Sunday, January 31, 2010

America's sorry history with Haiti, Part 2

Excerpted from my article at

The Haitians have a saying in their native créole language: Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li. “Little by little, the bird builds its nest.”

Freed of the powerful grip of the Duvaliers in 1986, and despite a dysfunctional system, little by little, the Haitians undertook the difficult work of rebuilding their nation into a more democratic place from within.

They formed trade unions, created independent radio stations, initiated literacy programs, and built silos to store their grain so they could wait for better prices before selling their crops.

Meanwhile, a quiet, small Haitian man who spoke eight languages and who had declared capitalism a “mortal sin” was espousing a brand of liberation theology too radical for the Catholic Church that had ordained him.

In 1988, the Catholic Church expelled Jean Bertrand Aristide for preaching class warfare in a move that, ironically, made him far more powerful.

Undaunted, Aristide, called affectionately by the diminutive “Titide,” opened a medical clinic, ran a children’s shelter, and continued to speak to the people.

As Haiti headed into its first internationally supervised election, the U.S. was banking on Marc Bazin, now their chosen candidate for president. But the majority of the Haitians saw Bazin as “America’s Man” and refused to support him.

The strongest leftist candidate, however, was considered lackluster, and the other candidates were too little known to win.

On Oct. 16, 1990, just two months before the elections were to be held, Aristide entered the race. He called his movement and its followers the Lavalas, a créole word for torrents of water that rushed down gullies, sweeping away everything in their path. He summed up his platform in three words: “participation, transparency, justice.”

Predictably, the U.S. government, then headed by President George H. W. Bush, was disconcerted. One businessman probably summed up a lot of businessmen’s thoughts when he called Aristide “a cross between Fidel and the Ayatollah.”

Just before the election, Ambassador Andrew Young, at the request (he said) of former President Jimmy Carter, tried to persuade Aristide to sign a letter accepting Bazin as president if Bazin should win, in the hopes of forestalling a violent reaction from Aristide’s followers. William Blum, in his book Killing Hope, noted the Bush White House likely had a hand in this as well.

Hope, Then Tragedy

On Dec. 16, 1990, in the country’s first internationally supervised election, Aristide won with over two-thirds of the vote, proving the Lavalas worthy of their name. The margin also gave him the largest majority of any democratically elected leader in the Western Hemisphere.

But in a sad parallel to some recent U.S. elections, when the time came to vote for the legislature and other offices, turnout was light. An opposition-dominated legislature then thwarted much of the legislation that Aristide proposed.

Still, Aristide upset the status quo. He initiated “programs in literacy, public health, and agrarian reform,” Blum wrote. Aristide also sought to increase the minimum wage; he asked for a freeze on the prices of basic necessities; and he created a public works program to generate jobs.

Aristide also criticized the business class, accusing some of the Haitian elite of corruption. He also sent a youth group from Haiti on a friendly visit to Haiti’s neighbor to the west, Castro’s Cuba.

Aristide, who had survived assassination attempts in the past, created a private force that he could trust. He further antagonized the military by making temporary appointments to key positions rather than permanent ones. He hoped this would encourage good behavior, but instead it rankled those stuck in tenuous situations.

But perhaps Aristide’s greatest affront to the military was to crack down on smuggling and drug-running, which were rampant in Haiti. According to Robert and Nancy Heinl in their book Written in Blood, Aristide’s actions “were putting a dent in many officers’ life styles.”
Janus-faced America

Any student of real history can guess what happened next. The military overthrew Aristide a short nine months into his five-year presidential term.

And as Blum notes, while there is no direct evidence that the CIA or the United States supported the coup, given the CIA’s role in training and supporting the Haitian military, the coup could hardly have come as a surprise.

Bob Shacochis supports Blum’s suspicions in his book The Immaculate Invasion, where he wrote that President George H.W. Bush “swiftly announced that the coup would not stand, then just as quickly receded into embarrassed silence when informed by his staff that his own crew in Port-au-Prince not only had foreknowledge of the putsch but had allowed it to advance without a word.”

Shacochis decried how America had been essentially “Janus-faced” toward Haiti due to a the split between those in the U.S. willing to support a true democracy, no matter how messy, and those whose knee-jerk reaction was to decry the leftist president, despite the fact that “the Haitians democratically chose Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the only Haitian president who ever attempted to lead his people out of darkness; the only Haitian chief of state who seemed to display an ideology beyond self.”

Read the rest of my article at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lisa,

Thanks for your nice reply to my comment on Part 1.

Now, I'd like to add that Part 2 was well worth the read -- including clicking over to Consortium for the full text.

Two points I especially noted:
1. You wrote: "President Clinton, unable to persuade the CIA to do his bidding, turned to the military instead; there, at least, he was still recognized as Commander in Chief."
- Truman tried to "control" the covert action by the new CIA. Eisenhower completely blew it (Iran, Guatemala, etc.). By the time Eisenhower "warned" the country about the "military industrial complex" and didn't include "intelligence" in that phrase (though his daughter said he thought about it), it was too late, and his fault. Then Kennedy tried to reclaim constitutional authority, and the CIA killed him. Nixon was a criminal. Ford already was a criminal (exa: in the Warren Commission). Carter with Brzezinski was like Obama with Geithner (puppet presidents who installed the PowerElite's men). Reagan ordered coups. Bush Sr was CIA before he headed the CIA ('nuff said). Clinton and OKC bombing. The heinous Bush2. And Obama is Bush3.
- Since the CIA killed JFK, the agency has only grown bigger and worse.
- No single new "hero" can come along and defeat the CIA and accomplices. A single person of integrity would be too easily killed. We must have a new Movement with a group of leaders who are "brave like MLK, brave like JFK." (I'm working on something.)

2. In 2004, as an aside, you wrote in referring to Bush2: "I refuse to call an unelected man ‘President.’"
- With a smile, I agree.

I know that you already know all of the above historical facts. I'm hoping that my list will help new readers. It took a lot of reading and the watching of many videos (carefully chosen) to solidify these ideas as true in my head, which was a step-by-step process. I hope many more citizens will join us.

Another site I frequent is by whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds. Do you have an opinion about it?


1:49 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

I haven't spent time at Sibel's site, so I won't comment on that.

I do want to say that nuance matters, and Clinton, for all his faults, handled Haiti better than Bush did.

Similarly, I think it's intellectually lazy, not to mention inaccurate, to equate Obama with Bush. They are very different on many levels, even though I am very upset at some of the Bush practices that Obama has chosen not to end, such as extraordinary rendition. But to equate the two would not be historically accurate.

And while I appreciate the sentiments, to reduce Nixon to a simple criminal is not really fair, either. All of these men are complex, with mixed records and mixed motives.

All that said, however, I agree with the general point, that the President is not in control to the degree we expect, and that the CIA has a lot to do with that.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lisa,

One more question. Have you read some of the work by the late Richard E. Sprague?

This particular book was written in the 1970s and later updated. The text and photos are there at the link, free for everyone. R.E. Sprague contributed to investigations by Congress that were shut down. He seems greatly informed, and he names names.

I'm interested in your take on him and his specifics about the CIA, presidents, Earl Warren, and what Sprague termed the Power Control Group, which many of us refer to nowadays as the Power Elite or the Deep State.

Thanks again.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't sign my previous comment. I'm James Laffrey.

By the way, I'd like to add one thing.
You said, "...the President is not in control to the degree we expect, and that the CIA has a lot to do with that."

To further your point, in fact recent presidents have had to agree (directly or indirectly) to continue the cover-ups since JFK's assassination in order to not be destroyed as candidates for the presidency. Do you agree?

(Reagan was already involved because of his help in the cover-up of RFK's murder in California, where Reagan was governor. Bush had headed CIA. But Clinton and Obama had to vow to keep the lid on, right? This is my extension of Sprague's position.)

9:11 AM  
Blogger Real History Lisa said...

Re Sprague, he did the best he could with the evidence available at the time, but I don't consider it solid history. The work of Jim DiEugenio, Jim Douglass, Bill Davy, John Newman, Jefferson Morley and others is much more solid and therefore much more damning along these lines.

Re presidents and the JFK assassination - I don't imagine for a second it's spelled out like that. I think it's more the case that people who show some proclivity to keeping secrets will get more support as they move up the chain. I don't think someone comes to them and lays it out like that.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

unrelated, but of possible interest about the CIA in general:

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks again!
-- James

5:18 AM  

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