When Major Powers Stage a Coup
by Randall Robinson
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A bloodless coup, led by the world's richest and most powerful nations, is taking place in Haiti.
For two years now, the world's wealthiest nations and the Bretton Woods institutions they control have maintained a crushing international financial embargo on eight million Haitians. They have done this "to protest an electoral dispute stemming from Haiti's May 2000 national elections." At issue was the formula used to calculate the votes for seven senate seats - out of some 7,500 filled nationwide at that time. The seven senators have long since resigned, yet the sweeping financial embargo their election triggered remains in place.
In the original dispute over the vote count, anti-government figures inside Haiti with powerful connections abroad but no political support at home saw a priceless opportunity. If, instead of the screaming victims and ricocheting bullets of the 1991 coup the international community would, this time, simply block every penny of international capital to the Government of Haiti, then that government could, effectively - and without the negative headlines - be again overthrown. A government with no access to capital soon becomes no government at all. And so, for more than a year now, Haiti has been hog-tied and thrust face into the dirt by a financial embargo initiated and maintained by the wealthiest nations on earth.
There may not be the bullet-ridden bodies along Haiti's streets that we saw after the coup of 1991. But there are bodies. They are the bodies of Haiti's nameless, faceless poor who, no longer able to bend, break. They buckle under the weight of an embargo that - incredibly - denies their elected government already-approved loans for safe drinking water, literacy programs, and health care that they need. They die out of earshot, out of sight, and unremarked by "those who matter" beyond their shores.
Professor Paul Farmer of Harvard Medical School established a health clinic in Haiti's central plateau some 20 years ago and travels there regularly. Day after day, he and his staff do battle against the ravages of the embargo. He has been writing and speaking extensively in an attempt to alert the outside world to the impact of the world's powerful on Haiti. "They are doing severe harm to millions of Haitian men, women, and children.... If the American people could observe first hand the ravages of this embargo, they would strongly condemn it," he says.
Profoundly concerned by the human costs of the embargo, the 14 English-speaking democracies of the Caribbean dispatched a high-level delegation to Haiti in January of 2002. In their view, the widespread human suffering it has wrought has gone unaddressed - and unremarked - for far too long. These democracies, the oldest and most stable in the hemisphere south of the United States, have stepped forward to serve as a bridge between those imposing the embargo and those suffering under it. They note that the Government of Haiti has made significant concessions in an attempt to end this crisis, key among them being the long ago resignation of the seven senators whose election triggered the embargo. At the same time Caricom (Caribbean Community) is working in earnest with Haiti's unelected opposition figures in an attempt to encourage them to work with their government to end the stalemate.
According to Julian Hunte, Minister of External Affairs in the Government of St. Lucia and Head of Caricom's Special Haiti Mission, for the entire international community, "the social, economic, and political interests of eight million Haitians must now become paramount." Indeed, Dame Eugenia Charles, former Prime Minister of Dominica and rock solid partner of Ronald Reagan in the 1983 US/Caricom invasion of Grenada, lamented after participating in an official fact-finding mission to Haiti in July 2001, "No-one is listening to the Haitian people. No-one is asking what the Haitian people want!"
Caricom is trying to alert the Organization of American States and indeed the entire international community to a number of stark realities. In this special period in world relations, it is morally untenable and politically unwise for the wealthiest nations on earth to maintain a financial stranglehold on eight million men, women, and children in Haiti. Haiti has no nuclear weapons. It has attacked neither American property nor American citizens. Indeed it is trying its very best, even with its limited material resources, to be a responsible nation and to support US priorities in the region. As an active participant in the US led regional war on drugs, for example, even with its inexperienced police and coast guard, Haiti was able to double the size of its cocaine seizures last year over the year before.
Throughout the Caribbean, there is a keen sense that the duly elected Government of Haiti must now be allowed to govern. The financial embargo robs the Haitian people of their government, and therefore of their democracy. There is also, throughout the Caribbean, respect for the right of Haiti's opposition figures to continue criticizing their government while awaiting their turn at the polls, for this is the essence of democracy.
Caribbean democracies are urging that the loans successfully negotiated by the Government of Haiti on behalf of the Haitian people be released without delay. It is only when this is done, Caricom feels, that the benefits of Haiti's hard-won democracy will, at last, be made manifest to the very special people of that very special land.
Randall Robinson is founder and past president us of TransAfrica Forum. He is a lecturer and author whose works include "The Debt - What America Owes to Blacks" and "The Reckoning - What Blacks Owe to Each Other." He is currently living in the Caribbean (e-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org) where he is writing a book about the impact of the United States on the region.
Contributor Kevin Pina offers this afterword on Haitian developments:
Since Mr. Robinson wrote this piece, very little has changed with regard to the crippling "unofficial" economic embargo imposed upon Haiti's constitutional government. As Mr. Robinson points out, the official reason behind withholding of loans and assistance to Haiti's government has always been the method for calculating the ballots of the May 2000 parliamentary elections. This charge has been leveled and repeated again and again by the pundits of the US foreign policy establishment in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The greatest irony is that President Bush himself had to be selected by the Supreme Court of the US amidst charges of bad vote tabulations and manipulation of the electorate. A member of President Aristide's Lavalas party made this comment following the US elections, "Regardless of the problems we had with our elections it is pure hypocrisy for the US to lecture us about democracy and methods for counting our ballots. It is very ironic that the world's first black republic, which arose from the world's only successful slave revolution, is being lectured to by a government whose methods of determining victory in a presidential election were originally designed over 200 years ago by a small clique of white male slave owners.
"The Electoral College system, your method of calculating ballots, guarantees against populism by allowing a candidate who receives the most votes to actually lose an election while in Haiti they insist we must adhere without variation to the principles of one person, one vote.' This does not even begin to address the contradiction of the number of military coups the US has supported over the years against democratically elected governments in this hemisphere in the name of democracy."
On April 30, 2003, a historic meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) will take place that may well determine the future of democracy in Haiti. The United States Representative to the OAS, Peter De Shazo, has already begun blaming the government of Haiti for not doing enough to improve the political climate which many here see as "double speak" for "regime change." The charge appears to be part of the continuing campaign to deny Haiti much-needed funds and undermine Haiti's democratic process. To learn more about it contact the Haiti Action Committee at email@example.com. [Added - website: www.haitiaction.net]
Kevin Pina is a documentary filmmaker and freelance journalist who has been working and living in Haiti for the past three years. He has been covering events in Haiti for the past decade and produced a documentary film entitled "Haiti: Harvest of Hope". Mr. Pina is also the Haiti Special Correspondent for the Flashpoints radio program on the Pacifica Network's flagship station KPFA in Berkeley CA (www.flashpoints.net).