Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:
1. I would like to thank the New York Chapter of the Association of Black Journalists for inviting me to this forum on Haiti: “The Crisis in Haiti: Why African Americans Should Care”.
We all know that Haiti is the First Black Republic. It is celebrating its Bicentennial in 2004. It has a rich and unique history and culture, and is known for its primitive artwork. Yet, Haiti faces enormous environmental, socio-economic, and political challenges. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and ranked among the most corrupt countries by Transparency International. It is also experiencing the third US intervention since 1915 and the second multinational effort in ten years, as a result of political violence and instability.. It has the second largest island population after Cuba and the highest illiteracy rate in the area.. It is quickly losing all its fertile soil from erosion and its aquafer is being depleted at an alarming rate. The world?s oldest black republic needs international support to tackle these challenges. .
I have been asked to provide an update on what is happening “on the ground” in Haiti, and discuss my experience as an advisor to four Haitian Prime ministers (1993-1996), and explain the recent ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I will also share with you recent information received from contacts in Haiti about how the new government is taking shape. I will also add my comments on why African Americans should care about what is happening in Haiti. Put simply: we must care because Black on Black repression is not an option.
Let me recap briefly what has happened in Haiti since 1990. In 1990, under UN supervision, Haiti held its first free and fair election. During the campaign period for both parliamentary and presidential posts there was a prevalent desire among Haitians not to see any former members or associates of the Duvalier dictatorship return to power, and consequently they were excluded by article 291 of the Haitian Constitution of 1987 from running for office. Despite this constitutional 10-year ban Dr. Roger Lafontant, a notorious former Minister of Interior under the Duvalier regime, presented himself as a presidential candidate and provoked outrage! This was the determining factor that made the coalition of political parties of the left and moderates [FNCD] to change their designated candidate for president. The decision was made to have Prof. Victor Benoit withdraw his nomination in favor of Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide to unite the left and moderates against the Duvalierist candidate. . Because of Aristide?s very sharp criticisms and denunciations from the pulpit of the harsh methods and abuses of the past regimes, a man of the cloth in a very spiritual country [representing honesty, vow of poverty, soft-spoken and his eloquence in Creole], the FNCD coalition thought it was their best chance at winning the election. . They were proven right, and on December 16, 1990, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti by a landslide margin ? [some say around 65% of the votes]. It was a historic moment in Haiti but the reactionary forces did not wait to show their old ways: on January 7, 1991, Dr. Roger Lafontant tried to stage a coup d?etat. When word of the coup attempt spread to the streets in the middle of the night the masses took to the streets in throngs. The Haitian military [Forces Armees d?Haiti ? FADH] saw this as another potential mess created by Lafontant , and the coup was quashed.
A month later on February 7, 1991, the Reverend Jean-Bertrand Aristide was installed as Haiti?s first freely elected president. It was an elaborate ceremony highlighted by the presence of Mrs. Daniele Mitterand, wife of the then French president Francois Mitterand. But Aristide used the event to begin his purge of leaders he viewed as enemies. . At the inaugural he had the Commissaire du Gouvernement [equivalent of District Attorney or Attorney General] serve an arrest warrant to transition president Ertha Pascal Trouillot! His actions worried the FADH and the traditional elite! It only confirmed their fears that the firebrand priest would prove to be a divisive president and not a conciliatory one.
The new government started on the wrong path although the majority of Haitians were willing to overlook these mishaps and stood by their president. The new cabinet was made up of Aristide supporters and militants, to the exclusion of the moderate politicians who supported his candidacy. None was a seasoned politician, few had ever held public office and Aristide wanted total control which handicapped the government from day one. Still, most wanted to move on and all their hopes and faith were entrusted to Aristide.
The government did demonstrate signs of good governance and transparent management of government finances, although some would argue that this was done more out of naivete than intent. However, it was clear that Aristide continued the long-held Haitian political tradition of “winner take all politics” by seeking to usurp powers of the Prime Minister and demonstrating intolerance for critics. The practice of “Necklacing”, placing a tire around a victim?s neck, pouring gasoline and then setting it on fire, was hailed as a “beautiful tool” by Aristide.
General Cedras and the Coup d?Etat ? September 1991 to October 1994
Intimidation of political opponents was a daily occurrence and on September 30, 1991, the FADH, claiming it was seeking to protect the Haitian constitution, staged a fierce coup. Chief of Staff for the Army, General Raoul Cedras became the interim head of government. General Cedras not known as a bloodthirsty man allowed Aristide to go into exile. Aristide was rescued by the local French Ambassador and then-Venezuelan President Carlos Andre Peres offered him asylum.
The vast majority of Haitians in Haiti and in the diaspora were angry. They saw their vote dismissed by the military and the elite. Aristide was still very popular. The majority in Parliament, intellectuals, politicians protested the coup. Aristide traveled from Venezuela to Washington; the OAS passed a resolution to demand the restoration of democratic rule; the UN Security Council voted a similar resolution; the international community placed a l commercial embargo on Haiti. . Under US-sponsored negotiations the Governor?s Island Accord was signed in July 1993 effectively bringing the two parties to the conflict to the table but Cedras and Aristide never met face to face. Under the agreement the president was scheduled to return on October 30, 1993. No one was ready to see this return except the Aristide supporters: the Haitian people!
The military/FADH, along with the opposition, were not able to deliver on any promises to the general population except to continue the corruption and line their own pockets from illicit activities: namely contraband, drugs and other deals. All loans and exchanges with the international lenders and institutions including diplomatic representations were brought to a halt or substantially reduced.
As called for under the Governors Island agreement, At the end of July 1993, Aristide while in exile in Washington, DC, designated a respected businessman and a supporter, Robert Malval, as a consensus Prime Minister who would lay the groundwork for the President?s return. He was installed in Washington, DC by late August 1993 and returned to Haiti to install his cabinet on September 2, 1993.
The very nature of this arrangement, Malval as Prime minister in Haiti and Aristide as President in Washington, was doomed. The strong mistrust on both sides of the issue could not help but foster more confusion. The FADH and the opposition wanted Malval to undermine Aristide. Although Aristide knew Malval would not betray him, he still resented the pressure that had been placed on him to name Malval, an independent personality, as consensus Prime minister. . The day after the new “morally correct” constitutional government was installed, Aristide went on a European tour and was out of touch for two weeks, effectively crippling the Malval government. Aristide would not always return Malval?s telephone calls or did he ever provide Malval with a direct telephone line to contact him while in Washington.
Despite this awkward situation, Malval had undertaken a tremendous responsibility and understood the weight that was placed on his shoulders. Here was a man of high moral rectitude and ethics, new at politics, his first attempt running a country ravaged by two years of economic sanctions, deeply divided politically, and a president who is totally self-serving [although most supporters were not ready to see it then].
As a businessman Malval insisted that the economic sanctions be lifted. The International community went along and Aristide had to accept. This brought some type of normalcy to the country but again the situation was chaotic. Aristide had access to the Haitian government?s escrow account in the United States [payments from all US and other international companies doing business in Haiti were remitted into a US account] thus a tremendous source of capital and influence buying! However, Prime Minister Malval could not access these funds, and thus had very limited resources with which to work, since the FADH had control of all institutions. Some semblance of cooperation between the FADH controlled government institutions and the Malval government was arranged but short-lived. Meanwhile Aristide hired an arsenal of lobbyists and public relations experts in Washington with the Escrow monies. These experts, along with a multitude of Hollywood stars, internationally prominent intellectuals, and his own support in the Haitian diaspora?particularly in the US, France and Canada, worked to undercut the negotiated settlement which Aristide agreed to, but never fully accepted. . His newly acquired taste for the social scene and international representation only worsened upon his return. His goal was now to dismantle the FADH —- so there would never be another army to remove him—- and have total control of all institutions. The US and the international community, for distinct reasons, did not see to it that strong demands for compliance with democratic rule and good governance be observed, thus giving a man with a despotic penchant a free hand to operate.
Again, the process was derailed and Aristide returned on October 15, 1994 after 20,000 US troops intervened. . The coup period lasted three years with a succession of de-facto regimes installed by the military in futile attempts to legitimize themselves.
The post-return period ? Aristide II
It is important to remember that according to the Haitian constitution the President is head of state, but the Prime Minister runs the government. Aristide did not accept this fundamental precept. He believed his overwhelming popularity gave him a mandate to rule without any checks. The Haitian people, who had never experienced democracy much less power-sharing, agreed that Aristide should be fully in charge of government. Therefore, upon his return to Haiti in October 1994 Aristide, with the full backing of the US military and international support, exploited the situation and began planning to stay in office three more years to make up for the three years of his mandate spent in exile. The local opposition groups and the international community would not agree to this scheme. Arisitide continued with his deceptive tactics.
He named a new Prime Minister, Smarck Michel, a very close friend, advisor and former Minister of Commerce before he went into exile. A self-made successful entrepreneur, Smarck Michel proved to be a tremendous asset with the international financial institutions for his business acumen, his strong sense of ethics, his grasp of the local reality and his unpretentious character. He had the same fault as Malval however: they were honest men representing a dishonest elected leader who had abandoned his role as the savior of the poor. Aristide?s only desire now was to accumulate wealth and perpetuate himself in power. Michel, as did Malval after a year in office, had to resign when Aristide decided to cancel two privatization bids for failing and bankrupt state enterprises. The World Bank and other lending institutions mandated the privatization program in order to bring revenue to the Haitian treasury. Aristide sabotaged the privatization program intentionally so that it could benefit him and his cronies as was later proven by the lucrative contracts he lavished on his acolytes and international supporters.
Aristide was sternly warned by the US and international community not to extend his term by three more years. In June 1995, parliamentary elections were held and Aristide?s OPL party and other Lavalas party associates “won” the majority of the seats with some minor evidence of fraud which prompted the most prominent political parties to protest and later abstain from the presidential elections. Aristide?s handpicked successor, Rene Preval, was elected in December 1995 in a low voter turnout [10-15%].
The Preval-Aristide Years
Although Rene Preval was president, Aristide was in in control. Preval was totally acquiescent to Aristide. Everyone knew that Aristide was running the show from his palatial residence in Tabarre. Unfortunately, the US and the international community followed suit and encouraged this parallel governance, sending the wrong signals to a nascent democracy. The predatory republic?s traditional vultures were ready to prey on the meager resources and share the profits with the complicity of government officials and in some instances international representatives.
The vindictive nature of Aristide and his Lavalas supporters only intensified and created a climate of insecurity that would develop into total lawlessness. Bad governance, corruption and incompetence, persecution and assassinations of political opponents and journalists, massive repression, severe human rights abuses, rapes, kidnappings, drug trafficking, politicization of the police force and judiciary, arming gangs and warlords affiliated with the regime continued to be the hallmark of this Lavalas Family reign. It was the worse case scenario one could have imagined.
Aristide, in the meantime, still preaching class and color division, turned over the presidency to Preval on February 7, 1996. Mr. Rosny Smarth was ratified in March 1996 as Preval?s first of three Prime ministers. Rosny Smarth came up with a very weak cabinet, an incompetent staff, and was unable to read the Macchiavellian Preval-Aristide plan. Made totally irrelevant he resigned and eventually left office without a successor to replace him. It was all to Preval-Aristide?s convenience not to deal with a Prime Minister
Only after approximately ten months of exacerbated constitutional crisis and growing discontent did Preval named Jacques Edouard Alexis as Prime Minister. Alexis was ratified by Parliament. This same Parliament was officially dismissed in January 1999 by Preval. President Preval was now ruling by decree.
Preval then named Jean-Marie Cherestal as Prime Minister to replace Alexis. Now they were all set to control the upcoming elections. Cherestal?s administration was marred with scandals and corruption including the kidnapping of an American citizen whose family had been in Haiti for two generations.
May 2000 Elections: “Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory”
Total disregard for the Haitian constitution and the rule of law by the presidency led many to break ranks with the government and saw the Lavalas popularity spiral down. Still oblivious to the dwindling numbers, Preval-Aristide continued with their heavy handedness and went on to organize the fraudulent parliamentary elections of May 2000. Under OAS supervision and international monitors the elections were quickly denounced by the OAS Electoral Mission Supervisor Ambassador Orlando Marville. The day after the elections, over a million ballots were dumped into the streets in front of the Port-au-Prince Electoral Bureau on a main downtown road. The President of the Provisionary Electoral Council, Leon Manus, refused to certify the election results and had to flee into exile after being threatened by President Preval. The political parties and the private sector began voicing their protests. Government-sponsored violence was mounting to quell the dissenting voices. The private sector organized a march a week after the elections, which was brutally dispersed on the main square in the capital. The president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce and Industry had to go into exile. Following OAS led negotiations, a recount of the vote for eight seats was demanded and agreed upon by the government. Elections were not held in one of the nine departments due to extreme violence. The second round for these eights seats could have cleared the matter but the Government of Haiti chose to continue to stonewall. The Lavalas Family, which would have won a strong majority by all estimates, lost all legitimacy. The opposition parties formed an alliance called the Democratic Convergence, refused to recognize the parliamentary election results and abstained from the upcoming presidential elections in November 2000. Aristide was practically the sole candidate. He was elected by a majority of the exceedingly low voter participation estimated at five to twelve percent. This was a far cry from the overwhelming victory of 65% in 1990 with 90% voter turnout.
Aristide III ? Reinforcing his Despotic Rule
Aristide continued on his dictatorial path and the OAS with over twenty-four missions and countless resolutions could not reason with Aristide. The OAS lost credibility. The Haitian Civil Society movement began as another de facto economic embargo was felt by the business community due to rampant corruption and bad governance. NGO?s were replacing essential government services and providing humanitarian assistance. Many Haitian professionals began to emigrate to Canada and the US creating a brain drain in an already shattered society.
Aristide pursued his ruthless rule and brutal repression. The students began to protest the abuses of power. Peaceful demonstrations were increasing and harshly repressed. The demonstrations grew in frequency and participants, and on December 5, 2003, thugs associated with the government, with the complicity of the police, entered the State University campus without permission. They beat up the President of the State University, two vice-presidents and many students. They broke both knees of the State University President with an iron bar. This incident provoked the collective public outrage and the protests were now more frequent and the government reacted with more violence, arming children and thugs to attack its critics. Students and countless civilians were killed. Human rights organizations denounced the abuses. The US, France, Canada and International organizations appealed to Aristide to put an end to the violence and allow peaceful demonstrations in accordance to the Haitian constitution. Again and again Aristide made promises to the International community and completely ignored them.
Since September 2003 after the assassination of Amiot Metayer, one of Aristide?s henchmen and leader of the “Cannibal Army” in Gonaives, Metayer?s supporters accused Aristide of eliminating him because he had damaging information regarding the murder of famous journalist Jean Dominique. The OAS resolution had also called for Metayer?s arrest among others. The rebel movement started and Aristide?s government forces until his departure lost control of Gonaives. They were later joined by a group of exiled former Haitian National Police, ex-FADH and ex-FRAPH [a notoriously fierce paramilitary group under the military coup years] members. Most policemen refused to fight the rebels and the Central Plateau and Northern regions fell into rebel control as the people and policemen had lost faith in Aristide?s government.
Aristide brought about this situation on himself for failing to deliver on his promises to the Haitian people. He has had a decade of deception and misrule. There are no institutions in Haiti. The judiciary system is a mockery of justice for not one case has ever been prosecuted. The police is totally politicized, ill-trained, corrupt, involved in all kinds of illicit activity, kidnappings, hold-ups, hijackings, rapes, killings, etc? The economy is bankrupt. The environmental degradation is catastrophic. Basic education and healthcare is totally inadequate. Even potable water and sanitation have not been delivered by this regime. Aristide has failed his people and all of us who had their hopes for a better Haiti.
Aristide could have been more than Nelson Mandela. He chose to be a despot and perpetuate the rule of violence. The Haitian people have handed their verdict: Aristide was the problem and had to go. On February 29, 2004, Aristide fearing for his life, left Haiti of his own will. Even as he was leaving the country he ordered the destruction of property and life. Again, he proved to be an unreliable partner for the US, France, Canada and the international community. He has never put his country, Haiti, before his own interests. Aristide is now the past. Haiti needs to move forward.
Support for Haiti, not for a Failed Leader
It is SHAMEFUL and REPREHENSIBLE to see members of the Congressional Black Caucus, CARICOM, some prominent Black leaders, black journalists, democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry and others lend their support to Aristide instead of his eight millions victims?the Haitian People. They need to follow New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who issued a press release on March 5, 2004, after meeting with members of the NY-NJ-CT Haitian American Community in which she promised to encourage bipartisan support for the US leadership in the international efforts to bring about stability to Haiti.
Senator Clinton made the right call. The Bush Administration made the right decision. They both have taken into consideration the best interests of the Haitian people.
During a decade of corruption, misrule and a falling standard of living for all Haitians, Aristide has prospered personally and still continues to pilfer the Haitian treasury. Is this NOT ENOUGH evidence to keep away responsible democrats?
My experience as Special advisor to four Prime Ministers in Haiti has made me a more convinced advocate for democratic rule in Haiti. After ten years in Haiti, witnessing the abuses of power by Aristide?s regime, I returned to the US to continue the struggle to bring democracy to Haiti. I joined the Haiti Democracy Project, which was launched in November 2002 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. A group of former Aristide supporters and government associates, former US Ambassadors to Haiti, academics, and private citizens came together to try to influence US policy towards Haiti. Over this period we have brought our advocacy to the policy and decision-makers and are very proud of our record and contributions to the democratic process underway in Haiti.
We, of the Haiti Democracy Project, have worked tirelessly to encourage bi-partisan support for Haiti. We have published position papers and made policy recommendations. We have coordinated numerous visits to Washington and exchanges between the democratic sector of Haiti and the Haitian American community. We continue to be engaged with the democratic forces in Haiti and strongly advocate for a sustained effort by the US and the international community to bring about stability and development to Haiti.
The Transition to Democracy
The recent transitional government of President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister Gerard Latortue needs the support of all of us if Haiti is to achieve the political stability and economic development that it so deserves.
In accordance with the Haitian Constitution, Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as interim president. According to the CARICOM plan presented to all parties for a political solution to the crisis in Haiti, and agreed upon by Aristide, a council of “wise men” chose Gerard Latortue as Prime Minister. Mr. Latortue has formed a coalition government of technocrats who have the mission to put in place the structures to lead Haiti to free and fair elections and onto a democratic path. Along with the International community this government will work to establish security and rebuild Haiti?s destroyed institutions and bankrupt economy. Some ministries have been severely damaged by Aristide?s supporters and are not able to function. Some are working from hotel suites. For example, the Faculty/School of Agronomy was totally destroyed; some other schools of the State University system are in similar dire condition. Fifteen thousand students from the poorest echelon on Haitian society attend the State University system. It is the duty of all Haitians, Haitian Americans, of the Haitian diaspora around the world and the responsibility of the International community to assist Haiti in this momentous task.
Why Should African Americans Care?
African Americans should care for the following reasons. Haiti was the first black republic to have a successful slave revolt against the army of Napoleon. Haiti has helped many nations in the hemisphere to win their freedom from oppressors. African American journalists should take the lead in educating Americans, especially African Americans on the realities of Haiti. Haiti is too close to the United States, only 90 miles from Florida. Haiti cannot be a failed state. Haiti cannot be allowed to remain a transshipment point for twenty percent of the cocaine entering the US every year. Haiti has a rich African cultural heritage, which should be shared by African Americans.
It is inexcusable for African American Journalists not to be leading the advocacy for democracy and economic development to Haiti. Over a million Haitians live in the US. Haiti offers a potential market for African Americans and black entrepreneurs should be encouraged to look at Haiti for economic opportunities. Haiti needs everything and all the support black journalists can lend it should be an accomplishment for all African Americans. You can start by denouncing the improper behavior of the black leadership in our country; investigating the Aristide money trail thus assisting the Haitian justice system to bring the perpetrators to account for their misdeeds; publicizing US policies and legislative efforts to assist Haiti such as the HERO act and other bills being introduced in the House and Senate to assist Haiti. You can research what the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank plans are for Haiti; and keep Haiti in the news to maintain interest on the part of the Bush Administration and policy makers. See to it that Haiti receives the long-term commitment from the US, UN, OAS and humanitarian organizations that can make a difference for the Haitian people! African Americans can do that and the Haitian people will be grateful for your efforts to bring them out of their misery!
Presentation made on March 25, 2004 to the New York Association of Black Journalists
A forum on Haiti: “The Crisis in Haiti: Why African Americans Should Care”
New York University
140 East 14th Street [between Irving Place and Third Avenue]
New York, New York
Director of development
The Haiti Democracy Project
2303 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: (202) 588-8700
cell: (917) 972-5390