Saturday, April 25, 2009

Love and Haiti

John Caruso had a good post last Sunday on US policy toward the elections in Haiti, which I didn't look at closely until today. But then I noticed his quotation from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's remarks at the Haiti Donors Conference on April 14:
CLINTON: The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy. And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress. And the national and presidential elections in 2006 really moved Haiti’s democracy forward. What the president and the prime minister are seeking is to maintain a strong commitment to democratic governance which will take another step forward with elections for the senate on Sunday.
These remarks were so blatantly ahistorical that I decided to look at the full text, to see if Clinton might have filled in the gaps in her history.

First of all, I'm sure you'll be pleased to learn that Secretary of State Clinton didn't limit herself to dry recitation of impersonal facts.
On a personal note, my husband and I went to Haiti for the first time shortly after we were married, so we have a deep commitment to Haiti and the people of Haiti. Our homes are filled with art from Haiti. We have friends who hail from Haiti. But it is not only my personal concern that brings me here today.
Some of her best friends are Haitians! Would you believe it? And she hailed the good example of "the defeat of slavery in Haiti which inspired slaves and abolitionists in my country, to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have emigrated to the United States and have strengthened us through their contributions in politics and business and health and education, in science, sports, and culture – the benefits of which I experienced firsthand as a senator representing New York, which has a vibrant Haitian American community." She didn't mention, of course, that Haiti was the original case of the threat of a bad example in the Western hemisphere, that the United States (which was still a slave nation when Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, and didn't want its own property to get any funny ideas) collaborated with Europe in crushing the Haitian economy. Or that the US invaded Haiti and occupied it from 1915 to 1934. Clinton did mention that
Not long ago, from the 1950s until the 1980s, Haiti endured a brutal military dictatorship. The U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995, clearing the way for democracy. And after several years of political disputes, common in any country making a transition, Haiti began to see progress --
It's a shame that Caruso didn't quote the first sentence in that paragraph along with the succeeding ones; it shows just how carefully, knowingly dishonest Clinton was. You don't have to read very closely to wonder what happened between the 1980s, when "Haiti endured a brutal military dictatorship", and 1995, when "The U.S. removed a military dictatorship ..., clearing the way for democracy." Aren't we wonderful? How would the poor benighted people of Haiti have been able to strive for democracy if the U.S. hadn't cleared the way?

Well, they might have done quite well on their own. Clinton did not mention the 1990 elections, in which the former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected President, a development which shocked not only Haitian elites, but the U.S. government, which had backed another candidate and naturally expected him to win. Aristide was deposed in September 1991 by a military coup and went into exile. After the coup,
the Organization of American States declared an embargo. Bush I announced that the US would violate it by exempting US firms. He was thus "fine tuning" the embargo for the benefit of the suffering population, the New York Times reported. [President Bill] Clinton authorized even more extreme violations of the embargo: US trade with the junta and its wealthy supporters sharply increased. The crucial element of the embargo was, of course, oil. While the CIA solemnly testified to Congress that the junta "probably will be out of fuel and power very shortly" and "Our intelligence efforts are focused on detecting attempts to circumvent the embargo and monitoring its impact," Clinton secretly authorized the Texaco Oil Company to ship oil to the junta illegally, in violation of presidential directives. This remarkable revelation was the lead story on the AP wires the day before Clinton sent the Marines to "restore democracy," impossible to miss - I happened to be monitoring AP wires that day and saw it repeated prominently over and over -- and obviously of enormous significance for anyone who wanted to understand what was happening. It was suppressed with truly impressive discipline, though reported in industry journals along with scant mention buried in the business press.

Also efficiently suppressed were the crucial conditions that Clinton imposed for Aristide's return: that he adopt the program of the defeated US candidate in the 1990 elections, a former World Bank official who had received 14% of the vote. We call this "restoring democracy," a prime illustration of how US foreign policy has entered a "noble phase" with a "saintly glow," the national press explained. The harsh neoliberal program that Aristide was compelled to adopt was virtually guaranteed to demolish the remaining shreds of economic sovereignty, extending Wilson 's progressive legislation and similar US-imposed measures since.

So, to claim, as Secretary of State Clinton did, that "the U.S. removed a military dictatorship in 1995," is fudging the truth just a tad. 1995 was the year that Aristide left office, having been restored to the presidency in 1994; could that have been what she meant by removing a military dictatorship? No doubt she knew her audience would know enough to fill in the gaps without making a fuss about them. It wouldn't do to acknowledge the U.S. role in keeping those dictatorships in place, and in suppressing Haitian democracy until it could be brought under the proper control, which meant supporting the 2004 coup which sent Aristide into exile again. Oh, and by the way:
Refugees fleeing to the US from the terror of the US-backed dictatorships were forcefully returned, in gross violation of international humanitarian law. The policy was reversed when a democratically elected government took office. Though the flow of refugees reduced to a trickle, they were mostly granted political asylum. Policy returned to normal when a military junta overthrew the Aristide government after seven months, and state terrorist atrocities rose to new heights. The perpetrators were the army - the inheritors of the National Guard left by Wilson 's invaders to control the population - and its paramilitary forces. The most important of these, FRAPH, was founded by CIA asset Emmanuel Constant, who now lives happily in Queens, Clinton and Bush II having dismissed extradition requests -- because he would reveal US ties to the murderous junta, it is widely assumed. Constant's contributions to state terror were, after all, meager; merely prime responsibility for the murder of 4-5000 poor blacks.
Does Secretary of State Clinton know these things? She surely knows about Emmanuel Constant, one of her constituents from her tenure as Senator from New York, whom she doubtless regards as one of those "hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have emigrated to the United States and have strengthened us through their contributions in politics and business and health and education, in science, sports, and culture."

And Clinton is, after all, one of President Obama's appointees, one of the team of rivals who might have their own views but nevertheless do his bidding and serve at his pleasure. Obama didn't have much to say about Haiti during his presidential campaign, as far as I can find. He knows these things, I'm sure; but I suspect his view of Haitian history is now as twisted as his Secretary of State's.