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Echoes of Venezuela 2002 Are Heard Across the Caribbean
In recent hours, the Pentagon has announced it is sending a team of military advisors into Haiti. On the same day, the State Department issued an advisory for Peace Corps members and other Americans to leave Haiti. The rumor mill is at a fever pitch.
Take this statement from U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, yesterday, when asked by an alert reporter about Jeremy Bigwood’s findings of U.S. government money spent on behalf of coup proponents in Venezuela:“As far as the facts of the matter, we have spoken many times before about our assistance to democracy in Haiti—excuse me—our assistance to democracy in Venezuela.”
– Richard Boucher
U.S. State Department spokesman
Oops! That Freudian slip – confusing the documents that show coup-provoking activity in Venezuela by Washington with U.S. policy toward Haiti – tells us a lot more about how Washington views current events in Haiti than most of what press-spinner Boucher said intentionally.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-California) returned this week from her second trip to Haiti in fifty days , and implored that “the international press must discontinue the practice of repeating rumors and innuendos and begin to spend quality time learning the truth and writing the truth about what is really going on in Haiti.”
Haiti – a nation that celebrates its bicentennial this year – has suffered 30 coups in 200 years. In that context, when President Jean Bertrand Aristide tells reporters that he will die before being pressured to resign, given his history as a social fighter, it’s probably a safe bet to believe him: “We cannot continue to move,” he says, “from one coup d’état to another.”
So let’s begin, before the 31st coup d’etat gains traction, asking the questions to help us learn and write that truth.
It’s no secret that the Bush administration – with its extremist Latin America policy chiefs and their obsessive fear of a red planet – doesn’t like Aristide, the Canadian-educated former Catholic priest, and historic leader of the poor. But in its final year, the Clinton administration turned on Haiti, too, imposing an economic embargo against an already impoverished country that has been continued by Bush. Proponents of the embargo raise different reasons for it: alleged fraud in May 2000 congressional races, unwillingness to abide by conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and other global banking entities, and one of the questions that must be asked is “what is the agenda, really?” Is it simply to make an example of a small nation to warn other Latin American countries that they had better fall in line with impositions from above? After all we’ve seen this same trend in U.S. policy for three years now regarding Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil, all relatively large and resource-rich countries, and also regarding a smaller, poorer, country, Ecuador where the policy has already succeeded in turning the president against his indigenous electoral base and toward obedient compliance with the dictates of the North.
Of course, the law of unintended consequences kicks in, especially with Haiti, as even AP reporter George Gedda acknowledged yesterday when writing about Haiti:
Among the congressional dissenters a decade ago was Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. “Aristide may have won an election, but he’s not likely to win a medal for promoting true democracy,” Helms thundered on the eve of the invasion.
Nowadays, many in the administration – and in Haiti – would agree with Helms.
Aristide’s government has accomplished little but, then again, he has received minimal support from Washington, which contends that he has violated democratic norms. Assistance from the United States and other donor countries has been limited in recent years to food and other forms of humanitarian aid.
“They’ve cut off aid to the government and starved them of resources,” says James Dobbins, a former State Department Haiti expert. “They’ve gone to the opposite extreme of the Clinton administration.”
Jimmy Carter is an authority on that subject. Between April and September of 1980, the Carter White House allowed 125,000 Cuban refugees to land in Florida. Carter was blamed for arrival of so many unwelcome visitors, and Ronald Reagan won the state handily that November.
And many analysts believe Clinton lost the only election of his life in 1980 because a number of Cuban refugees were sent to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, where some rioted. He won back the Arkansas governorship in 1982.
The Bush White House, not surprisingly, wants disgruntled Haitians to stay put and not flee to Florida, especially in this election year. As the presidential balloting in 2000 showed, how Floridians vote is no small matter.
While it’s obvious that Washington’s policy was to sabotage the Aristide government, now it’s not very clear exactly what the Bush administration wants. But as for what is happening with this coup attempt in Haiti this week, I have some questions that I hope readers and others who do speak the language and have experience in the country can help answer.
1. What Is at Stake?
Follow the money: What resources would the coup-plotters gain control over by taking the government? The CIA World Fact Book says of Haiti’s economy :
About 80% of the population lives in abject poverty. Nearly 70% of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming and employs about two-thirds of the economically active work force. Following legislative elections in May 2000, fraught with irregularities, international donors – including the US and EU - suspended almost all aid to Haiti. The economy shrank an estimated 1.2% in 2001 and an estimated 0.9% in 2002. The contraction will likely intensify in 2003 unless a political agreement with donors is reached on economic policy. Suspended aid and loan disbursements totaled more than $500 million at the start of 2003.
The industrial sector of the Haitian economy is only 20 percent of its $10 billion annual Gross Domestic Product, and is made up of “sugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, light assembly industries based on imported parts,” and its agricultural products, to which 30 percent of the economy is based, are “coffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum; wood,” in other words, no big ticket item like petroleum or rare minerals.
Which brings me to the next question…
2. Is This a Battle for Control of Narco-Trafficking?
Haiti has no luxurious resources to covet, and, as the CIA Fact Book also acknowledges, it has a very poor infrastructure, low education levels, an inadequately trained workforce, and less than eight million people… so that leads to the next obvious question: Where does the drug trade – where the big money exists – fit into this conflict?
Haiti is not a drug producer nation either, but, as Michael Ruppert wrote back in May 2000 , Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, is in “a key strategic position in between the drug producing countries of South America – especially Colombia – and the largest single importation center for illegal drugs in the United States, New York City.”
Ruppert noted in 2000 that the Dominican Republic was favored over Haiti by narco-traffickers and Washington alike. But do current attempts to topple the government of Haiti foretell a new importance for the western side of the island to cocaine transport routes, the narco-traffickers, and the bankers who launder their money?
3. Do Aristide Defenders Want Foreign Intervention or Not?
This is a tense little question with big consequences for other debates in other regions. Haiti’s ambassador to Cuba says yes, calling for an international police force set up by the Organization of American States.
But Stan Goff, a veteran of past US military intervention in Haiti, writing last weekend in Counterpunch , said that “there is an attempt to start a civil war in Haiti, engineered in the United States of America and supported by its lapdogs in Caricom and the Organization of American States.”
So, do we trust OAS to send cops or troops or not? Can any foreign force be trusted? If so, which?
Or are there alternative paths to preserving the democratically elected government? What about, for example, helping the elected Haitian government to defend itself? As Maxine Waters notes:
President Aristide disbanded the military when he returned to office and has a police force of only 5,000 for a country of 8 million people. The United States aborted its efforts to support and train the new police force and currently has a ban on selling guns and equipment to Haiti. This policy effectively denies Haitian law enforcement officers the essential equipment that they so desperately need to maintain order and enforce the rule of law.
And, regarding narco-trafficking, the Congresswoman adds:
President Aristide has given the United States special authority to assist with drug interdiction efforts by allowing the United States to interdict drugs in Haitian waters. The government of Haiti does not have the resources needed to wage a tough and consistent war against drugs, and the president of Haiti is begging the United States for assistance to eliminate drug trafficking.
Which brings us to the next question…
4. How Can Washington Justify its Economic Embargo Policy Any Longer?
There are a lot of mixed messages from the State Department, from the IMF, from the International Development Bank, and others, as to why this economic embargo still stands. Is the Bush administration really going to make its stand in Haiti over alleged election fraud in Congressional races? That might be a tough sell for him this year in 49 states not named Florida. If not that, what is the justification? And how do Authentic Journalists force clearer answers out of Washington and these other international entities?
5. Who Is Financing the Paramilitary Coup Operations?
The elected government may not count with well equipped and trained police, but the paramilitary coup backers, photographed in recent days armed with fancy assault weapons, financed their effort somehow. Where are they getting their money?
Where there are paramilitary troops, there is always contraband. To what extent are the coup plotters in Haiti financed by narco-trafficking money? Is this a repeat from Bush Senior’s funding Nicaraguan contra fighters with cocaine trafficking proceeds? Is a certain U.S. Senator who led that investigation going to touch this one now that he’s running for president?
And what about governments that have outside interests in Haiti: Not just Washington, but also France, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and others. Are they financing, covertly, the paramilitaries? And how do we find out what forces are financing the coup attempt?
Let’s begin with those five questions, and the various questions that they raise. Copublishers are invited to comment in The Narcosphere . Others can send email answers and tips to [email protected] . I’ll be inviting some journalists and investigators who know a lot more about these questions, and about Haiti, than I do, to accept copublisher accounts in exchange for their labor answering these urgent questions.
Not being a Creole or French speaker, nor having any experience in the island nation of Haiti (this French-Creole speaking country shares the isle of Hispaniola with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic), I’m going to abide by the advice I so often give to others:
That when we don’t speak or read the language in any given land, we have to be very cautious and careful not to pretend that we know what is happening in those places.
That’s especially true during times of crisis when the Commercial Media, governments, and the financial interests behind them both, start spinning their paintbrushes onto the public canvass. As we saw during the coup attempts in Venezuela of 2002 , these are the moments when confusion reigns, when urban legends are reported as “fact,” when lies travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on, and even the spin doctors get caught up in the whirlpool of the cesspool of the press pool.
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