On Jan. 1, 2004, the people of Haiti will celebrate one of the most remarkable events in world history — the 200th anniversary of the declaration that led the former slaves to create the first republic of black citizens in the world.
To achieve this historic event, slaves were required to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, the strongest military force at that time. Bonaparte sent 40,000 troops to Haiti with specific instructions to execute all former slaves if necessary to restore slavery.
The rebellious slaves also had to face hostility by the other great powers, and an onerous and unfair ”repayment” of 150 million gold francs to France, which reduced the Haitian nation to abject poverty for more than 100 years.
Politically, the country did not fare much better. Once the French loosened their grip on Haiti, the United States moved in with a prolonged occupation of Haiti during the first half of the 20th century. The purpose principally was to protect U.S. banking interests, although it was cloaked under other pretexts.
It was not until Dec. 16, 1990, that the Haitian people for the first time realized their dream of democracy. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected by an overwhelming 67 percent of the vote in a field of 17 candidates. On Feb. 7, 1996, Haiti had the first peaceful and democratic transition of power when, subsequent to Aristide, René Préval was inaugurated as president.
Five years later, Aristide was again elected president after winning 92 percent of the vote. No responsible international organization ever claimed that his election was not free or fair.
The United States, France and the other powers, however, were not happy with a democracy of the poor without a friendly military. For more than three years Haiti has faced an international embargo by all the great powers. Although Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest countries in the world, the United States, the European Union and the international financial institutions have refused to give money to the government to alleviate the suffering of Haiti’s poor.
In May 2000, claims were made that a flawed methodology was used to count the votes in seven senate seats — in an election involving 7,500 officeholders — and thus brought into question the validity of the parliamentary elections.
This has given rise to a small, well-financed but vocal opposition that is out of step with the vast majority of Haitians who are poor but yearning to preserve democracy. One opposition organization, the Group of 184, is run by elites who have called for the end of the payment of all taxes that support the Haitian poor. It includes organizations that supported the military coup in 1991 and today call for the violent overthrow of democracy in Haiti.
Support for such groups is out of step with the Haitian poor, who know that the opposition seeks to end democracy, not simply Aristide’s term.
The president will not resign and disappoint the Haitian people. The vast majority of Haitians voted for and continue to support him. Instead of waiting for his resignation, U.S.-based critics should visit Haiti now and see that democracy is flourishing. Before seeking to topple a democratically elected government, they should look at our own government’s policies — policies that are leading an international embargo that is strangling the Haitian poor.