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Why Haiti's Such a Mess (And Why Bill Clinton Was So Wrong to Prop Up Aristide)

Ten years ago, in September 1994, U.S. troops invaded Haiti under the auspices of restoring democracy, human rights and the rule of law. At the time, the Clinton-conceived operation was hailed by leftists as a model of liberal interventionism, as former Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to power and an oppressive military regime was ousted. There was only one problem with this scenario: not only was Aristide vehemently anti-capitalist and (ironically) anti-American, he was every bit as brutal a despot as his predecessors. To make matters worse, the Clinton administration knew beforehand of Aristide's radical pedigree but chose to prop him into the dictator's chair anyway, in one of foreign policy's all-time worst liberal bungles. Today, the disastrous results of Clinton's experiment in Caribbean colonialism are painfully evident.

Despite the fact that Haiti, the second oldest independent state in the Americas, just recently marked its 200th anniversary in November 2003, freedom and prosperity remain sadly elusive for the country's citizens. 

While the country, or more precisely the Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, celebrated this bicentennial, most Haitians were too busy demonstrating against Aristide or simply scrounging for food—or a raft to Florida—to take part in any festivities.

In 2004, Aristide himself will celebrate the tenth anniversary of Operation Restore Freedom, which returned him to power. Friends of his, like Jesse Jackson and Randall Robinson, had helped pester the Clinton administration into undertaking this intervention. At the time, I pointed out that such an operation was an oxymoron, for how could one “restore” Haitian freedom, when the Haitian people have always been denied such freedom?

Ten years later, despite claims that Operation Restore Freedom was a great foreign policy triumph for the Clinton administration, the failure of Aristide's regime to transform Haiti's profoundly dysfunctional society into a functional one is all too evident. Indeed, if ever there was a case of a country hopelessly dysfunctional, from its civil society to its elected leadership, it is Haiti, which has become an almost perfect example of a society beyond salvation. Its problems are stubbornly rooted in violence and terror, which continue to enjoy mass support.

Aristide's election in 1990 (when he promised to “necklace” his opponents, or burn them alive) is often declared to have been Haiti's first free election, despite the notorious François “Papa Doc” Duvalier's election in 1957. Besides this ongoing democratic charade, since 1994 the Catholic Left in Haiti has destroyed what little remained after two centuries of savagery in the name of social justice and heretical liberation theology.

But Haitian corruption and misery are threats that reach well beyond the borders of Haiti. Washington has proven unable to do anything about Haiti, or even to protect the U.S. against wave after wave of Haitian émigrés coming to Florida. Haiti has also repeatedly invaded—raping, destroying, and stealing as much as possible—today's Dominican Republic, while always managing to remain eras behind it in terms of development.

The U.S. and European Union have suspended aid after the fraudulent 2000 elections that returned Aristide to power. Even Paris and Ottawa now agree with Washington that no more of the $500 million promised to Port-au-Prince in the ebullient days of 1994 should be delivered to Aristide.

Such a decision is absolutely necessary, since Haiti has always pursued the same solution to its problem of ungovernability: deflect blame and ask for money from outsiders. Hence, “You owe us $21,685,135,571.48, screams the bankrupt regime in Port-au-Prince” (London Telegraph, Oct. 10, 2003). This refers to the 90 million francs Haiti alleges it wrongfully had to pay France in 1825 in connection with Haitian crimes under founding father Dessalines as the country fought for independence, including murder, rape, confiscation of property, and similar actions against white French civilians, mostly women and children. That was the amount demanded by Paris in return for granting independence. With good reason, since Jean-Jacques Dessalines's 1805 Constitution clearly stated that “No white man of whatever nation he may be, shall put his foot on this territory with the title of master or proprietor, neither shall he in future acquire any property therein.”

Such racist constitutions in Haiti have since changed, but the behavior of its government has not. The French are right to dismiss this monetary claim, not just because it is extortion, but also because -- due largely to Paris' influence -- the EU has already wasted almost $2 billion on Aristide's thuggish regime. And no matter how much Aristide and his lackeys spend on lobbying in Washington, it appears that even his racialist supporters in the United States are embarrassed by him now.

The Washington Post reported (on November 18, 2003) that, at the 200th anniversary celebration, Aristide told Haitians, “After 200 years of economic violence, the traces of slavery are still here. Poverty today is the result of a 200-year plot. Whether it be slavery or embargo, it's the same plot. You are victims.” Referring to the aid suspensions—-which he calls “economic sanctions”--he said, “We got out of the blockade then, now there's another one. It's the same conspiracy. We won that victory. We can walk toward another victory.”

The undeniable truth is that Aristide is merely the latest incarnation of an uninterrupted chain of murderous tyrants who have ruled Haiti over the centuries. In fact, the country still glorifies the racist Jean-Jacques Dessalines (Emperor Jacques I) as its “founding father.” That a genocidal murderer is the national hero makes perfect sense in Haiti, where Dessalines's assassin, Henri Christophe (King Henry I, 1806-20), is also glorified as a founding father. Although many Haitians excuse Christophe's act as a part of Haiti's independence struggle, it is obvious that Haiti's history of bloodshed, from the lines of succession to the lush fields of the countryside, underpins its current political and social culture.

And the tragic spin of Haiti's history wheel continues. Whereas under Francois Duvalier the sinister “tonton macoute” gangs controlled the population, now it is Aristide's “chiméres” gangs doing the killing and beating. Members are recruited from the worst ghettos. Formed for the purpose of beating up or even murdering opposition, some of these gangs themselves are now considered “opposition.” One famous thug, Amiot Metayer, the alienated leader of a formerly pro-Aristide “community organization" called the “Cannibal Army,” was found dead on a roadside in Gonaives with his eyes shot out. His gang's members blame Aristide.

Even a cursory understanding of Haitian history should have taught the Clinton administration that to speak of “Restoring Freedom” in a country that never had it -- or wanted it -- is ridiculous. The real reason for Clinton's intervention was the invasion of Florida by Haitians, an invasion that has not abated and never will, because of the very fact that, by per capita income, Haitians today have only 60 percent of what they did in 1800. “Restore Freedom”? Freedom has not yet dawned upon Haiti's bloodstained shores. To insist Bill Clinton restored freedom insults the meaning of the word itself.

This article was first published by frontpagemag.com and is reprinted with permission.