On Sunday, 29 February, Aristide resigned as president of the republic of Haïti, and fled in a US airplane, first stop the Central African Republic. Before that and in a few days, chaos had spread through the country and popular outrage at his regime’s corruption sealed Aristide’s fate. The United States, officially suspecting him of being the new Caribbean cocaine baron, was obliged to make sure of his rapid departure. The movement was lightning fast: Washington and Paris urgently deployed their first peacekeeping forces, even before the niceties of a UN Security Council vote for the dispatch of international troops. This was the scenario crafted for media consumers worldwide. Reality is rather different.

Louis Jodel Chamblain

Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected by a 67,5% landslide vote in 1990. At the time, he was the first democratically elected president in Haiti’s history. He chose René Préval as Prime Minister. But the arrival of a liberation theology activist in the next door island to Cuba hinted at failure for the United States’ Caribbean communism containment strategy. Aristide was therefore overthrown eight months later, by general Raoul Cedras and the FRAPH death squads led by Louis-Jodel Chamblain [1], with the support of the first Bush administration. To justify this operation, the putschists declared they were liberating Haiti from a dictatorship that seriously infringed human rights - claims that were not supported by facts, and which were denied later on. Exiled to the United States, Aristide gathered support from the black bourgeoisie to bring help to the "negro republic". The CIA then attempted to discredit him by leaking well-crafted, fake medical files presenting him as mentally incapable. Nevertheless, the growing support for Aristide within the black American community, even more than the impopularity of Haïti’s military regime, made Bill Clinton back off from his predecessor’s brutal policy and negociate a compromise: Washington offered a resignation of the junta and Aristide’s return in exchange for his promise he would back off from class struggle, but work to ’reconcile rich and poor’. No longer would Aristide blame capitalism as a "deadly sin", but comply with IMF austerity adjstment, in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation.

So Aristide returned in 1994, along with 20 000 GIs in the baggage of the "Restore Democracy" operation. As Haiti watchers note, Aristide was in a position of respecting his commitments towards Washington, or betraying the hopes of his voters. Heading his party, as provided by a constitution that bars two successive mandates as party head, it was his Prime Minister, Rene Preval, who ran for party chief, and was elected with 88% of the votes. Since Preval was not tied to Aristide’s engagements he dissociates himself from New Economics orthodoxy. In November 2000, thirteen officers trained in Ecuador seized the opportunity of Preval’s trip to Asia, and made a coup attempt, but failed. Their leader, the spirited Guy Philippe, then fled to the US embassy in Port-au-Prince. When Preval’s mandate ended, Aristide ran for president again, and again received a 91% landslide, in a troubled context and with massive abstention. Aristide then sealed his fate by turning back to anti-imperialist policy, among other things demanding that France refund the 90 million gold Francs extorted from Haïti between 1825 and 1885 [2].

The Bush-2 administration made its decision to overthrow him at the end of 2002, and found a good community of views with France on this subject, since both nations have traditionally seen Haiti as needing common control. Paris, conversely, did not set its stance until summer 2003. By then, a common plan was laid down for the coup that was coming.

Act 1: "democratic" destabilization

On the American side, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) built a "democratic opposition" through financing "civilian" action groups. Under-Secretary Roger Noriega [3] implemented a work group "for the restoration of democracy" at the Brookings Institution (see our investigation "The CIA destabilizes Haïti").

Act 2: Diplomatic coercion

Régis Debray

On the French side, the operation was supervised by Régis Debray and Véronique Albanel. The latter is listed as president of the "Universal Brotherhood" which carries out charitable action in Haïti, linked with the catholic church. Albanel is also the sister of Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, France’s foreign secretary, and the wife of French airforce general Baudoin Albanel.

On July 15, 2003, Andre Apaid [4], a former financial handyman of the Duvalier regime [5] and the leader of Group 184 [6], started raising the pressure, with a meeting organized in a slum devoted to Aristide, the Cite Soleil. Apaid asked for aid and protection from France, who provided him with armed escorts, and the presence of French embassy first secretary Stephane Grumberg. As hoped and planned, the meeting soon turned into riot, leaving 6 dead and 40 wounded by gunfire. Witnesses blamed French guards as solely responsible for the slaughter, which of course was denied by the embassy [7].

On December 17, 2003, at 3 pm, Regis Debray showed up at the presidential palace to demand that elected president Jean-Bernard Aristide resign. This was refused, and was followed a few days later by the public release by Debray and Villepin-Albanel of their report to Foreign secretary Dominique de Villepin. The report noted: "Let us not fool ourselves. The resignation of President Aristide will not make the country more prosperous overnight, nor will it make it more productive." (p. 35). "Many persons imagine rivalry exists where there is in fact complementarity [i.e. between the USA. and France], and though our means of influence are not the same, they can and must add up, for the good of Haiti. It may be the [French] President’s task, or at least the Foreign Affairs Minister’s, to define from the beginning, at the best level, the methods and spirit of this combination. A stronger implication [by France] in Haïti could indeed not run against the interests of the United States, but should operate in a well-balanced and cautious spirit." (p. 52). To sum up, the goal was to overthrow Aristide to defend the common interests of a large American empire and a small French empire. However, following the Iraq crisis and in a context of growing German-French alliance in Europe, Berlin also had to be brought onside in this joint effort, and also find its interest for its tiny empire. The report continued: "One cannot help thinking of the advantages, not only symbolic, that would be brought by opening a common French and German diplomatic mission in Port-au-Prince, which would naturally echo, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, by [later] opening of French-German missions, for example in Windhoek, Namibia, or elsewhere" (p. 57).
The United States and France put pressure on various Caribbean and Latin American states to not take part in the the 200th aniversary ceremonies of the "first Negro republic of America" [8], held on 1 January, 2004, in Port-au-Prince. Only South African president Thabo Mbeki defied the great powers by attending it.

On 2 January, the Group 184 proposed an "alternate" transition, of course including the ouster of Aristide. On 7 January, a street demonstration turned ugly, and immediately Washington accused the Aristide government of undemocratic ways. On 13 January, the mandate of the National Assembly deputies, and two-thirds of Haiti’s senators came to its term, but as the opposition refused to provide any delegates to the electoral comission, Aristide was unable to organize elections. He was then accused by the media of being unwilling to hold them, and of imposing a dictatorship.

Act 3: Military destabilization

This rapidly cobbled "democratic" opposition, plus diplomatic coercion in the background proved ineffective, leading Washington to set armed activity out of the Dominican Republic, led by Guy Philippe. The "rebels" quickly took control of several cities and threatened to march on Port-au-Prince. They also refused various peace plans, whether of the episcopate or that of the Organization of American States.
The "democratic" opposition headed by Group 184 at all time kept close contact with US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. On his instructions, it then dissociated itself from the rebels, so as to remain clean handed for holding power, and not be tainted by any atrocities that might have been committed in its name.
On 21 February, the international community’s crisis plan was accepted by Aristide, but rejected by the opposition, which persisted with its demand that he resign.

On 23 February, fresh troops crossed the Dominican border with Louis-Jodel Chamblain at their head. AFP commented: "In Port-au-Prince many think the Dominican army allowed these former Haitian army soldiers to cross the border with the approval of the United States, which provided most of its equipment, trained its leadership and has very close links to Dominica’s political establishment. The Dominican Republic is the only country in the Caribbean that has sent (some 300) soldiers to Iraq when asked by Washington to do so." [9]

Act 4: The removal

Roger Noriega

On 26 February, Baudoin Jacques Ketant, a cocaine smuggler handed over by Aristide on the request of the DEA was tried in Miami, Florida [10]. In a plea bargain giving him a 27-year reduced prison sentence, Ketant admitted smuggling more than 30 tons of cocaine to the United States. He then claimed: "Aristide is a drug baron who controls Haiti’s trafficking (...) He turned his country into a crossroads for drug dealers".

On 29 February, between 2 am and 3 am, US special forces invaded the presidential palace. They told Aristide he was to be taken to Miami and tried for drug trafficking, unless he accepted to resign. Otherwise, he could wait for Guy Philippe to arrive, who had been instructed to shoot him. Aristide managed to reach California representant Maxine Waters by phone, to enable her to testify the real events, and prevent him from ending in an Allende-type "suicide". Under the threat of M16s and in the presence of James B. Foley, ambassador of the United States, and Thierry Burkard, ambassador of France, Aristide signed a previously-drafted resignating statement "to head off a bloodbath", which was authentified by both ambassadors. As a matter of fact, Aristide refused to sign the resignating statement and instead quickly drafted a farewell letter. He was then taken by the special forces to an unmarked, white-colored jetliner, and took off for Bangui (Central African Republic), where French agents awaited his arrival.

While the UN Security Council was called into emergency session to make a decision on the dispatch of peackekeeper troops, the United States and France, without waiting for the meeting, had already dispatched their forces.

In Washington, Otto Reich and Under-Secretary Noriega supervised the ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From now on, the Commission for the Assistance to a Free Cuba, which they also lead, will work to make use of Haïti as a strategic base to get over the ’unfinished business’ of Fidel Castro, perhaps this summer.

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[1The FRAPH is for example responsible for the assassination of Antoine Izmery (Sept 11, 1993), of Minister of Justice Guy Malary’s execution (Oct 14th, 1993) and of the Raboteau massacre (April 23rd, 1994).

[2Updated and including interest sums due, this would amount to about 21 billion US dollars at 2004 parities.

[3Former parliamentary assistant to far-rightwing senator Jesse Helmes, Roger Noriega has devoted his life to the destruction of Liberation theology activists.

[4With the aim of being set as Washington’s puppet in Haiti, Mr Apaid was given double Haitian and American nationality.

[5François and Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as "Papa doc" and "Baby doc", established an anti-communist dictatorship from 1957 through 1986.

[6Group 184 brings together union, press officials and employers, under supervision of the National Endowment for Democracy, "overtly" controlled by the CIA.

[7A lawsuit against French state employees should be filed shortly by Gilbert Collard in the name of the victims’ families.

[8On January 4th, 1794, the Convention abolishes slavery. The decree applies to then-French colonial interests in Haiti. First Consul Napoléon Bonaparte, was however then rushed by his wife’s family (which owned large plantations in the Caribbean) to re-establish slavery. Toussaint Louverture, in the name of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens, then proclaims the autonomist constitution. Bonaparte sends his brother-in-law, general Leclerc, to crush the rebels. The latter was defeated by Louverture, Dessalines and Christophe. On the 1st of January 1804, the first Negro republic of the Americas was proclaimed.

[9Interviews in Port-au-Prince on the easy border crossing by former soldiers into Haiti by Dominique Levanti, AFP International, February 23, 2004.

[10Baudoin Jacques Kétant is likely to be tried with colonel Michel François. The latter was n°2 in Raoul Cedras’ military regime that overthrew Aristide. Liege man of the United States, he was trained at the School of the Americas, and is now hiding in Honduras.