marred by terror and intimidation, nearly a thousand UN and Organization of American States (OAS) observers and an unusually scrupulous Haitian general insured that a relatively honest balloting took place, in which Aristide was victorious with 67.5 percent of the vote. “People chose him over 10 comparatively bourgeois candidates,” wrote an American Haiti scholar who was an international election observer, “because of his outspoken and uncompromising opposition to the old ways.” 13  Aristide’s support actually included a progressive bourgeois element as well as his larger popular base.

The president-priest took office in February 1991 after a coup attempt against him in January failed. By June, one could read in the Washington Post:

Proclaiming a “political revolution,” Aristide, 37, has injected a spirit of hope and honesty into the affairs of government, a radical departure after decades of official venality under the Duvalier family dictatorship and a series of military strongmen. Declaring that his $10,000 monthly salary is “not just a scandal, but a crime”, Aristide announced on television that he would donate his paychecks to charity. 14

The Catholic priest had long been an incisive critic of US foreign policy because of Washington’s support of the Duvalier dynasty and the Haitian military, and he was suspicious of foreign “aid”, commenting that it all wound up in the pockets of the wealthy. “Since 1980, this amounted to two hundred million dollars a year, and these were the same ten years during which the per capita wealth of the country was reduced by 40 percent!” 15

Aristide did not spell out a specific economic program, but was clear about the necessity of a redistribution of wealth, and spoke more of economic justice than of the virtues of the market system. He later wrote:

I have often been criticized for lacking a program, or at least for imprecision in that regard. Was it for lack of time? – a poor excuse. … In fact, the people had their own program. … dignity, transparent simplicity, participation. These three ideas could be equally well applied in the political and economic sphere and in the moral realm. … The bourgeoisie should have been able to understand that its own interest demanded some concessions. We had recreated 1789. Did they want, by their passive resistance, to push the hungry to demand more radical measures? 16

Seriously hampered by the absence in Haiti of a strong traditional left, and confronted by a gridlocked parliament that constitutionally had more power than the president, Aristide didn’t succeed in getting any legislation enacted. He did, however, initiate programs in literacy, public health and agrarian reform, and pressed for an increase in the daily wage, which was often less than three dollars, a freeze on prices of basic necessities, and a public-works program to create jobs. He also increased the feeling of security amongst the population by arresting a number of key paramilitary thugs, and setting in motion a process to eliminate the institution of rural section chiefs (sheriffs), the military’s primary instrument of unfettered authority over the lives of the peasants.

In office, though not the uncompromising revolutionary firebrand many anticipated, Aristide frequently angered his opponents in the wealthy business class, the parliament, and the army by criticizing their corruptness. The military was particularly vexed by his policies against smuggling and drug trafficking, as well as his attempt to de-politicize them. As for the wealthy civilians – or as they are fondly known, the morally repugnant elite – they did not much care for Aristide’s agenda whereby they would pay taxes and share their bounty by creating jobs and reinvesting profits locally rather than abroad. They were, as they remain, positively apoplectic about this little saintly-talking priest and his love for the (ugh) poor.

However, Aristide’s administration was not, in practice, actually anti-business, and he made it a point to warm up to American officials, foreign capitalists and some elements of the Haitian military. He also discharged some 2,000 government workers, which pleased the International Monetary Fund and other foreign donors, but Aristide himself regarded these positions as largely useless and corrupt bureaucratic padding. 17

Jean-Bertrand Aristide served less than eight months as Haiti’s president before being deposed, on 29 September 1991, by a military coup in which many hundreds of his supporters were massacred, and thousands more fled to the Dominican Republic or by sea. The slightly-built Haitian president who, in the previous few years, had survived several serious assassination attempts and the burning down of his church while he was inside preaching, was saved now largely through the intervention of the French ambassador.

Only the Vatican recognized the new military government, although the coup of course was backed by the rich elite. They “helped us a lot,” said the country’s new police chief and key coup plotter, Joseph Michel Francois, “because we saved them.” 18  No evidence of direct US complicity in the coup has arisen, though, as we shall see, the CIA was financing and training all the important elements of the new military regime, and a Haitian official who supported the coup has reported that US intelligence officers were present at military headquarters as the coup was taking place; this was “normal”, he added, for the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) were always there. 19

We have seen in Nicaragua how the National Endowment for Democracy – which was set up to do overtly, and thus more “respectably”, some of what the CIA used to do covertly – interfered in the 1990 election process. At the same time, the NED, in conjunction with the Agency for International Development (AID), was busy in Haiti. It gave $189,000 to several civic groups that included the Haitian Center for the Defense of Rights and Freedom, headed by Jean-Jacques Honorat. Shortly after Aristide’s ouster, Honorat became the prime minister in the coup government. In a 1993 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he declared, “The coup was justified by the human rights record of Aristide.” Asked what he himself had done as prime minister to halt the massive human rights violations that followed the overthrow, Honorat responded: “I don’t have my files here.”

In the years prior to the coup, the NED also gave more than $500,000 to the Haitian Institute for Research and Development (IHRED). This organization played a very partisan role in the 1990 elections when it was allied with US-favorite Marc Bazin, former World Bank executive, and helped him create his coalition (just as NED was instrumental in creating the coalition in Nicaragua which defeated the Sandinistas earlier in the year). IHRED was led by Leopold Berlanger who, in 1993, supported the junta’s sham election aimed at ratifying the prime ministership of Bazin, Honorat’s successor and a political associate of Berlanger.

Another recipient of NED largesse was Radio Soleil, run by the Catholic Church in a manner calculated to not displease the dictatorship of the day. During the 1991 coup – according to the Rev. Hugo Triest, a former station director – the station refused to air a message from Aristide.

The NED has further reduced the US Treasury by grants to the union association Federation des Ouvriers Syndiques, founded in 1984 with Duvalier’s approval, so that Haiti, which previously had crushed union-organizing efforts, would qualify for the US Caribbean Basin Initiative economic package. 20

But despite its name and unceasing rhetoric, the National Endowment for Democracy did not give a dollar to any of the grassroots organizations that eventually merged to form Aristide’s coalition.

Within a week of Aristide’s overthrow, the Bush administration began to distance itself from the man, reported the New York Times, “by refusing to say that his return to power was a necessary pre-condition for Washington to feel that democracy has been restored in Haiti.” The public rationale given for this attitude was that Aristide’s human rights record was questionable, since some business executives, legislators and other opponents of his had accused him of using mobs to intimidate them and tacitly condoning their violence. 21  Some of Haiti’s destitute did carry out acts of violence and arson against the rich, but it’s a stretch to blame Aristide, whatever his attitude, given that these were enraged people seeking revenge for a lifetime of extreme oppression against their perceived oppressors, revenge they had long been waiting for.

A year later, the Boston Globe could editorialize that the Bush administration’s “contempt for Haitian democracy has been scandalous … By refusing to acknowledge the carnage taking place in Haiti, the administration has all but bestowed its blessing on the putschists.” 22

Two months earlier, in testimony before Congress, the CIA’s leading analyst of Latin American affairs, Brian Latell, had described coup leader Lieut. Gen. Raoul Cédras as one of “the most promising group of Haitian leaders to emerge since the Duvalier family dictatorship was overthrown in 1986”. He also reported that he “saw no evidence of oppressive rule” in Haiti. 23  Yet the State Department annual human-rights report for the same year stated:

Haitians suffered frequent human rights abuses throughout 1992, including extra-judicial killings by security forces, disappearances, beatings and other mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detention and executive interference with the judicial process. 24

The New York Times’ one-year-post-coup status report was remarkably blunt:

Since shortly after the overthrow – when Secretary of State James Baker echoed President Bush’s famous “this aggression will not stand” statement about Iraq – little consideration has been given to backing up American principles in Haiti with American muscle. … Recently, an adviser of the [coup government] repeated Father Aristide’s longtime complaint when he said that “all it would take is one phone call” from Washington to send the army’s leadership packing. … supporters and opponents of Father Aristide agree, nothing more threatening than a leaky and ineffective embargo, quickly imposed … has ever been seriously contemplated, which reflects Washington’s deep-seated ambivalence about a leftward-tilting nationalist [who] often depicted the United States as a citadel of evil and the root of many of his country’s problems. … Despite much blood on the army’s hands, United States diplomats consider it a vital counterweight to Father Aristide, whose class-struggle rhetoric … threatened or antagonized traditional power centers at home and abroad. 25

During this period, numerous nocturnal arrivals of US Air Force planes in Port-au-Prince were reported in Haitian clandestine newspapers. Whether this had any connection to the leaking embargo may never be known. When asked, a US embassy official said the flights were “routine”. 26

The CIA’s clients

I. From the mid-1980s until at least the 1991 coup, key members of Haiti’s military and political leadership were on the Agency’s payroll. These payments were defended by Washington officials and a congressman on the House Intelligence Committee as being a normal and necessary part of gathering intelligence in a foreign country. 27  This argument, which has often been used to defend CIA bribery, ignores the simple reality (illustrated repeatedly in this book) that payments bring more than information, they bring influence and control; and when one looks at the anti-democratic and cruelty levels of the Haitian military during its period of being bribees, one has to wonder what the CIA’s influence was. Moreover, one has to wonder what the defenders of the payments would have thought upon learning during the cold war that congressmen and high officials in the White House were on the KGB payroll. Even after the supposed end of the cold war, we must consider the shocked reaction to the case of CIA officer Aldrich Ames. He was, after all, only accepting money from the KGB for information. In any event, money paid by the CIA to these men, as well as to the groups mentioned below, was obviously available to finance their murderous purposes. When Qaddafi of Libya did this, it was called “supporting terrorism”.

Did the information provided the CIA by the Haitian leaders include advance notice of the coup? No evidence of this has emerged, but four decades of known CIA behavior would make it eminently likely. And if so, did the Agency do anything to stop it? What did the CIA do with its knowledge of the drug trafficking which the Haitian powers-that-be, including Baby Doc, were long involved in? 28

II. In 1986 the CIA created a new organization, the National Intelligence Service (SIN). The unit was staffed solely by officers of the Haitian army, widely perceived as an unprofessional force with a marked tendency toward corruption. SIN was purportedly created to fight the cocaine trade, though SIN officers themselves engaged in the trafficking, and the trade was aided and abetted by some of the Haitian officials also on the Agency payroll.

SIN functioned as an instrument of political terror, persecuting and torturing Father Aristide’s supporters and other “subversives”, and using its CIA training and devices to spy on them; in short, much like the intelligence services created by the CIA elsewhere in the world during the previous several decades, including Greece, South Korea, Iran, and Uruguay; and created in Haiti presumably for the same reason: to give the Agency a properly trained and equipped, and loyal, instrument of control. At the same time that SIN was receiving between half and one million dollars a year in equipment, training and financial support, Congress was withholding about $1.5 million in aid for the Haitian military because of its abuses of human rights.

Aristide had tried, without success, to shut SIN down. The CIA told his people that the United States would see to it that the organization was reformed, but that its continued operation was beyond question. Then came the coup. Afterwards, American officials say, the CIA cut its ties to SIN, but in 1992 a US Drug Enforcement Administration document described SIN in the present tense as “a covert counternarcotics intelligence unit which often works in unison with the C.I.A.” In September of the same year, work by the DEA in Haiti led to the arrest of a SIN officer on cocaine charges by the Haitian authorities. 29

III. Amongst the worst violators of human rights in Haiti was the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), actually a front for the army. The paramilitary group spread deep fear amongst the Haitian people with its regular murders, public beatings, arson raids on poor neighborhoods, and mutilation by machete. FRAPH’s leader, Emannuel Constant, went onto the CIA payroll in early 1992 and, according to the Agency, this relation ended in mid-1994. Whatever truth lies in that claim, the fact is that by October the American Embassy in Haiti was openly acknowledging that Constant – now a born-again democrat – was on its payroll.

The FRAPH leader says that soon after Aristide’s ouster an officer of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, Col. Patrick Collins, pushed him to organize a front that could balance the Aristide movement and do intelligence work against it. This resulted in Constant forming what later evolved into FRAPH in August 1993. Members of FRAPH were working, and perhaps still are, for two social service agencies funded by the Agency for International Development, one of which maintains sensitive files on the movements of the Haitian poor.

Constant – who has told in detail of having attended, on invitation, the Clinton inauguration balls – was the organizer of the dockside mob that, on 11 October 1993, chased off a ship carrying US military personnel arriving to retrain the Haitian military under the UN agreement (see below). This was while Constant was on the CIA payroll. But that incident may have been something out of the Agency’s false-bottom world. Did Washington really want to challenge the military government? Or only appear to do so? Constant actually informed the United States beforehand of what was going to happen, then went on the radio to urge all “patriotic Haitians” to join the massive demonstrations at the dock. The United States did nothing before or after but allow its ship to turn tail and run. 30

In the summer of 1993, United Nations-mediated talks on Governors Island in New York between Aristide, living in exile in Washington, and the Haitian military government, resulted in an accord whereby the leader of the junta, Gen. Cédras, would step down on 15 October and allow Aristide to return to Haiti as president on 30 October. But the dates came and went without the military fulfilling their promise, meanwhile not pausing in their assaults upon Aristide supporters, including the September murder of a prominent Aristide confidant who was dragged out of church and shot in full view of UN officials, and the assassination a month later of Aristide’s justice minister, Guy Malary.

Pleased with its “foreign-policy-success” in securing the agreement in New York, the Clinton administration seemingly was willing to tolerate any and all outrages.

But an adviser to Cédras declared afterward that when the military had agreed to negotiate, “the whole thing was a smokescreen. We wanted to get the sanctions lifted. … But we never had any intention of really agreeing to Governors Island, as I’m sure everyone can now figure out for themselves. We were playing for time.”

Aristide himself never liked the UN plan, which granted amnesty to those who mounted the coup against him. He declared that the United States had pressured him to sign. 31

Speaking to congressmen in early October, CIA official Brian Latell – who had previously praised Cédras and his rule – now characterized Aristide as mentally unbalanced. Was this perhaps amongst the information provided the CIA by their agents in the Haitian military? (During the election campaign, Aristide’s detractors in Haiti had in fact spread the rumor that he was mentally ill.) 32   Latell also testified that Aristide “paid little mind to democratic principles”, and had urged supporters to murder their opponents with a technique called “necklacing”, in which gasoline-soaked tires are placed around victims’ necks and set afire. Neither Latell nor anyone else has provided any evidence of Aristide engaging in an explicit provocation, although this is not to say that necklacing was not carried out as an act of revenge by Haiti’s masses, as it was in 1986 following the ouster of Duvalier.

At the same time, congressman were exposed to a document purporting to describe Aristide’s medical history, claiming that he had been treated in a mental hospital in Canada in 1980, diagnosed as manic depressive and prescribed large quantities of drugs. This claim was described in the media as emanating from the CIA, but the Agency denied this, saying it had seen the document before and had judged it to be a partial or complete fake, but adding that it still stood by its 1992 psychological profile of Aristide which concluded that the deposed president was possibly unstable.

The claims were denied by Aristide and his spokesman and independent checks with the hospital in Canada showed no record of his being a patient there. Nonetheless, congressional opponents of Aristide now had a rationale for trying to limit the extent of US support to him, and some of them argued that the United States should not embroil itself in Haiti on behalf of such a leader. 33

“He [Latell] made it the most simplistic, one-dimensional message he could – murderer, psychopath,” said an administration official familiar with Latell’s briefing. 34  (In 1960, the Eisenhower administration had regarded another black foreign leader who didn’t buy into Pax Americana, Patrice Lumumba, as “unstable”, “irrational, almost psychotic”. 35  Nelson Mandela was often described in a similar fashion by his opponents. Some of those who make such charges may indeed believe that conspicuously rejecting the established order is a sign of insanity.)

The junta, which was concerned that President Clinton might order military action against Haiti, was pleased. A spokesman observed that “after the information about Aristide got out from our friends in the CIA, and Congress started talking about how bad he is, we figured the chances of an invasion were gone.” 36

Though the Clinton administration publicly repudiated the claims about Aristide’s mental health in no uncertain terms, it nonetheless continued to negotiate with Haiti’s military leaders, a policy which stunned supporters of the Catholic priest. “Apparently,” marveled Robert White, a former US ambassador to El Salvador and an unpaid adviser to Aristide, “nothing will shake the touching faith the Clinton administration has in the Haitian military’s bona fides.”

Aristide supporters asserted that such faith reflected long and continuing relations between American military officers and Haiti’s top commanders, Cédras and Francois, the police chief, both of whom had received military training in the United States. Time magazine suggested that “the U.S. attitude toward some of Haiti’s henchmen is not as hostile as American rhetoric would indicate.” 37

This attitude was commented upon by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights:

Faced with [Aristide’s] talk of radical reform, an old and deep-rooted American instinct has taken hold. Repeated in countless countries, both during and after the Cold War, it is this: When in doubt, look to the military as the only institutional guarantee of stability and order. 38

It had indeed been to the military that the Reagan and Bush administrations had looked to provide these qualities, praising the sincerity of the Haitian army’s commitment to democracy on several occasions. 39

The Clinton administration was as hypocritical on the Haiti question as were its predecessors, exemplified by its choice for Secretary of Commerce – Ron Brown had been a well-paid and highly-active lobbyist for Baby-Doc Duvalier. 40  Cédras’s spit-in-the-face deceit on the Governors Island accord appeared to bother Washington officials much less than the fact that Aristide would not agree to form a government with the military. 41  By February 1994, it was an open secret that Washington would as soon be rid of the Haitian priest as it would the Haitian strongmen. The Los Angeles Times reported: “Officially it [the US] supports the restoration of Aristide. In private, however, many officials say that Aristide … is so politically radical that the military and the island’s affluent elite will never allow him to return to power.” 42

Ideologically, if not emotionally, the antipathy of the administration’s senior officials to Aristide’s politics was hardly less than that of his country’s ruling class. Moreover, the predominant reason the strongmen were in disfavor in Washington’s eyes had little to do with their dreadful human- rights record per se, but rather that the repression in Haiti was provoking people to flee by the tens of thousands, causing the United States an enormous logistical headache and image problem in the Caribbean and Florida, as well as costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The gulf between the administration and Aristide widened yet further when Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced that a group of Haitian parliamentarians, whom he characterized as “centrists”, had put forth a plan which would pardon the army officers who engineered the coup, and which called for Aristide to name a prime minister, who in turn would create a cabinet acceptable to Aristide’s domestic foes. These steps, the plan anticipated, would establish a coalition government and clear the way for Aristide’s eventual return to office.

Aristide, who had not been consulted at all, flatly rejected the proposal that would have allowed some awful villains to escape punishment, made no mention of a date or timetable for his restoration, contained no guarantee that he would ever be able to return to power at all, and would require him to share power with a politically incompatible prime minister and some cabinet members of similar ilk.

Christopher added that any strengthening of the embargo against Haiti would depend on Aristide’s acceptance of the plan. The United States, he said, was wary of tougher sanctions because they would increase the suffering in Haiti. 43  At the same time, the State Department’s chief Haiti expert, Michael Kozak, blamed “extremists on both sides” for scuttling the plan. This, said a Haitian supporter of Aristide, “created a moral equivalency between Aristide and the military. That put Aristide on the same level as the killers.” 44

The Bush administration, employing the UN and the OAS as well, had pressed similar proposals and ultimatums upon the beleaguered Aristide on several occasions. His failure to embrace them had stamped him as “intransigent” amongst some officials and media. 45

Aristide’s rejection of the plan can perhaps be better understood if one considers whether Washington would ever insist to the Cuban exiles in Miami that if they wanted US support for their return to Cuba, they would have to agree to a coalition government with Castroites, or that Iraqian exiles would have to learn to live with Saddam Hussein. The repeated insistence that Aristide accept a “broad-based” government, or a government of “national consensus” is ironic coming from the Bush and Clinton administrations, in which one cannot find an open left-liberal, much less a leftist or socialist, scarcely even a plain genuine liberal, in any middle- or high-level position. Nor has the severe suffering of the Cuban people from the American embargo had any noticeable effect upon the policy of either administration.

It soon developed that the plan, which had been labeled “a bipartisan Haitian legislative initiative” had actually originated with a State Department memo; worse, the Haitian input had come from supporters of Aristide’s overthrow, including Police Chief Francois himself. 46

A further symptom of the administration’s estrangement from Aristide was a report from the US Embassy in Haiti to the State Department in April. While conceding widespread and grave violations of human rights by the military regime, the report claimed that Aristide “and his followers consistently manipulate and even fabricate human-rights abuses as a propaganda tool.” The Aristide camp was described as “hardline ideological”. 47

Congressional liberals, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, were becoming disturbed. In the midst of their growing criticism and pressure, State Department Special Envoy to Haiti Lawrence Pezzullo, by this time openly described as the author of the “legislative” plan, resigned. A week later several congressmen, attended by wide media coverage, were arrested in a protest outside the White House.

By early May, given the congressional pressure, the Grand Haitian Plan discredited and abandoned, the sanctions an international joke, the refugees still washing up on Florida shores, while many thousands of others were filling up Guantánamo base in Cuba, the Clinton administration was forced to the conclusion that – though they still didn’t like this man Jean-Bertrand Aristide with his non-centrist thoughts – they were unable to create anything that smelled even faintly like a rose without restoring him to the presidency. Bill Clinton had painted himself into a corner. During the campaign in 1992, he had denounced Bush’s policy of returning refugees to Haiti as “cruel”. “My Administration,” he declared, “will stand up for democracy”. 48  Since that time the word “Haiti” could not cross his lips without being accompanied by at least three platitudes about “democracy”.

Something had to be done or another “foreign-policy failure” would be added to the list the Republicans were drooling over in this election year … but what? Over the next four months, the world was treated to a continuous flip-flop – numerous permutations concerning sanctions, handling of the refugees, how much time the junta had to pack up and leave (as much as six months), what kind of punishment or amnesty for the murderous military and police, whether the US would invade … this time we mean it … now we really mean it … “our patience has run out”, for the third time … “we will not rule out military force”, for the fifth time … the junta was not terribly intimidated.

Meanwhile, an OAS human-rights team was accusing the Haiti regime of “murder, rape, kidnaping, detention and torture in a systematic campaign to terrorize Haitians who want the return of democracy and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide”, and Amnesty International was reporting the same. [[Ibid., 21, 24 May 1994; the words are those of the Times; Amnesty Action (AI, New York), Fall 1994, p. 4.)

Time was passing, and each day meant less time for Aristide to govern Haiti. He had already lost almost three of the five years of his term, plus the eight months he had served.

By the summer, what Bill Clinton wanted desperately was to get the junta out of power without having to deal with the thorny question of congressional approval, without a US invasion, without any American casualties, without going to war on behalf of a socialist priest. If Washington’s heart had really been set on the return to power of Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the CIA could have been directed to destabilize the Haitian government any time during the previous three years, using its tried and trusted bribery, blackmail, and forged documents, its disinformation, rumors, and paranoia, its weapons, mercenaries, and assassinations, its multinational economic strangleholds, its instant little armies, its selective little air assaults imbuing the right amount of terror in the right people at the right time … the Agency had done so with much stronger and more stable governments; governments with much more public support, from Iran and Guatemala, to Ecuador and Brazil, to Ghana and Chile.

Much of what was needed in Haiti was already in place, beginning with the CIA’s own creation, the National Intelligence Service, as well as a large network of informants and paid assets within other security forces such as FRAPH, and knowledge of who the reliable military officers were. 49  US intelligence even had a complete inventory of Haitian weaponry. 50

The failure of Clinton to make use of this option is particularly curious in light of the fact that many members of Congress and some of the administration’s own foreign policy specialists were urging him to do so for months. 51  Finally, in September 1994, officials revealed that the CIA had “launched a major covert operation this month to try to topple Haiti’s military regime … but so far the attempt has failed”. One official said the effort “was too late to make a difference”. The administration, we were told, had spent months debating what kind of actions to undertake, and whether they would be legal or not. (Ibid., 16 September 1994.]]

Or they could have made the famous “one phone call”. Like they meant it.


“The most violent regime in our hemisphere” … “campaign of rape, torture and mutilation, people starved” … “executing children, raping women, killing priests” … “slaying of Haitian orphans” suspected of “harboring sympathy toward President Aristide, for no other reason than he ran an orphanage in his days as a parish priest” … “soldiers and policemen raping the wives and daughters of suspected political dissidents – young girls, 13, 16 years old – people slain and mutilated with body parts left as warnings to terrify others; children forced to watch as their mothers’ faces are slashed with machetes” … 52

Thus spaketh William Jefferson Clinton to the American people to explain why he was seeking to “restore democratic government in Haiti”.

The next thing we knew, the Haitian leaders were told that they could take four weeks to resign, they would not be charged with any crimes, they could remain in the country if they wished, they could run for the presidency if they wished, they could retain all their assets no matter how acquired. Those who chose exile were paid large amounts of money by the United States to lease their Haitian properties, any improvements made to remain free of charge; two jets were chartered to fly them with all their furniture to the country of their choice, transportation free, housing and living expenses paid for the next year for all family members and dozens of relatives and friends, totaling millions of dollars. (Ibid., 14 October 1994, p. 1.]]

The reason Bill Clinton the president (as opposed, perhaps, to Bill Clinton the human being) could behave like this is that he – as would be the case with any other man sitting in the White House, like Jimmy Carter who told Cédras that he was a man of honor and that he had great respect for him – was not actually repulsed by Cédras and company, for they posed no ideological barrier to the United States continuing the economic and strategic control of Haiti it’s maintained for most of the century. Unlike Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a man who only a year earlier had declared: “I still think capitalism is a mortal sin.” (Isabel Hilton, “Aristide’s Dream”, The Independent (London), 30 October 1993, p. 29, cited in Farmer, p. 175; Aristide added, “but the reality’s different in the United States.”]] Or Fidel Castro in Cuba. Lest there be doubt here, it should be noted that shortly before Clinton made the remarks cited above, Vice President Gore declared on television that Castro has a worse record on human rights than the military leaders of Haiti. 53

The atrocities of the Haitian government were simply trotted out by President Clinton to build support for military intervention, just as he cited the junta’s drug trafficking; after all these years, this was now discovered, as Noriega’s long-time dealings were finally condemned when it was time for a military intervention into Panama.

But the worst of the betrayal was yet to come. Per the above agreement with Raoul Cédras, US armed forces began arriving in Haiti 19 September to clear the way for Aristide’s arrival in mid-October. The Americans were welcomed with elation by the Haitian people, and the GIs soon disarmed, arrested, or shot dead some of the worst dangers to life and limb and instigators of chaos in Haitian society. But first they set up tanks and vehicles mounted with machine guns to block off the streets leading to the residential neighborhoods of the morally repugnant elite, the rich being Washington’s natural allies. 54

Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s reception was a joyous celebration filled with optimism. However, unbeknownst to his adoring followers, while they were regaining Aristide, they may have lost Aristidism. The Los Angeles Times reported:

In a series of private meetings, Administration officials admonished Aristide to put aside the rhetoric of class warfare … and seek instead to reconcile Haiti’s rich and poor. The Administration also urged Aristide to stick closely to free-market economics and to abide by the Caribbean nation’s constitution – which gives substantial political power to the Parliament while imposing tight limits on the presidency. … Administration officials have urged Aristide to reach out to some of his political opponents in setting up his new government … to set up a broad- based coalition regime. … the Administration has made it clear to Aristide that if he fails to reach a consensus with Parliament, the United States will not try to prop up his regime. 55  Almost every aspect of Aristide’s plans for resuming power – from taxing the rich to disarming the military – has been examined by the U.S. officials with whom the Haitian president meets daily and by officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other aid organizations. The finished package clearly reflects their priorities. … Aristide obviously has toned down the liberation theology and class-struggle rhetoric that was his signature before he was exiled to Washington. 56

Tutored by leading Clinton administration officials, “Aristide has embraced the principles of democracy [sic], national reconciliation and market economics with a zeal that Washington would like to see in all leaders of developing nations.” 57

Aristide returned to Haiti 15 0ctober 1994, three years and two weeks after being deposed. The United States might well have engineered his return under the same terms – or much better of course – two to three years earlier, but Washington officials kept believing that the policy of returning refugees to Haiti, and when that was unfeasible, lodging them at Guantánamo, would make the problems go away – the refugee problem, and the Jean-Bertrand Aristide problem. Faced ultimately with an Aristide returning to power, Clinton demanded and received – and then made sure to publicly announce – the Haitian president’s guarantee that he would not try to remain in office to make up for the time lost in exile. Clinton of course called this “democracy”, although it represented a partial legitimization of the coup. 58  As can be deduced from the above compilation of news reports, this was by no means the only option Aristide effectively surrendered.

His preference for the all-important position of prime minister – who appoints the cabinet – was Claudette Werleigh, a woman very much in harmony with his thinking, but he was forced to rule her out because of strong opposition to her “leftist bent” from political opponents who argued that she would seriously hurt efforts to obtain foreign aid and investment. Instead, Aristide wound up appointing Smarck Michel, one of Washington’s leading choices. 59  At the same time, the Clinton administration and the international financial institutions (IFIs) were carefully watching the Haitian president’s appointments for finance minister, planning minister, and head of the Central Bank. 60

Two of the men favored by Washington to fill these positions had met in Paris on 22 August with the IFIs to arrange the terms of an agreement under which Haiti would receive about $700 million of investment and credit. Typical of such agreements for the Third World, it calls for a drastic reduction of state involvement in the economy and an enlarged role for the private sector through privatization of public services. Haiti’s international function will be to serve the transnational corporations by opening itself up further to foreign investment and commerce, with a bare minimum of tariffs or other import restrictions, and offering itself, primarily in the assembly industries, as a source of cheap export labor – extremely cheap labor, little if any increase in the current 10 to 25 cents per hour wages, distressingly inadequate for keeping body and soul together and hunger at bay; a way of life promoted for years to investors by the US Agency for International Development and other US government agencies. 61  (The assembly industries are regarded by Washington as important enough to American firms that in the midst of the sanctions against Haiti, the US announced that it was “fine-tuning” the embargo to permit these firms to import and export so they could resume work.) 62

The agreement further emphasizes that the power of the Parliament is to be strengthened. The office of the president is not even mentioned. Neither is the word “justice”. 63

As of this writing (late October 1994), Aristide’s dreams of a living wage and civilized working conditions for the Haitian masses, a social security pension system, decent education, housing, health care, public transportation, etc. appear to be little more than that – dreams. What appears to be certain is that the rich will grow richer, and the poor will remain at the very bottom of Latin America’s heap. Under Aristide’s successor – whomever the United States is already grooming – it can only get worse.

Aristide the radical reformer knew all this, and at certain points during September and October he may have had the option to get a much better deal, for Clinton needed him almost as much as he needed Clinton. If Aristide had threatened to go public, and noisily so, about the betrayal in process, spelling out all the sleazy details so that the whole world could get beyond the headlined platitudes and understand what a sham Bill Clinton’s expressed concerns about “democracy” and the welfare of the Haitian people were, the American president would have been faced with an embarrassment of scandalous proportion.

But Aristide the priest saw the world in a different light:

Let us compare political power with theological power. On the one hand, we see those in control using the traditional tools of politics: weapons, money, dictatorship, coups d’état, repression. On the other hand, we see tools that were used 2,000 years ago: solidarity, resistance, courage, determination, and the fight for dignity and might, respect and power. We see transcendence. We see faith in God, who is justice. The question we now ask is this: which is stronger, political power or theological power? I am confident that the latter is stronger. I am also confident that the two forces can converge, and that their convergence will make the critical difference. 64


  1. New York Times, 27 February 1986, p. 3; 11 April 1986, p. 4.
  2. Fritz Longchamp and Worth Cooley-Prost, “Hope for Haiti”, Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington), No. 36, Spring 1991, p. 58.  Longchamp is Executive Director of the Washington Office on Haiti, an analysis and public education center; Paul Farmer, The Uses of Haiti (Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1994), pp. 128-9.
  3. The Guardian (London), 22 September 1986.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Reagan: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, An Autobiography (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1993, translation from 1992 French edition), p. 79. Hereafter, Aristide Autobiography.
  6. Time magazine, 30 November 1987, p. 7.
  7. CIA and the 1987-88 election: Los Angeles Times, 31 October 1993, p. 1; New York Times, 1 November 1993, p. 8.
  8. New York Times, 1 November 1993, p. 8.
  9. Allan Nairn, “The Eagle is Landing”, The Nation, 3 October 1994, p. 344; citing US Col. Steven Butler, former planning chief for US armed forces in the Caribbean, who was involved in the operation.
  10. Farmer, p. 150; New York Times, 13 March 1990, p. 1.
  11. Aristide Autobiography, pp. 105-6, 118-21.
  12. Haitian Information Bureau, “Chronology: Events in Haiti, October 15, 1990 - May 11, 1994”, in James Ridgeway, ed., The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis (Essential Books, Washington, 1994), p. 205.
  13. Robert I. Rotberg, Washington Post, 20 December 1990, p. A23.
  14. Washington Post, 6 June, 1991, p. A23.  In his autobiography, op. cit., pp. 147-8, Aristide writes that he reduced his salary from ten to four thousand as well as eliminating a number of other expensive perks.
  15. Aristide Autobiography, p. 144.
  16. Ibid., pp. 127-8, 139.
  17. Aristide’s policies in office: a) Washington Post, 6 June, 1991, p. A23; 7 October 1991, p. 10; b) Aristide Autobiography, chapter 12; c) Farmer, pp. 167-180; d) Multinational Monitor (Washington, DC), March 1994, pp. 18-23 (land reform and unions).
  18. San Francisco Chronicle, 22 October 1991, p. A16.
  19. Alan Nairn, “Our Man in FRAPH: Behind Haiti’s Paramilitaries”, The Nation, 24 October 1994, p. 460, referring to Emannuel Constant, the head of FRAPH.
  20. NED, etc.: a) The Nation, 29 November 1993, p. 648, column by David Corn; b) Haitian Information Bureau, “Subverting Democracy”, Multinational Monitor (Washington, DC), March 1994, pp. 13-15. c) National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, D.C., Annual Report, 1989, p. 33; Annual Report, 1990, p. 41. d) Aristide Autobiography, p. 111, Radio Soleil’s catering to the government.
  21. New York Times, 8 October 1991, p. 10.
  22. Boston Globe, 1 October 1992.
  23. New York Times, 1 November 1993, p. 8; 14 November, p. 12. Latell’s report was presented in July 1992.
  24. Ibid., 14 November 1993, p. 12.
  25. Howard French, New York Times, 27 September 1992, p. E5.
  26. “Chronology”, The Haiti Files, op. cit., p. 211.
  27. New York Times, 1 November 1993, p. 1.
  28. Drugs: Ibid., p. 8; The Nation, 3 October 1994, p. 344, op. cit.; Los Angeles Times, 20 May 1994, p. 11.
  29. SIN: New York Times, 14 November 1993, p. 1; The Nation, 3 October 1994, p. 346, op. cit.
  30. a) The Nation, 24 October 1994, pp. 458-461, op. cit.; Allan Nairn, “He’s Our S.O.B.”, 31 October 1994, pp. 481-2. b) Washington Post, 8 October 1994, p. A8; c) Los Angeles Times, 8 October 1994, p. 12; d) New York Daily News, 12 October 1993, article by Juan Gonzales, which lends further credence to the idea that the ship incident was a set-up.
  31. Time magazine, 8 November 1993, pp. 45-6.
  32. Farmer, p. 152.
  33. Aristide’s mental state: a)  Los Angeles Times, 23 October 1993, p. 14; 31 October, p. 16; 2 November, p. 8. b)  New York Times, 31 October 1993, p. 12 (re fraudulent document). c)  Washington Post, 22 October 1993, p. A26. d)  CBS News, 13 October 1993; 2 December 1993, report by Bob Faw, stated: “This hospital in Montreal told the Miami Herald it never treated Aristide for psychiatric disorders.”
  34. New York Times, 23 October 1993, p. 1.
  35. Dwight Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956-1961 (New York, 1965) p. 573; Jonathan Kwitny, Endless Enemies: The Making of an Unfriendly World (New York, 1984) p. 57.
  36. Time magazine, 8 November 1993, p. 46.
  37. Clinton administration’s relation to Haitian leaders: Ibid., p. 45.
  38. George Black and Robert O. Weiner, op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times, 19 October 1993.  Black is editorial director and Weiner coordinator of the Americas program of the Committee.
  39. Washington Post, 2 December 1987, p. A32; 11 September 1989, p. C22, column by Jack Anderson; The Guardian (London), 22 September 1986.
  40. Juan Gonzalez, “As Brown Fiddled, Haiti Burned”, New York Daily News, 9 February 1994.
  41. New York Times, 18 December 1993, p. 7.
  42. Los Angeles Times, 16 February 1994, p. 6.
  43. Ibid., 24 February 1994, 26 February; Multinational Monitor, March 1994, op. cit., p. 15.
  44. Los Angeles Times, 14 April 1994, p. 4.  Kozak’s remark was made in February.
  45. Kim Ives, “The Unmaking of a President”, in The Haiti Files, op. cit., pp. 87-103.
  46. Multinational Monitor, March 1994, op. cit., p. 15; Los Angeles Times, 14 April 1994, p. 4.
  47. Murray Kempton, syndicated column, Los Angeles Times, 12 May 1994.
  48. Los Angeles Times, 25 September 1994, p. 10.
  49. The Nation, 3 October 1994, p. 346, op. cit.
  50. Los Angeles Times, 23 September 1994, p. 5.
  51. Ibid., 24 June 1994, p. 7.
  52. Ibid., 16 September 1994, p. 8.
  53. Los Angeles Times, 5 September 1994, p. 18, Gore was speaking on “Meet the Press”.
  54. Ibid., 1 October 1994.
  55. Ibid., 17 September 1994, pp. 1 and 10; see also p. 9.
  56. Ibid., 1 October 1994, p. 5.
  57. Ibid., 8 October 1994, p. 12.
  58. New York Times, 16 September 1994.
  59. Los Angeles Times, 24, 25 October 1994.
  60. Ibid., 19 October 1994.
  61. A slightly condensed version of the Haitian economic plan can be found in Multinational Monitor (Washington, DC), July/August 1994, pp. 7-9.  For a description of life in Haiti’s oppressive assembly sector, see: National Labor Committee, “Sweatshop Development”, in The Haiti Files, op. cit., pp. 134-54.
  62. New York Times, 5 February 1992, p. 8.
  63. Multinational Monitor, July/August 1994, op. cit.
  64. Aristide Autobiography, pp. 166-7.

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