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 COUP: MADE IN THE U.S.A.
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.
THE ABDUCTION OF PRESIDENT ARISTIDE
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.
END THE OCCUPATION! STOP THE REPRESSION!
RETURN PRESIDENT ARISTIDE TO HAITI!
Haiti Action Committee, April 2004
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Photos: ©2004 Haiti Information Project
PDF file of this insert
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.
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
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.
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.
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.