Progressive Writers Bloc

"Something's Happening Here"

by David Chandler

I am writing on Sunday, February 29. According to today's New York Times, "President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the slum priest who became his country's first democratically elected president, resigned today under intense pressure from the United States and the threat of an invasion of the capital by armed insurgents, fleeing by jet at dawn under heavy American guard." [The referenced article remains available free of charge for 7 days, and after that for a fee. Registration with is required.]

The problem with this story is that eyewitnesses report Aristide was taken out in handcuffs* by US Marines. He has been held incommunicado and his whereabouts 15 hours after his abduction is unknown. Ira Kurzban, a U.S. lawyer serving as the General Counsel for the Government of Haiti, members of Aristide's family, and several members of the U.S. Congress have made repeated requests to the U.S. State Department to be put in touch with Aristide, but have been rebuffed.

We are not talking about a bloody dictator. That would be François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier who maintained a reign of terror in Haiti from 1957 to 1986, killing an estimated 30,000 people. The Duvaliers established a security force called the Tonton Macoute who, in lieu of salary, lived by officially sanctioned extortion, killing with impunity. The Duvaliers were occasionally criticized by the US government, but overall had US support until Jean-Claude was overthrown by a popular uprising in 1986, rescued by the US, and retired into exile in France.

Aristide, by contrast, was a former parish priest who worked in the poorest neighborhoods. When in office his Lavalas movement worked to reduce violence and poverty. He was overthrown in a CIA backed coup after only seven months. The junta (FRAPH) that ruled in his place from 1991 to 1994 brought back the terror, resulting in more than 5000 deaths. In 1994 Aristide returned to Haiti but was opposed by some factions of the US Congress, most notably Jesse Helms. Even Clinton turned on Aristide in his last year, imposing an embargo that crippled the Haitian economy; most likely because he refused to go along with requirements imposed by the World Bank and IMF.

The current administration has undertaken a policy of destabilization of Haiti and vilification of Aristide from the first (…with a remarkably parallel strategy in Venezuela…but that is a story for a different occasion). The "opposition" involves recycled members of FRAPH, including the leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain, and Guy Philippe, who was trained by US Special Forces in Ecuador during the rule of the junta in the early '90s.

This is a major news item. It goes to the heart of who we are and how we operate in a world unopposed by a balancing superpower. World empire unconstrained by law or international opinion is the explicit agenda of the neo-cons behind the current administration. Is that who we want to be?

I wanted to follow what was happening today, so I surfed through CNN and the networks on TV looking for breaking news and found instead blanket coverage of the Oscars. There was a one-liner on Haiti that passed along the bottom of CNN occasionally, but that was it. I didn't watch all the news all day, so I can't say nothing came on later. Instead I turned to Pacifica Radio (KFCF 88.1 FM), while driving to Porterville (I can't get it in Springville), and then downloaded Pacifica's two hour special on Haiti on the internet ( and

All of this could be clearer, or different, in the morning…probably a lot bloodier. It looks at this point like we are implicated in kidnapping a democratically elected president of a country that couldn't possibly threaten us in any way. Tune in and stay tuned.

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[March 1--morning after update: Aristide, who was taken to the Central African Republic, has made contact with several people, including congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and very involved with the Haiti situation. Aristide denied resigning, described his abduction as a kidnapping, and the situation as a coup. His wife, who is a U.S. citizen, and three others were also abducted. At this time they continue to be held in U.S. military custody.]

*The story that Aristide was taken out in handcuffs came from independent reporter Kevin Pena quoting two eyewittness sources, one of them an ABC cameraman who refused to identify himself out of fear. This story has not be verified by Aristide thus far. However Aristide continues to assert that he was taken by force by US troops and considers this event to be a coup by the United States. One of the first people to talk with Aristide after this incident is US Congressmember Maxine Waters.

Aristide's first address to the Haitian people from exile with details about the abduction.

Here is the text of the disputed "resignation letter" which was written in Creole and mis-translated by the State Department. Note that in the non-state department translation Aristide is aquiescing to leave but does not say he is resigning. Even if he had said he was resigning it would not be legally binding since it was a forced statement.

The US claims South Africa turned down an assylum request for Aristide, but South Africa denies it was ever asked, and says it would offer assylum if asked. Meanwhile the Central African Republic continues to keep Aristide in virtual imprisonment, and has objected to his issuing statements that would anger the US.

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