[Marxism] Jeffrey Sachs on Haiti

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 1 07:37:40 MST 2004

Financial Times (London, England)
March 1, 2004 Monday

Don't fall for Washington's spin on Haiti: JEFFREY SACHS:


The crisis in Haiti is another case of brazen US manipulation of a 
small, impoverished country with the truth unexplored by journalists. In 
the nearly universal media line on the Haitian revolt, President 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide was portrayed as an undemocratic leader who 
betrayed Haiti's democratic hopes and thereby lost the support of his 
erstwhile backers. He "stole" elections and intransigently refused to 
address opposition concerns. As a result he had to leave office, which 
he did at the insistence of the US and France. Unfortunately, this is a 
gravely distorted view.

President George Bush's foreign policy team came into office intent on 
toppling Mr Aristide, long reviled by powerful US conservatives such as 
former senator Jesse Helms who obsessively saw him as another Fidel 
Castro in the Caribbean. Such critics fulminated when President Bill 
Clinton restored Mr Aristide to power in 1994, and they succeeded in 
getting US troops withdrawn soon afterwards, well before the country 
could be stabilised. In terms of help to rebuild Haiti, the US Marines 
left behind about eight miles of paved roads and essentially nothing 
else. In the meantime, the so-called "opposition", a coterie of rich 
Haitians linked to the preceding Duvalier regime and former (and perhaps 
current) CIA operatives, worked Washington to lobby against Mr Aristide.

In 2000, Haiti held parliamentary and then presidential elections, 
unprecedented in their scope. Mr Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, 
clearly won the election, although candidates who won a plurality rather 
than a majority, and who should have faced a second-round election, also 
gained seats. Objective observers declared the elections broadly 
successful, albeit flawed.

Mr Aristide won the presidential election later that year, in a contest 
the US media now reports was "boycotted by the opposition" and hence, 
not legitimate. This is a cruel joke to those who know Haiti, where Mr 
Aristide was swept in with an overwhelming mandate and the opposition, 
such as it was, ducked the elections. Duvalier thugs hardly constituted 
a winning ticket and as such, did not even try. Nor did they have to. Mr 
Aristide's foes in Haiti benefited from tight links with the incoming 
Bush team, which told Mr Aristide it would freeze all aid unless he 
agreed with the opposition over new elections for the contested Senate 
seats, among other demands. The wrangling led to the freezing of Dollars 
500m in emergency humanitarian aid from the US, the World Bank, the 
Inter- American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The tragedy, or joke, is that Mr Aristide agreed to compromise, but the 
opposition simply balked; it was never the right time to hold elections, 
for example, because of "security" problems, they said. Whatever the 
pretext, the US maintained its aid freeze and the opposition maintained 
a veto over international aid. Cut off from bilateral and multilateral 
financing, Haiti's economy went into a tailspin.

All this is being replayed before our eyes. As Haiti slipped into deeper 
turmoil last month, Caribbean leaders called for a power-sharing 
compromise between Mr Aristide and the opposition. Once again, Mr 
Aristide agreed but the opposition merely demanded the president step 
down - reportedly rejecting even US Secretary of State Colin Powell's 
requests to compromise. But rather than defending Mr Aristide and 
dealing with opposition intransigence, the White House announced the 
president should step down.

The ease with which the US thereby brought down another Latin American 
democracy is stunning. What has been the CIA's role among the 
anti-Aristide rebels? How much US money went from US institutions and 
government agencies to help foment this uprising? Why did the White 
House abandon the Caribbean compromise proposal it endorsed just days 
before? These questions have not been asked. Then again, we live in an 
age when entire wars can be launched on phony pretences with few 
questions asked.

What should happen now is unlikely to pass. The United Nations should 
help restore Mr Aristide to power for his remaining two years in office, 
making clear that yesterday's events were an illegal power grab. Second, 
the US should call on the opposition, which is largely a US construct, 
to stop the violence immediately and unconditionally. Third, after years 
of literally starving the people of Haiti, the long-promised and 
long-frozen aid flows of Dollars 500m should start immediately. These 
steps would rescue a dying democracy and avert a possible bloodbath.

The writer is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University


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