Originally: Government Crisis and International Intervention in Haiti

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On February 29, 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1559 to send a temporary multinational force to Haiti, upon a request from President Boniface Alexandre who had recently replaced the resigning President Aristide. In the same resolution, the council provided for the replacement of that force, on June 1, by an “International Mission of Stabilization” whose mandate and time limit were to be determined within sixty days.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the council?s members, meeting under the chairmanship of the People?s Republic of China, which, in an uncharacteristic move, supported the Security Council?s decision to intervene directly with foreign troops in a member country. This resolution then took on a special character, since it did not reflect a situation typically requiring this kind of action. It came after unprecedented media coverage throughout the world, when television broadcasting showed unusually violent images of repression and armed resistance, particularly in Gonaives, and raised concerns about the probability of a civil war or a true genocide in Haiti.

It was also adopted in the context of a long-lasting political crisis, when the United Nations was intervening for the second time within ten years, not to restore peace ? since there was no war ? but to provide security and maintain the conditions for democracy in a member country.

Since the intervention was taking place in a Latin American country (which, in addition, happened to be an independent republic of long standing), analysts and observers took particular interest in its fundamental causes. The more so because it was handled by the OAS, which had received a mandate in 2001, during the Summit Conference of the Americas held in Quebec, to work on the issues dividing the Haitian government and its political opposition. The more so because during this tragic year, Haiti was celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary as an independent nation.

1.- The Government Crisis

The decision adopted by the international organization resembled an exercise of the “right to intervene,”promoted by some countries for several years as a way to deal with exceptional situations of crisis and inability of a government to maintain order or to deal with a serious conflict. It was a decision taken in the face of a situation seemingly leading to chaos and possibly to civil war. The images of several armed groups, widely circulated throughout the world, prompted journalists to rush to Haiti to “observe” the “Cannibal Army” and other bloody developments.

On the diplomatic level, the United Nations had been warned enough during the events leading up to this near-collapse that it could not ignore the matter. As a matter of fact, in 1994, the United Nations had intervened in Haiti to supplement about twenty thousand U.S. troops on a mission “to restore democracy” sponsored directly by President William Jefferson Clinton. The troops stayed there for about two years. Since the electoral crisis of 2000, after elections marred with fraud had put a new parliament in power along with Aristide himself, the OAS (and more recently CARICOM) became major players in negotiations and other activities aimed at normalizing the political panorama. Those institutions, among others, kept the General Secretariat well informed about the human rights violations by the regime of Port-au-Prince, about the difficulties in reaching a compromise between the regime and the opposition, about the deterioration of the situation in the areas of governance and respect for the rule of law, and about the worsening of social and economic conditions in the population. Therefore, by year?s end in 2003, the accelerated deterioration of the political environment, along with massive popular demonstrations and the emergence of armed groups on the political scene, paved the way for a successful request by some member countries, particularly France, for the United Nations to eventually participate in a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission in Haiti. In fact, the surge of henchmen, gangs, and “chimeres” brought the issue of the “right to intervene”on the agenda. In an alarming context of increased poverty, the concept of “the population in danger” was also made relevant by a series of assassinations and abuses of all types to incite international action. That decision was prompted by the systematic destruction of institutions, reaching a new height with the collapse of the National Police, completely subordinated and demoralized. The state seemed totally unable to face its responsibilities and guarantee the conditions for democratic order.

The U.N. Security Council could then cite the threats to life and property inherent in that situation, as well as the danger represented by Haiti for the “security of the region.” That idea was reinforced by the general feeling of an era coming to an end, brought about by a combination of important events: an increasing mobilization of the population (political parties, civil society, students, etc.) demanding Aristide?s departure, the unanticipated presence of armed groups, the sharp criticism of the media, and the concerns raised by some international institutions about the legitimacy of the government itself. In an exceptionally tense atmosphere, facing threats and dangers created by the very conditions of the downfall of the barbaric regime (which, according to rumors, had developed a plan for reprisals) the population harbored a mixed feeling of relief, humiliation, and indignation when the foreign troops arrived to re-establish order.

This was by no means an unfamiliar scenario. In 1915, in a context of local violence and chaos, the U.S. marines had landed in Port-au-Prince and that intervention resulted in nineteen years of occupation. The goal was to “restore democratic order” in Haiti. That intervention took place in a context of regional expansionism and interference. In 1995, in a regional context of democratization and a local situation of a military regime, U.S. troops sponsored by the United Nations intervened with the goal to “restore democracy.” Ten years later, interventionism was taking the form of international action against a corrupt regime sponsoring terrorism and anarchy, and threatening a peaceful population with a bloodbath.

Always present, as a permanent factor, was the watchful eye of a superpower, prompt to correct disorder in its backyard. This time, however, those concerns were shared by France which, above any idea of competition, was demonstrating a clear convergence of interests. In a larger perspective, that convergence appeared to be based on the needs of globalization. Since Haiti, because of its economic and social backwardness as much as its archaic political system, represented a sort of “historical and geographical dissent” from the logic of globalization, there was a need to take appropriate action to bring it in line with the standards of the markets, the labor forces, the way of life, and the values of the modern world. Those permanent conditions were, in fact, reflected in the ongoing government crisis in Haiti, which, for the past century, had not been able to adjust its structure, functioning, methods and results to the requirements of the modern world. In its political, economic, social, and cultural aspects, the Haitian state is a continuation of nineteenth-century Latin America, where an excessive autocracy turned a blind eye to the needs of majorities in matters of democracy, justice, progress, and development. Despite foreign influence in the form of capital and the models of modernism imported from abroad, that type of state, represented by a narrowly-based oligarchy (including individuals from the military and the business sector as well as politicians) cannot lead society toward progress or motivate its driving forces. Without legitimacy or real participation of producers and workers, deprived of credibility in the eyes of the citizens, the state remains weak as a manager of society, but strong as a profiteer by extortion and violence.

Off and on, that weakness of the state creates stirrings among the most clearly defined social groups within the society, which, however, remain unable to create real change and provide the political leadership needed to promote democracy, development, and progress. The result is a continuous stalemate, an everlasting zero-sum game, a never-completed transition. Such crisis of leadership and lack of direction cannot be solved by compromise or balance of power, and all the parties involved are tempted to look toward foreign assistance to overcome the status quo and change a situation that the local forces cannot change themselves.

2. The Gradual Challenge to Aristide?s Personal Rule.

Jean Bertrand Aristide had emerged on the political scene in 1990 as a very popular leader, particularly among the poor. To retaliate, the conservative sectors organized a coup d?état. Although democratically elected, Aristide was kept out of power for three years during which he lived in Washington, preparing for his return that finally materialized with the help of the United States and the United Nations.

Ten years later, in 2004, his popularity and the changes that he promised have evaporated. Instead, he used all the components of democracy to establish an undemocratic power based on political assassination, corruption, murder and old practices of lying, violence, disguise and intimidation.

That reality became more and more obvious to the population, particularly after the 2000 elections. Carried out in an illegal manner, these elections resulted in a crisis which, after more than three years of challenge to the popular resistance and to the struggle for democracy, culminated in the overthrow of Mr. Aristide.

Upon his return from exile with broad support of the population and the unanimous approval of the international community, the former parish priest of St. Jean Bosco showed his inability to manage the tremendous resources at his disposal. Approximately $2 billion dollars in loans and grants were held up pending the submission of appropriate proposals by which they would become available to the government and the needy population of the country. Poor management wasted that opportunity to revamp the economy and ensure the success of a program which had raised so much hope in the popular sector. Meanwhile, instead of opening up politically to attract other social groups, the regime resumed its politics of populism and demagoguery. The continuity of the regime was insured by Rene Preval, who succeeded Aristide as his mere puppet. Faithful to the designs of his mentor, Preval continued Aristide?s politics of human rights violations, cronyism, and Machiavellian maneuvering to guarantee his return.

During that period (1995?2000), the population started to reject the anarcho-populist regime. The resistance came from the Organization of the People in Struggle (OPL, or “Organisation du Peuple en Lutte”), representing the most organized wing of the movement that had supported Aristide. Since it had a relative majority in the parliament, with thirty-five representatives in the lower house and nine in the senate, OPL was able to impose an opposition Prime Minister, Rosny Smarth, to the presidential duo formed by Aristide and Preval. Rosny Smarth faced all sorts of problems trying to function within the framework of the constitution, as he was continuously harassed by the executive team and the so-called “popular organizations” manipulated from the presidential Palace.

The parliament took action to stop the violations of the constitutional order and other excesses by the totalitarian and populist regime, whereby the presidential team condoned impunity and abuses against the citizens.

Already, at that point, the demands of OPL defending the respect of institutions, modernity, the rule of law and the constitution created poles of attraction to the population as a whole. The convoking capacity of the regime, its ability to mobilize people, and its very credibility were dwindling. The government?s propaganda then tried to link the actions of the opposition to the influence of the former Duvalierist regime or of some foreign sectors.

In April 1997, President Preval failed in an attempt to impose his will during partial senatorial elections, where the opposition had good prospects of enlarging its majority. OPL spoke against that anti-democratic practice by demanding respect for the rules, and its position inspired an entire movement of protest in the popular sectors, who had grown more and more distrustful toward the regime for breaking its promises. However, those sectors were delayed, intimidated, and confused by the populist methods, and therefore were slow to express themselves through independent action or to show their support for the opposition, already persecuted and slandered.

In spite of all, the opposition?s determination, the resignation of the prime minister, the technical and political impossibility to replace him, coupled with the support of the whole country for those who had been elected, as well as the demands from the media and civic institutions for respect of the rule of law, prompted President Preval to dismiss the parliament in December 1998. That decision reflected the inability of the one-man regime to coexist with an independent parliament and effectively enforce the provisions of the constitution for coeval legislative-executive power, in line with the reality of pluralism.

3. The Difficult Emergence of an Alternative

In the year 2000, it became more and more obvious that the deeply corrupt government could not run the country while coexisting with an opposition. Such an incompatibility became evident when legislative and presidential elections were organized. The conflict that arose after the elections, reflecting the depth of the political and social crisis, revealed the obsolescence of the structures and institutions, as well as the nature of the problems inherent to the lack of development. The conflict grew deeper as the Executive stubbornly tried to impose its own mayors, a parliament, and a president on the nation, in order to monopolize the government in the service of one man.

The opposition parties, who had good chances of winning the legislative elections, were entirely robbed of their victory, and that takeover extended to the judiciary and to the various institutions of the state, including the police. Therefore, the atmosphere of repression surrounding the abuses against any form of opposition increased the determination and the commitment of the various political groups (social democrats, popular democrats, Christians involved in social issues, moderate conservatives), bringing them together in the Democratic Convergence. This patriotic coalition challenged the legitimacy of the government, denounced its abuses and eroded its credibility in the population, therefore encouraging civil resistance.

Because of that resistance, the international community, and particularly the OAS, had to conduct negotiations between the two sides. Those were difficult negotiations causing the secretary-general and the assistant secretary-general to make more than twenty trips to Haiti. During this mission, the OAS Commission and the OAS General Assembly passed important resolutions that, although approved by the Haitian government, did not have any effect because of the regime?s determination to impose its own views and avoid any compromise.

The dynamic of contestation and negotiations started by the Convergence gradually fostered the awareness and involvement of students, journalists, human rights organizations, churches, women associations, and the business sector, demanding respect for human rights and the honoring of its pledges by the Haitian government. The opposition thus consolidated, in spite of the government?s will to suppress all criticism, to manipulate the masses, and to silence the media. The citizens became more and more concerned about the nature of the regime and the fact that it was also using public resources and mechanisms, along with the worse practices of autocracy and powerful international networks involved in drug trade.

The corrupt regime, which presented itself as a representative of the people and advocate of the popular cause, had used violations of the law, impunity, and deception under the guise of populism and constitutionalism to become an effective tool for embezzlement and unlawful profit. That government, armed with powerful instruments of crime, was becoming every day more distant from society and more opposed to progress and liberty. Thus grew the danger of the dichotomy between that government and the nation. Consequently, the state apparatus serving Mr. Aristide, the drug lords, the profiteers of the regimes, and their allies in the country and abroad, showed that their only objective was to ensure impunity, maintain domination, and stay in power indefinitely. The nation, on the other hand, through a difficult process of awareness, consolidation, and reinforcement of its social organization, could begin to design a project to build the material foundation responding to its needs for development and democracy.

The year 2003 saw the expansion and continued growth of the progressive sectors. The Democratic Convergence, which included the political groups of the opposition, played a unifying role among all those who were working for change. It was, at the same time, involved in negotiations with the government and the international community toward a compromise to solve the crisis.

The efforts of the Convergence were reinforced and renewed by citizens from the civil society: thousands of credit union members whose assets had been stolen by official swindlers, students demanding autonomy for the university and the right to demonstrate, churches joining the population in their claims and generally demanding sound governance and the end of corruption. The civil society, organized under the name of “Group of 184”, launched a citizens? participation campaign pulling together the most dynamic members of private institutions, students groups, women associations, human rights organizations, etc.

The involvement of those sectors encouraged protests against the regime throughout the country, which brought the terrible wrath of the repressive forces on the activists, particularly the students of the state university. From then on, the civil movement, composed of the civil society and political groups, reached a higher point, leading to street protests of more than one hundred thousand people. The foundation of a social consensus had been found to fight the dictatorship. The scenario and the content for a transition to a democratic regime and respect for human rights was taking form, and, along with this tremendous social movement, appeared the outline of an alternative project for a free society where elections could be organized.

At the dawn of this year 2004, the two-hundredth year of Haiti?s independence, that mobilization, coupled with the population?s commitment to the struggle, showed clearly that change was in the making. Those factors caused the collapse of the myth of Mr. Aristide?s absolute popularity, and demonstrated the weakness of the party in power in mobilizing the population. Such political developments destroyed the functioning basis of a system that used repression, intimidation, and manipulation to keep the citizens from acting. They were now defying the brutality of the police and other forces of repression. The government institutions were no longer functioning, and the oppressive apparatus was therefore paralyzed. The people demanded that Aristide step down, and this peaceful and overwhelming demand increased the wrath of the repressive machine. That general struggle caused the system to disintegrate.

This picture of disintegration, showing the implosion of a regime that had previously seemed absolute and all-powerful, facilitated the appearance of armed sectors either from paramilitary groups that had turned against Aristide, mostly in the city of Gonaives, or from members of the former Haitian army returning from exile in the Dominican Republic through the northern border.

On the international scene, the unified struggle of the peaceful opposition joined by the civil society, particulary the Group of 184, caused the breakdown of the alliance whereby Mr. Aristide could depend on the international community. Until that stage was reached in the popular resistance, countered by the repressive, unlimited, and criminal violence, most of the friendly governments and international organizations such as the OAS and CARICOM had provided support to Mr. Aristide through tolerance and even complicity. They would evoke his “legitimacy” while demanding a stop to illegal political practices and violations of human rights.

With the unanticipated explosion of the popular movement, and the coming together of so many sectors of society demanding Aristide?s departure, the international community had to modify its stance. For the first time, during the second half of February, some prominent personalities of that community mentioned the inability of the chief of state to protect life and property in Haiti and to guarantee security in the Caribbean region. In view of those developments, the Steele Foundation of California, a private security service which had been providing bodyguards to Jean Bertrand Aristide for two years, decided to end the delicate mission of its agents in the National Palace when it stopped receiving the appropriate guarantees from the authorities in Washington.

4.- The Foreign Intervention

January 1 and 2, 2004 took on a very symbolic meaning in the process toward a historical consensus in a nation struggling for its freedom and self-definition according to its will, for human dignity, and for social and economic development. On that occasion, the Haitian people, known for their attachment to national values and to the independence conquered under such heroic conditions, took to the streets of the capital and the provinces instead of celebrating that anniversary, to say no to the regime and demand the departure of the dictator whose behavior was bringing shame on the nation. The police and paramilitary groups charged the protesters with unprecedented violence, which caused several dead and wounded. That is when the Democratic Plaform, a political coalition composed of the most diverse social and political groups, including students, business associations, labor unions, and farmer organizations, pulling together the political opposition and the civil society, presented to the only high-ranking official present in the celebration, Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa, a document demanding Mr. Aristide?s departure.

On the following February 19, that document was the basis for the position taken by the Democratic Platform in presenting the nation?s response to a proposal presented by a high-ranking international delegation including, among other personalities, U.S. assistant secretary of state Roger Noriega, Canadian minister of Francophonie Denis Coder, the minister of foreign affairs of Bahamas, and some top officials of the OAS, CARICOM, and the European Union. Through that delegation, the international community was renewing its support for Mr. Aristide, the head of a criminal regime, recommending that he remain in power until February 7, 2006, to finish his “term,” thereby asking the opposition to accept a compromise that would include the appointment of a consensus prime minister. The opposition rejected that proposal.

Finally, in light of the determination of the opposition and the collapse of the system, the international partners had to fall in step with the general population. Under the circumstances, Aristide had to leave.

Then the Democratic Platform document resurfaced, stripped of some major components. It served as a reference point for a formal but precarious framework allowing the OAS and the U.S. embassy to recognize the president of the Supreme Court, Mr. Boniface Alexandre, as the provisional president of the country after Aristide?s departure, according to the constitutional succession. A seven-member Council of Eminent Persons was formed to select a consensus prime minister and a government.

Haiti then entered a new stage in its history. But the momentum of the democratic renewal that the historic consensus of January 1 and 2 had sought to implement in the hard struggle of the people against despotism was, one more time, misdirected, even thwarted.

In the meantime, a multinational military force had arrived in the country. It had been publicly requested from the United Nations by Mr. Aristide in his fear of being overthrown by the grassroots movement and in his obsession to stay in the palace no matter what. The request for it was renewed by the newly-appointed president. The purpose was to short-circuit the unprecedented progress toward a consensus and the historic determination of the Haitian nation, in its struggle against ignominy, to forge unity among the diverse progressive sectors toward a true liberation.

Port-au-Prince, May 10, 2004

Translation by Haiti Democracy Project