Haiti tense as U.S. blocks aid

By G. Dunkel, Workers World, 12 September 2002

While life in Haiti grows grimmer for most people, pressure from the U.S. is growing more intense.

The U.S. government, quite illegally, is blocking $500 million in loans and international aid because it doesn't like the way Haiti counted the votes in a parliamentary election two years ago. $500 million is roughly equivalent to the yearly budget of Haiti's government

$148 million of the $500 million is a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. Shockingly, Haiti has had to pay interest on this loan, which was designated for its water, education and health needs, even though the money still sits in Washington.

Working through the Organization of American States, the Bush administration is pressuring the government and Fanmi Lavalas party of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to come to an agreement with its opposition, the so-called Democratic Convergence, over holding elections sometime this year.

The OAS, in a murky maneuver, wants local mayors and council members elected in 2001 on the Fanmi Lavalas slate to have to run again in the next election.

The OAS has also given Haiti 60 days to arrest the leaders of the popular organizations in the slums of its major cities. These leaders, historically Aristide's most solid base of support, have been implicated in attacks on Convergence leaders after an assassination attempt was made on Aristide last December.

On Aug. 18 the Miami Herald, which exerts a lot of influence on U.S. policy in Latin America, ran a headline: Haitians' growing discontent with Aristide may force U.S. to act. Certainly the Haitian government has to regard this headline as a threat, if not a prophecy.

The economic pressures on Haiti are intense. Remittances from Haitians living abroad, especially in North America and Europe, who support family members at home are drying up as the worldwide recession cuts into jobs and wages. Fuel prices have shot up and supply is scarce, leading to only three hours a day of electric service in many areas of the country, business closings and layoffs of even skilled workers like welders, electricians and mechanics. Higher fuel prices mean higher transportation costs, which boosts the price of almost everything.

Even a little inflation causes a great deal of pain in a country where most workers make less than one dollar a day

Ben Dupuy, secretary general of the National Popular Party, pointed out in a press conference Aug. 27 that the Haitian government has cracked down on trade unions, sold off national territory to Dominican businesses fronting for U.S. interests that intend to set up free trade zones, incorporated Macoutes, Duvalierists and other supporters of former dictatorships into the government, and adopted neo-liberal reforms that have opened up Haiti's economy to more exploitation from abroad.

But even that is probably not enough to satisfy an imperial power that concerns itself with which political party in Haiti has a majority on the city councils of places like L'Estere, Port-de-Paix, St. Marc, Petit-Goave and Cap-Haitien.

We know that the United States, especially with the Bush administration, thinks it is the world's policeman, Dupuy said. If they think that the OAS can't do the job, they may act unilaterally, as they always do, and invade.