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Time to Take Action on Haiti

Dan Beeton
Date Published: 
August 01, 2005
    As the US becomes increasingly bogged down in the quagmire of occupying Iraq, there is another country that continues to suffer occupation in the wake of Bush administration-imposed regime change: Haiti. But the US has outsourced this occupation to a truly international operation: United Nations forces, who sometimes provide backup for homegrown Haitian gunmen whose mission is to prevent the restless masses from rising up and reclaiming their country’s democracy and self determination.

While Haiti briefly captured the world’s attention during the 2004 coup d’etat, the world’s first Black republic has since been largely overlooked. Even the recent prolonged hunger strike by the legitimate Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, to protest his illegal detention has received little attention. And while the spotlight has turned instead to stories like Terry Schiavo and the Michael Jackson trial, the new regime in Haiti has literally been getting away with murder, with the US as a willing accomplice.

While the media willingly ignored Haiti, the U.S. began quietly shipping thousands of new arms to Haiti’s regime, despite a 13-year arms embargo, in order to better equip the police and former soldiers. The US has done this despite considerable evidence of the daily terror these police and former soldiers – who are sometimes one and the same – inflict on Aristide supporters and young men in the slums around Port-au-Prince (see “Year 201: Imperialists Bring Horror to Haiti,” May/June issue, Left Turn). So common and frequent are these politically motivated killings and assaults that human rights investigators were able to compile a litany of abuses – documented by graphic photographs – in a two-week trip in November. The US cannot feign ignorance of these routine attacks on slums like Cite Soleil, or the numerous killings of protestors demanding Aristide’s return and a return to constitutional democracy.

The regime that Washington installed has rolled back significant reforms carried out by Aristide. The pretender to the throne, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, reincorporated former soldiers into the police forces. This maneuver undermined one of Aristide’s great achievements: the dissolution of the army, the state apparatus that had long been used to oppress the people. And in May the new Supreme Court overturned the convictions of 15 men for their role in one of the previous coup period’s most notorious massacres, when in April 1994, paramilitaries surrounded Raboteau – a shantytown near Gonaives – killed over 20 people, assaulted others, and burnt down homes. The regime is sending a message to the Haitian people and to those who terrorize them: crimes committed in the service of the state will be carried out with impunity.

Yvon Neptune

A clear example of the workings of the new Haitian justice system is the case of Yvon Neptune. For the first ten months of his imprisonment, Neptune was held without having been brought before a judge – despite that Haitian law requires this within 48 hours of arrest. Instead, the regime held Neptune under the pretext that he “orchestrated” a massacre of anti-Aristide protestors – never mind that investigators have found no evidence that the supposed massacre ever occurred. Contributing to Neptune’s apparent innocence is the fact that he turned himself in when he heard a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

During most of his imprisonment, Neptune has been held in a filthy concrete cell without running water or electricity and has survived attempts on his life. Yet it was only after a month-long hunger strike – and a few editorials and articles in newspapers – that the regime finally relented and charged him.

It is hard to imagine another country where the Prime Minister of a legitimately elected government could be subjected to such treatment without international outcry. Yet in Neptune’s case, there has been scant media attention and little concern. Even worse, the case is in some ways typical. There are around 1,000 Fanmi Lavalas members, Aristide supporters, and other politically suspect individuals languishing indefinitely in filthy prison cells. In many cases the cells are so overcrowded that the prisoners cannot even lie down.

It is worth noting that Haiti’s Minister of Justice, Bernard Gousse, used to work for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems – a US-based entity that was deeply involved in orchestrating the political opposition to Aristide – and before that, for the US Agency for International Development. The National Democratic Institute – one of the core grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy – is currently “advising” the justice ministry, according to ministry officials.

As of this writing, the US appears to be considering sending troops to Haiti to “ensure security” for this fall’s scheduled elections. The extent to which a more direct role in this occupation could affect the people of Haiti is unclear. But what is certain is that the current situation – with the ongoing political repression and persecution, and the impunity with which the authorities are able to carry out grievous abuses – is a situation in which free and fair elections are impossible. Until the people of Haiti are guaranteed their political rights and Fanmi Lavalas is free to participate in the electoral process, the election plans must be opposed. Otherwise, Haiti could be on track to legitimize an illegal regime with only a fraction of the population voting. Without serious challenges to this process, the international community would be able to present the new regime with a stamp of approval.

International solidarity

Meanwhile, where is the international solidarity for Haiti? Where is the attention it deserves? The ongoing situation is largely ignored by major human rights organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The US Congress is – not surprisingly – generally unconcerned, if not outright supportive of the Latortue regime. Even the Congressional Black Caucus has failed to take strong leadership on the issues and use the situation in post-coup Haiti to embarrass the Bush Administration, demonstrate the obvious racism and hypocrisy, and in the process, exert pressure for the restoration of constitutional democracy in Haiti.

Yvon Neptune has demonstrated with his hunger strike that a little pressure on Haiti will go a long way. What Haiti needs then, is solidarity. Eleven years ago, during the first coup against Aristide, it was an international movement demanding his return that eventually forced the US to allow him back – albeit with conditions. A similar movement today would force drastic changes in Haiti. The US has its hands full in Iraq and can’t afford to invest significant political capital or resources in Haiti, and the UN mission there is already showing signs it is beginning to crack. The antiwar and global justice movements must take up Haiti’s banner (don’t forget that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank also played a major role in preparing for the coup d’etat). There are several organizations doing important work on Haiti, such as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti ( and the TransAfrica Forum (, but they need support.

The 200-year history of U.S.-Haiti relations demands action from us in the US today. On the US side it is a history mostly of racism, bigotry, occupation, isolation, exploitation, and subjugation. On Haiti’s side it is a history of resistance, rebellion, and emancipation. We must decide which side we want to be on – and act accordingly.


—Dan Beeton is a global justice and antiwar activist based in the Washington, DC-area. He formerly worked as a consultant with Haiti Reborn and continues to engage in Haiti solidarity work.