Foreign Military Intervention Looms over Haiti

Haitian protesters
Masked Haitians protest against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Port-au-Prince, Feb. 22, 2004 (Photo: Jaime Razuri/AFP-Getty Images).

Haiti this week started to look a lot like the Congo in 1960.

That was when the United States and Belgium, the Congo’s colonial master until June 1960, fomented a rebellion against newly elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. The rebellion, which not coincidentally flared in the oil- and mineral-rich Katanga province, was led by Moise Tshombe, a wealthy plantation owner who was backed by 10,000 Belgian troops.

Lumumba unwisely invited in United Nations “peacekeepers” to fend off the attack. Instead of helping him, the U.N. forces disarmed Lumumba’s troops, thus aiding Tshombe’s rebellion. Meanwhile, the CIA helped Col. Mobutu Sese Seko seize power in a September 1960 coup. Mobuto then arrested Lumumba and turned him over to Tshombe, who had him murdered. Could this scenario be repeating itself in Haiti today?

On Feb. 17, Haiti’s former colonial master, France, craftily offered to send troops to help quell a patchwork rebellion which it has helped foment. Over the past three years, for example, French diplomats, in violation of all diplomatic protocols against meddling, have funneled money to Haiti’s principal opposition radio station, Radio Métropole, and chaperoned Haitian opposition leaders on trips and in marches around the country, while constantly and sharply scolding the Haitian government despite President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s unending, unilateral concessions to his intransigent adversaries. France also orchestrated the European Union’s funding of Haitian opposition groups to the tune of almost US$1 million last year.

Haiti is “on the edge of chaos,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin smugly asserted in a Feb. 17 press conference. He said that Aristide “over the years has let things degenerate” and asked, with almost unbearable irony, “that all Haitian officials think only of one thing: Haiti and the Haitian people who have suffered for too many years.”

France is “ready to act” with other countries, Villepin said, assuring that it was “absolutely” possible to quickly organize an international intervention force because “we have the means and many friendly countries are mobilized.” France has 4,000 troops stationed in its Caribbean colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Such an intervention would, of course, desecrate Haiti’s 2004 bicentennial commemorations and effectively neutralize the Aristide government’s demand for $21.7 billion in restitution for France’s postcolonial blackmail of the isolated, fledgling republic.

It was unclear at press time whether France was acting independently or as a surrogate for Washington in what is generally recognized, between those rivals, as the latter’s backyard “pond.” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who seemed to welcome Villepin’s remarks, stated Feb. 13 that Washington “will accept no outcome that...attempts to remove the elected president of Haiti,” which Beltway insiders interpreted as a rebuke of arch-reactionary underlings like Roger Noriega, U.S. assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, whose spokesmen had suggested earlier last week that Aristide’s removal might be a solution. However, the underlings may represent the dominant current of thinking of the Bush administration, in which many see Powell as a token. Powell’s comments may also be completely disingenuous and diversionary.

The same is true of his Feb. 17 declaration that Washington has “no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces” to Haiti, an assertion the historical record belies, the Pentagon’s woes in Iraq and Afghanistan notwithstanding. Haiti’s National Popular Party (PPN) has long warned that the Dominican Republic’s 25,000-man army, a close Washington ally, could be used as a proxy intervention force into Haiti, which has no army. Such warnings gained credence this week as Dominican politicians and officials started to make declarations about assuring their nation’s “self-defense” against an “invasion of Haitians.”

On Feb. 16, President Hipolito Mejia ordered Dominican troops massed along the 250-mile border to seal off all traffic between the two countries, which share the island of Hispaniola. Dominican Foreign Minister Frank Guerrero Prats urged governments to “act with urgency to combat a worsening situation that could be detrimental for the entire region,” language which has ramped up intervention speculation. Dominican presidential candidate Eduardo Estrella of the Reformed Social Christian Party said that the Haitian crisis was “very grave, posing unforeseeable consequences on our country.”

Two Dominican soldiers were shot dead Feb. 14 near the northern border town of Dajabon. Dominican authorities suspect the killers were Haitian “rebels,” who ironically have been using Dominican territory as a training ground and safe haven after guerrilla strikes over the past three years.

Treading near Lumumba’s pitfall, Aristide in a Feb. 16 press conference obliquely called for international “technical assistance” to put down the rebellion, because, if the rebels attack the capital, “the police might not be able to stand up to this kind of attack.”

“I hope the international community will move forward more quickly so as to prevent others from being victims of these terrorist weapons,” he said. It was unclear what sort of aid he is seeking and from whom.

But it is clear that bona fide terrorists are lining up against the government. This week, the Gonaïves “rebels,” which are thought to number no more than 100 out of a city of 200,000, were joined by Louis Jodel Chamblain, the former vice president of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a CIA-supported paramilitary death squad that killed many of the 5,000 victims of the 1991-1994 coup.

One of those victims was Haitian Justice Minister Guy Malary. He was ambushed and gunned down with his bodyguard and a driver on Oct. 14, 1993. In an Oct. 28, 1993, CIA Intelligence Memorandum obtained by the Center for Constitutional Rights, one reads that “FRAPH members Jodel Chamblain, Emmanuel Constant, and Gabriel Douzable met with an unidentified military officer on the morning of Oct. 14 to discuss plans to kill Malary.” (Emmanuel “Toto” Constant, FRAPH’s leader, now enjoys de facto political asylum in the United States and is living in New York City.)

Chamblain was convicted and sentenced in absentia to hard labor for life for the April 23, 1994, Raboteau massacre and the Sept. 11, 1993, assassination of pro-democracy activist Antoine Izméry. Unfortunately, the Malary murder trial was botched by government prosecutors.

Chamblain led the attack by about 15 opposition commandos against the Hinche police station on Haiti’s Central Plateau on Feb. 16. Departmental police chief Maxime Jonas and his bodyguard were killed in the first moments of the attack. After a firefight of a few hours, the police exhausted their ammunition and were allowed to flee. The assailants then opened the prison’s doors, as they have done in all their attacks, and burned the police station. At press time, the “rebels” still control the city. But the police and armed government supporters have blocked the road leading to Hinche at the town of Mirebalais, some 35 kilometers south.

Chamblain arrived in Gonaïves last week with about 25 other commandos from the Dominican Republic, where he has been living since 1994. They were well equipped with rifles, camouflage uniforms, and all-terrain vehicles.

Another Dominican Republic-based counterrevolutionary plotter who arrived in Gonaïves last week was Guy Philippe, a former Haitian police chief who fled Haiti in October 2000 after authorities discovered him plotting a coup with a clique of other police chiefs who had all been trained by U.S. Special Forces in Ecuador during the 1991-1994 coup.

Since that time, the Haitian government has accused Philippe of masterminding deadly attacks on the Police Academy and the National Palace in July and December 2001, as well as hit-and-run raids against police stations on Haiti’s central plateau over the following two years.

Like Chamblain and Philippe, most of the “rebels” are former soldiers from the Haitian Armed Forces (FAdH), which Aristide disbanded in 1994. But the dissolution was disorderly, and most of the soldiers made off with their weapons.

As the armed opposition’s terrorist leadership has become clearer, so have its similarities to the opposition’s melee-provoking Democratic Platform, based in Port-au-Prince. Gilbert Leger, a lawyer and opposition member told the Associated Press: “We’re still dealing with pacific, nonviolent means, but let me tell you, we have one goal. We do support (rebel) efforts.” (In truth, most of the opposition’s demonstrations are not “pacific” and have turned violent because of illegal and provocative changes to the routes their demonstration marches are to take, rock throwing, and other tactics.)

Similar statements came from Group 184 leader Andy Apaid, Jr. [Group 184 describes itself as an umbrella organization for Haitian civil-society groups] who said that “armed resistance is a legitimate political expression” under a popularly elected government and that the “rebels” should remain armed until Aristide resigns.

In a Feb. 14 press conference, Ira Kurzban, the Haitian government’s general counsel, denounced leaders like Apaid who “have not hidden their attempts to incite violence and have even condoned it in past public demonstrations where innocent people were brutally killed and where calls were made to overthrow the government.”

Kurzban called on the U.S. government to investigate whether Apaid, who is a U.S. citizen, is in violation of the Neutrality Act, which prohibits U.S. nationals from working to overthrow foreign elected governments. “In organizing efforts to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Aristide and in suggesting that those who are using violent means should not immediately cease their activities, Mr. Apaid is continuing to violate the Neutrality Act,” Kurzban said. “He should be investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and, if the evidence warrants, be properly brought to justice.”

Kurzban also reviewed how one of Apaid’s companies was fined about $50,000 in 1999 for telecommunications fraud under Haitian law. “Now it appears that Mr. Apaid may have also committed fraud to obtain a Haitian passport,” Kurzban said. Apaid, born in New York in 1952, never renounced his U.S. citizenship. Haitian law does not allow dual citizenship. “Mr. Apaid’s public-relations machine in the United States has painted a very different picture of Apaid’s character, but I want people in Haiti and the United States to know the truth about people who call themselves responsible leaders and at the same time break the law.”

Congresswoman Maxine Waters also blasted Apaid and his opposition front this week in a Feb. 11 statement. “It is my belief that André Apaid is attempting to instigate a bloodbath in Haiti and then blame the government for the resulting disaster in the belief that the United States will aid the so-called protesters against President Aristide and his government,” she said.

Waters also praised Aristide’s “progressive economic agenda” of investing in agriculture, public transportation, health care, education, and infrastructure. She called on the State Department to “use its influence to help stabilize Haiti, provide assistance for health, education, and infrastructure development” and on the mainstream press to “discontinue the practice of repeating rumors and innuendos and begin to spend quality time learning the truth and writing the truth about what is really going on in Haiti.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson also put out a similar statement on Feb. 16, in which he appealed “to the United States to abandon its policy of aiding and abetting attempts to overthrow the Aristide government and, instead, use the resources, power, and diplomacy of the United States to restore order in Haiti.”

“Is the United States concerned about restoring the rule of law and democratic rule in Haiti, or is this another example of ‘regime change?’ ” he asked. “Opponents of the Aristide government rejected calls for a democratic election, and now are unleashing a violent attempt to seize power they could not win through elections. Inaction by the U.S. State Department amounts to sanctioning the opposition forces. We therefore appeal to the Secretary of State to uphold our nation’s democratic principles and withdraw all political and financial support to those seeking to overthrow President Aristide.”