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Brutal, rightist forces
take over half of Haiti
Aristide government agrees to imperialist intervention
Washington, Paris, Ottawa give tacit support to rebels
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images
Louis Jodel Chamblain (center, armed), a former paramilitary thug during the Raul Cedras military regime a decade ago, greets hundreds at Maissade, Haiti, February 17 as he parades in the streets after forces enjoying the tacit approval of Washington took over town.|
BY ERIC SIMPSON
MIAMIBrutal, rightist forces pushing to topple the government of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide seized control of Cap-Haitien, the countrys second-largest city, February 22, and now control more than half of the country. Hundreds cheered as the rebels burned police stations and routed government supporters. The armed groups, led in many cases by former army officers that served the military regime deposed a decade ago, and figures from the earlier U.S.-backed Duvalier dictatorship that was toppled through a popular uprising, now state that their next objective is Port-au-Prince, the countrys capital. Although there is no indication that the military coup was engineered by the U.S. government, the rebels have the tacit support of Washington, Paris, and Ottawa.
In an effort to slow the crumbling of his regime, Aristide has accepted a peace plan crafted by Washington, Paris, and Ottawa, and backed by the Organization of American States (OAS). It includes the deployment of imperialist troops to Haiti under the guise of peacekeeping in exchange for a promise to let Aristide complete his term in office, which ends in two years. Under the accord, the Pentagon dispatched 50 Marines to the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince February 23.
I accept the plan, publicly and entirely, said Aristide, according to the BBC. In one word, yes.
The combination of reliance on imperialist benevolence and increased use of thug attacks on opponents by Aristides administration has continued to alienate working peoplewho, until recently, had opposed in their majority imperialist-backed attempts to oust the bourgeois nationalist regime.
When 500 students marched February 20 in Port-au-Prince demanding Aristides resignation, for example, pro-government gangs armed with guns and machetes attacked the protesters, injuring 20, according to the BBC.
More than 60 people have been killed, most of them police officers, since fighting began with the February 5 takeover of the city of Gonaives by the armed opposition forces.
The last week of February, pro-government police began fleeing as relatively small groups of armed rebels entered town after town.
Police put up little resistance as about 200 gunmen took over Cap-Haitien after a few hours of sporadic gunfire, said an article in February 23 Los Angeles Times. Although an assault on the capital seemed unlikely given the rebels scattered locations and limited numbers, Cap-Haitien also had been well braced to repel an onslaught until a few days ago, when frightened police barricaded themselves in their stations.
Guy Phillipe, a leader of the armed opposition groups in Cap-Haitien, claimed his forces would be able to rapidly take the capital because, he claimed, No one wants to die for Aristide.
Phillipe has served as the police chief of Cap-Haitien and was security chief in the government of René Preval, who replaced Aristide as president in 1996. He faced accusations of organizing attempted coups against the Preval government.
The governments of the United States, France, and Canada are already well on their way to launching a military intervention aimed at deepening the imperialist domination of Haiti and the superexploitation of workers and farmers there.
Under the guise of concern over the rising death toll in the country, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell stated, What we want to do right now is find a political solution, and then there are willing nations that would come forward with a police presence to implement the political agreement that the sides come to.
Paris, Haitis former colonial power, is also actively putting itself forward as a candidate for such an operation. Some 4,000 French troops are now stationed on the nearby Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe. After speaking with his counterparts in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany and Brazil, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said, We are working with all these countries to consider the feasibility of a peacekeeping force that would deploy if the conditions allowed because of an end to the fighting.
The Canadian government said it would be willing to send 100 French-speaking cops if a deal is struck.
A delegation including Cesar Gaviria, secretary-general of the OAS, and French, Canadian, and Caricom officials visited Haiti February 21. U.S. undersecretary of state for Latin American affairs Roger Noriegainfamous for his recent statements announcing Washingtons expanded offensive against Cuba and Venezuelais Washingtons point man in Haiti now.
The delegations proposal includes disarming armed groups linked to Aristides political party, Fanmi Lavalas, and ceding control of the police to a newly appointed prime minister and cabinet. According to Agence France Presse, the plan calls for the creation of a three-person panelcomprising one Aristide representative, one member of the opposition and an international officialthat will be charged with selecting a larger nine-to-15-member council that will then name a prime minister and a new government.
Colin Powell stated February 19 that while the White House was not planning to force Aristide to resign, it would not object if he agreed to leave ahead of schedule. He is the president for some time to come yet, Powell said. If an agreement is reached that moves that in another direction, thats fine.
Aristide was elected president in 1990 following a revolutionary uprising that overturned the regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Washington, Paris, and other imperialist powers had backed the brutal reign of the Duvaliers for nearly 30 years. Aristide was overthrown himself by a military coup in 1991. He was returned to power on the bayonets of a U.S.-led force that invaded Haiti three years later.
After stepping down in 1996, Aristide ran again in the 2000 elections and won the presidency. His opponents charged electoral fraud and have waged a campaign demanding his resignation and new elections ever since. After having backed brutal dictatorships for decades, Washington and its allies used the club of democracy, hypocritically charging that Aristide was indeed guilty of electoral fraud.
During his latest term in power, Aristide has implemented economic measures demanded by Washington, including lowering of tariffs, floating the gourde (Haitis national currency), and privatization of some state-owned companies. These measuresalong with steps by Washington that cut off loans and directed other governments to follow suitexacerbated Haitis deep economic crisis. Malnourishment is widespread and most people earn less than $1 a day. Unemployment is nearly 70 percent and has not improved under Aristides administration.
Despite this record, Washington and its imperialist allies have never trusted Aristides regime. His earlier widespread popular support reflected the self-confidence and combativity of the Haitian toilers coming out of the successful struggle to oust Duvalier. His administration also took some measures that Washington vehemently opposed, like reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and welcoming more than 500 Cuban doctors and other medical personnel offering health care at the most remote and poorest areas of the country.
In a February 12 statement at the third special meeting of the council of ministers of the Association of Caribbean States in Panama City, Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque said, Cuba believes that the international community cannot leave Haiti alone. The social situation is worsening. The old problems derived from colonialism and exploitation are compounded by new, pressing difficulties relating to the unjust and excluding international economic order. Pérez Roque said Cuban doctors, literacy teachers, and other volunteers in Haiti have been instructed to stay in their posts and continue their policy of non-interference in Haitis internal affairs.
The deepening economic crisis along with Aristides use of thugs to attempt to silence opposition have both bolstered opposition groups such as the U.S.-backed Democratic Convergence and alienated working people from politics.
Armed insurgents who continue to hold Gonaives, a city of around 60,000 people, have taken several other towns across the central department of Artibonite and to the north, all the way to the border with the Dominican Republic to the east.
The groups in Gonaives include members of the Cannibal Army, a formerly pro-Aristide gang, and forces tied to previous military dictatorships in Haiti.
About 50 gunmen took the town of Hinche on February 16. The police chief was shot and killed along with his bodyguard as they fled after a brief gun battle. Nearby Maissade was taken the next day by a force commanded by Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former leader of the paramilitary death squad called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), which victimized working people during the three years of the 1991-1994 dictatorship.
Some pro-imperialist forces are reported to have crossed into the country from the Dominican Republic and appear to be former soldiers in the Haitian army, which was dissolved in 1995. They claim to be the new Haitian army.
Reporters with the South Florida Sun Sentinel say that in the town of Maissade thousands of residents welcomed the destruction of the police headquarters and the occupation, dancing, singing, and chanting against Aristide. But in Hinche, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, leader of the anti-Aristide Papaye Peasants Movement, cancelled a scheduled peasants rally so it would not be seen as supporting the armed insurgents. A rebel commander told the Sun-Sentinel that he was disappointed that Hinche residents didnt greet him as enthusiastically as those in Maissade.
Tens of thousands of Haitians who live here in South Florida are following developments in their native country.
We dont want the French to send in troops, one Haitian worker at Point Blank Body Armor in Oakland Park, Florida, said.
Reflecting the misleadership Aristide has provided by his repeated reliance on U.S. troops to save his skin, this worker added, in a view shared by a number of working people here. They were the slave owners before we won independence. But U.S. troops would be good. Otherwise the FRAPH forces might take over.
Other Haitian workers, however, are at least skeptical that U.S. intervention can be in their interests. In 1916 when U.S. troops invaded our country for the first time, Haiti was a rich country, another worker at Point Blank said. When they left they took all our riches and left us a poor country.
U.S. troops out of Haiti