The Anniversary of President Aristide’s Overthrow

February 29, 2012

This is a personal reflection from Paul Miller, the director of the Haiti Justice Alliance.

President Jean Bertrand Aristide

I remember very well where I was when I learned that President Aristide had left Haiti in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004.  It was my “where were you when you heard JFK was shot” moment, although I have that memory, too.  It was at Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, Minnesota and my friend, who had traveled with me to Haiti in December of 2003, 3 months earlier, informed me that news reports were saying that Aristide had left Haiti.  “Left Haiti?  No way,” was my first thought. I didn’t think that Aristide would ever abdicate his presidential term in Haiti by his own choice after the 1991 coup against him and his 1994 return. Stunned and devastated would accurately describe how I received this most depressing news.

The facts would come to show that my instincts were right.  President Aristide had no intention of leaving Haiti on that night or on any night during the remaining time of his presidency.  Clearly he did not leave that night of his own volition.  You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe about US actions on this or any other given day.  However, if you choose to value the truth, then you must accept that the facts show that Jean Bertrand Aristide was removed by US force/s as yet another coup d’état took place in Haiti.  The only evidence offered of an alternative scenario are self-serving statements from those at the top of our government, chiefly George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and the sycophantic Colin Powell.

It’s not ancient history, like a lot of our nefarious actions towards Haiti.  It was 8 years ago.  Monday it was announced that President Aristide is being investigated for drug violations. Our hypocrisy really knows no bounds.  What a coincidence that once again we are asked to question Aristide’s integrity and ethics rather than to be reminded that a US-sponsored coup undermined Haiti’s hope for democracy and stability on this day, 8 short years ago.

MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

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Reflections on Kim, Rory, and Oprah in Haiti

January 30, 2012
This is a post from the Director of the Haiti Justice Alliance, Paul Miller. Paul’s contribution examines the inherent irony in the do-gooding work of celebrities who have been propelled to fabulous wealth by the structural inequalities that prey upon those they purport to serve. He concludes with an eloquent call for approaching Haiti with dignity rather than with the pity of celebrities.
The conditions in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti should serve as an indictment of the inherent injustice that exists in a world where the haves have money beyond any possible use other than to mark the number of zeros behind their net worth and the have-nots are subject to the dreadful whims of nature because they are forced to live in the unsafe dregs of the material world.
It is ironic that some of the leading icons in the world of haves, who should be most looking inward in this structural system that creates winners and losers, are the ones newly offering their empathy to the poor, to-be-pitied children of the have and have-not system where the aftermath of the earthquake is only the latest inhumanity served up to them.
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Development Is Political

November 14, 2011

We had a wonderful series of events last week with Lavarice Gaudin, director of operations for the What If? Foundation. Lavarice braved 13 talks over 3 days, which included a panel, public speeches, and class appearances.

Although he offered unique insights each time, several common themes emerged. This post picks up one of those themes for further discussion.

Power and Politics in the US-Haiti Relationship

“The US relationship with Haiti is like somebody who breaks your legs, and then asks: why are you crippled?” – Lavarice Gaudin

Lavarice Gaudin at the University of Minnesota. Photo Credit: Paul Miller.

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Words vs. Action in US Haiti Policy

September 14, 2011

This guest post from our director, Paul Miller, builds on an important idea we’ve discussed before: that there’s a large disconnect between US policy toward Haiti and the statements of US policymakers. Paul writes passionately and persuasively about the consequences on this disconnect, and about the policies that HJA supports instead. 

The US aid model, which is subservient to US foreign policy goals, is not designed to strengthen Haiti’s governance or even to provide economic stability to Haiti.  Hand-wringing aside, US foreign aid – by design or by default – perpetuates a system of dependency that is exacerbated by the United States’ intentional undermining of democratic movements. The majority of large NGOs in Haiti contribute to this cycle (see Hallward, Damming the Flood).

The Haiti Justice Alliance (HJA) attempts to enlighten the Cheryl Mills of the world to the irony of their egocentric questions given the reality of their position of dominance.  While Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of Haiti’s government response to the earthquake is ridiculous, it nonetheless persists in the minds of the American public.  Her words perpetuate the sense that Haiti cannot function because of its corrupt government – and, by inference, its inept population.

Hillary Clinton at a press conference with President Martelly

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Lessons From The FOIA Series

August 30, 2011

In the final installment of our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) series, we explore different ways the US could’ve handled the relief effort.

The first post revealed that most of our money went to two forms of aid – militarized aid and “tied” food aid – both of which the US is chastised for using because they’re either ineffective or harmful. The second post showed that most of the rest of the money went to the UN – followed by private contractors – and that within the UN, it was allocated in a manner that neglected Haiti’s biggest post-quake challenge.

This time we peek under the hood of the USAID system to understand what led to those choices. This perspective is essential not only for explaining why the relief effort played out as it did, but more importantly, for pointing the way forward from here.

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DENYING ECONOMIC SOVEREIGNTY: US Interference in Haitian Oil Deals

June 14, 2011

The US government has a deplorable history of colluding with US and international business interests to undermine Haitian political and economic sovereignty. Knowing this history is crucial for understanding why it’s so bad that US firms received $98.40 out of every $100 in reconstruction contracts. More broadly, it illustrates why it’s vital to support Haitian-led organizations: because they not only promote local (rather than imposed) solutions, but they also genuinely have Haiti’s best interests at heart.

As the following story illustrates, this is not the case with US policy in Haiti.

US Efforts to Block Haiti-Venezuela Oil Deal

From 2006-2008, the US cajoled and bullied the government of Haiti to prevent it from signing a breakthrough oil deal with Venezuela. Under the terms of the deal, Haiti would join Venezuela’s oil alliance, PetroCaribe, and buy oil from their neighbor at low prices with a measly 1% interest rate. These favorable terms were further sweetened by the offer of an aid package that included building several power plants and giving Haiti 2 million high-efficiency light bulbs that would save money and 60 MW of electricity every year.

The ideologically driven, inhumane US response to this deal is detailed in the Nation article entitled The PetroCaribe Files. Led by a recent Bush appointee, Ambassador Janet Sanderson, the US Embassy in Haiti spearheaded an effort to make sure the deal failed – despite internally acknowledging the benefits to the people of Haiti.

In a series of frustrated cables, she stated: Préval faces “increasing pressure to produce immediate and tangible changes in Haiti’s desperate situation,” but despite the fact Haiti “would save USD $100 million per year” under the deal, Préval “is aware that a deal with Chavez would cause problems with us.” Over several meetings with Préval and other Haitian government officials, Sanderson reports that she stressed the consequences of “the larger negative message [the deal] would send to the international community.”

Later cables make explicit why the US opposed a deal that would so obviously benefit the Haitian people. After meeting with senior Préval adviser Fritz Longchamp, Sanderson wrote that he “betrayed a common trait among Haitian officials in misjudging the relative importance that U.S. policy makers attach to Haiti versus Venezuela.” That is, the US Embassy agreed that this would help Haitians, but prioritized scoring political points in the war of influence against Hugo Chavez over improving lives in Haiti. While the US has every right to make that choice in its own policy, these cables reveal a willingness to coerce the Haitian government into doing so as well. When Préval so much as met with Chavez, Sanderson ranted that he was “off parading with Chavez’ rogues’ gallery.”

In addition to exerting political pressure and issuing veiled threats, Ambassador Sanderson “encouraged” the four US oil companies pumping the gas in Haiti to voice their discontent over the deal to the Haitian government. When it seemed that negotiations between Préval and the US oil companies in Haiti were going to resolve quickly, the Embassy encouraged them to stonewall and drive a hard bargain. The fact that the US oil companies signed on to the deal further suggests that US pressure accounted for some of the reluctance to negotiate.

In Favor of a Haitian-Led Reconstruction

This story demonstrates why the US has no moral legitimacy to oversee the $10.2 billion reconstruction budget: they’re willing to sacrifice improving Haitians’ lives for the sake of political grandstanding and the profit of US firms. Moreover, it should make clear what a US-led reconstruction effort, such as the Interim Haiti Relief Commission, entails: the patronizing denial of Haitian self-determination based on our political priorities.

The US’ persistent unwillingness to let Haiti determine its own future continues to be one of the largest hurdles to reconstruction efforts today. Let this story be a reminder of US priorities in Haiti, and of the need to safeguard Haitians’ rights to formulate their own solutions.

by Nathan Yaffe