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Whatever the pretext, the US maintained its aid freeze and Haiti's economy, cut off

from bilateral and multilateral financing, went into a tailspin

 

 

Don't Fall for Washington's Spin on Haiti


By Jeffrey Sachs

 

The crisis in Haiti is another case of brazen US manipulation of a small, impoverished country. Much of the media portrayed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 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 on Sunday at the insistence of the US and France. Unfortunately, this is a very distorted view.

President George Bush's foreign policy team came into office intent on toppling Mr Aristide, and their efforts were apparently consummated on Sunday. Mr Aristide was 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 forcing the withdrawal of US troops from Haiti soon afterwards, well before the situation in the country could be stabilised. In terms of help to rebuild Haiti, the US Marines left behind about 8 miles of paved roads in Port-au-Prince and essentially little else.

In the meantime, the so-called "opposition," a coterie of rich Haitians linked to the preceding Duvalier regime, former (and perhaps current) CIA operatives and decommissioned officers of the brutal Duvalier army disbanded by Mr Aristide, worked Washington political circles to lobby against him.

In 2000, Haiti ran parliamentary and then presidential elections, unprecedented in their scope. The parliamentary elections went off adequately, although not perfectly. 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. The US media now reports that those elections were "boycotted by the opposition," and hence not legitimate, but this is a cruel joke to those who know Haiti. In fact, Haiti's voters elected Mr Aristide in late 2000 with an overwhelming mandate and the opposition, such as it was, ducked the elections. Duvalier thugs hardly constituted a winning ticket and as a result, they did not even try. Nor did they have to.

Mr Aristide's foes in Haiti benefited from tight links with the incoming Bush team; and thereby followed one of the great recent scandals of US foreign policy. The Bush team told Mr Aristide it would freeze all aid unless he agreed with the opposition over new elections for the contested Senate seats, among other political demands. The wrangling led to the freezing of $500m in emergency humanitarian aid from the US, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations.

The tragedy, or joke, is that Mr Aristide had agreed to compromise, but the opposition simply came up with one excuse after another - it was never the right time to hold new elections, as proposed by Mr Aristide, because of "security" problems, they said. Whatever the pretext, the US maintained its aid freeze and Haiti's economy, cut off from bilateral and multilateral financing, went into a tailspin.

All this is now 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 and the opposition balked, saying instead that the president had to leave. US Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly pressed opposition leaders to accept a compromise but they refused again. But rather than defending Mr Aristide and dealing with opposition intransigence, the White House announced the president should step down.

The ease with which another Latin American democracy crumbled is stunning. What, though, has been the role of US intelligence agencies among the anti-Aristide rebels? How much money went from US-funded institutions and government agencies to help the opposition. And why did the White House abandon the Caribbean compromise proposal it had 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 pretenses, with few questions asked in the aftermath.

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 Sunday's events were an illegal power grab. Second, the US should call on the opposition, which is largely a US construct, to stop all violence, immediately and unconditionally. Third, after years of literally starving the people of Haiti, the long-promised and long-frozen aid flows of $500m should start immediately. These steps would rescue a dying democracy and at least help avert a possible bloodbath.

The writer is director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University

Source: Financial Times, 29 February 2004

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The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World 

Reviewed by Mimi Sheller

Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789-1804

A Brief History with Documents

By Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

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I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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