This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday May 26 2013
Aristide was elected by a landslide in November 2000. Many said he had become a corrupt tyrant against whom even the poor had turned. Nevertheless, Gallup polls in 2002, the results of which were never disseminated, showed that, whatever his faults, he was far and away Haiti’s most popular and trusted politician.
The protégés of white supremacist Jesse Helms had more say in Aristide’s fate than the Haitian electorate. The Bush administration sent Roger Noriega to Haiti to ‘work out’ the crisis. Noriega worked for Helms and his allies and US Haiti policy was determined by a small number of people who were prominent in Reagan’s or Bush pére’s cabinets. Reagan’s UN ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick was on the board of the International Republican Institute which actively supported the Opposition in Haiti and backed the demobilized army personnel who provided the opposition’s muscle. Many of Reagan and the elder Bush’s henchman returned to government under Bush fils after spending time in conservative think tanks or lobbying firms. Elliot Abrams, convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra hearings was on the NSC and even today is offering Obama advice in the pages of Foreign Policy magazine.
Although US officials stated initially that Aristide had been “taken to the country of his choice”, Aristide’s claim that he had no idea where he was going seems more plausible.
Aid as a weapon
Haiti’s government, which serves eight million people, has an annual budget of about $300 million. The US froze international aid on specious grounds of electoral fraud. Paul Farmer reported that The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) had approved four loans, for health, education, drinking water and road improvement. Haitian and American sources have confirmed to him that the US asked the bank to block the loans until the electoral disputes had been worked out.
The freeze continued throughout Aristide’s tenure even after the dispute was resolved. The US gave Haiti, per capita, one tenth of what it distributed in Kosovo. A great deal of it went to the anti-Aristide opposition. A lot also went to pay for the UN occupation and Halliburton support services. International financial institutions engaged in discriminatory and probably illegal practices towards Haiti.
Many of Aristide’s supporters in Haiti and abroad, angrily contend that the international community, particularly the United States, abandoned the fledgling democracy when it needed aid the most. Many believe that Aristide himself was the target of the de facto economic sanctions, just as Haiti was beginning to put its finances back in order.
Amy Wilentz recounts an anecdote which epitomizes the foreign aid relationship. Joyce and Eldon were Baptist missionaries who wanted the CARE Food-for- Work program to make converts for the Lord. The peasants did not like building a new pigsty for Joyce and Eldon for a meal a day rather than cash. With cash they could store food at home for their families. Food-for-Work felt like slavery.
The Haitian government was forced to pay ever-expanding arrears on its debts. About 40% of Haiti’s $1.134 billion international debt was from loans to the Duvalier dictators. In July 2003, Haiti sent more than 90% of all its foreign reserves to Washington to pay off these arrears.
By the end of the 19th century, payments to France consumed around 80% of Haiti’s budget. Aristide declared that France “extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, healthcare, water systems and roads.” He added in interest and adjusted for inflation, to calculate that France owes Haiti $21,685,135,571.48
Régis Debray, left-wing hero of the 1960s and associate of Che Guevara, was sent to Haiti by Chirac in search of arguments to undermine Aristide’s position. Debray concluded that Aristide’s demands had no “legal basis” and claimed that no members of the democratic opposition to Aristide took the reimbursement claims seriously. Debray neglected to mention that the Haitian electorate preferred Aristide to this opposition by a factor of nine or ten to one.
In his book The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster, Jonathan Katz describes the role of the international community after the Haitian earthquake of 2010. Aid groups warned potential donors, “Do Not Give To The Haitian Government: Haiti is known to be a corrupt country.” Reviewing the book in the Columbia Journalism Review Justin Peters wrote: “It wouldn’t surprise me if some observers secretly believed the Préval regime had engineered the earthquake in order to steal billions from the international community.”
The “action plan,” demanded strict oversight of their donations, and wealthy investors intent on making the new Haiti a business-friendly place. Small donations were mishandled by NGOs, as big donations never materialized. Katz estimates that of the $2.43 billion spent on ostensible humanitarian relief by the end of 2010, a mere seven percent actually made its way to Haiti. The donors had their own ideas of how to “build back better,” epitomized by the words of Brad Horwitz, an American whose company owned one of Haiti’s largest cell-phone networks: “We need Haiti open for business.” “Open for business” very specifically referred to the production of cheap garments. In Haiti, the plan was to make it a sweatshop economy where the government is largely absent.
Haiti enjoyed a successful slave revolt in 1804. Today is enslaved to the global market.