"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, September 13, 2004

AIPAC's Power, or America's Cowardice?

It was 1996, and Bill Clinton was president. To give the rascal his due, he was laboring mightily to make the Middle East peace process work. That same year, three American neoconservatives produced a policy paper for the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The neocons were Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser. Their policy paper recommended to Netanyahu that he abandon the peace process, reject "land for peace" and strengthen Israel's defenses in order to confront Syria and Iraq. The document said, "This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right." It also recommended that Israel use pretexts for preemptive attacks.

Now, if all of this sounds familiar – and it should – that's because Perle, Feith and Wurmser joined other neocons in the Bush administration. Perle was especially vocal in pushing the war on Iraq. They had two pretexts: the attack of Sept. 11, even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it, and the mythical weapons of mass destruction.

Netanyahu, by the way, did abandon the peace process. And, at a cost of $200 billion and nearly 1,000 American lives, Israel did achieve its "strategic objective in its own right" – removing Saddam from power. Unless Perle and his buddies were paid for their advice, it didn't cost Israel one shekel or one life.

Furthermore, if you stretch your memory, you will recall that until Iraq blew up in its face, the Bush administration was laying the groundwork to attack Syria, the other country Perle and his crowd named as a target for Israel. It has already imposed sanctions on Syria despite the fact that, according to our own intelligence people, Syria had been cooperating with the war on terror. The other target of the Israelis – excuse me, the Bush administration – is Iran.

If you want more details on these neocons, I recommend Secrets and Lies,by Dilip Hiro, a distinguished Middle East scholar, and James Bamford's A Pretext for War.

When President Bush first started talking about terrorism, he use to say "terrorists with global reach" to distinguish between al-Qaeda and strictly local outfits with local agendas. That did not suit the Israelis and their American supporters. They wanted Israel's enemies to be our enemies, and so the distinction was soon dropped, and Israel's enemies were added to the official list of terrorist organizations.

The problem is that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are Palestinian organizations fighting for independence. True, they have used terrorist tactics, just as the Jewish organizations – the Stern Gang and the Irgun – did when they were fighting the British occupation of Palestine. But their target is the Israeli occupation, not us.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese organization that has also used terrorist tactics, including attacks against Americans in Lebanon, when it figured we were helping the Israelis in their occupation of Lebanon. But there again, its quarrel is with Israel.

I have long since given up the hope that Americans would wake up and resent the manipulation of their government by a foreign country. The Israeli lobby has been so successful in labeling any criticism of Israel, no matter how justified, as anti-Semitic that most Americans prefer to stick their heads in the sand. For sure, American politicians and much of the media seem to be terrified by the Israeli lobby, which says more about their cowardice than it does about the power of the lobby itself.

So, suit yourself. Go ahead and spend American blood and treasure for the benefit of Israel.

Just remember, the United States has one, and only one, legitimate interest in the Middle East, and that is buying oil that everybody who has it wants to sell. It doesn't matter whether we buy it from a dictator (we bought plenty from Saddam) or from a democratic government. It doesn't matter to us if the country that sells us oil likes or hates Israel.

This whole mess, including the war in Iraq and the terrorist attacks, is a result of the American government's involvement with Israel. It's a dangerous and unhealthy state of affairs that will not be cured until Americans find the courage to have an open and honest debate about our foreign policy in the Middle East.

Charley Reese

Why the West is Losing

Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, America's politicians and media continue to gravely deceive the public about the so-called war on terrorism.

Now the definitive book on terrorism has appeared that should be mandatory reading for every thinking person. It's called Imperial Hubris: Why The West is Losing the War on Terror.

The cover simply identifies the author as "Anonymous," but he's already been widely identified in the American media as Michael Scheuer, a senior terrorism analyst for the CIA.

It is unprecedented that a serving CIA officer was allowed to publish a book, one that is clearly a dramatic rebuke to the neoconservatives who drove the U.S. into two wars.

Scheuer's work is a goldmine of information and brilliant analysis. It breaks taboos and sweeps away the clouds of lies about al-Qaida, Iraq and Afghanistan. He says U.S. leaders refuse to accept the obvious -- "we are fighting a worldwide Islamic insurgency -- not criminality or terrorism."

The U.S. has made only "a modest dent in enemy forces."

None of bin Laden's reasons for waging war on the U.S., writes Scheuer, "have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy (as President George Bush claims), but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Muslim world," notably unlimited support for Israel's repression of the Palestinians and the destruction of Iraq.

"For cheap, easily accessible oil, Washington and the West have supported Muslim tyrannies (Osama) bin Laden and other Islamists seek to destroy," Scheuer writes. "The war has the potential to last beyond our children's lifetimes and be fought mostly on U.S. soil."

A Coup for bin Laden

Bin Laden, argues Scheuer, is widely viewed by much of the Muslim world, infuriated by American actions in the Mideast, as neither a terrorist or madman but as a skilled warrior, the sole Muslim leader standing up to predatory western powers.

Ironically U.S. and British military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq "are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world," a prime bin Laden goal.

Bush's misbegotten invasion of Iraq was "icing on bin Laden's cake."

The threat today facing America "is the defensive jihad (holy struggle), an Islamic military reaction triggered by an attack by non-Muslims on the Islamic faith, on Muslims, on Muslim territory." Muslims are increasingly fighting back.

The Muslim world believes it is under total attack led by Bush -- a massive effort to crush all who oppose U.S. domination, destroy Islam's inherent political role, eliminate Muslim charities, impose western values on the Islamic world and maintain puppet rulers -- "spreading democracy" in Bush's lexicon. Terrorism is merely the tactics of the poor fighting the rich.

The Ultimate Taboo

"U.S. military operations in the Muslim world," he adds, "validate bin Laden's contention the U.S. is attacking Islam and supports any country willing to kill or persecute Muslims."

Scheuer, breaking the ultimate taboo, observes of Washington's "one-way alliance" with Israel that "Israelis have succeeded in lacing tight the ropes binding the American Gulliver to the ... Jewish state and its policies."

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are lost causes, Scheuer concludes. The U.S. is totally unable to create legitimate governments in either chaotic nation, only puppet regimes, supported by American bayonets.

If the U.S. stays, it will bleed endlessly; if it retreats, it faces political disaster.

Washington, he charges, has no strategy and is merely "winging it."

In one of his most acute insights, Scheuer explains the U.S. cannot, for all of its riches, buy its way to victory in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"Honour is still the currency of value in the Middle East, more so than goods and services."

Blood-links trump all other affiliations or loyalties.

Honour is why the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden to the U.S., a man they regarded as their guest and a war hero, and why he has still not been betrayed in spite of a $25-million US reward in a nation where the annual income is $147.

At least there is one person in Washington who understands the violence surrounding us -- and has the courage and patriotism to tell Americans the truth: Their own arrogance and ignorance are driving them into a no-win war against 1.3 billion Muslims.

Eric Margolis
The Toronto Sun

Slave LabouraAlong the Massacre River

THE Massacre river in northern Hispaniola divides the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is crossed by a crumbling bridge, with Ouanaminthe, Haiti, on one side and Dajabón, Dominican Republic, on the other. In 2002 Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government announced the creation of a free trade zone in Ouanaminthe. The proposal was fiercely resisted by local landowners, tenant farmers and agricultural labourers, who were promised compensation but have received none. But resistance was impossible: the tractors that tore up the crops were accompanied by armed guards, leaving the farmers helpless, homeless victims.

The Dominican investor was clothing subcontractor Grupo M, the largest employer in the Dominican Republic, with 12,000 workers in its factories and a reputation for treating them brutally and ignoring union rights and regulations. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, possibly unaware of the malpractice, provided a loan of $20m for Grupo M to set up in Ouanaminthe. We may presume that Aristide was better informed about Grupo M’s nature: on 8 April 2003, when he came to lay the foundation stone with the Dominican president, Hippólito Mejía, he did so in secret. Haitians only heard about it the day after, in the Dominican press.

In August 2003 Grupo M opened two facilities in the new free trade zone, employing around 1,000 workers. The Codevi factory produces Levis 505s and 555s jeans while the MD factory makes T-shirts, all exported via the Dominican Republic.

Grupo M’s Haitian employees were made to work at high speed for long hours in terrible conditions and paid a pittance. They soon protested: on 13 October 2003 the Codevi Workers Union (Sokowa in Creole) was created in Ouanaminthe and affiliated to Batay Ouvriyé, Haiti’s worker support organisation. On 2 March 2004, with the country in a power vacuum following Aristide’s departure, Grupo M fired 34 union members, with militiamen from northern Haiti’s "rebel army" on hand to crush resistance.

On 13 April, after tough negotiations attended by representatives from the World Bank, Levi-Strauss & Co, and a tripartite commission from the new Haitian government, Grupo M agreed to reinstate the 34 workers. But, as Yannick Etienne of Batay Ouvriyé explains: "They forgot that there was also an agreement to let the union negotiate a new factory-wide contract."

A new contract was urgently needed. Codevi employees were being made to work from Monday to Saturday, often doing 55 hours instead of the official 48, with no overtime money. "You can’t ask questions,"says Etienne. "If you do, they put your name down so they can fire you." Recalcitrants were called into the back room: "You’re locked in there for hours, guarded by armed thugs. They put the air conditioning on full blast to make it uncomfortable." Female workers are given a mysterious injected "vaccination" every two months and many have complained of irregular and unnaturally long periods; there has been an abnormally high rate of unexplained miscarriages among Codevi workers.

Sokowa continued to campaign for a new contract and on 7 June staged a half-hour work stoppage. On 8 June 40 heavily armed soldiers from the Dominican Republic arrived (on Haitian territory) to beat the workers. A 24-hour strike followed and Grupo M bosses closed the factory, illegally locking out its employees; 370 were laid off 48 hours later when the plant reopened.

Since then the workload has increased further. Workers were expected to produce 1,000 pairs of jeans a day. They are now required to turn out 1,300 for 1,300 gourdes ($37) a week. "No one can meet these targets," says Etienne, "and you only get 432 gourdes ($12) if you don’t manage it."

While Dominican soldiers, now in plain clothes, continue to enforce order, Grupo M’s chief executive officer, Fernando Capellán, has threatened to relocate. "We don’t believe the factories will close," says Etienne, "but the threat is a clear signal that this is war." Batay Ouvriyé has fought tough battles before - it rose up in 1995 against the Walt Disney Corporation’s Haitian subcontractors and the Association of Haitian Industrialists (ADHI). Capellán, a Dominican, is a member of the ADHI. Etienne is suspicious: "I think the Dominican and Haitian bosses want to work together to get rid of our young union and remove all workers’ rights to ensure maximum exploitation."

Maurice Lemoine
Le Monde Diplomatique


The war of a thousand years

IRAQ is burning. You could see this as a consequence of superpower arrogance or of the ignorance of the United States about local realities elsewhere. (Fallujah is not a town in Texas, nor is it Marseille during Liberation in 1944.) But at a deeper level the setbacks in Iraq stem directly from the very idea of the war against terror that was launched by President George Bush after 11 September 2001.

In the US view each incident in Iraq fits into a certain logic: the attacks in the Sunni triangle must be the work of supporters of Saddam Hussein or of international terrorists linked to al-Qaida; Muqtada al-Sadr’s resistance is explained by the involvement of Iran, classified as part of the axis of evil; each armed action is further proof that "they" hate western values.

As a US corporal in Iraq said: "We have to kill the bad guys" (1). But for every bad guy that the US kills, several more are created each time an apartment block is bombed or a village is subjected to search and destroy operations.

There are other far simpler ways of understanding the drama in Iraq. Iraqis are happy to be rid of a loathsome dictatorship and free of the sanctions that for 13 years drained the life out of Iraq. All they want now is a better life, freedom and independence. But the reality is that no promises made about postwar reconstruction have been kept. There are still widespread power cuts, insecurity and increased poverty. US troops gave the final shove to a regime already weakened by the pressure of multiple embargos. Then they allowed the ministries to burn and dissolved the national army, as they had done in 1945 in Japan.

But Iraqis have no interest in living under an occupation that they suspect of being interested only in oil and regional strategic domination. The days of colonialism are over. The 1920 revolt against the British has been celebrated in Iraq over the decades and has as strong a hold on the popular imagination as the Resistance and the Liberation have in France.

Iraqis share an aspiration to independence with other nations and we do not need to plumb their psychology or their souls, or submit the Qur’an to detailed analysis, to understand it. The behaviour of the Iraqis is entirely rational and the only solution is a rapid withdrawal of US troops and Iraq’s return to full sovereignty.

A world in black and white
The way in which the leaders of a major power read geopolitical developments determines their strategic and diplomatic choices: how will a choice benefit a power? How will its enemies react? Who are its allies in any area? For decades the cold war provided the framework for interpretation in world diplomacy. When something changed somewhere, the first question for strategists, analysts and reporters on both sides was: is this good for the Soviet Union? Or it is good for the US? The consequences of this black and white worldview were clear in two major conflicts in the 1970s - Nicaragua and Afghanistan.

In July 1979 the Sandinistas took power in Managua after a long armed struggle that had ended the dictatorship of the Somoza family. They launched a bold programme of social reform, particularly in agriculture. Basic liberties were respected, opposition political parties were permitted and a way was opened for Nicaragua to begin to emerge from its history of poverty and underdevelopment. But that was not how the US saw it: this defeat of a US ally meant the advance of communism and the USSR in the US’s Central American backyard.

The CIA began to arm former Somoza military personnel. From Honduras these "freedom fighters" began an all-out war against the Sandinista regime, including acts of terrorism, while Washington tried to mobilise public opinion and its allies against what it perceived as a totalitarian threat in Central America. Cuba, and to a lesser extent the USSR, increased aid to the Sandinistas. Nicaragua was caught in an East-West trap.

The relentless pressure of the US and the impoverishment of Nicaragua by economic sanctions led to the Sandinistas’ electoral defeat on 25 February 1990. Whereupon the US lost interest in Nicaragua and dropped its former protégés. The country sank back into poverty. But it was never going to be communist.

Afghanistan is even more telling. In April 1978 its government was overthrown in a communist coup even though it was an ally of the USSR. The new authorities began a harsh programme of radical reform in this conservative country and met strong resistance, particularly in the countryside. Washington began to arm the mujahideen resistance. In December 1979 the Soviet army invaded and changed the leadership.

The international community was quick to condemn this as a colonial venture. But the US and the West chose to see it as proof of the USSR’s hegemonic intentions and confirmation of the Kremlin’s centuries-old schemes for gaining access to warm seas - the Gulf.

The incoming Reagan administration in the US saw it as a chance to give the Red Army a bloody nose, even if that meant an alliance with the devil. With the help of Pakistani and Saudi secret services it began to arm the extreme fundamentalist forces to the detriment of the moderate opposition. It opposed all attempts at political and diplomatic settlements by the United Nations and deliberately prolonged the conflict (2).

We know the result. The Soviets decided to withdraw from Afghanistan. But having won, the US then lost interest in Afghanistan and the radical Islamist networks that it had helped create with the help of Osama bin Laden. Left to its own devices Afghanistan lapsed into civil war until in 1996 it fell into the hands of the Taliban.

We now know that, far from being part of major expansion plans, the Soviet decision to intervene in Afghanistan was taken by a divided political bureaucracy that was concerned that a bordering country and traditional ally should not fall into the hands of extremist Islamists. We also know that, despite its appearance of military power, the USSR was in reality incapable of threatening the world, let alone dominating it. But in the West the Soviet threat was always cited when it was needed to mobilise public opinion.

In 1983, two years before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow, the French political commentator, Jean-François Revel (with his usual perspicacity) declared the imminent demise of the world’s democracies, as they were incapable of resisting "the most threatening of those external enemies, communism, which is a present-day variant and fully developed model of totalitarianism" (3). In reality that "fully developed model" had only a few years left to run.

Of course the East-West approach to reading geopolitical developments had a certain reality. Both the US and the USSR were defending their interests as major powers. But the collective political destiny of individual countries was more than just an international chessboard on which the White House and the Kremlin made their moves - Washington unrepentantly supporting dictatorships in Latin America and Suharto in Indonesia; and Moscow intervening brutally in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968).

This over-simplification underestimated any national realities that didn’t easily fit and all the other threats that humanity faced: environmental degradation, chronic poverty and the spread of new diseases, notably Aids. The world finally emerged from the cold war. The US had won but the same challenges remained; as did the same causes of instability.

A new enemy
The collapse of the Soviet Union orphaned not only the US and western military and intelligence services, all deprived of the enemy that had justified their existence and sanctioned their bottomless budgets, but also the strategic research centres that had believed in Moscow’s strategic superiority to the extent of predicting a Soviet invasion of western Europe. Where could they find a replacement for the evil empire?

In the 1990s the American academic Francis Fukuyama predicted the end of history, proclaiming the definitive victory of western liberalism and its extension over the entire planet. The theory proved popular. A section of the conservative right, those who had opposed any detente with the USSR and any understanding with Gorbachev, began to seek a new strategic enemy. They announced that, even though the US now had no rivals, it was threatened by obscure forces even more dangerous than communism: terrorism, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction. In a parallel development, analysts and journalists diagnosed the growing power of a new adversary, Islam, with a strong ideology and a potential power base of more than a billion people.

In 1993 Samuel Huntington of the US popularised the phrase "clash of civilisations" (4). He wrote: "It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilisations. The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics."

But this remains speculative, since none of these doctrines was able to gather a consensus among the elites. It took 11 September to instil the idea that the West was again engaged in a world war to be taken as seriously as had been the cold war and the second world war. Traumatised by the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, US public opinion rallied behind the war against terror, a war in which, it was proclaimed, "you are either with us or you are against us".

But what is this new enemy that has replaced communism and Nazism? Is it terrorism? Terrorism is a method of political action, not an ideology, and we would be hard put to find a common thread between the IRA, the independence fighters of Corsica and the Aum sect. Is it al-Qaida? But surely fighting that is more a matter of policing than military mobilisation (see Al-Qaida brand name ready for franchise,). What about rogue states? Not only is it nonsense to link North Korea and Iran as the axis of evil, it is also hard to see how their regional threat matches that of the Soviet Union in its prime.

At war with ‘barbarism’
Nevertheless the idea that is taking shape through carefully targeted ideological campaigns is that of a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. With the exception of North Korea and Cuba all the countries that are currently targeted by the US - Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan - are Islamic: unconditional US support for Israel’s Ariel Sharon confirms the bias. As President George Bush put it, civilisation is at war with barbarism. To which Osama bin Laden replied: "The world has been divided into two camps: one under the banner of the cross, as Bush, the head of the infidels, said; and another under the banner of Islam."

If this theory is true, then no accommodation is possible. "They hate us" - not because of anything that we do but because they reject our ideas of liberty and democracy. So there is no point in prioritising any of the injustices that afflict the Islamic world. This view necessarily leads matters towards war. It views every conflict as a clash of civilisations, a conflict which is never-ending and without solutions: the struggle of the Palestinians, a terrorist bombing in Java, the resistance in Iraq, an anti-semitic incident in a high school in Paris, an inner-city riot in a European city - all are seen as evidence of a general offensive by Islam. We are engaged on all fronts, including the domestic front, in a world war.

General William "Jerry" Boykin, formerly of Delta Force, the US army’s anti-terrorist unit, was appointed in June 2003 as the deputy undersecretary of defence with responsibility for intelligence. He is an evangelical Christian who once told a congregation in Oregon that radical Islamists hated the US "because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judaeo-Christian . . . and the enemy is a guy named Satan" (5). On another occasion he said: "We in the army of God, in the house of God, the kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this." During the fighting against Islamic warlords in Somalia he had , said: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew my God was a real God and his was an idol" (6).

The general offered a few excuses for his utterances, kept his job and was able to use his talents in exporting the prison system created in Guan tánamo Bay to Iraq: we know all about the results of this (7). The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, defended him at the beginning but the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, then stepped in to say: "This is not a war between religions. No one should describe it as such." How are we supposed to believe that when we read the statements of tortured Iraqis, who were forced to renounce their religion (8)?

All ‘savages’
Islamophobia is rampant in the media despite occasional protests. Ann Coulter is a popular rightwing commentator in the US. She is regularly invited on such radio and TV news programmes as Good Morning America and The O’Reilly Factor. In her view France will be taken over by Muslims within 10 years. She once said: "When we were fighting communism, OK, they had mass murderers and gulags, but they were white men and they were sane. Now we’re up against absolute savages . . . We’ve been under attack by savage, fanatical Muslims for 20 years. It wasn’t al-Qaida that took our hostages in Iran, it wasn’t al-Qaida that bombed the West Berlin discotheque which led to Ronald Reagan bombing Libya."

When the interviewer commented that Libya was an Islamic country, she said: "You can make the argument, but I just keep seeing Muslims killing people" (9).

Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said on 26 September 2001: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation . . . a system that has guaranteed wellbeing, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights." He went on to observe that because of "the superiority of western values" the West would continue to conquer peoples as it had conquered communism even if it meant a confrontation with "another civilisation, the Islamic one, stuck where it was 1,400 years ago" (10).

In his book L’Obsession anti-américaine Jean-François Revel celebrates the fact that Bush and European leaders visited mosques after 11 September, mainly to avoid Arab Americans becoming the targets of unworthy reprisals. He says: "These democratic scruples do credit to Americans and Europeans but should not blind them to the anti-western hatred of the majority of Muslims living among us" (11). Those were his words - "the majority of Muslims". We do not know if he is suggesting that we expel all of them from France.

Such statements are echoed in public opinion. The cold war, particularly during the 1980s, didn’t mobilise people. It was mostly played out at the level of military high commands. Communism had already lost much of its attraction and the red threat no longer provoked witch-hunts. But the war on terror is proving popular. Parts of both western and Islamic opinion are prepared to believe that, behind the present conflicts, civilisations really are clashing. The key divisions in society are no longer between the powerful and the weak, rich and poor, haves and have-nots, but between them and us. The countries of the West should forget the struggle between classes and line up in the battle against the Other. What would be the result? A thousand-year war whose only result would be to bring comfort to the established (dis)order.

Alain Gresh
Le Monde Diplomatique


Haiti: Titide’s downfall

IN THE beginning there was Titide, preacher of the slums and shantytowns and voice of the disenfranchised. Titide - Jean-Bertrand Aristide - was ordained in 1983 and served as parish priest at the Don Bosco church in Port-au-Prince. Haitians had suffered under the Duvaliers since 1957, when François "Papa Doc" took power. When the brutal dictatorship of his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" ended in 1986, Titide was the great hope of a desperate people.

When Haitians finally voted in free elections in 1990, it was no surprise that Aristide was elected president. He waited until the last day of registration to announce his candidacy, ensuring an electrifying campaign called Lavalas, Creole for flood. With hindsight it is easy to see this rush of enthusiasm as excessive and misplaced. "We didn’t have time to think about his personality as an individual," admits one of his many former supporters. "We didn’t have time to think about how he would move from the status of a prophet, speaking out against evil, to a position of power."

But what power? Even as a president newly elected by a massive majority, Aristide was not in full control of his destiny. The world saw how the United States invaded Grenada in 1984 and crushed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In Haiti, US intervention took the form of CIA aid to General Raoul Cédras, who ousted Aristide in a coup barely seven months after the election, to the delight of President George Bush Sr.

On 29 September 1991 Haiti entered three years of orchestrated chaos that left many Lavalassiens dead. But the US did not intervene again until 19 September 1994, when Bill Clinton’s ad ministration, with United Nations backing, sent 20,000 soldiers to reinstate the legitimate government and (more importantly from the US viewpoint) stop an armada of boat people who sought refuge in the US.

Yet Aristide’s comeback was not a return to the good old days: by 29 February 2004 when his third term as president ended (René Préval served from 1995 to 2000), the consensus was that he no longer cared about anything but power and money. This assertion was accompanied by a list of the little curé’s misdemeanours: he was thought to be an accomplice to (if not directly responsible for) every crime - drugs trafficking, political assassinations and the dead dogs in the street. Could this be the man who received the 1996 Unesco prize for human rights education? Or is he being unfairly demonised, as popular leaders, notably Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, are when they have the nerve to upset the established disorder in the US’s backyard?

Aristide’s experiences during his three-year exile in the US loom over this. He presumably arrived in a state of frustration and despair. But he returned transformed, Americanised: "He left as Aristide and came back as Harry Steed," says Anna Jean Charles of the Batay Ouvriyé union (see box below). In Washington the pitit soyèt (child of the people) aligned with the Democratic party and the Congressional Black Caucus (a grouping of black members of the House of Representatives) and discovered the US establishment, big business and capitalism. Treated as a serving president in charge of Haiti’s frozen assets, he grew greedy. With the help of his new Democrat friends, he had an embargo imposed on Haiti, with devastating effects for his poorest compatriots. The new friends brought Aristide back to power and were richly rewarded in the ensuing round of privatisations, particularly in telecommunications.

No longer priest of the poor
For, on his return to power, the former priest of the poor followed the instructions of the international financial institutions and liberalised the Haitian economy. He had his own peculiar way of doing this. Jean-Claude Bajeux was minister for culture when the first round of privatisations was debated by the cabinet. "When the prime minister, Michel Smarck, said we should draw up some invitations to tender, the president interrupted him: ’Why don’t we just arrange it so we can share these things out between us?’ "

Yet this is the Aristide to whom Haiti owes its only ever peaceful transition of power between two democratically elected leaders. In December 1995, constitutionally excluded from standing for election immediately, he gave way to Préval, a friend and former prime minister. The seeds of the crisis in 2004 were sown during this period: Aristide moved into a grandiose villa on the edge of Port-au-Prince, no longer Titide but the "Duke of Tabarre" after the suburb in which it was built.

The Lavalas Political Organisation (OPL), which had supported Aristide since 1991, more out of self-interest than political conviction, and was the largest party in parliament, defected from the Lavalas movement. The OPL prime minister, Rosny Smarth, resigned in June 1997, beginning a long period of political stagnation. There were already many cracks in Haiti’s democratic system before the May 2000 elections, which were to fill 7,500 seats at local and national levels.

Although international monitors judged that the vote had, on the whole, been properly handled, the results were fiercely contested. Seven seats in the senate were handed directly to candidates who should have had to win a second round to ensure election. It was a peculiar situation because Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas Family), Aristide’s new party, had been assured of a massive majority without having to cheat. "But he just had to control every single thing," recalls Micha Gaillard, who was a spokesman for Aristide while in exile: "He wanted 100% of the seats in parliament. As he said during the coup, ’I am the hub of a bicycle wheel and all the spokes point to me’."

Some maintain that Aristide did not cheat and that the cheating was the work of a few overzealous members of his party who filled the urns to overflowing. His only error was that "he did not speak out and left the system to rot". Maybe so. But a revealing passage in the Fanmi Lavalas party constitution undermines such confidence: "President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been elected National Representative" [party leader], reads clause 29, while clause 32 states: "The position of National Representative becomes vacant if the Representative dies or resigns" (1). Nowhere is there any reference to internal elections. Aristide had declared himself president for life of his party. This revelation leaves little to distinguish his political philosophy from that of the Duvaliers.

Aristide’s artificially enhanced victory in the May 2000 elections flew right back in his face. The opposition, electorally weak, was able to capitalise on this opportunity to cause a scandal by boycotting the presidential election that November. Although Aristide won that easily and genuinely, his fervent popular support undiminished, the international community froze most of its aid and loan payments to Haiti. The country plunged into destitution and chaos.

Doubts as to whether Aristide was good or bad persisted, confusing Haiti. Father Frantz Gandoit, a priest of the Dominican order, was appointed and remains head of Haiti’s literacy campaign. "On certain issues," he says, "Aristide maintained a true social vision. He was determined to succeed in certain areas. He genuinely wanted to see far-reaching improvements in education. But on other issues he engaged in realpolitik of the most Machiavellian kind." Some continued to see Aristide as a progressive leader struggling against the Yankee monster. But he no longer preached anti-Americanism: though he still cited Haiti’s liberation hero, Toussaint L’Ouverture, in speeches, he dropped all mention of Charlemagne Péralte, martyr of the resistance against the 1915-1934 American occupation, who was executed in November 1919.

‘Hub of the bicycle wheel’
As a lucky few amassed fortunes and all other Haitians scraped by from day to day, the ministry of social affairs systematically sided with bosses against the workers. The regime even used the assassination, on 27 May 2002 at a rally in Guacimale, of two unionists linked to Batay Ouvriyé as a pretext for arresting union members. Confidence in the regime evaporated further with the cooperatives scandal of 2001-2002. In a speech at the national stadium, Aristide invited Haitians to save money by investing in new institutions called, for reasons unexplained, cooperatives. It was never clear who was in charge of these, hastily set up amid total disorganisation. While encouraging investors to act out of a spirit of social solidarity, they promised ludicrous rates of interest - 12% a month or 140% annually. A fever swept the middle-classes and some sold cars and homes in the hope of doubling their investment in a year. Even the poorest dug deep into their pockets. Then, suddenly and simultaneously, the cooperatives went bust. Around $170m had been invested. The government’s only action was to imprison the chairman of the victims’ association, Rosemond Jean. The anti-Aristide movement strengthened.

Aristide bears much of the responsibility for this scandal but the opposition was not blameless. The OPL (it kept the acronym after dropping its association with Lavalas, calling itself Organisation du Peuple en Lutte, organisation of struggling peoples) attacked Aristide for complying with International Monetary Fund directives, forgetting that its own leader, Rosny Smarth, signed a structural adjustment plan when he was prime minister. The OPL claims that out of a spirit of compromise it did not enact its own programme when it was the largest party in parliament (1995-2000).

After his re-election in November 2000, Aristide tried to correct the irregularities of the May vote by asking the seven improperly elected Fanmi Lavalas senators to resign. But the opposition had lost interest in compromise. It boycotted Congress and would not participate in government initiatives. Instead it denounced the state of the economy, due mostly to the US trade embargo, which was justified by the political crisis that its own attitude perpetuated. Even more hypocritically, it attacked the government for refusing to negotiate.

Yet the opposition parties, united as the Demo cratic Convergence coalition (2), had little real electoral importance. Their survival depended on the support of the Group of 184, which brought together organisations within Haitian civil society. The leader of the Group was André Apaid, Haiti’s largest industrial employer. His businesses had some 4,000 workers, each paid 68 US cents a day. Not content with ignoring Haiti’s official minimum wage of $1.50, Apaid had opposed Aristide’s proposals that it be increased. He was not the likeliest associate for a movement of broadly centre-left political parties.

‘Consensus on a range of issues’
But that did not seem to worry the coalition. "There is consensus on a whole range of issues," said Gérard Pierre-Charles, general coordinator of the OPL, "democracy, civic freedoms, the need to change the way we live in Haiti." Divisions, potential divisions, old wounds and the lack of any common agenda were smoothed over in service of a single, unifying purpose: to get rid of Aristide. Pierre-Charles is one of many intellectuals, leaders and campaigners - including Micha Gaillard and Claude Bajeux of the National Congress of Democratic Movements (Konakom) - whose courage and probity are not in doubt. But all were part of a coalition whose ambiguous nature and intransigent tactics brought catastrophe to Haiti.

Its refusal to negotiate with Aristide left him isolated, abandoned by the international community and deprived of aid. His only option was to fall back on the support of the impoverished masses, many of whom were unaware how their hero had changed. Most saw attacks on Titide as an attempt to take power away from the people. It is not hard to understand why. The Democratic Platform (a coalition of Democratic Convergence and the Group of 184) had not, as a political entity, proposed a single social policy reform. The violence always beneath the surface of Haitian society boiled over as the Chimères, armed gangs of Aristide supporters who recalled the Duvaliers’ Tontons Macoutes (bogeymen), attacked the opposition.

Aristide has been given more than his fair share of blame for the violence. "If you put people, no matter who, under this sort of pressure, if you plunge them deep into despair and crush them to death," says an angry Jacques Barros, former head of the French Institute in Haiti (3), "then this is what you get. You go from Weimar Republic to Hitler, from the League of the Just to Stalin, from the Salesians of Don Bosco to the Chimères." The people were used to being attacked: General Cédras’s dictatorship had wiped out the leadership of the popular struggle and killed 4,000 followers. Attacks on Fanmi Lavalas supporters were still frequent as late as 2003 - there were murderous raids at Petit-Goâve and in the central plain (4). Insecurity swept the country and any family that could afford to do so armed itself.

This helps to explain, if not to justify, how Haitians came to be enthralled by a romantic image of themselves as a people in arms. Yet the emergence of the Chimères did change the nature of Haitian violence. Since Aristide had disbanded the army on return from exile, the state had armed its citizens as a defence against a repetition of the military coup that brought Cédras to power in 1991. Weapons were handed out to government officials, local councils and citizens with leadership qualities and a concern for social justice, or passed around the shantytown-dwellers. Some of these, once armed, began to make demands and threats. Greedily amassing power, they organised themselves into gangs and mafia networks. The police collaborated with these groups in operations from kidnapping to drugs-trafficking. Ruling their neighbourhoods with an iron hand, these gangs also engaged in political violence, supporting the president by attacking opposition demonstrations and burning down party headquarters.

Encouraging the violence
There is no proof that Aristide had any hand in running these groups. But he never spoke out against them and made no attempt to quell their activities. "He did just the opposite," says a former ally, bitterly. "He explained that they were the products of destitution, which is true, but his whole tone was implicitly egging them on." What mattered for Aristide was to have a clientele within the popular movement, so that he could control the violence if he needed to do so.

The strategy backfired. The rebellion in the port of Gonaïves in February 2004 was led by Butteur Métayer, a member of the Cannibal Army, a gang that supported Aristide in exchange for control over the port’s customs. Métayer had fallen out of favour with the president and accused the regime of killing his brother. He changed sides. His uprising was soon joined by former soldiers, criminals, drug-traffickers and underworld figures from the Dominican Republic. The rebellion spread across Haiti until it controlled five of nine administrative areas and brought down the president.

This mercenary army did not come out of nowhere. US Republicans may have hated Aristide, but he had maintained a state of relative calm and agreed to neoliberal reforms. Officially they supported him to the end. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, made strenuous efforts to reach a deal with the opposition. Neither the CIA nor the ultra-conservative Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs, wanted to see Haiti taken over by men they had not chosen.

In March 2004 in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, the Haiti Commission of Inquiry, headed by former US attorney-general Ramsey Clark, published its preliminary findings. Aristide was languishing in Jamaica. Noting that 200 US special forces had travelled to the Dominican Republic for "military exercises" in February 2003, the commission accused the US of arming and training Haitian rebels there. With permission from the Dominican president, Hipólito Mejía, US forces trained near the border, in an area used by former soldiers of the disbanded Haitian army to launch attacks on Haitian state property. (The Dominican Republic’s collusion is not new. In the 1980s Honduras played a similar role in the US campaign against the Sandinistas of Nicaragua.)

With US-trained fighters at their core, the rebel gangs spread to Haiti, creating the situation that enabled US ambassador James Foley to force Aristide out on 29 February 2004. Washington’s principal western ally was Paris. France was keen to repair relations with the US after the Iraq crisis and anxious to prevent the US from taking Haiti out of the French sphere of influence within which it had always been. France had little time for Aristide, who demanded $21bn as repayment for the 90m gold francs Haiti had paid for independence from France in 1804.

Regardless of Aristide’s personal faults, his departure has worried many observers, particularly leaders of other Caribbean and South American states: what right do powers such as the US and France have to remove a head of state this way? "I never received a single document saying that the president had resigned," says Ivon Feuillé of Famni Lavalas, chairman of the National Assembly at the time of Aristide’s departure. Not without reason many see the Franco-American intervention in Haiti as a dangerous precedent that could encourage the US to do something similar in Cuba or Venezuela or even Colombia or Bolivia.

But the former Haitian opposition has other things on its mind. It was partially robbed of its victory by the US. On 21 February Aristide’s opponents rejected a generous plan by which he had agreed to cooperate with them in forming a new, multi-party government, with an independent and neutral prime minister. For the rebels, though, Aristide had to go. And so he went. The rest of the script was written in Washington. The government was handed to an imported prime minister, Gérard Latortue (5), and many foreign troops moved on to Haitian soil (6). On 20 March Latortue referred to the self-declared rebels (many of them former torturers from the disbanded army) as freedom fighters, and there is talk of recruiting some to a police force desperately in need of new blood. In the countryside, they have taken charge, either by force or natural leadership, and are helping the big landowners and other Duvalier supporters to bring back the good old days, using terror to impose their will and steal land from small farmers.

There is talk of elections. But for as long as the North (Cap Haïtien), Artibonite province (Gonaïves) and the central plateau remain in the hands of these armed gangs, it is hard to see how a campaign could be organised. Meanwhile the witch-hunt against Aristide’s supporters goes on. Many have been forbidden to leave the country and their movements within Haiti restricted; there have been arrests and illegal extraditions. Many are in hiding; others have been murdered. Yet Fanmi Lavalas seems likely to remain, for the foreseeable future, the most popular political movement.

Maurice Lemoine
Le Monde Diplomatique