Sep 30, 1993
Jean Bertrand Aristide was elected president of Haiti on December 16, 1990, with 65 per cent of the vote – far ahead of the other candidates. Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official, who came in second, was supported by a powerful electoral apparatus and the U.S. government. Yet, he managed to win only 14.2 per cent of the vote. Aristide's result reflected the poor classes' veritable infatuation for this young opposition priest, who, with his simple, populist language, had built up a reputation for radical hostility to the Ton Ton Macoutes and the successive military regimes. Less than one year later, on September 29, 1991, Aristide was overthrown by a military coup. The coup was led by Raoul Cedras, the same man Aristide appointed to head the army. During the 10 months Aristide occupied the president's chair, he had preached "the marriage of the army and the peoples" to the Haitian masses, who continued to distrust the army.
Savage repression in the poorer neighborhoods followed the coup and continued at a lesser level for months and, in fact, continues up until today.
Aristide was allowed to leave Haiti. His supporters, the Lavalasseans, have since that time worked for his return to Haiti. Their name, which comes from the Haitian Creole word meaning "a big storm", describes the power of the movement which shook Haiti.
This is the background to the accord that was signed by Aristide and Cedras at the beginning of July on Governor's Island, New York City.
The following article deals with that agreement. It was written by militants of the Organisation des Travailleurs Révolutionaires (the Revolutionary Workers Organization), a Haitian Trotskyist group.
The general staff of the army, represented by Cedras, the leader of the coup, accepted Aristide's return. The date of his return, theoretically October 30, was set by Dante Caputo, the United Nations (U.N.) and Organization of American States (OAS) envoy. The general staff agreed to make this concession under international, or more exactly, U.S. pressure.
It was the only concession they made. Aristide gave in on everything else. The American press reported that up until the last moment Aristide hesitated to sign the accord, given the succession of indignities which were heaped on him. To save his honor, Aristide refused to meet Cedras personally. But upon his return, Aristide will not only have to meet, but regularly work with Cedras or other members of the general staff who were just as responsible as Cedras for the September 30 coup. The Lavalasseans, Aristide's followers, claim that Aristide is supposed to name a new military chief of staff. What a claim! – given that Cedras, before he led the September 30, 1991 coup, had been appointed as military chief of staff by Aristide himself. Moreover, when Aristide selects his new chief of staff, he can do it only from the high command, which includes only the four highest ranking generals, Biambi, Duperval, Max Mayard and Cedras himself, all of whom were equally responsible for the establishment of the military dictatorship.
Even before the negotiations began on Governor's Island, Aristide had given in to the military on the most important issue, agreeing to an amnesty for the entire army, despite the coup d'etat. He held out for expelling Cedras from the army and even the country. But he had already agreed to absolve the civilian and military officials for September 30. Cedras did not carry out the coup alone. He and Colonel Francois were not the only ones responsible for the massacre of the 3000 victims of repression. And, at the last moment, Aristide agreed that Cedras would not be forced to resign from his duties, but instead would "consider retirement."
The army, therefore, refused to offer even one scapegoat from its ranks. On the contrary, its leaders proudly asserted that they had been right to carry out the coup. They even utilized Cedras's cynical expression, that is, that the coup was a mere "democratic correction" of the Aristide regime. In signing the Governor's Island Accords, not only did Aristide absolve the army for its past coups. He also implicitly gave it the right to carry out future "democratic corrections" to regulate the functioning of the political system.
After October 30, the same army will be in place, with the same general staff, with the same hierarchy, with the same mad dogs. They will be in a position to overthrow Aristide on the day and hour that they decide. And they will have the tacit blank check which Aristide himself gave them.
The threat of a new military coup will serve as a justification, including for the Lavalassean leaders, to oppose all demands, even to disavow demonstrations supporting Aristide. "No provocations" in order not to provoke the coup leaders – this is how they will explain why the oppositionists must shut up. Without even intervening, the army general staff will permanently weigh on political life. This will not stop Aristide from discrediting himself anyway.
And Aristide has not even returned yet. He is forbidden to set foot on Haitian soil for four more months.
Today, they claim to recognize him as chief of state. He will be the one, officially, to name the new prime minister, who undoubtedly has already been chosen for him by the Americans. The prime minister, moreover, must still be accepted by the Parliament.
There is something surreal about this theoretical power called the Parliament and the Senate which is made up of nothing but a collection of doormats on which the whole military wipe their feet. However, these ridiculous people, trembling, who take themselves so seriously, do have a function. In pretending to increase the role of the Parliament, they diminish the role of the President of the Republic.
Look at how easily the army dismissed Aristide two years ago, despite the authority he then derived from having been elected president with the greatest support in the history of Haiti, and despite the fact, or so they accused him, of concentrating power in his hands, notably at the expense of the Parliament. This time around, even in official terms, he will have a diminished role. The prime minister will govern, and the Parliament will control the prime minister. Of course, the army, under the tutelage of the United States, will oversee everyone. And Aristide will no longer be the "elected" president, but the "rehabilitated" president, brought back thanks to the United States, as conservative publications like Haiti Observer remind us.
Of course, Aristide is once again president. His signature will still be needed on official acts. He was even given permission to express himself on the national airwaves. Being cautious, careful not to anger the army or the Macoutes, Aristide made his first declaration after the signing of the Governor's Island agreement on an American radio station. But the national stations agreed to replay his speech. He was not in the least aggressive toward the coup leaders. Instead he addressed the army, saying that he returns "to the people in the military the responsibility for guaranteeing everyone's security." It was a call that was well understood. On the very same evening as this call, in the name of maintaining order, the military attacked Lavalassean militants and sympathizers who were carrying out a demonstration and carrying pictures of Aristide. The president-priest had called on these "young Lavalasseans to seek reconciliation."
The recent accelerated pace of negotiations for Aristide's return was clearly the result of growing pressure from the United States. But many of the poor feel that it was also their victory.
There is some validity to this feeling of the poor masses. In Haiti, and more generally in this explosive region of the Caribbean and Central America, U.S. imperialism fears, in a basic way, the poor masses and their revolts. This is why American imperialism finds it so useful to be able to resort to someone like Aristide (or Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic). But only as a last resort. If the Americans have now sped up the process of returning Aristide, it is precisely because the poor masses have finally been demobilized. While Aristide's return will be viewed as a victory – in a passive fashion – his return is not apt to be an encouragement to people to take up the struggle. The imperialist powers, even while acknowledging Aristide as chief of state, were in no hurry to push the military to accept his return, and they are even now delaying that return until October 30; the imperialist leaders want the change to be carried out gradually, so that the masses are not stirred out of their apathy.
While the Americans have supported Aristide's return, it was not out of respect for the wishes of the poor masses. The Americans did it in order to trick and demobilize them, and to avoid the danger which these hundreds of thousands of poor Haitians represented; racked by hunger, as they were, living in sub-human conditions and moreover terrorized by a bloody military dictatorship that grew harsher day by day.
Despite everything, Aristide still lives in the hearts of the poor masses of the population. In overseeing his return, the United States is trying to assume some of Aristide's credit with the masses, to use it to maintain order and stability in Haiti.
This is why the U.S. threw its weight into the bargain to convince the military to accept his return. The U.N decreed the blockade as another means to exert pressure. While certain sectors of the bourgeoisie profit, others suffer from the blockade. The military-political crisis brought about by the September 30 coup hurts business. That is why the meeting of political parties, which will give a parliamentary cover to the solution dictated by the United States, will be followed by a meeting of Haitian and American businessmen and representatives of the International Monetary Fund. They are interested in Haiti – above all – for its low wages. But for business to continue, there must be order. There must be social peace. This is what they demand of Aristide – that he guarantee order.
A civil mission, and soon an international police force, will be charged with guaranteeing the success of the transition period.
The civil mission is already there. Its members are not just sitting around the swimming pools of the big hotels where they are staying. Radio Metropole reports that they have organized meetings in several provincial towns, bringing together local authorities, officers and sub-officers of the local military bases, in order to convince them of the need for "democracy". At the end of the meetings, especially at Hinche, they distributed the Declaration of the Rights of Man to the army officers present. The officers must have appreciated this pedagogical effort at its true value. The results were a little less brilliant in other cities, such as Saint Jean Bosco or Cité Soleil, where the Lavalassean leaders brought the international observers, only to have them watch the army beating demonstrators. In the process, the observers themselves suffered many injuries.
As for the military mission, it is not yet in Haiti. The signatories and protectors of the Governor's Island agreement are very discreet on this subject. But they must bring together 1000 or so soldiers from Latin American countries, or perhaps from French-speaking countries, in order to guarantee that the transition is carried through to completion.
Will this military presence discourage eventual coup attempts by the most rigid sections of the Macoutes? Maybe, but even this is not at all sure. It certainly is aimed at demobilizing the poor masses by providing them with an argument: that is, that it is not worth it to do anything to protect Aristide when he returns, since troops are here to do that.
Meanwhile, the Macoute milieu uses the eventual presence of foreign troops as a nationalist cover for their congenital hostility toward Aristide. This is nothing new. For two years, the coup leaders, the extreme right-wing Macoutes and the drug dealers have all made great use of nationalist or black nationalist demagogy against anyone who meddles with their right to traffic in drugs or assassinate whomever they want on their home turf. This, of course, does not prevent them from depositing their stolen money inside the very imperialist country that they accuse of meddling, nor from begging it to recognize them.
Some so-called progressive nationalists, like Ben Dupuy or more generally those who float around Haiti Progress, also denounce foreign intervention as a way of distancing themselves from Aristide.
The poor classes certainly should not see these foreign troops as their friends and still less as their protectors, even if these troops are sent, officially, to protect Aristide's return. These troops, tools of U.S. policy, are just as much the enemies of the poor masses as is the Haitian Army.
But the verbal anti-imperialism of people like Ben Dupuy should not make us forget that these people did not protest at all, not to mention resign, when Aristide preached about the marriage of the army and the people from the National Palace. The progressive nationalists are just as responsible as the most moderate Lavalasseans for the mournful policy that disarmed the poor masses in the face of the army. And even today, in breaking with Aristide on a question of verbal anti-imperialism, these people continue to fool the poor masses by thus concealing the responsibility of the national state apparatus, of the national army in the repression. Their supposed anti-Americanism, even their supposed anti-imperialism, which is as far as their "progressive" political identity takes them, is totally rotten. Ever since the American occupation troops were withdrawn from Haiti 60 years ago, it has been "our" national state apparatus, "our" army, "our" political class which have been the principal instruments of imperialism.
This is why the workers, jobbers, unemployed, rural poor, the proletarians have nothing to expect from either those who signed the Governor's Island agreement, nor its noisy adversaries. This whole fight is between defenders of the bourgeois order. The real problem for the future is to know when and how the poor classes can begin to mobilize themselves and leave behind the politics of this little group, where all decisions are made against the poor classes and their interests.