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Sharon Smith

Letter from the US

Dictator’s terms

(October 1994)

From Socialist Review, No. 179, October 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

‘US troops did not shoot their way into Haiti, but they nevertheless now occupy Haiti, for the second time this century’

All summer long Clinton threatened to send US troops to oust the military dictatorship of General Raoul Cedras, which ruled Haiti since it overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide three years ago. In mid September Clinton declared that a US invasion was all but inevitable, warning the dictators in a nationally televised broadcast, ‘your time is up’, as he displayed photographs of mutilated corpses of people killed by the regime’s death squads. But on 18 September – the date the invasion was set to take place – Clinton called off the attack at the last minute, striking a deal with the very same butchers the US had planned to overthrow.

But though the invasion was called off, there is no cause for celebration. US troops did not shoot their way into Haiti, but they nevertheless now occupy Haiti, for the second time this century. The very next day the US military began sending in a force of 15,000 US troops (only 120 of whom speak Creole, the language that most Haitians speak), who will occupy Haiti for a period of months.

They will eventually be replaced by a force of 6,000 United Nations troops – at least half of whom will be from the US – who are scheduled to stay until Aristide’s term expires in early 1996. The US military also plans to set up a ‘new’ Haitian police force – which will look remarkably similar to the army which has terrorised the population for the last three years, since it will be made up largely of soldiers from Cedras’ army. The Clinton administration plans to entice 3,000 of them to become police by offering them sizeable bonuses to sign up.

The terms of the deal reached with Cedras show that, while Clinton’s stated intentions were to ‘restore democracy’ to Haiti, the US was willing to make almost any concession to preserve its long standing relationship with the Haitian military. The deal was negotiated by a delegation led by former president Jimmy Carter, in a last desperate attempt by Clinton to avoid an invasion.

The delegation stated its highest priority was to ‘maintain the dignity’ of the military dictators, who are responsible for the political assassinations of an estimated 4,000 Aristide supporters over the last three years. The agreement allows Cedras and the other leaders of Haiti’s military government to take an ‘early and honourable retirement’ to avoid the appearance that they are being driven out of office. And they were given a full month after the agreement, until 15 October, to relinquish power – so Cedras and co will continue to command Haitian security forces with the cooperation of the US until that time.

The deal also offers a guarantee that Cedras and the other coup leaders cannot be forced to leave Haiti after they step down. But if they choose to do so, the US will provide free transport to a safe haven. They will be given access to all of their financial assets which were frozen during the final months of the stand off with the US. Complete amnesty will be granted to all members of the military for the multitude of human rights atrocities they have committed since the coup. And the US Agency for International Development (AID) plans to spend $12.5 million to offer ‘financial incentives’ – including training, jobs and cash payments – to the 4,000 soldiers from Cedras’ 7,000 man army who won’t be kept on as police during the US occupation.

Clinton administration officials have made clear their distrust of Aristide, who was elected as a democratic reformer who spoke out against US intervention in Haiti’s domestic affairs. The Financial Times wrote recently, ‘The Clinton administration still formally declares its support for Mr. Aristide, but scarcely disguises its wish for a leader more accommodating to the military.’ But Clinton’s policies have merely carried on a long standing US tradition in Haiti, which has relied on military repression.

The US has dominated Haiti for most of this century – including a 19 year US military occupation between 1915 and 1934. That was followed by a steady stream of brutal dictators propped up by the US – most notably the bloody Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier regimes spanning three decades. During its occupation, the US military created the Haitian army – established as ‘an army to fight the people’. Even today, most Haitian officers are US trained, and several of Haiti’s senior military leaders are former or current CIA operatives.

During his first 18 months in office, Clinton made several attempts to broker a power sharing deal between Aristide and Cedras. But Cedras repeatedly thumbed his nose at Clinton. Over recent months, Clinton felt pressured to raise the stakes, especially after the US’s humiliating withdrawal from Somalia. When in June Haitians began taking to boats to flee the murderous regime at the rate of 2,000 per day – and members of the Congressional Black Caucus began protesting at the racism of forcibly repatriating Haitian refugees – Clinton raised the threat of invasion.

But Clinton wanted to avoid invading Haiti. And in the weeks and days leading up to the showdown in September, the US government continued working behind the scenes to find a solution which would safeguard the power of the Haitian military. For example, the CIA was prepared to offer US money and weapons to anyone within the Haitian army willing to help destabilise or overthrow the Cedras regime. Simultaneously, the CIA also offered cash payments to Cedras and the other military leaders if they agreed to leave Haiti.

Having repeatedly threatened to invade Haiti, Clinton found himself in the position of, however reluctantly, having to make good this threat. In an increasingly common role reversal, most liberal politicians – including many in the Congressional Black Caucus and Aristide himself – supported Clinton’s threat to invade, while conservatives voiced opposition. Throughout the entire debate, however, the vast majority of the population remained opposed to the US leading an invasion of Haiti.

Even before US troops landed in Haiti, the Clinton administration gave a glimpse as to what its idea of ‘democracy’ will mean during the occupation. Troops will have primary responsibility for ‘restoring basic civil order’ – fighting civil unrest – not from Cedras’ supporters, but from Haiti’s impoverished majority. As one senior administration official put it, ‘If there was rioting or looting that was more than the Haitian police could handle, we’d be like the National Guard in Los Angeles that would be called upon.’

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