A short succinct summary of a critical period in Haiti’s history.
Compiled by Nkiru Nzegwu
Kim Ives, Haiti Liberté journalist and guest on Democracy Now on January 13, 2010.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Can you explain why are there UN peacekeepers deployed on the ground? Explain for people why we had the ouster of the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Where does it stand politically right now in Haiti?
KIM IVES: The UN occupation is extremely unpopular. This was sent in after Aristide was removed by a plot essentially by the US, France and Canada on February 29, 2004. US, France and Canada sent in occupation troops, which remained there for three months, and then they handed off the mission to the UN, as they’ve done in the past—in 1995, in particular. Now, it is mainly done by the Brazilians, who are heading it. But it’s extremely unwelcome. People are sick and tired of the millions being spent, having guys riding around in giant tanks pointing guns at them. And, you know, essentially, this is a force to keep the country bottled up. I don’t know what’s going to happen now, because the dogs of madness are really going to be unleashed by this catastrophe.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I want to read a statement that was just released by the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He said, “My wife and I stand with the people of our country and mourn the death and destruction that has befallen Haiti. It is a tragedy that defies expression; a tragedy that compels all people to the highest levels of human compassion and solidarity. From Africa, the ancestral home of Haiti, we send our profoundest condolences and love to the thousands of children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters worst affected.” Where in Africa right now is he speaking from?
KIM IVES: He’s in South Africa, in Johannesburg. And this is one of the things. Aristide is being kept in exile, even now under the Obama administration, being kept out of the hemisphere. Apparently he’s gotten tremendous pressure since he went on the radio on November 25th and spoke out against the exclusionary elections that the Haitian government is trying to carry out, where the Lavalas Family party, the country’s largest, the party he founded, has been excluded from those elections, along with fourteen other parties.
And now he’s stuck in South Africa. He has no passport, which has long since expired. He has no laissez-passer, which he asked for explicitly in that radio address. And he should be invited. In fact, he should be brought back to help heal the country. I mean, the Haitian ambassador to the US, Ray Joseph, who was a participant in the coup d’état, has called for unity. I think if ever there was a moment when the Haitian government could now demonstrate unity, it would be now in allowing Aristide to come back, which has been one of the principal demands of the Haitian people over these past five years.
AMY GOODMAN: When we asked about the history—1915 to ‘34, 1991, explain the significance of these dates.
KIM IVES: Nineteen fifteen to 1934 was the first US Marine occupation, carried out under Woodrow Wilson, and finally, during the administration of FDR, it was ended. In ’91, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was inaugurated and—
AMY GOODMAN: As the first elected president.
KIM IVES: As, yes, the first democratically elected president. Eight months later, he was overthrown by a US CIA-backed coup. He remained three years in exile. They thought the coup could be somehow consolidated. It wasn’t. The resistance to it continued during that period. Finally, Clinton was forced to bring in 20,000 US troops, not to stop the coup, really, but to stop a revolution, which was in the making because of that coup.
AMY GOODMAN: Which would lead to immigrants coming into the United States.
KIM IVES: Possibly, yeah. I mean, the immigrants were being forced out by the coup. If there were a revolution in Haiti, maybe the flow would reverse. But the fact is the Clinton administration brought Aristide back as a sort of hostage on the shoulders of 20,000 US troops, and they remained until about 1999.
He was reelected in 2000. They again immediately started a coup when he was inaugurated on February 7, 2001, involving Contras based in the Dominican Republic and diplomatic and economic embargos, and all the—the whole works. They forced him out at gunpoint, essentially. A team of US Navy Seals came in and kidnapped him from his home in Tabarre on February 29th, 2004. And he’s been in exile ever since.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And speaking of immigration, what is the status right now of immigrants in this country, Haitian refugees? There was a final act by President Bush before President Obama took office. Explain the situation right now.
KIM IVES: There’s been a big push for what’s called “temporary protected status,” where if a country is struck by a natural disaster or tremendous political upheaval, people can receive a status in this country—it’s renewable every six months—where they won’t be deported. The Bush administration, as one of its final acts, did not—refused that status for Haitians. Everybody thought that Obama, when he came in, would—
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: How many were affected?
KIM IVES: Thirty thousand. Thirty thousand Haitians are due to be deported, and they are in detention centers, many of them, around the United States. And the Obama administration has never provided that temporary protected status, despite the storms of September 2008. But I think with this disaster, I can’t see how they can’t.
Bill Quigley, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights on Democracy Now, January 14, 2010.
Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti on Democracy Now, January 14, 2010.
BILL QUIGLEY: One of the big worries that we have about Haiti is this, you know, sending in the military, [suggests] that there is this real sense that you can’t actually start to feed people, you can’t actually share water with people, until you have people there with machine guns to prevent, you know, these—the worries of folks. And there’s an actual fear of the victims by people who are coming. They’re afraid of the people, when in fact the people are the most resilient, cooperative, generous folks who have already survived on their own. And this sort of militarization and scaredness—you know, scariness of the people there is something that’s common to all disasters. And we can talk some more about that in a bit, but it’s a very eerie sense of what’s happening there.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’ve been struck, too, by the disparate responses of governments, not just the United States, but other governments around the world. President Obama, listening to him talking about that we’re doing military flyovers to assess the damage and prepare our aid. But while the United States is assessing the situation, there have all been reports that a China airplane, from halfway around the world in China, landed yesterday with supplies and equipment to help the people of Haiti. The Cuban foreign minister announced that Cuba has 400 people already in Haiti that have been working on a—medical people working on a mission. They’ve already set up two field hospitals and, just yesterday alone, treated 800 people. And Venezuela, President Chavez, sent a plane that landed last night with firefighters and medical personnel and other equipment. So these other countries are moving faster than we are here in the United States, even though we have these enormous resources.
BILL QUIGLEY: Cuba has always been a real partner of Haiti. I was always struck there, because the United States was keeping people from Haiti out of the United States; Cuba was pulling people into Cuba to train them as doctors. They were—a scholarship in every church and every village and everything there to do as doctors. So they have been friends for some time.
The United States’ relationship with Haiti has been troubled for hundreds of years and is really one of the causes of—not of the earthquake itself, which would have devastated any place, but what one of the exacerbating things that—why Haiti is so impoverished to begin with, why people are building these houses on the sides of ravines, why there are so many people in Port-au-Prince and why they’re not in the countryside anymore. You know, and I don’t know if you want to talk about that now, but the history really lays the foundation for why the impact of this natural disaster is going to be so severe.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about history. It turned out the CIA was involved in that first coup against President Aristide from 1991 to 1994. And for three years, he was kept out. That history exacerbates the crisis of the earthquake that has afflicted so many millions of people in Haiti right now.
BRIAN CONCANNON: The history really defines the response and the vulnerability of Haiti to the earthquake. One of the most obvious ways it does that is why the people got to the hillsides where they were most vulnerable to the earthquakes. When we start getting more detailed reports on how many people have died that most of the people who have died will have done so in shantytowns perched on the hillsides.
They got there because they or their parents or grandparents were pushed out of Haiti’s countryside, where most Haitians used to live. They were pushed out by policies thirty years ago, when it was decided by the international experts that Haiti’s economic salvation lay in assembly manufacture plants. And in order to advance that, it was decided that Haiti needed to have a captive labor force in the cities. So a whole bunch of aid policies, trade policies and political policies were implemented, designed to move people from the countryside to places like Martissant and the hills that we’ve seen in those photos.
AMY GOODMAN: And would you like to add to this history from, well, 1804?
BILL QUIGLEY: In 1804, the imported African slaves that were brought to work the island revolted against their French rulers and colonial folks there and established a free state, a free black state, first time in the world. The United States responded very badly, because we still had enslaved millions and millions of Africans in the United States. And it wasn’t ’til after the Civil War that we even had any sort of relationship with them. And Haiti is much closer to the United States than even some parts of the United States.
France put a military blockade around Haiti to force them to pay reparations for their own freedom, to recompense people for the slaves that were freed. In the last century, the United States supported dictator after dictator, and the elected officials, we supported the coups that knocked them out. We have kept the country dependent. We have kept the country militarized. And we kept the country impoverished. We have dumped our excess rice, our excess farm produce and that stuff on the country, thereby undercutting the small farmers who would make up the backbone of the place. We didn’t create the earthquake, but we created some of the circumstances that made the earthquake so devastating.
JUAN GONZALEZ: It took Haiti all of the nineteenth century to pay the reparations to the French, so they were in debt throughout the nineteenth century. But I’d also like to raise this issue of the relationship between Haiti and Latin America that most people are not aware of, because, the times that we were in the Presidential Palace in Haiti, the palace that has now collapsed, there was a statue on the second floor of the Presidential Palace in Haiti to Simón Bolívar, the great liberator. In the early nineteenth century, when Simón Bolívar attempted his first revolt against Spanish rule, he was defeated, and he fled in exile to Haiti. The Haitian government at the time, the new republic, agreed to outfit a new force for Bolívar to return to liberate Latin America. But it had one condition, that he had to agree to abolish slavery in Latin America if he was successful. As a result, there’s always been this close tie between Venezuela, long before Hugo Chavez.
In fact, when Aristide was first overthrown, it was not Chavez who was president, but it was Venezuela who granted him asylum and offered him to come to their country, because there has been the long tie of appreciation from Venezuela, Colombia and the peoples of the America for the assistance that Haiti gave them in their liberation.
BILL QUIGLEY: And one other thing, I think, that’s important, when people are saying, “Well, where are the police? Where’s the rescue squad? Where’s the fire departments? Where’s that?” Haiti has the most non-governmental organizations of any country in the world. The entire country has, in a sense, been privatized. And anybody who’s ever visited Haiti is struck by the fact that—of these big SUVs that are flying through town with the UN forces in them. Every NGO and charity that you’ve ever heard of in your life is working in Haiti. But their first reaction when something like this happens is to withdraw to try to find their own people, to try to make sure that their place is up. So the flipside of the good that they are doing is that they have substituted for the public sector, and so the public sector is not vibrant, is not there. It is not connected. It is not resourced. The role of the NGOs has this really negative part to it, as well.
Dahoud Andre, Haitian community activist and the host of a Haitian radio broadcast called Lakou New York on Democracy Now, January 15, 2010.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Dahoud, in terms of the government, you’re saying—I mean, clearly the earthquake was centered in Port-au-Prince and the areas to the south, but the rest of the country was largely spared. The government has made no effort to mobilize folks from other parts of the country to assist in Port-au-Prince?
DAHOUD ANDRE: This is the problem, and this is why we’re saying that, and this is the message we’re giving to the community, that we must and we will rebuild the country. But we cannot rebuild the dysfunctional state that existed prior to this earthquake. What you can see in the footage is that people are, by themselves, with their bare hands, trying to remove rubble.
We had one—we’ve had a lot of listeners call in with stories that will make you cry. And one of them was one of our listeners. Her cousin, his wife came home to find the house crumbled, and her husband and her two babies were inside. She could hear them from under the rubble, but could do nothing. There is no 911 that you can call. There is no mobilized national guard.
The government, even like you said, the rest of the country—I have to tell you, everywhere in the country was hit, but Port-au-Prince was the most hit. Jacmel is in pretty bad shape, as well, where, we found out yesterday, thousands of people are at a stadium, a soccer stadium, with no water, no food and no sanitary. They’re using the bathroom around the place where they are. So we expect that very soon people will be getting sick over there. But the northern part was not so affected. So, as you said, it’s possible there could be a national mobilization, but this is not the direction that the government seems to be going.
The President was absent for two days. Nobody knew where he was. There were rumors that he was killed, that he was at the hospital in Canapé Vert. He was absent. And so, up to now, there has been no leadership provided, in terms of saying this is what the problem is, this is what we have left as resource that we’re going to use to rebuild.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you about another sensitive issue, which is the question of the Dominican Republic. How has the Dominican government, which would be in the easiest position to provide some kind of assistance, since it has a large land border with Haiti—what has been the response of the Dominican government to try to assist Haitians?
DAHOUD ANDRE: We haven’t heard any. We’ve seen the charts on the internet, which government is giving what. We’ve seen nothing from the Dominican government. As you must know, that it’s a very contentious relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. And a lot of racism exists, a lot of discrimination towards Haitians, which many Dominicans consider black while they are not black. That’s what they believe, of course.
AMY GOODMAN: Ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide spoke out yesterday from exile in South Africa. He was standing with his wife, the former First Lady Mildred Aristide. President Aristide said he wants to return to Haiti.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: As we all know, many people remain buried under tons of rubble and debris, waiting to be rescued. When we think of their suffering, we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death. As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time, to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity.
The spirit of Ubuntu, that once led Haiti to emerge as the first independent black nation in 1804, helped Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador attain liberty, and inspired our forefathers to shed their blood for the United States’ independence, cannot die. Today, this spirit of solidarity must and will empower all of us to rebuild Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: President Aristide wants to return to Haiti. Dahoud Andre, your response?
DAHOUD ANDRE: We believe President Aristide should be in Haiti right now. We’ve joked that President Aristide should come back to Haiti. If he cannot get the passport from Préval, he should come back in the trunk of a car through the Dominican border as Zelaya did in Honduras, or by ship. We think that today his presence would be a rallying presence in getting Haitians together to rebuild. We have to say, despite the coup, despite the six years now that have passed since, President Aristide remains very popular in the country. And many people—for January 1st, our reporter in the north of the country traveled throughout the town of Cap-Haitien to get reactions from the poor in the streets. And this is what they were saying, that if President Aristide was here, our 1st of January would not happen like this. Real or not, there is hope. There is an expectation that President Aristide had tried to help the country. He was not allowed to help the country as much as he would have liked. Not all of us agree 100 percent on that, but we believe that he remains a rallying force that can help the country to rebuild.