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The legacy of imperialist intervention in Haiti

By Les Bayless, in People's Weekly World,
21 May 1994, p. 11

WASHINGTON - A mock invasion of Haiti by 44,000 troops on May 11 intensified fears that a U.S. military takeover of the tiny Caribbean nation is only days away.

The exercise, which included a token multinational force, was dubbed Operation Agile Provider.

As the exercise was concluding, U.S. diplomatic sources told the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. would send troops to purge the military government. According to the report, the only question remaining was the timing and number of troops involved in the assault. President Clinton has said repeatedly that he would not rule out the use of troops.

The president has come under fire from Congress, particularly the Congressional Black Caucus, for his Haiti policy, including the forcible return of refugees to their homeland, where they face torture and cetain imprisonment Also at issue is the administration's lukewarm support for the return of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Nine members of Congress have been aerested protesting U.S. policy, and human rights activist Randall Robinson went on a month-long hunger strike.

Popular forces oppose military intervention

The popular organizations in Haiti oppose intervention of any kind - whether by the U.S. direcfly, or under the auspices of any other organization, said Marx Aristide, a spokesperson for the solidarity organization, Haiti Reborn.

Aristide is shocked by the support some U.S. progressives have given to military intervention. The U.S. is the problem, he explained. The current military government was created by the U.S.

He criticized the U.S. for putting pressure on President Aristide to make concessions to the military instead of pressuring the military to step down. As an example of the pressure, he pointed out that the U.S. wanted President Aristide to accept military leaders in his cabinet.

Marx Aristide said, The history of my country should tell you why we are opposed to any further military intervention.

Vicki Linton, spokesperson for the Washington Peace Center, said, 'We are opposed to U.S. military intervention in Haiti. We don't see it as a viable alternative. It doesn't reflect the position of the Haitian people or the popular movement in Haiti. The U.S. isn't concerned with the demands of the Haitian people. If Aristide were installed by military intervention as president he would only be a figurehead.

While Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) has supported a military invasion, other Congressional Black Caucus members and organized labor have called for a tightening of economic sanctions.

Clinton admin. sanctions only 'cosmetic'

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FIa.), who was arrested May 5 at the White House along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Nydia Velasquez (D-N.Y.), called present sanctions cosmetic reminders of the 'wait-and-see' attitude of U.S. officials towards Haitian democracy and President Aristide.

None of the representatives arrested May 5 called for a military assault on Haiti, according to statements obtained by the World.

In a press conference May 3, Jack Sheikkman, president of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), said, Before we raise the possibility of military intervention in Haiti, let us first apply the diplomatic tools we possess but have not exercised. Sanctions haven't failed; they haven't even been tried yet.

Sheinkman noted that since the imposition of sanctions by the Organization of American States (OAS), 87 U.S. companies continue to import from Haiti, and imports have actually increased by 44 percent.

Along with their adamant opposition to U.S., U.N. or OAS intervention, Haiti's popular forces and trade unions have also criticized President Aristide for signing the Governor's Island Accord in July 1993 with the junta chief, General Raoul Cedras. The accord, negotiated un- der U.N. auspices, provided amnesty for Cedras and other coup plotters, protection for their assets as well as a transition government that supposedly would prepare the way for Aristide's return. Under the agreement, Cedras would remain in power until the legitimate government was restored.

Legacy of imperialist domination

Foreign intervention in Haiti dates back to 1697 when the French gained sovereignty over present-day Haiti. A successful slave revoft led by Toussaint L'Ouverure led to eventual independence in 1804, though Haiti was forced into economic dependence by its former colonial rulers, By the end of the century, 80 percent of Haiti's national revenue was devoted to debt repayment.

The United States, citing political instatllity, invaded Haiti in 1915. Local peasant militias, or cacos, led by Charlemagne Peralte, fought back. The revolt was defeated. Peralte was murdered by U.S. troops in 1918 U.S. military control of the island lasted until 1935. U.S. investment in Haiti tripled between 1915 and 1930.

During the period of military occupation, the U.S. set up a military-administrative system of control that is still in effect today. A succession of weak governments ousted by military coups lasted until 1957, when François Duvalier, Papa Doc, won a convincing election.

To guard against the possibility of a military coup, Duvalier reorganized the army, and placed elite units under his direct command. Duvalier crushed all political opposition and dissolved the trade unions. Upon his death in 1971, Duvalier was succeeded by his son, Jean-Claude, or Baby Doc.

U.S. policy towards Haiti during this period was characterized by mild criticism of human rights violations while ignoring the worsening plight of the people.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the World Bank, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty rose from 48 percent in 1976 to 81 percent in 1985. The report by the Bank described the plight of Haiti's poor as a condition of life so characterized by malnutrition, illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.

State expenditures on public education, health and welfare are tile lowest in the hemisphere. One Haitian child dies every five minutes from malnutrition, dehydration and diarrhea.

At the same time, the number of assembly-line factories, primarily U.S. in origin, grew to 200, employing nearly 40,000 workers. The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) has poured over $100 million dollars into Haiti to enhance industrial development. These industries produce baseballs and softballs, sporting goods, handicraits and children's and women's apparel.

U.S. companies slash wages, oppose unions

A delegation from the National Labor Committee, co-chaired by ACTWU President Jack Sheinkman, United Auto Workers President Owen Beiber and Machinists Union President George Kourpias, visited Haiti in 1993. They found that the first thing U.S. companies did when they set up shop in Haiti was to fire the union members at their plants. Wages were then slashed to 14 U.S. cents per hour.

The committee found that U.S. companies continue to import goods from Haiti despite a second OAS embargo imposed on Oct. 18, 1993. One example given was that of Leslie Maximillien, a garment manufacturer. Maximillien is being permitted to export to the U.S., though he was imprisoned during the Aristide administration for organizing a coup attempt against the government.

U.S. companies imported over 2.5 million pounds of baseballs from Haiti between October 1993 and February 1994, long after a military coup overthrew President Aristide. Many of these baseballs are purchased directly by the U.S. government.

A leading producer of baseballs and softballs, Home of Champions, has repeatedly met attempts to organize a union at their plants with illegal firings, according to the labor committee. Workers at Home of Champions are paid $1.07 for a 10.5 hour day. In a letter to President Clinton signed by 24 union presidents, the National Committee called for a total commercial embargo of Haiti, ending the loophole for the assembly industry, closing the border with the Dominican Republic and blocking all air traffic. . .

Despite official support in Washington for sanctions, two new companies - Eddie Haggar of Dallas, Texas and Fisman and Tobin, headquartered in Florida - began exporting from Haiti within the last four months.

Very little of the profit of these export companies actually stays in Haiti. According to AID, 85 percent of every dollar profit from assembly operations goes to the United States.