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Coup Against Aristide

U.S. Occupies Haiti

by Cherrene Horazuk |
March 1, 2004
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Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide was forcibly removed from office by U.S. military personnel Feb. 29 and flown to the Central African Republic. U.S. troops, with assistance from France, now occupy the country. Supporters of President Aristide are hunted, murdered and jailed.

Aristide states that U.S. envoys forced him to sign a 'resignation' letter, under the threat of bloodshed against the people of Haiti. Guy Philippe and other death squad members, convicted felons and murderers, have declared themselves to be Haiti's new government. No one should be confused about the nature of these 'rebels.' Their roots can be found in the Duvalierist regimes that terrorized Haiti from 1957 until 1986 and the CIA-tied military government that ruled in the early 1990s.

The blame for Haiti's current crisis must be placed squarely on the U.S. government, which has attempted to control Haiti's politics and economy for more than a century. The U.S. occupied Haiti militarily from 1915 to 1934 and supported the Duvalier dictatorships for decades. With the full backing of the U.S. government, Haiti's elite lined their pockets, while the majority sank deeper and deeper into poverty.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has a standard of living comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. Life expectancy is 52 years. Of every 1,000 children born, more than 100 died before their fifth birthday. Haiti has the worst AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean.

Rise of Aristide: Coup and Return

The Haitian people, desperately looking for something or someone to bring them out of the grinding poverty, found hope and inspiration in Jean Bertrand Aristide. A parish priest influenced by liberation theology, Aristide worked with the poorest of the poor. Loved by the Haitian people, he was elected president by a landslide in 1990. For the first time in recent history, Haitians believed that the government would represent them and that it would work to resolve the needs of the poor majority.

Aristide's call for populist economic programs set off alarms for the richest Haitians and in Washington D.C. Leading the charge against Aristide was Senator Jesse Helms, then the chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee; Roger Noriega, Helm's chief of staff and Otto Reich, a fanatically anti-Castro policy maker in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Aristide's populist experiment in Haiti was not to be allowed by Washington. Guy Philippe and other members of FRAPH, a U.S.-backed death-squad, carried out a coup that killed between 3,000 and 5,000 Haitians just months after Aristide's election.

Aristide went into exile and worked to negotiate a return to power. In exchange for the U.S. government 'backing' Aristide's return in 1994, he was forced to agree to the presence of 20,000 U.S. troops in Haiti. Aristide was also mandated to implement a World Bank economic plan for Haiti that would privatize state industries, lower tariff barriers, dismantle the traditional agricultural sector and destroy food security. The World Bank and the U.S. forced Aristide to reverse all of the populist economic programs he had promised the people.

In spite of the growing discontent over the economic policies, Aristide continued to be wildly popular. In 2000, Aristide again ran for president and again won overwhelmingly. The U.S.-backed opposition refused to take their seats in parliament, though, claiming that the election was unfair.

Bush's War on Caribbean and Latin America

When George Bush came to power, he appointed Roger Noriega, mastermind of Jesse Helms' anti-Aristide policies, to the post of Under Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Citing the 'undemocratic' Haitian elections, the Bush government immediately cut off international funds promised to Haiti, forced Aristide to empty the national treasury to repay International Monetary Fund loans and (via the Republican party) poured money into the coffers of the opposition forces who had been ousted by Aristide in 1991 and in 1994. The country plunged into even greater levels of poverty and social crisis. Taking advantage of the discontent, a small group of right-wing 'rebels,' aided by the U.S., invaded from the Dominican Republic and demanded that Aristide step down. When he refused, the U.S. military stepped in.

The U.S. government's role in the coup in Haiti is yet another example of the return to the gunboat diplomacy that the U.S. is so well known for throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. George W. Bush has brought back the zealous right-wing policy makers of the old Reagan-Bush era. Otto Reich, Roger Noriega and their cronies see Latin America and the Caribbean as nothing more than the U.S.'s backyard - a source of cheap labor and environments ready for U.S. corporate exploitation. They will stop at nothing to ensure imperialist domination.

However, they have underestimated the ability of the people of Latin America to resist. A similar coup attempt in 2002 against Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela, was unsuccessful due to the powerful resistance of the Venezuelan people.

The people of Latin America and the Caribbean will not kneel down to U.S. aggression. The Haitian people in particular have a proud history of resisting imperialism. Two hundred years ago, under the leadership of Toussaint, the Haitian people rebelled against French rule, destroyed slavery and established the world's first Black republic. In 1986, they brought down the dictatorship of the U.S.-backed 'Baby Doc' Duvalier. There is no doubt that they will continue to fight for a free Haiti, where the country's destiny is in the hands of the Haitian people.

Cherrene Horazuk is an expert in on Latin America and the former National Director of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES).