The Haiti Support Project´s Position on the Continuing Crisis In Haiti
The Haiti Support Project (HSP) has consistently maintained that the U.S. orchestrated ouster of Jean Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected President in Haiti´s history, and the subsequent disruption of constitutional rule was morally and politically wrong and destructive of the process of building a culture of democracy. Under growing pressure at home and within the international community, President Aristide had accepted the CARICOM proposal for power sharing and a functional division of labor between the President and Prime Minister. The CARICOM proposal provided for monitoring by the international community to ensure that all of its provisions would be adhered to, with the understanding that actions against President Aristide would be forthcoming should he renege on his commitment.
The CARICOM proposal was also temporarily embraced by the U.S., France, Canada and the European Union. Despite the fact that President Aristide´s powers would have been significantly curtailed under the CARICOM proposal, it was roundly rejected by the opposition which demanded that Aristide resign. In the opposition´s view, Aristide´s failure to act in good faith around other privately negotiated agreements rendered him untrustworthy in terms of adhering to the CARICOM proposal. Despite these reservations, HSP´s view is that the preservation of constitutional rule was paramount and hence compromise was essential. However, rather than pressure the opposition to compromise, the U.S., Canada and France refused to intervene to prevent bands of “rebels” consisting of former soldiers of the disbanded military, para-military death squads, suspected drug traffickers, known human rights abusers and thugs from taking over much of the country and marching on the Capital to force Aristide from power (CARICOM appealed to the U.S. to intervene to restore order before Aristide left the country). Constitutional rule was abandoned and an Interim Government was installed..
HSP not only condemned the ouster of President Aristide as morally and politically wrong, as a practical matter we correctly argued that the Fanmi Lavalas Party and its sympathizers would become a thorn in the side of the U.S. backed Interim Government. It is simply incomprehensible, even naive, to believe that you could alienate a political force that enjoys the support of such a significant segment of the Haitian population without serious negative consequences. In large measure the climate of disaffection with the Interim Government, chronic insecurity, violence and political repression are the bitter consequences of the failure to promote compromise and the continuity of democracy over polarization and defacto rule.
HSP was also among the few U.S. based Haiti solidarity organizations willing to offer constructive criticism of the Aristide Government. Our allegiance has never been to a particular political party, movement, personality or government but to the masses of the Haitian people in their desire to achieve democracy and development rooted in their rich history and heritage. Our approach has been to become acquainted with and consult as broad an array of organizations, constituencies and individuals as possible to formulate our positions and inform our actions in Haiti.
After the euphoria over President Aristide´s return subsided, we began to receive reports of increasing authoritarian tendencies and corruption within the Government and among Lavalas officials (it may well be that these tendencies have become ingrained in the political culture, particularly in light of the pervasive poverty which afflicts Haiti). It is no secret that a growing number of leaders in the political class who had once been allied with Aristide and Lavalas became increasingly disaffected because of
their disagreement with the direction of the Government and Lavalas. Hence, former allies became bitter adversaries. Some became part of the multifaceted movement in opposition to Aristide and Lavalas. And, contrary to some characterizations, not all of the opposition leaders and organizations were on the payroll of the CIA or allied with U.S. based right wing interests. In any event, within a democratic society, the right to peaceful assembly and protest are fundamental. These rights were sometimes trampled by the Aristide Government.
Privately, some leaders and members of Lavalas will confide what they have failed to acknowledge or accept responsibility for in public – Aristide sought to undermine or suppress his opponents and in many communities across Haiti, gangs loyal to Aristide and some Lavalas mayors and other officials wreaked havoc on the people. In some instances the Haitian National Police and pro-Lavalas forces fired on and killed demonstrators in various parts of the country. Some very bad things happened under Aristide, and while the embargo against his government was reprehensible, destructive and was exploited by the opposition, there was no justification for the repression of political dissent and the suppression and exploitation of communities by gangs.
As these events unfolded, there was virtually no criticism or outcry by African American civil rights and political leadership or Haiti solidarity organizations in the U.S. Honest forces within the diverse opposition felt that much of the political leadership in Black America and the Haiti solidarity movement was blindly pro-Aristide and that their voices were being ignored. On several occasions during visits to Haiti, HSP delegations heard expressions of bitterness and resentment at what was perceived as an unbalanced approach to the political crisis in Haiti. It is important to state this concern because it is impossible to understand the psycho-political dynamics of the current situation in Haiti without factoring these observations into what is a very complex equation.
The contradictions within the Aristide Government and Lavalas notwithstanding, HSP has also consistently maintained that under no circumstances should they have been used as a justification or pre-text for the removal of President Aristide and the disruption of constitutional rule. But neither can these contradictions be cavalierly dismissed or ignored. The correct focus on and inquiry into the U.S. government´s role in the removal of Aristide should not be in lieu of a substantive and critical examination of what went wrong with the Aristide Government. As Amilcar Cabral taught, we must learn to “struggle against our own weaknesses” less these weaknesses become so overwhelming that they can successfully be exploited by external forces.
Consistent with our work over the past decade in Haiti, HSP´s posture and role in this period was outlined in Dr. Ron Daniels November 1, 2004 Vantage Point article Restoring Democracy in Haiti Must Be A Pan African Effort: “… The Haiti Support Project … firmly believes that Haiti can best be served by organizations, institutions, organizations and individuals who can function as honest brokers, mediators and facilitators, people who are not tied to or committed to any political party, organization or personality within the broad array of progressive forces in the popular movement for democracy in Haiti … This is especially true given the zero sum nature of Haitian political culture. The Haitian people and their political leaders need to see organizations and individuals who are willing to provide moral support, material assistance, recommendations and constructive criticism based on principle and not allegiance to a particular party, movement or individual.”
Another passage from this article is instructive in terms of understanding HSP´s position in this crucial period in Haiti´s history: “… Haiti needs a respite from the fiercely factionalized zero sum politics as usual. There is ample blame to go around for the seemingly intractable political crisis which has gripped Haiti over the past few years. Reflection, criticism and self-criticism is crucial if the various forces within the broad progressive movement in Haiti are to find a way to coalesce again to forge a movement that can retake power with and on behalf of the Haitian masses. From the outside looking in, there appears to be an urgent need for former allies who became adversaries to reach out to each other in the interest of healing the nation. There is also a need for a national dialogue on a program of national unity which could become the foundation for electing a government of national unity. There must emerge a coalition of organizations, movements and institutions in Haiti that can rise above past antagonisms to lead a process of justice, healing, unity and national reconciliation.”
The passages above capture the essence of HSP´s position as we seek to work with a broad range of political parties, organizations, constituencies, institutions and individuals to explore ways and means of bridging divides in order to facilitate the unfolding of a process of justice, reconciliation and dialogue on a program of national unity. As progressive political actors, we take the concept and practice of justice seriously. Justice is the indispensable pre-condition to promote reconciliation and a dialogue on a program of national unity. This observation was emphasized by Dr. Ron Daniels at the March 2, 2005 briefing convened by the Haiti Task Force of the Congressional Black Caucus:
“There is virtually universal agreement that the human rights situation in Haiti has deteriorated significantly under the Interim Administration with widespread human rights abuses of the most horrific kind being reported daily. The atmosphere of chronic violence, human rights abuses and political instability is a major deterrent to the restoration of legitimate democratic rule and progress in moving towards a sustainable economy.”
“The persistent persecution of Lavalas partisans and sympathizers is a major impediment to the initiation of a process of reconciliation and a dialogue on a program of national unity. There can be no real progress on this vital question without the just and equitable inclusion of lavalas. Similarly there can be no elections that can be considered legitimate without meaningful participation of the Lavalas movement.”
We have pointed to the repression, suppression and exclusion of the Lavalas movement, not because we are Lavalas partisans but because it is principled and correct to uphold human rights and measure all parties and governments by one yardstick. Indeed, we take note of the complaint by anti-Lavalas forces that the human rights abuses of pro-Aristide/Lavalas gangs are seldom cited in the reports of international human rights organizations. However, it is clear that the brunt of the repression and persecution is being borne by the Lavalas movement.
All governments and parties in Haiti must respect fundamental human rights in order to build and maintain a democratic society. If it was wrong for the National Police and pro-Aristide forces to attack demonstrations and employ violence to block dissent, it is wrong for the Interim Government to round up and arrest hundreds of Lavalas leaders and sympathizers and detaithem indefinitely without charges. The detention without charges of Yvon Neptune, Prime Minister in the Aristide Government, for nearly a year has been repeatedly denounced by international human rights organizations and the international community. These detentions are symptomatic of the wholesale violation of the Haitian Constitution which provides that persons detained must be charged within 48 hours of their arrest.
It is wrong for National Police to fire on and kill unarmed protesters in peaceful demonstrations, and it is wrong for former army officers and para-military groups to hunt down and kill Lavalas members with impunity. Unfortunately, voices from the opposition that once complained about the abuses under Aristide are noticeably silent in the face of the assaults on the Lavalas movement. This is unprincipled and incorrect. This strain of repression, vengeance and retribution which runs through Haiti´s political culture must be repudiated and rooted out if democracy is ever to thrive in the first Black Republic in this hemisphere. And, all political parties, civil society organizations, constituencies and social classes must join in embracing and undertaking this crucial task.
As stated previously, justice is an essential pre-condition for reconciliation! While the demand by Lavalas that President Aristide be restored to power is legitimate, at a minimum parties and interest groups across the political spectrum should demand that the Interim Government respect the right of all political parties/movements to conduct peaceful demonstrations to express dissent, articulate their aspirations; release all persons who are unjustly incarcerated, and halt the persecution of Lavalas members by the Haitian National Police and para-military elements. These are essential steps to create the climate/conditions for the equitable inclusion of Fanmi Lavalas into the process of deciding the path to the restoration of constitutional rule in Haiti. Assuming these steps are taken, it is also imperative that Fanmi Lavalas pursue its mission of restoring constitutional rule and democracy using non-violent means. Justice and reconciliation must be the order of the day for Haiti to begin the healing process and move forward.
We reiterate that we are not Lavalas partisans or aligned with any particular political party or movement in Haiti. Our position is grounded in the conviction that these steps are essential to promote a process of justice, reconciliation and a dialogue on a program of national unity to move Haiti beyond politics as usual to construct a better future for the masses of the Haitian people. Despite the difficulties of functioning as good faith mediators and facilitators, the Haiti Support Project intends to stay the course, keeping open lines of communication with parties and factions across the political spectrum and engaging all sectors of Haitian society in discussions, debate and dialogue about how best to create a critical mass of support for a more principled and unified approach to building lasting democracy and creating a vibrant, sustainable economy in Haiti.
Despite our adopted role, we make no claims of being “neutral.” Time and time again, we have asserted that we stand on the side of the long suffering Haitian masses in their unfulfilled aspiration for an improvement in the quality of their lives. We have also been clear that there are numerous political parties, grassroots organizations, civil society groups and community based agencies and institutions who are working with and on behalf of the masses of Haitian people to achieve this goal. HSP is not tied to any one of these entities but is open to supporting all forces that are committed to fighting for the masses of the Haitian people, whether these forces agree with each other or not. Our role is to provide moral support, developmental and technical assistance to organizations and agencies working to fulfill this mission and to foster greater unity within the popular movement for democracy where possible.
Finally, we aspire to be respectful and meaningful stakeholders in the process of strengthening democracy and developing a strong and sustainable economy in Haiti.
Towards this end, we are committed to building a constituency for Haiti in the U.S., mobilizing the resources of the African American community, building functional bonds of solidarity with Haitian Americans and uniting with progressive forces to consistently provide material aid and developmental assistance to nurture and nourish a culture of civic engagement and democracy in Haiti. And, we are also fervently committed to decisively impacting U.S. policy towards Haiti. We believe that working together, African Americans, Haitian Americans and friends of Haiti can make an extraordinary contribution towards restoring Haiti to its rightful place in the sun in the 21st Century. The Haiti Support Project is devoted to assisting our Haitian sisters and brothers to finish the unfinished Haitian Revolution!