Aristide’s Downfall a US Plan? (Updated)

Conventional Wisdom holds that Junior and his Admin were supremely uninterested in Haiti until Aristide’s position became so untenable that they were forced to act. I myself admit to subscribing to that theory; after all, Dubya is known far and wide “for his inablity to keep more than one foreign policy issue in his head at a time.” But Tim Dunlop at The Road to Surfdom dug out an article in The Black Commentator from last April that suggests the seeds of this “resignation” were sown a long time ago.

Last March Otto Reich, well-known neocon strategist and Junior’s so-called Envoy for Western Hemisphere Initiatives, arrived in Haiti the same day the bombs started dropping on Baghdad “with the intention of brokering an agreement between the Haitian government and the Washington-backed ‘opposition’ to Lavalas.” Reich’s–and the Bush Admin’s–dislike of Aristide and especially Lavalas is well-known in Haiti, primarily because the “opposition movement” was an invention of the US.

Let’s begin with the question of demonstrations and strikes calling for President Aristide’s resignation. What is often not reported is that the opposition to President Aristide consists mainly of the Democratic Convergence (CD) that grew out of a project of the United States Agency for International Development called Democracy Enhancement.


According to a source that worked in the administrative section of Democracy Enhancement, “What began as a program to encourage participation in the democratic process in Haiti was transformed into creating an opposition to Aristide and Lavalas. We could get the big shots together for a meeting but the program was never able to build a base of support from among the people. Most of the grassroots organizations were affiliated with Lavalas. They would show up sometimes to check it out but were largely disinterested.” If this statement is taken at face value one has to ask how has the opposition to Haiti suddenly burst onto the scene larger than life?

It’s a good question, and the answer is: Nothing about it was “sudden.”

Reich’s visit was especially ominous as it coincided with reports from the Haitian police that uniformed soldiers of Haiti’s abolished army had begun regular armed incursions into the Central Plateau region of the country from the Dominican Republic. A March 17, 2003 article in the Miami Herald reported, “In December, men wearing uniforms and carrying guns stopped a car with doctors and Washington-based filmmaker David Murdock. ‘If our driver had kept going through it, who knows if they would have opened fire,’ he said last week. He said he felt afraid for Haitians who have to travel that road regularly. Murdock said the men held him and others at gunpoint, lecturing them on how they would overthrow Aristide.” Several policemen in Haiti’s police force have recently referred to the current situation in the area as “the beginning of civil war in Haiti.”

(emphasis added)

IOW, Otto Reich, Lavalas’ sworn enemy, has been backing the rebels for more than a year in an effort to bring down an elected govt for no other reason than that it is both popular with the poor and unpopular with the rich and the rogue military. Reich, whose aversion to democratic govts in Latin America is legendary, was the man responsible for getting the IC, particularly the CIA, involved with building and arming the Contras in an effort to overthrow the Sandinistas, so he’s not without experience at this sort of thing. See if this description of Reich’s activities in the Reagan Administration reminds you of anything:

Is this the same Otto Reich who once used taxpayer dollars under the Reagan administration, from within his shadowy Office of Public Diplomacy, to cajole the U.S. press into supporting the Contra war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua? According to The National Security Archive, a staff report by the House Foreign Affairs Committee (September 7, 1988) summarized various investigations of Mr. Reich’s office and concluded that “senior CIA officials with backgrounds in covert operations, as well as military intelligence and psychological operations specialists from the Department of Defense, were deeply involved in establishing and participating in a domestic political and propaganda operation run through an obscure bureau in the Department of State which reported directly to the National Security Council rather than through the normal State Department channels…. These private individuals and organizations raised and spent funds for the purpose of influencing Congressional votes and U.S. domestic news media.”

Sort of sounds like Doug Feith’s Office of Special Plans, doesn’t it? And there is evidence to suggest Reich was up to his old tricks. Media reports of anti-Aristide demonstrations were consistently and ridiculously bloated in the US press (one demonstration of less than 2000 people was first reported to have been a “massive” demonstration of 60,000) while reports of pro-Aristide demonstrations were either ignored or severely minimized (in November of 2002, the 30,000 people who demonstrated to support Aristide–estimated by photographs taken at a distance by an independent journalist–were downgraded in the US reports to less than 2000, the largest number ever used by US news outlets). In January, 2003, the AP was reporting that “Since mid-November, tens of thousands of Haitians have marched in anti-government demonstrations, demanding that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resign for failing to solve the impoverished country’s problems”, when in fact there had been no such demonstrations, and only the autocratic military units and the rich who supported them were demanding his resignation. By February 7, 2003, the AP was already reporting that all hope for Aristide and Lavalas was dead.

In a piece that focused on comparing the last days of the Duvalier dictatorship to Aristide’s presidency they reported, “Haitians have lost faith in Aristide, the former slum priest whose fiery rhetoric fueled the uprising that toppled Duvalier in 1986.” If that is true then how do you explain the massive rally [of support] in front of the presidential palace only four months earlier?

According to the Commentator, the reports of violence on the part of Aristide supporters were also either non-existent press fantasies or blown out of all proportion to the real events. So what was Reich up to? Some members of the Lavalas party gave the Commentator a few ideas–and remember, this was April of last year:

A few select members of the Lavalas party recently described for me what they view as the first phase of Washington’s scheme for Haiti. They defined its three major concurrent objectives as: 1) to create an opposition force capable of seizing power, 2) demonize Aristide and Lavalas within and without Haiti and, 3) separate the base of Lavalas from the leadership. While some in Lavalas argue that the first two objectives have had some limited success everyone insisted that the third objective has been a miserable failure. They argue the majority of the poor in Haiti still continue to support Aristide and Lavalas despite the inventions, inaccuracies and biases of the U.S. media against them. The inability of U.S. strategy to break the base of their movement has led many in Lavalas to begin to openly speculate that the ongoing attacks in the Central Plateau represent the second phase of the plan.

Haiti’s “opposition” is the Contras all over again, a simulated, artificial opposition invented and built by right-wing interests in the BA who obviously prefer friendly un-democratic govts to democratic ones hostile to the corporate interests the BA represents. It would seem we have been hoodwinked again. So what else is new?

Update: Nirit Ben-Ari and Bill Weinberg are making much the same charge in an article on AlterNet:

The last elections took place in November 2000. Aristide won his second non-consecutive term – amid allegations of irregularities by the US and the opposition. Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official backed by the White House, won only 14 percent of the votes. To the dismay of Washington, Aristide was president again.

The US and international donors blocked financial aid, alleging the elections were “flawed.” Aristide, in need of funds to implement his social plans for the country, was immobilized. Only in July 2003, the Inter-American Development Bank resumed loan programs.

At the same time, the arming and funding of Aristide’s opposition – including the same paramilitary leaders who were at the forefront of the campaign of terror during the 1991-94 military junta – continued. Ira Kurzban, general counsel to the Haitian government, told Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now Feb. 25 that the US government was directly involved in a new military coup attempt against Aristide – and that the rebels fighting to overthrow his government are being backed by Washington.

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