Saturday, March 25, 2017

HaitiFlashback (HIP): Haiti's wealthy prosper while the poor decline

Disparity and income inequality between the poor majority and the wealthy elite was enormous before Haiti's earthquake in 2010. It grew even greater after the earthquake as Haiti's 1% learned to adapt and turn a profit from the billions raised for rebuilding the country.

HIP - Port au Prince, Haiti — Cite Soleil, a seaside shantytown of more than 300.000 people residing in homes made of cinder blocks with tin roofs, has been described as poorer than India's infamous slums of Calcutta. On any given day it teems with the life's blood of Haiti's poorest citizens.

Despite the twists and turns of what residents describe as several foreign interventions, members of the community still recount with pride how they served as a launching site for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's first election campaign in 1990.

Yannick Jean, a frail 70 year-old woman whose longevity itself is a testament to hope, spoke in hushed tones as she washed her clothes in a ditch of dirty water, "We were the ones who presented Aristide to Haiti when he ran for president. He was our greatest hope. I am waiting for him again."

A controversial figure, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a former Catholic priest who was overthrown twice in Haiti's turbulent political history. His first ouster was at the hands of Haiti's former brutal military with the support of the traditional economic elite who live fabulously wealthy lives as compared to Haiti's average citizens.
Where Yannick Jean washes her clothes probably speaks more to Haiti's current reality and the contradictions of the current United Nation's mission than any expert on development possibly could. Rising above her and creating shadows over her dirty laundry is a huge edifice of new construction that bears the mark GB. It is a new building that covers several acres and is home to the business of Haiti's wealthiest man, Gilbert Bigio.
While the surrounding residents of Cite Soleil are forced to literally eat dirt to stave off hunger, Bigio is a billionaire whose family supported the first coup against Aristide and reportedly helped to back the movement that forced his second ouster in 2004.

One need not look very far to see where Gilbert Bigio's interests lie in relation to Cite Soleil. According to his own company's web site his family maintains controlling interests in sixteen of Haiti's largest companies. They are also the largest Haitian partner in the wireless communications giant Digicel, a mammoth company based in Ireland that has nearly cornered the cellular market in the Caribbean. Bigio's family is not merely wealthy amidst a sea of poverty stricken residents in Haiti, his family represents the Über-wealthy who have benefited most since Aristide's second ouster in 2004.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US government blocked all of the Bigio family's holdings in US banks following the brutal military coup against Aristide in 1991. Since Aristide's second ousting in 2004, the financial wealth of the Bigio family along with those of other well off Haitian clans such as the Mevs, Brandts, Acras and Madsens have nearly doubled according to a confidential source at a private accounting firm.
click photos for larger image
Ad for haitian American Chamber of Commerce
Advertisement for Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce following the ouster of Arsitide in February 2004.
Residents of Cite Soleil wash clothes in a dirty ditch next to Bigio's plant Acierie d'Haiti.
Charred front of the mayor's office in Cite Soleil after demonstrators burned tires to protest the Pentagon's $20 million Haiti Stabilization Mission.
Not to be forgotten is the fact that Aristide's forced departure in 2004 was legitimized and enforced by a UN authorized mission during the term of former Secretary General Kofi Annan. The fact that a few families of Haiti's traditional elite continue to exact exorbitant profits, while residents of Cite Soleil are forced to eat mud pies and bathe in ditches, has shaken confidence in the non-governmental sector working with the poor in Haiti.

A young woman who began her NGO career to end poverty in Cite Soleil shakes her head in disbelief as she watches throngs wash their clothes and bathe next to Bigio's glistening plant. There are security towers protected by armed guards at every corner of the property while UN forces in large armored personnel vehicles patrol the outer perimeter. She asks not to be identified and comments, "I bought into the development model the UN used to encourage us to come here and invest in Cite Soleil. The US government funds our organization through USAID and I came here to make a difference in these people’s lives. I am now faced with the reality of a humanitarian crisis we cannot be expected to solve. The UN's main thrust seems to be security at any cost. This can only result in the loss of another generation of Haitians in this community being lost to poverty and misery. I am ready to quit unless something changes soon."

Protestors burned tires in front of the Cite Soleil mayor's office earlier this month to protest a Pentagon financed pacification program. The US Department of Defense targeted $20 million in Cite Soleil for the Haiti Stabilization Mission with the stated objective, "to improve access to police and justice, strengthen local governance, provide vocational training and to create jobs through infrastructure and public works projects." Protestors complained that rather than creating jobs and improving living conditions, it represents another heavy-handed attempt by the US to control residents through corrupt local politicos in the mayor's office.

In another corner of this community and trying not to draw attention amidst the children with bloated bellies and the flow of traffic, is a representative of Aristide's Lavalas movement. Mr. Jean- Marie Samedi was brutally beaten and tortured after Aristide's ouster in 2004. He is the leader of a movement called the Base of Lavalas Reflection and gave another view to the already disfigured politics of suffering in this community.

Mr. Samedi commented, "At least the people they called bandits and gangsters shared what they had with the community when they were here. People could eat. They had food and had running water. They didn't have to eat dirt to live or have to wash their clothes and their bodies in ditches of dirty running water."

As if to punctuate Mr. Samedi's point, several children run by with almost blondish hair, a clear sign of malnutrition amongst blacks in this Caribbean nation of 8.5 million people. He continued, "They told us that everything would change after they got rid of the bandits and yet people cannot feed their children. You see them forced to wash in this dirty water. What did the promise of the Bush administration and the UN really mean to the people of Cite Soleil? They have merely continued politics as usual in Haiti. The rich get richer while the majorities are forced to continue to suffer in poverty. I challenge anyone to show me the difference they have made for the majority of the poor in Haiti." Growing visibly angry and bitter Mr. Samedi concluded, "The UN came in here and slaughtered residents who supported Lavalas on July 6, 2005 and again on December 22, 2006. And for what we have to ask? So that Bigio and the Haitian Chamber of Commerce could force us back into accepting this level of poverty? Nothing has changed for the poor in Haiti."

GB Group and alley: ©2007 Randall White
Mayors Office : ©2008 Jean Ristil

The Haiti Information Project (HIP) is a non-profit alternative news service providing coverage and analysis of breaking developments in Haiti. Winner of the CENSORED 2008 REAL NEWS AWARD for Outstanding Investigative Journalism

Monday, February 13, 2017

Haiti: Hidden from the Headlines

When Hidden from the Headlines was first published in August 2003, we wrote:

Since the election of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2000, the United States has moved to sabotage Haiti's fledgling democracy through an economic aid embargo, massive funding of elite opposition groups, support for paramilitary coup attempts, and a propaganda offensive against the Aristide government. Hidden from the headlines for years, this campaign has now become an open effort to destroy a popularly elected, progressive government.

We also pointed to the danger of another U.S.-orchestrated coup:

In the face of widespread popular support for Aristide and his Lavalas Party, anti-Aristide forces have turned to violent paramilitary attacks, leading many Haitians to fear another U.S.-backed coup d'etat.

Tragically, events have now borne out these fears. On February 29, 2004, the United States completed its criminal coup against the democratically elected Aristide government. The coup not only overthrew President Aristide, it overthrew a progressive economic and social agenda supported by the vast majority of Haiti's population. Literacy programs, health care centers, the fight for children's rights, a raise in the minimum wage, resistance to privatization, the struggle to bring human rights violators to justice and the effort to create an independent judiciary - these were the real targets of the coup.

The coup has created a grave human rights situation in Haiti. Assassination squads now roam the cities and countryside searching for Fanmi Lavalas supporters. Bodies appear daily with hands cuffed behind their backs and plastic bags over their heads. According to a March 24th Associated Press report from the northern city of Cap-Haitien, "dozens of bullet-ridden bodies have been taken to the morgue in the last month." A National Lawyer's Guild delegation reported that 1000 unidentified bodies were dumped and buried by morgues in the period between March 7th and March 24th. Thousands of Aristide 1 supporters remain in hiding, while other Haitians try to flee the country, only to be turned back by the U.S. Coast Guard.


The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince had its fingerprints all over each stage of the coup - from the increasingly violent anti-Aristide demonstrations, to the "rebel" military assault on city after city, to the kidnapping of President Aristide. All the while, the international corporate media played its part, spreading unsubstantiated charges against the Aristide government and refusing to report pro-government mobilizations.

On January 1, Haiti commemorated the 200th anniversary of its independence from French rule. As Haitians celebrated, right-wing opposition groups escalated their demonstrations calling for Aristide's forced removal. The opposition received millions of dollars in funding from the European Union, led by France, and from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The USAID money was funneled through the International Republican Institute, a Reagan Administration program to "promote international democracy." In the forefront of the opposition protests was Andre Apaid, a U.S. citizen, Duvalier supporter, sweatshop owner and leader of the so-called "Group of 184." The Group of 184 claimed to be a broad-based opposition coalition; in reality, it represented the traditional Haitian business elite who have always hated Aristide. Even with U.S. and French backing, the anti-Aristide forces proved unable to win popular support. Pro-Lavalas demonstrations dwarfed those of the opposition, as Aristide supporters surrounded the Presidential Palace day after day to protect their elected government.

The coup plotters turned to open warfare. In February, hundreds of former Haitian military and paramilitary thugs, trained by U.S. Special Forces operatives in the Dominican Republic and armed with U.S.-made M-16s and M-60s, launched attacks throughout the northern regions of the country. Targeting Lavalas activists and popular organizations, they burned down homes, murdered police officers and terrorized the population.

Heading the "rebel army" were criminals who had tormented Haiti for years. Louis-Jodel Chamblain is a convicted assassin and former leader of FRAPH, the paramilitary death squad responsible for the murder of thousands during the 1991- 1994 coup against the first Aristide Administration. Guy Philippe, a major drug trafficker, fled Haiti in 2000 after being implicated in an abortive coup attempt. Trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador, Philippe is a former police chief and member of the Haitian military cited by the UN International Civilian Mission for summary executions of suspects. Jean Tatoune is another convicted murderer, responsible for the infamous Raboteau massacre in 1994.

As the violence in the North intensified, the people of Port-au-Prince rallied to defend their hard-won democracy. On February 7, one million people took to the streets in the capital to support the government, vowing to never give in to violence or intimidation. Marchers held up five fingers to signify their determination that President Aristide complete his five-year term.

Appalled at the carnage, CARICOM (the association of Caribbean nations) and the Aristide government reached a compromise designed to end the bloodshed and preserve democratic institutions. But the U.S. State Department and France colluded with the anti-Aristide opposition to block these diplomatic efforts. The U.S. prevented any assistance -even tear gas - from reaching the Haitian police force. On February 9, a State Department spokesman stated, "We recognize that reaching a political settlement will require some fairly thorough changes in the way Haiti is governed...I think that could indeed involve changes in Aristide's position." The U.S. had given the green light for the coup.

Thousands of Aristide supporters in Port-au-Prince responded to the growing threat by building barricades and blocking all entrances to the city. Popular organizations mobilized to defend the government and resist any military invasion. At CARICOM's request, a plane from South Africa headed for Port-au-Prince, carrying weapons for the beleaguered Haitian police. With resistance rising and international support on its way, the U.S. decided to take matters into its own hands.


On the night of February 28, US armed forces took over key sites in Port-au- Prince, including the Presidential Palace and the airport. U.S. military operatives then entered President Aristide's home and threatened that he, his family, and thousands of others would be killed if he didn't leave the country immediately. Against his will, the President was taken to the airport, put on a plane and eventually placed under virtual house arrest in the Central African Republic. With the U.S. military in control of Port-au-Prince, the terrorist leaders could now enter. The New York Times reported that as Chamblain rode through Port-au-Prince, he leaned from the window of his truck and called out, "We are grateful to the United States." Within hours, his military forces were murdering Lavalas supporters in the capital.

As a result of intense pressure from Caribbean nations and the Congressional Black Caucus, President Aristide was able to fly to Jamaica where he received temporary asylum. United States officials have made it clear, however, that they want Aristide out of the hemisphere, away from the people of Haiti. These events have a clear parallel in Haitian history. In 1802, French colonial authorities kidnapped Toussaint L'Ouverture and imprisoned him in France. Convinced that Toussaint's presence in or near Haiti would spur further rebellion, General LeClerc, the French military leader and brother-in-law of Napoleon, wrote "You cannot hold Toussaint far enough from the ocean or put him in a prison that is too strong." Now, on the 200th anniversary of Haitian independence, history has repeated itself.

Today Haiti remains under U.S. occupation. 3,600 U.S., French, Canadian and Chilean troops preside over a systematic campaign of violence and intimidation against supporters of Lavalas. Gerard LaTortue, a businessman who has lived in Florida since 1988, heads the U.S.-appointed puppet government. In one of his first acts, LaTortue went to Gonaives, where he hailed the assassins Chamblain and Tatoune as "freedom fighters". LaTortue has announced his support for the rebuilding of Haiti's despised military, which President Aristide had disbanded.

While the United States and France try to legitimize the coup, CARICOM and the African Union have courageously refused to recognize the new regime. Despite the grave danger, popular organizations in Haiti remain active and mobilized. The people of Haiti have made it clear that the final chapter in this story has yet to be written. They need our solidarity and support more than ever.

The Haiti Action Committee is resolved to defend democracy in Haiti. We call for:
The unconditional and immediate return of President Aristide to Haiti to serve out his term of office until 2006. Respect the vote of the Haitian people.

An immediate end to repression against Lavalas supporters and those demanding the return of President Aristide.

A congressional investigation into the role of the U.S. government in the destabilization of the Haitian government and the implementation of the coup.

Support for Haitian refugees, including Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to refugees from Haiti who are fleeing the terror of their home country.


Haiti Action Committee, April 2004
For more information, contact:

Photos: ©2004 Haiti Information Project

PDF file of this insert

Hidden from
the Headlines
PART ONE - August 2003

The U.S. War Against Haiti

Not much has changed. Today, as Haitians at-tempt to create an alternative to debt, dependence and the indignity of foreign domination, the at-tacks continue. Since the election of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2000, the United States has moved to sabotage Haiti's fledgling democracy through an economic aid embargo, massive funding of elite opposition groups, support for paramilitary coup attempts, and a propaganda offensive against the Aristide government. While the Bush Administration imposes its rule over Iraq, attempts to topple the elected government of Venezuela, ignites yet another anti-Castro campaign against Cuba, and undermines civil liberties here at home, the U.S.-led assault on Haiti has gone largely unnoticed. Hidden from the headlines for years, this campaign has now become an open effort to destroy a progressive, popularly elected government.

Economic Embargo: Targeting the Haitian People

Since 2000, the Bush Administration has effectively blocked more than $500 million in international loans and aid to Haiti. This included a $146 million dollar loan package from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) intended for healthcare, education, transportation and potable water. Under the terms of the loan agreement, Haiti paid fees and interest totaling more than $5 million long before seeing any money. Since December 2001, the Haitian gourde has lost 69% of its value and Haiti's foreign reserves have shrunk by 50%, largely due to the embargo.

Under intense pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, Caribbean nations and solidarity groups worldwide, the Bush Administration finally signed an agreement brokered by the Organi-zation of American States (OAS) to release the funds in September 2002. The Haitian government was asked to pay $66 million in arrears before receiving any loans. These arrears are for debts incurred primarily by Haiti's U.S.-supported dictatorships and military juntas. It took nearly a year, filled with delays and excuses, before the IDB took concrete steps to distribute any of the funds. It is worth noting that throughout the bloody Duvalier regime and the military juntas that followed, economic aid flowed freely.

In addition, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have once again imposed onerous loan conditions on Haiti. In one attempt to meet IMF requirements, the Haitian government eliminated subsidies on gasoline prices. The price of gas doubled, transportation costs shot up 60%, and the cost of living skyrocketed.

Under the best of circumstances Haiti faces enormous challenges: the legacy of colonialism and slavery, a history of military rule, harrowing polarization of wealth, grinding economic poverty, lack of infrastructure, a badly damaged environment, and two centuries of education denied to the majority. The unconscionable embargo made the situation even worse. A few examples paint a grim picture. Haitians' access to potable water has decreased significantly, particularly in Port-au-Prince. The government has been unable to maintain rural road networks. As a result, rural clinics have noted a steep rise in trauma cases resulting from road accidents. Infectious disease outbreaks are on the rise, as the diminished public health care system struggles to respond. Blocking humanitarian aid in this manner has clearly been a crime against the people of Haiti.

Undermining the Democratically Elected Government

While obstructing aid and loans, the U.S. has spent millions to fund the "Democratic Convergence," an opposition group conceived of and orchestrated by the International Republican Institute (a Reagan Administration program to "advance democracy"). The Convergence has no coherent social, political or economic program. Instead, it advocates continuation of economic sanctions, the return of the military (disbanded by Aristide in 1995), and the violent overthrow of the Haitian government. Since 2000, the Convergence has refused to participate in any electoral process for the obvious reason that it has almost no popular support. In national polling in Haiti, the total vote for the dozen or so parties that make up the Convergence has never been more than 12%. U.S. support for this small, destructive group shows disdain for the will of the democratic majority in Haiti.

Unable to win power through elections, the Convergence has organized a series of "strikes" in an attempt to undermine and eventually oust the Aristide government. These are carbon copies of the management-led oil industry strikes in Venezuela aimed at toppling the democratically elected government of Hugo Chavez. In Haiti, foreign-owned businesses like Domino's Pizza and Shell Gas, as well as banks, gas stations, and some specialty shops, supported the "strikes". The vast majority of Haiti's populace, however, kept their marketplaces open despite threats of violence. During recent "strikes", market women and tap-tap drivers held up five fingers in defiance, to signify their determination that Aristide should complete his five-year term.

Violent Paramilitary Attacks
A Contra War Against Haiti

In the face of widespread popular support for Aristide and his Lavalas Party, anti-Aristide forces have turned to violent paramilitary attacks, leading many Haitians to fear another U.S.-backed coup d'etat. Groups of former Haitian military have received arms, training and shelter within the Dominican Republic with the clear knowledge of U.S. authorities. In the early morning hours of July 28, 2001, commandos dressed in military uniforms attacked five police stations in Haiti, including the police academy in Freres. The director of the police academy was executed and four other police officers were murdered during the attacks.

On December 17, 2001, 30 commandos with heavy weaponry attacked and took over the national palace. They announced that Aristide was no longer the President, and attempted to coerce the palace security to join them in a coup d'etat. The gunmen were eventually fought off by the Haitian police, and by thousands of civilians who took to the streets to defend their government when they heard that a coup was in progress. Some of the assailants escaped to the Dominican Republic, where they were given asylum.

In late 2002 and in 2003, former military groups carried out cross-border attacks in towns along the Dominican border, murdering police officers, Lavalas officials and civilians, and terrorizing the population.

On May 7, 2003, 20 men identifying themselves as former Haitian military attacked the hydroelectric power plant at Peligre. One of the largest buttress dams in Latin America, Peligre provides most of Haiti's electricity. The commandos tortured and then murdered two security guards and set fire to the control room, causing immediate power outages around the country. The paramilitary group held several staff members from the nearby Partners in Health hospital at gunpoint and later stole their ambulance. In commenting on the attack, hospital director Dr. Paul Farmer said, "As you know, this is not the first time our medical staff has been the victim of these 'contras.' In December, they used the same threats and the same language, accusing (quite accurately) Aristide of dismantling the army and our own team of being anti-military (also accurate enough). And recall that the so-called human rights groups in Port-au-Prince informed the Miami Herald that this harassment did not even happen: it was merely 'pro-government propaganda'."

Why has this destructive campaign against the Haitian people been allowed to continue without a resounding response from the progressive community here in the United States?

A key factor has been the highly organized and persistent campaign to discredit and defame the Aristide government internationally. The steady drumbeat of criticism in articles from a compliant corporate media has been echoed by some prominent human rights organizations. Unfortunately, this campaign has sown doubt about President Aristide's legitimacy and progressive credentials in the minds of people who might otherwise defend a democratically elected government committed to social change. These doubts and charges need to be seriously addressed and answered.

Human Rights:
A Look at the Record

Haiti has made dramatic progress in the area of human rights over the past eight years. After 200 years of Haitian history, state-sponsored terrorism is no longer part of the daily lives of Haiti's citizens. In 1995, with near universal support from the Haitian people, Aristide disbanded the Haitian military, perhaps the single greatest advance in Haiti since independence. Clearing away the prime historic instrument of state repression has allowed the Haitian people to enjoy a level of freedom of speech and assembly unprecedented in Haitian history. Today over 200 radio stations operate freely in Haiti. Far from being silenced, opposition politicians dominate the media in Haiti; wealthy Haitians who do not support Aristide own most stations and newspapers and Convergence members are often interviewed on government-run Haitian National Television. The Convergence, briefly and illegally, even set up a "parallel government" until, in the words of Haiti Progres, "it collapsed under the weight of its own ridiculousness."

The long-term work of building an independent judiciary system in Haiti began with the restoration of constitutional order in 1994. It will take years to train a new generation of lawyers and judges. Victims' groups insist that the prosecution of coup-period violence is paramount to the defense of human rights and establishment of a state of law in Haiti. The government of Haiti has committed significant resources to these prosecutions. The Raboteau trial in 2000, in which 16 former soldiers and paramilitaries were convicted of the coup-period massacre of residents in the Raboteau neighborhood of Gonaives, proved that Haiti's justice system can carry out complex, controversial prosecutions. Hoping to build on the success of this case, lawyers for the government are working with women's organizations and victims' groups to build a case against the military for the use of rape as a political weapon during the coup period.

Still, critics of the Aristide government-including international organizations such as Reporters without Borders, the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees and Amnesty International-point to what they call a deteriorating human rights situation in Haiti marked by violence against opponents of the government, and harassment of journalists. Often they attribute these acts to "pro-Lavalas" mobs, a catchall description which, given the popularity of Lavalas, encompasses most of the population. But there is no evidence that any political violence receives direction from the state. As President, Aristide has consistently condemned acts of violence by all parties, and has been vocal in his calls for the peaceful resolution of conflicts. On several occasions the government has arrested prominent supporters accused of crimes, even in the face of popular protest.

No one would deny the existence of political violence in Haiti today. The situation on the ground between supporters and opponents of the current government is highly volatile. Armed attacks against the government, and the call of the political opposition for the violent overthrow of the government provoke fear and violence in turn. In this situation, ordinary citizens feel they are under attack and must defend themselves and their government.

International coverage of human right violations in Haiti ignores this overall context-and the attention given is highly selective. Cases that involve opposition politicians receive widespread coverage. But two commando-style assaults on the elected government, the murder of a Lavalas justice of the peace, and the deaths of pro-government demonstrators at the hands of government opponents have been met with deafening silence-and in some cases the outright denial that these acts have taken place. Furthermore, in many cases the opposition has deliberately distorted the facts in order to make political use of human rights violations.

The reality is that Haiti has largely eliminated the human right violations of the dictatorship period and is now struggling with the human rights problems of a fledgling democracy. While political violence continues-egged on by the United States' attempts to destabilize the Haitian government-there is no pattern of systematic state repression. There have been cases of use of excessive force by police and security forces. But more frequently the police are faulted for incompetence due to lack of experience and shortages of personnel and funds. There are profound weaknesses in the judicial system, which was in the hands of Duvalierists for decades prior to 1994. Many in the grassroots movement have denounced attempts by the Convergence to use the judicial system as a vehicle for falsely charging and detaining leaders of popular organizations. In addition, there has been slow progress in criminal investigations into some of the most prominent human rights cases. Faced with these complex issues, the government of Haiti is making a determined effort towards constructing an independent judiciary in Haiti.

In this light, it is worth looking closely
at some recent human rights cases:

On December 3, 2001, Brignol Lindor was murdered by a group of men in the town of Petit Goaves. Reports identified Lindor as a journalist murdered by a pro-Lavalas mob. The case eventually received so much international attention that the OAS included progress on its investigation as a precondition for the release of aid. Yet outside of Haiti, the full story of Lindor's murder received no coverage. According to the Agence Haitienne de Presse (December 13, 2001), Lindor was murdered in reprisal for a violent attack on a Lavalas activist, who was hacked with machetes and left for dead by an anti-government mob. His enraged friends sought revenge and attacked the first Convergence supporter they found-Lindor. Clearly both acts of violence should be condemned. In fact, the Haitian government did just that, and eventually made arrests on both sides. None of this appeared in the international media.

In January 2003, Eric Pierre, a medical student, was murdered on his way home from the State University. The Convergence claimed Pierre was murdered by a Lavalas gang and turned his funeral into an anti-government protest. This story was widely published abroad. Journalist Anne Marguerite Augustin, a witness to the crime, told the press and police that the murder was not politically motivated; rather it was the work of common criminals who also attempted to rob her. After making these statements, Augustin received death threats. No human rights or journalists' organizations rushed to her defense.

Since the restoration of democracy in 1994, there have been several assassinations or assassination attempts targeting leaders on all sides of the political spectrum. Investigations in these cases have been agonizingly slow. The April 2000 murder of popular pro-democracy journalist Jean Dominique has drawn the most international attention. Jean Dominique was a life-long crusader for democracy and a vocal critic of the U.S. role in Haitian affairs. At the time of his death, he was broadcasting scathing reports about U.S. government interference in the upcoming Haitian elections.

The Haitian government committed unprecedented resources to the investigation into his murder. Dozens of witnesses were questioned, and five suspects, including the accused gunman, were arrested. But the case has been marred by controversy. Two suspects died in police custody and several judges resigned from the case. A Lavalas Senator (who was a suspect) invoked parliamentary immunity and refused to be questioned by the first investigating judge. In Februrary 2003, the investigating judge submitted his indictment against the five suspects in custody. Advocates for the case, including Michelle Montas, Jean Dominique's widow, were disappointed that the indictment did not go further and point to the intellectual authors of the crime. She filed an appeal and, in August 2004, an appellate judge ordered the investigation reopened.

We strongly believe that whoever is guilty-regardless of their political affiliation-should be brought to justice. We support the campaign to maintain pressure on authorities in Haiti to see that justice is fully done. However, we object to the use of this case by those-including the U.S. government and members of the Convergence-who had no love for Jean Dominique when he was alive, and no previous interest in justice in Haiti-but rather are using this case for their own political purposes.

On March 20, 2003, the Associated Press reported that "police fired tear gas and used nightsticks to disperse 300 anti-government demonstrators near the National Palace." What they did not report was that these protesters insisted-over police objections-on changing the route of their march to go to the National Palace where hundreds of pro-government demonstrators were rallying. Predictably, a melee broke out and police were forced to break it up. (Haiti Progres, March 2003) The AP story closed with a quote from Convergence leader Gerard Pierre Charles, who declared, "the government is more repressive than ever."

In November 2002, former soldiers operating out of the Dominican Republic murdered Justice of the Peace Christophe Lozama. Neither this attack, nor the murders of a member of Parliament, police officers and civilians by these contra-like forces over the past two years, have received international press or human rights attention. U.S. press reports instead have cast doubt on the existence of these paramilitary groups, claiming "reports are difficult to verify." In fact. these armed commandos have made their intentions quite clear. On December 19, 2002, a group of former military seized a radio station in the town of Pernal on the Dominican border. They issued a communiqué calling upon all former military to join them in attacks against the police, grassroots organizations, Catholic base communities, and other Lavalas supporters. They stated that they were the armed wing of the opposition, and that they intended to overthrow Aristide and reinstate the Haitian military. (Haiti Progres, March 2003)

Haiti Today (August 2003):
A Progressive Social and
Economic Agenda

In spite of the sustained attack on Haiti by the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. government, some U.S.-based critics on the left accuse the Aristide government of selling out to the forces of economic globalization. While ignoring dramatic advances under Aristide, they point to plans for a "free trade zone" on the Dominican border or to the ending of the gas price subsidies as signs that Lavalas has abandoned its progressive policies.

These critics completely disregard Haiti's reality. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has a 70% unemployment rate and now confronts a brutal U.S.-orchestrated embargo. Haiti, like every other developing nation in the world, has no choice but to negotiate with international lenders to secure investment, release loans and create new jobs. The fact remains: the United States is attacking Haiti's government and popular organizations not because Haiti is a compliant partner, but precisely because it represents an alternative to globalization and corporate domination. Rather than sit in judgment, activists and friends of Haiti need to mobilize to end the U.S. embargo. In the process we will help to give Haiti the space it needs to carry out its own sovereign agenda.

Resisting Globalization

Since 1994 the Haitian people and government have borne intense pressure to adopt neoliberal economic policies, such as the opening of markets to U.S. goods, austerity programs and the privatization of state-owned enterprises. In Haiti these policies are known as plan lanmo or the "death plan". When Aristide returned to Haiti in 1994, U.S. officials expected that Haiti's public enterprises (the telephone, company, electrical company, airport, port, three banks, a cement factory and flourmill) would be quickly sold to private corporations, preferably to U.S. multinationals working in partnership with the Haitian elite. In the last months of his first term as President, Aristide refused to move forward with privatization, calling instead for a national dialogue on the issue. It was at this point that $550 million in promised international aid stopped flowing. Despite this pressure, only the flourmill and the cement plant have been sold.

The Haitian government has made major investments in agriculture, public transportation and infrastructure. While international funds for large road construction projects have been blocked, the Government of Haiti has undertaken smaller road projects, linking the countryside to city and enabling farmers to get their food to market. Public marketplaces have been rebuilt in many rural and urban communities. Despite strong opposition from the business sector, on February 7, 2003, Aristide doubled the minimum wage from 36 to 70 gourdes a day. This wage hike affects the more than 20,000 people who work in Port-au-Prince assembly factories, which contract with major U.S. corporations such as Wal-Mart and Disney.


Education and healthcare have been high priorities during both Aristide administrations. Haiti is currently implementing a Universal Schooling Program aimed at giving every child an education. More schools were built in Haiti from 1994-2000 than between 1804 and 1994-many in rural areas where no schools existed previously. In 2001, Aristide mandated that 20% of the national budget be dedicated to education. Other measures aimed at increasing access to education include a 70% government subsidy of schoolbooks and uniforms, and expanded school lunch and school bus programs. Since there are not yet nearly enough public schools for all of Haiti's children, the Haitian government provides hundreds of thousands of scholarships for children to attend private schools.

Haiti's rate of illiteracy currently stands between 55% and 60%. In the summer of 2001, the Haitian government launched a national literacy campaign. The Secretary of State for Literacy has printed 2 million literacy manuals, and trained thousands of college and high school students as literacy workers. The students committed to teach throughout the country for the next three years. Working with church and voudouizan groups, popular organizations and thousands of women's groups across the country, the government has opened 20,000 adult literacy centers. Some 320,000 people are currently in literacy classes; the majority are women. Many of these centers, opened in poor

urban and rural areas, are resto-alphas which combine a literacy center and a community kitchen, providing low-cost meals to communities in need.

Defending Children's Rights

An estimated 400,000 young children, primarily girls, work as domestics in Haitian households. The majority of these children come from rural Haiti and are sent to the cities by their parents in hopes that they will receive food, education and shelter in exchange for their labor. Often, in addition to long hours and hard work, these restaveks are subject to abuse, violence and neglect. In May 2003, Haiti passed legislation prohibiting trafficking in persons, and banning the provision of the labor code which formerly sanctioned child domestic labor. The bill followed a law enacted in October 2001, which banned all forms of corporal punishment against children. In addition, Haiti is taking specific measures to ensure that restavek children get an education. Government scholarship funds for the 2003-2004 school year will target restavek children, and President Aristide has called on all families who have restavek children living in their homes to send them to school.

These advances were dismissed by the U.S. State Department, which, in a particularly cynical move, placed Haiti in the category of "least compliant countries" in relation to the trafficking of persons. The State Department report ignored the recent legislation, as well as other Haitian government measures against trafficking-including stepped up border patrols and the creation of a special police unit to protect minors against all forms of abuse. The report failed to acknowledge Haiti's Universal Schooling Program, even though the State Department cited increased school enrollment in other countries as a significant preventive measure against trafficking.

Health Care

The government of Haiti has focused its national healthcare program on improving maternal and pre-natal health conditions. In 2002, the School of Midwifery was renovated, as were the maternity wards of eight public hospitals. Tragically, funds from the IDB for a project to decentralize and reorganize the Haitian health care system were blocked for four years.

Through a cooperative relationship with Cuba, 800 Cuban healthcare workers now work in rural areas of Haiti. An additional 325 Haitians are in training in Cuba, and in return they have committed to work in public health on their return to Haiti. Two hundred Haitians are also studying at a new medical school in Haiti, which is part of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. A school for nursing is slated to open in fall 2004. In a country with fewer than 1,000 doctors, the striking increase in healthcare workers, both Cuban and Haitian, is having a dramatic impact.

International experts have lauded Haiti's government-led initiative to coordinate AIDS treatment and prevention. After a long debate over how best to ensure the rights and welfare of Haitian participants, Haiti joined an im-portant three-country AIDS vaccine trial. In 2002, the UN Global Fund for AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis chose Haiti as one of the first three recipients of grants. The two-year, $18 million grant will fi-nance a broad spectrum of work to treat and prevent AIDS in rural and urban areas, including the provision of anti-retroviral treatment to some AIDS patients. Some of these funds will support the groundbreaking work of Partners in Health at the Central Plateau hospital founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, which provides AIDS treatment and medication to patients free of charge.

The possibility of life-saving treatment has a direct impact on the willingness of people to be tested for HIV, which is critical to any AIDS prevention campaign. Twenty new HIV testing centers will open around the country during the next two years. In the words of First Lady Mildred Aristide, who oversees the government's AIDS program, the testing centers are critical so that "Haitians-women in particular, who have been most vocal in wanting to know their HIV status-can become active agents of prevention, information and education-passing that onto to their children."

Clearly, these programs represent a progressive agenda, initiated under the most trying conditions. They give hope to the people of Haiti, as demonstrated by the massive popular support that continues to be manifested for the Aristide government. And they are the reason that the United States government has targeted the government of Haiti. The current U.S. destabilization campaign continues a centuries-long assault on the world's first black republic. As the people of Haiti prepare to commemorate the bicentennial of their independence, they deserve solidarity and support, not harassment.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

HaitiFlashback: The Theater of Coup Dramatis Personae: Who is Guy Philippe?

The Theater of Coup
Dramatis Personae: Who is Guy Philippe?

by Gibert Wesley Purdy

Thanks to for this article

Ever since a small rebel force appeared from across the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic and took the city of Gonaives, the members of the various American media have been asking the question "Who is Guy Philippe?" Philippe is presented as the leader of the rebels. As they have taken one town after another, and turned their attention toward Port Au Prince, the capitol city of Haiti, he has held press conferences, acting as the porte-parole (spokesperson) for the group. He has proved surprisingly deft at both aspects of his dual role.

Like so many adventurers on the Haitian political scene he has become known, to Haiti insiders, for a patchwork of activities - the most recent being the present coup. Like so many, his allegiances are unclear from one day to the next. Having begun in the ranks of the Haitian army (the FAD'H), his work has been mostly for the right-wing of the political spectrum. The FAD'H's raison d'être was to enforce the will of the tiny elite of wealthy Haitians who ruled the country.

To his credit, it does not appear that he was ever a member of the infamous Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). In an attempt to prevent any return to a popular government, after the first successful coup of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991, FRAPH was formed. During the presidency of Rauol Cedras, from 1991 to 1994, thousands were murdered by the organization. Sadly, the leadership of FRAPH had a particularly close relationship with U. S. Intelligence, which had infiltrated it, in its early stages, at the cost of facilitating the efforts of an organization it knew to be a right-wing death squad.

When the army was disbanded, upon the return of Aristide to office, in 1994, Philippe was made the chief-of-police of the Delmas section of Port-Au-Prince. It is unclear, by whose influence the appointment was accomplished. It is widely reported that he had been flown to Ecuador, after the first Aristide coup, in 1991, where he was trained by U. S. Intelligence Special Forces, and that U. S. officials recommended him for the position. During the period of time that he is alleged to have received the training, he met and married Nathalie Philippe, a United States citizen, in Ecuador.

He is alleged to have been brutal in his effort to police the Delmas slums. The claim does not come to much by itself. Haiti is a violent country. The good guys only tend to be less brutal than the bad. He was later made assistant-chief of Cap Hatien: a key port city in the north of the country.

It was late in the year 2000 that Guy Philippe embarked upon the path that would make him a well-known figure on the Haitian political scene. Haitian authorities discovered a group of ex-military officers in the midst of planning a coup. Many among the group were arrested. Among the members of the coup that managed to escape was the assistant chief of police Guy Philippe. He probably escaped over the border into the Dominican Republic where he has a brother and where the Haitian opposition group Democratic Convergence maintains a Dominican branch office.

Philippe was back in the news late the next year. On December 17th, 2001, shots were fired into the presidential palace of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Security forces fired back and the perpetrators scattered. Neither President Aristide nor his family were harmed.

One of the perpetrators, Pierre Richardson, an ex-sergeant in the Haitian army, was captured as he tried to escape by car into the Dominican Republic. Under interrogation, he named his co-conspirators in what he himself admitted had been an attempted coup. Among the names he mentioned was that of Philippe. Also implicated, by Richardson, were: Antoine Saati, a millionaire U. S. citizen of Haitian descent; Albert Dorelien, at whose house the conspirators had allegedly gathered before the incident, and whose brother, Carl, a particularly virulent ex-member of FRAPH, was in hiding in the United States; a number of recently fired Haitian police chiefs; the U. S. military attaché in Haiti, Major Douyon; and the U. S. Chargé d'Affaires, Leslie Alexander. Richardson, Saati and a Col. Guy Francois were imprisoned awaiting trial. Warrants were issued for the other alleged participants not associated with the U. S. Embassy.

Antoine "Tony" Saati owns a candy manufacturing business headquartered in Miami, Florida. The U. S. Embassy, in Haiti, replied to his sister, Gina's, frantic calls with assurances that they would quietly work to have him released. They advised her not to speak with the media. After three weeks without results, she went public saying that Saati had been beaten and given cleaning fluid to drink. He was innocent, she asserted, and sure to die soon if not released to the U. S. authorities. Saati was free and back in Miami in a matter of days but Gina's impatience meant the story had made the transition from Haitian French to American English.

What didn't make it into the American press was the fact that Antoine is the brother of George Saati, the co-founder of the extreme right-wing Haitian party Movement for National Unity , known by its acronym MOUN, which is closely allied with the Democratic Convergence and the Group of 184 . George Saati also owns the Haitian manufacturing concern Simi Global Corporation and is wealthy in his own right. Antoine explained his arrest as a vendetta instigated by one Eddy Deeb against whom his brother was then taking civil action in the Haitian courts. It turns out that getting to know Guy Philippe will properly involve cameo appearances by many such figures as Antoine and George Saati.

The Democratic Convergence , the Group of 184 , and MOUN, for all intents and purposes, make up the opposition to popular government in Haiti. Their respective leaders - Evans Paul, Andre Apaid and George Saati - are the leadership of the opposition, with Apaid, an American citizen of Haitian descent, clearly having gained precedence over the others. These are each umbrella organizations which claim the membership of scores of Haitian non-government organizations (NGOs).

While some of the organizations under their umbrellas legitimately exist most are little more than registered names under which the opposition in the country can do business. The lists of such organizations under these umbrellas are intended to impress the uninitiated with the upswell of opposition, while, in fact, all of them taken together represent only a tiny minority of the population: the wealthy elites and their paid retinues, members of the leadership of the disbanded army, some few legitimate groups disaffected from Aristides Fanmil Lavalas party. Perhaps more to the point, they serve as entities by which U. S. taxpayers' money can be funneled to the political machine of the wealthy elite of Haiti via the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute.

"The Opposition" as they have recently been called in the American press, is closely advised by the International Republican Institute, in the United States. The IRI is chaired by Senator John McKain and is largely managed by high-level neo-conservative Republicans, many actively serving in the Congress of the United States. It is a private think tank that receives its funding from the U. S. taxpayer via the National Endowment for Democracy. The de facto executive committee of "The Opposition" is the Haiti Democracy Project, also an American NGO largely managed by high-level neo-conservative Republicans

Albert Dorelien's brother, Carl, was living in Port St. Lucie, Florida, at the time of the December 17th coup attempt. Carl, a colonel in the Haitian military, had been a participant in the first coup against Aristide in 1991, and a member of the Haitian team that negotiated the agreement, with Jimmy Carter and General Colin Powell, during the Clinton Administration, to restore Aristide to the presidency. In between, he was a member of the senior leadership of FRAPH. In 1995 he was exiled, by Aristide, to Spain. Shortly thereafter, he was openly living the United States by virtue of a visa he claimed, in an interview with the Boston Globe, to have received, before departing Haiti, from a Lt. Col. Steven Lovasz of the U. S. Army.

In June of 1997, while living in Port St. Lucie, Carl Dorelien was convicted, in absentia, of crimes against humanity perpetrated under his FRAPH command. He was sentenced to life in prison at hard labor. On June 28, 1997, he held one of two winning tickets for the Florida Lottery drawing, at which time he began to receive installments of $159,000 per year for 20 years. Florida's Haitian community objected to a convicted violator of human rights in Haiti receiving the lottery prize. The Florida Lottery Commission replied that it was simply its job to disburse the money to the winners. The U. S. Government was silent on the matter.

Not long after the December 17 coup attempt, he was arrested for having overstayed his visa, and became an inmate at the Krome Detention Center, in Miami. On January 28, 2003, after an extended court process, during which he sent letters to John Ashcroft, and other key government officials, claiming, among other things, that he had done work for U. S. Intelligence, he was repatriated to Haiti, and incarcerated in the National Prison, in Port Au Prince. Dorelien had gone public, in an attempt to leverage his release from Krome, posting the letters and other "supporting documents" on an Internet site. The site has since been stripped, along with its cache pages.

The day after Guy Philippe's rebels released the "political prisoners" from the National Prison, American reporter Kevin Pina reported, to the Radio Pacifica program Flashpoints, that he had observed Carl Dorelien "eating a cheese and ham omelet [on the patio of] the Hotel Montana" in Port Au Prince.

As for Philippe himself, he arrived by commercial airline in Quito, Ecuador, on December 18th, after a stopover in Panama. At 2:40 p.m., on December 25, he and his wife arrived by commercial airline in Santo Domingo, capitol city of the Dominican Republic. He was immediately recognized and his presence reported to the authorities. In a highly unusual move, General Fernando Cruz Mendez, director of the Dominican Republic's National Investigative unit, chose to proceed to the airport to arrest Philippe personally. The prisoner mysteriously escaped immediately after being taken into custody by Mendez.

President Hipolito Mejias, of the Dominican Republic, declared that the country would be a laughing stock if it did not recover Philippe. A manhunt was launched. He was captured, again, on the 27th, "at the house of a friend," in the town of Bonao, about 40 miles north of the capitol. There being no extradition treaty between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he was allowed to remain at large until arrangements could be made to extradite him to Ecuador or Panama. In the end, he remained free inside the Dominican Republic, reportedly living in posh hotels and eating in the finest restaurants although he had no ascertainable means of support.

On January 12, 2002, President Aristide granted an interview to the Listin Diario, a Dominican newspaper. In it he confirmed a list of the persons then in the Dominican Republic that Haiti wished extradited for trial in the matter of the December 17 coup attempt. The list includes: Guy Philippe; Joseph Bagidi, an ex-police chief; Erar Abraham Goulos; George Saati, the brother of Antoine Saati; Guy Francois, now referred to as a Haitian businessman living in Santiago, Chile; and Paul Arcelen, the representative of the Democratic Convergence in the Dominican Republic.

Throughout 2002 there seems to have been little opportunity for adventurers of the armed sort and little is known about the activities of Philippe. The Opposition had created several new front groups to be self-appointed "official observers" of the 2000 election and had all too predictably discovered a range of irregularities. Through their American handlers they had managed to have their "findings" put before the Organization of American States (OAS). The matter was being hashed out during 2002 and a strategy being unfolded.

The Opposition had been assisted by their American handlers in assembling a media machine, as well. Talk radio hosts, newspapers and web-sites had emblazoned the news that "official observers" had declared the elections corrupt and would continue to repeat the story until the coup of February 2004. Members of the IRI and the HDP, and unaffiliated journalists simply too lazy to ascertain the truth of the matter, transferred the claims into the U. S. media as established fact. The Rush Limbaugh school of journalism was actively molding American public opinion in preparation for the time it would be called upon to welcome the ouster of the thug and tyrant Aristide.

The OAS sought to mediate - its point man being U.S. Assistant Secretary General, Luigi Einaudi - and adopted a resolution in which a Provisional Electoral Council was established, upon which both the massively popular government and the tiny combined opposition would serve. Both would have to sign-off in order for elections to proceed. From that point forward, The Opposition refused to sign-off on any election so long as Aristide remained president. At the time of the February 2004 coup, there were many elective offices vacant in the country. Aristide was blamed personally for the resulting failures of government services, for the failure to hold elections and for trying to rule as a dictator. The U.S. media dutifully reported the allegations without providing context.

On May 7, 2003, the hydro-power plant at Peligre, in Haiti's Central Plateau region, was attacked. Two power plant operators were killed and the plant set on fire. The city of Port Au Prince and much of the rest of the country lost power. The perpetrators escaped across the plateau and the Dominican border, wounding two police officers during the ensuing chase. The plateau had recently become a violent place. The attacks always ended in a race to the Dominican border.

As it turns out, the day before, on May 6, Guy Philippe and a group of Haitians, were arrested in the Dominican town of Dajabon, just over the border from the Central Plateau region. The group included: Paul Arcelin, the representative of the Democratic Convergence in the Dominican Republic; Bonivel Alcegard, a Port Au Prince banker; Presler Toussaint, an ex-inspecteur at the Haitian police academy; and Hans Jermain, an ex-member of the Haitian military. The group was reportedly arrested on suspicion of plotting against the Haitian government. They were reportedly held overnight, while the Peligre incident occurred, and were released the next morning for lack of evidence. Philippe told the press that they had merely met for an innocent reunion of old friends.

On May 9, 2003, an American missionary, James Glenn White, was arrested in Gonaives. According to the Haitian spokesman, Mario Dupuy, he was charged with receiving a shipment of assault rifles, grenade launchers, ammunition and other military equipment. According to White, he was arrested for receiving shipment of an AR-15 sport rifle, and a set of fatigues reading "God's Army," as a favor to a friend. According to everyone, the items arrived packaged inside a refrigerator. American Christians of every persuasion prayed for White's liberation from the horrifying conditions of the prison of that tyrant Aristide. White was fined $1000 and deported.

Throughout the summer, some 25 to 50 people would be killed in attacks in the Central Plateau region. On July 25, a delegation from the Haitian Interior Ministry attended a ceremony near the Dominican border. The delegation was ambushed as it left to return to Port Au Prince. Four were killed and one seriously wounded, according to the Associated Press. On July 31, Victor Beniot and Paul Denis, spokesman, and leaders, of the Democratic Convergence , announced that "All Convergence members and supporters must rally to overthrow the constitutional authorities."

In the months that followed, The Opposition organized protest marches in every corner of the country. The marches were designed to be a provocative as possible. Counter marchers and/or bystanders were taunted - often by acts of violence. When the police arrived to intervene, the Opposition media machine announced that Aristide had brutally put down demonstrations against his government. It was yet another indication that he had become a dictator. For all of its efforts, however, The Opposition still could not begin to approach Aristide's popularity with the electorate.

In early February, another demonstration was organized in Gonaives. It was quite small and led by a former FRAPH enforcer. A battle ensued. Blood was shed. On February 5, Guy Philippe arrived with a band of some 300 "patriots," armed with M-16s and grenade launchers, to restore the peace. By some reports, they arrived in light-armored personnel carriers and wearing spiffy new fatigues. Some wore body armor. After "liberating" Gonaives from that tyrant Aristide, they went on to "liberate" the north of the country.

President Aristide appealed to the U.S. government and the international community to come to the rescue of the constitutional government of Haiti. Aristide having, by all accounts, descended to a thug and a tyrant, the Bush administration could find no enthusiasm for dispatching military aid. They did, however, provide a flight out of the country and the hemisphere. Once Aristide was gone, U.S. troops were sent to keep the peace and to protect American interests. Philippe and his men proceeded to Port Au Prince where they spent several "free days" terrorizing and killing members and supporters of Aristides Fanmil Lavalas party and destroying their resources.
Gilbert Wesley Purdy's work in poetry, prose and translation, has appeared in many journals, paper and electronic, including: Jacket Magazine (Australia); Poetry International (San Diego State University); Grand Street; SLANT (University of Central Arkansas); Orbis (UK); XS; Eclectica; and The Danforth Review (Can.). His work in journalism has appeared in The Schenectady Gazette, The Source (Albany, N.Y.) and the Eye on Saratoga. Query to