This era in Haiti’s history will only be introduced in the OP and then continued in a series of replies I will make in this thread.
Behind the Scenes: Dirty Dealings
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) cultivated a relationship with key members of Haiti’s military, primarily by making payments in exchange for intelligence. This relationship was disclosed in the New York Timespiece (Weiner 1993a), that contained a defense of the CIA by House Representative Robert G. Torricelli (D-NY) as a necessary method of obtaining information on Haiti’s internal politics.
NYT quoting Torricelli posted:
“The US Government develops relationships with ambitious and bright young men at the beginning of their careers and often follows them through their public service,” he said. “It should not surprise anyone that these include people in sensitive positions in the current situation in Haiti.”
William Blum posted:
This argument, which has often been used to defend CIA bribery, ignores the simple reality […] that payments bring more than information, they bring influence and control; and when one looks at the anti-democratic and cruelty levels of the Haitian military during its period of being bribees, one has to wonder what the CIA’s influence was.
The NYT also disclosed that the CIA in Haiti founded an organization staffed with officers from the Haitian army known as the National Intelligence Service (with the appropriate French acronym SIN) in 1986. While originally founded with the stated purpose of fighting the drug trade, the agency’s members would later be implicated in drug trafficking as well as acts of political terror against Aristide supporters. SIN received anywhere from half a million to a million dollars a year from the CIA. One American Embassy official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described it as a “a military organization that distributed drugs […] It never produced drug intelligence. The agency gave them money under counternarcotics and they used their training to do other things in the political arena.” The agency was also accused by an Aristide administration official in exile of accomplishing “nothing but political repression.” While in office Aristide attempted to have the agency shut down. He was then rebuffed by the CIA, who assured him that the agency would be reformed (Weiner 1993b).
The First Coup
Noam Chomsky, 8 November 2002 posted:
I was there [in Haiti] at the time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such terror; the people were really terrified.
The night of 29 September 2001, a crowd gathered around Aristide’s house. A mutiny that broke out among the army and Port-au-Prince police force that night turned into an all out putsch by the next morning. The military captured the National Palace and arrested Aristide along with most of his administrative officials. This time around, the army was prepared to engage in massive repression in order to enforce its will. Many of the soldiers had been paid up to $5,000 each from prominent Haitian oligarchs to take part in the coup.When they opened fire on the inevitable demonstrations, they did not stop. According to an unnamed monitor of US intelligence operations, the soldiers “ran out of ammunition so fast that it seems the US had to resupply them with night-time helicopter flights from Guantanamo” (quoted in: Hallward 2007, 40). By most conservative estimates, some 300 Haitians were killed in the first night, with the Washington Post reporting 250 dead in Cité Soleil alone.
Brig. Gen. Raul Cédras, having been the provisional Commander-in-Chief of the army since July 3, became the figurehead for the coup government.
NYT quoting Cédras posted:
The armed forces of Haiti insist on reaffirming that it is an apolitical institution at the service of the Haitian people. It will respect constitutional order, guarantee democratic liberty and will not condone any act of pillage and even less so the flaming tire necklace execution.
A report released on 21 October by the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations counted at least 1,000 dead in the first few weeks of the coup. In addition to sacking the homes and offices of Aristide’s cabinet officials and prominent supporters, the coup regime also targeted radio stations that were sympathetic to Aristide. In Mark Danner’s words: “by shutting down the radio stations, they had cut off Aristide’s most potent weapon—his voice.” The US Department of Justice summarized the depth of the political repression when it accused the junta of terrorizing “not only those who work to return Aristide to power but also anyone engaging in even the most basic kinds of political activity, such as mobilizing public opinion or bringing people together in any kind of grass roots organization” (1993, 17).
The coup government sought to create a thin veneer of civilian rule by swearing in Jean-Jacques Honorat, a Duvalierist and bitter Aristide opponent, as prime minister. Interestingly, Honorat was at the time the head of one of many “human rights” organizations that received funds from the National Endowment for Democracy, a private nonprofit that in turn got most of its funding from the US government (Haiti Information Bureau 1994, 208). In the summer of 1992, Honorat would be replaced by none other than Marc Bazin, the ex-World Bank official whose failed 1990 campaign for president was heavily financed by the US government.
In total, around 300,000 Haitians were either displaced or went into internal hiding. Some 60,000 fled the country in makeshift boats only to be captured by the US Coast Guard and either turned back or interned at a de facto concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay. Another 25,000 were believed to have crossed the border into the Dominican Republic. The coup government would achieve a death toll of 4,000 to 5,000 during the three years it held power.
US Reaction: Official and Unofficial
By sending a mission from this body to Haiti, led by the Secretary General, we will send an important message to those who have taken power in Haiti and to the Haitian people: This junta is illegitimate. It has no standing in the democratic community. Until President Aristide’s government is restored, this junta will be treated as a pariah throughout this hemisphere—without assistance, without friends, and without a future.
The coup was vocally condemned by the UN General Assembly, the OAS, the US, and France, among many others in the international community. It is worth noting that the only reason Aristide’s life was saved was due to the intervention of the French ambassador. The OAS voted to implement economic sanctions on 7 October and the US signed into law a commercial embargo on 5 November. Despite these outward signs of support for Aristide’s legitimacy, the Bush administration seemed somewhat wary of the ousted Haitian leader. The administration showed clear signs of distancing itself from Aristide not long after James Baker’s unequivocal call for his reinstatement. More than anything, there were concerns that Aristide relied too much on “mob rule” and intimidation during the course of his rule.
The intelligence community, of course, went beyond the White House’s seemingly mixed-feelings towards Aristide. John Kambourian, the CIA station-chief in Haiti, admitted to the Los Angeles Times soon after the coup began that he hoped that the regime would last at least as long as Aristide’s term in office. During the summer of 1992, the CIA sent its National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, Brian Latell, to Haiti to report on the situation. As the CIA’s senior analyst of Latin American affairs, Latell likely was considered a reliable source for many in both the administration and Congress. In a memo later disclosed by the Miami Herald, he gave his “Impressions of Haiti”:
Brian Latell, 21 July 1992 posted:
I do not wish to minimize the role the military plays in intimidating, and occasionally terrorizing real and suspected opponents, but my experiences confirm the community’s view that there is not systematic or frequent lethal violence aimed at civilians (quoted in: Canham-Clyne 1994, 111).
This perception was widely contradicted not only by the human rights community but by the US State Department’s own human rights report, which documented “frequent human rights abuses” against Haitians during 1992 by the coup government (Blum 2003). Latell continued his memo by singing his praises for then prime minister Marc Bazin and coup leader Raoul Cédras:
Brian Latell, 21 July 1992 posted:
These meetings reinforced my view that Bazin and his [civilian] supporters are perhaps the most promising group of Haitian leaders since the Duvalier family dictatorship was deposed in 1986. […] Gen. Cédras impressed me as a conscientious military leader who genuinely wishes to minimize his role in politics, professionalize the armed services and develop a separate and competent civilian police force. I believe he is relatively moderate and uncorrupt (quoted in: Canham-Clyne 1994, 112).
On 4 February 1992, the Bush administration gave a further indication of its priorities when it announced plans to “fine-tune” the embargo by allowing US manufacturing firms to resume assembly operations in Haiti. On 24 May, President Bush signed an executive order known as the “Kennebunkport Order” that gave the US Coast Guard the authority to forcibly return all Haitian refugees interdicted on makeshift boats escaping the country without first processing their asylum claims. The order was quickly condemned by human rights groups and Bush stood accused of violating a UN convention on refugees that the US was a signatory to. Then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton condemned the order as “another sad example of the administration’s callous response to a terrible human tragedy.” He then made the assertion that he would grant temporary asylum to all credible political refugees if he were elected president. This position would be quickly reverseddays before Clinton’s first day in office amidst (unfounded) fears of a massive exodus of Haitian boat-people seeking asylum in the US.
NYT quoting Clinton posted:
“The practice of returning those who flee Haiti by boat will continue, for the time being, after I become President,” Mr. Clinton said in the broadcast. “Those who leave Haiti by boat for the United States will be intercepted and returned to Haiti by the US Coast Guard. Leaving by boat is not the route to freedom.”
Throughout the crisis, a number of diplomatic processes were initiated in which Aristide and his close associates (now living in exile in the US) and representatives from the coup regime were brought together by the international community in order to attempt a compromise. The results were predictable and disheartening. Little common ground could be found between the two parties and what agreements could be made were later reneged upon by the junta.
The first such attempt was made from 21 to 23 November 1991.Two groups, one with Aristide and his advisers and another with members from both houses of Haitian parliament, met in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia to discuss the terms on which constitutional government could be returned to Haiti. While both parties agreed with the vague notion that constitutionality should eventually be returned to the country, the parliamentarians would not even agree to put Aristide’s name in the final communiqué. A UN special rapporteur later reported that the meeting “produced no positive practical results, even though it had the merit of bringing at least two of the parties to the conflict together at the same table for the first time since the coup d’état” (Bruni Celli 1993, 26).
To Be Continued: Hopefully by next week I will have a post together going into greater detail on the repression of Haiti’s popular movements and the deft diplomacy on the part of Aristide’s team that eventually lead to his government being restored.
Blum, William. 2003. “Haiti, 1986-1994: Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” in Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press.
Bruni Celli, Marco Tulio. 1992. Report on the situation of human rights in Haiti (E/CN.4/1992/50). UN Commission on Human Rights, 31 January.
Canham-Clyne, John. 1994. “Selling out Democracy.” In The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis, ed. James Ridgeway. Washington, DC: Essential Information Books,
Haitian Information Bureau. 1994. “Events in Haiti, October 15, 1990-May 11, 1994.” In The Haiti Files: Decoding the Crisis, ed. James Ridgeway. Washington, DC: Essential Information Books, 205-240.
Hallward, Peter. 2007. Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment. New York: Verso.
US Department of Justice. 1993. Profile Series: Haiti. Washington, DC: INS Resource Information Center.
Weiner, Tim. 1993a. “Key Haiti leaders said to have been in the C.I.A.’s pay.” New York Times 1 November.
Weiner, Tim. 1993b. “C.I.A. formed Haitian unit later tied to narcotics trade.” New York Times 14 November.