We Love Democracy

Well, when it’s politically expedient we do. Otherwise, we really couldn’t care less.

The Bush administration has said that while Mr. Aristide was deeply flawed, its policy was always to work with him as Haiti’s democratically elected leader.

But the administration’s actions in Haiti did not always match its words. Interviews and a review of government documents show that a democracy-building group close to the White House, and financed by American taxpayers, undercut the official United States policy and the ambassador assigned to carry it out.

As a result, the United States spoke with two sometimes contradictory voices in a country where its words carry enormous weight. That mixed message, the former American ambassador said, made efforts to foster political peace “immeasurably more difficult.” Without a political agreement, a weak government was destabilized further, leaving it vulnerable to the rebels.

Given our not-so-fabulous track record with regard to Haiti, this isn’t exactly shocking.

The background of the story is this: Cullen, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. foreign service and a former ambassador to Haiti, is accusing a Bush administration-funded democracy-building group of stepping outside of its bounds by working with anti-Aristide campaigners in Haiti. Cullen claims that Mr. Lucas, the leader of the group, went so far as to claim he was the U.S. representative and that Cullen was irrelevant, and pushed the anti-Aristide side to refuse negotiations with the Haitian government. This is bad. And not exactly legal.

These groups walk a fine line. Under federal guidelines, they are supposed to nurture democracy in a nonpartisan way, lest they be accused of meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations. But in Haiti, according to diplomats, Mr. Lucas actively worked against President Aristide.


But in a recent interview, Otto J. Reich, who served under Mr. Powell as the State Department’s top official on Latin America, said that a subtle shift in policy away from Mr. Aristide had taken place after Mr. Bush became president — as Mr. Curran and others had suspected.

“There was a change in policy that was perhaps not well perceived by some people in the embassy,” Mr. Reich said, referring to Mr. Curran. “We wanted to change, to give the Haitians an opportunity to choose a democratic leader,” said Mr. Reich, one of a group of newly ascendant policy makers who feared the rise of leftist governments in Latin America.

Told of that statement, Mr. Curran said, “That Reich would admit that a different policy was in effect totally vindicates my suspicions, as well as confirms what an amateur crowd was in charge in Washington.”

That sounds fairly damning.

Now, I don’t think anyone is arguing that Aristide is an ideal president, or that his government was one free of corruption. Even under Aristide the country was rife with gang violence, and the national police engaged in major human rights abuses. But it’s simply wrong for the U.S. government to claim it supports “democracy,” and then fund groups which attempt to overthrow democratically-elected foreign leaders. The IRI is one of these groups, and its stance on democracy was made clear when it issued a press release praising attempts to overthrow Hugo Chavez. That isn’t exactly “democratic.”

Complaints about the IRI’s actions in Haiti are on record, and yet the current administration did nothing to stop them. But then, given who the complaints were received by, we shouldn’t be surprised:

Mr. Curran sent his cables to the Bush administration’s Latin American policy team, records show. In addition to Mr. Reich, then assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, that group included Elliott L. Abrams, a special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy and human rights, and Daniel W. Fisk, a deputy to Mr. Reich.

These men were veteran fighters against the spread of leftist political ideology in Latin America, beginning with Fidel Castro and Cuba. Mr. Fisk’s former boss, Jesse Helms, then a Republican senator from North Carolina, had once called Mr. Aristide a “psychopath,” based on a C.I.A. report about his mental condition that turned out to be false.

In the 1980’s, Mr. Reich and Mr. Abrams had become ensnared in investigations of Reagan administration activities opposing the socialist government of Nicaragua. The comptroller general determined in 1987 that a public diplomacy office run by the Cuban-born Mr. Reich had “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities.” In 1991, Mr. Abrams pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress in connection with the Iran-contra affair. He was pardoned by the first President Bush.

Because we really want a repeat of the Reagan years in Latin America.

And we all know (or, if we don’t, we really should) what happens next: Rebels march into Port-au-Prince and complete chaos ensues. And how does the “we *heart* democracy” brigade respond?

In Washington, the Bush administration voiced its official policy. “We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people,” Secretary of State Powell said.

But when Mr. Aristide asked for international troops, he did not get them.

Mr. Powell said he continued to press for a political settlement to keep Mr. Aristide in office. “We were doing everything we could to support his incumbency,” he said in a recent interview. Only in the last days, when Port-au-Prince appeared “on the verge of a serious blood bath,” he said, did the United States explore other options. “There comes a point when you have to make a judgment as to whether you should continue to support President Aristide or whether it is better to try another route,” he said.

On Feb. 29 — Mr. Philippe’s birthday — the United States flew President Aristide to exile in South Africa.

This happened two years ago, and there has been no inquiry into why the U.S. acted — or rather, didn’t act at all — the way that it did. We can mobilize our Coast Guard to round up Haitian refugees fleeing on make-shift rafts from another bloodbath in their country, take them to Guantanamo and hold them there indefinitely (for that, we can thank the first Bush and President Clinton), but we can’t deal with 200 thugs.

Two years later, there has been no inquiry. Caricom refuses to recognize Haiti’s interim government. And questions about Mr. Aristide’s fall remain unanswered.

Among them is what the Bush administration knew about the rebels, who plotted in the Dominican Republic, a country friendly to the United States.

Their activities there had not gone unnoticed by Haitian authorities. Edwin M. Paraison, a former Haitian diplomat in the Dominican Republic, said his government contacted authorities there three times to express concern “about subversive actions that were being planned on the Dominican territory.” But, he said, little was done.

American officials said they did not take the rebels terribly seriously. “Our sense was that they were not a large force, not a well-trained force, and not in any way a threat to the stability then in Haiti,” said Mr. Foley, the American ambassador at the time. “Now that proved to be otherwise.”

*Shrugs shoulders.* Oops! Sorry guys.

One day last August, Haiti’s interim prime minister, Gérard Latortue, invited a Times reporter into a private cabinet meeting. With his ministers seated around a long wooden table, Mr. Latortue said he wanted to deliver a personal message: Haiti was safe to visit now.

“I really would like people to know now that there is an improvement,” said the prime minister, a former Florida businessman and United Nations official. “Go where you want to go and after, report what you have seen — whatever it is.” And he added, “We are living in very exceptional times.”

Several days later, in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood, uniformed riot police officers swept through a crowd at a soccer match, singling out people to kill — with guns and machetes — outside the stadium. Unable to leave, people screamed and huddled on the ground. An estimated 10 people were killed at the event, which had been financed by the United States to promote peace in the area.

Things have only deteriorated from there. Kidnapping gangs hungry for ransom money have waged an expanding war on the capital. Several months ago, the Haitian police chief, Mario Andrésol, said a quarter of his force was corrupt or tied to the kidnappers. Assassinations, mob violence, torture and arbitrary arrests have created a “catastrophic” human rights problem, a top United Nations official said in October.

Well there go my spring break plans.

The United States has played a diminished role since its troops left in mid-2004. It pledged $230 million to Haiti from July 2004 to September 2006, A.I.D. said.

But Mark L. Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, said the United States pulled its forces out too soon, turning the job over to United Nations peacekeepers while the country was still in the grip of armed conflict.

And here I thought that the UN couldn’t be trusted, that they weren’t effective — wasn’t that the official line when it came to Iraq?

Read the whole article.

4 comments for “We Love Democracy

  1. Jon C.
    January 29, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    Aristide’s government wasn’t exactly a paragon of democratic legitimacy- international observers widely denounced the 2000 elections as a sham. I don’t know enough to comment on the propriety of what’s alleged here, but using this story to bash the Bush administration as being hypocritical on democracy seems like a stretch to me.

  2. Thlayli
    January 29, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    “We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people,” Secretary of State Powell said.

    Somewhere, Salvador Allende is laughing….

  3. January 29, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    …as he sits next to Jacobo Arbenz.

Comments are closed.