2004 Haitian coup d’état
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The 2004 Haitian coup d’état occurred after conflicts lasting for several weeks in Haiti during February 2004. It resulted in the removal from office of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide preventing him from finishing his second term, and he left Haiti on a United States (U.S.) plane accompanied by U.S. military/security personnel.
Aristide claims that his departure was a kidnapping, accusing the U.S. of orchestrating a coup d’état against him. Aristide was forced into exile, being flown directly out of Haiti to the Central African Republic, eventually settling in South Africa.
Events prior to the coup d’état
Controversy over Aristide’s election in 2000
U.S. Congressman John Conyers wrote:
Unfortunately, there were irregularities that occurred in the election and there is a post-election problem of the vote count that is threatening to undo the democratic work of the citizens of Haïti. Without doubt there were irregularities that occurred in the election which have been conceded by the CEP.
The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) says that there were delays in the distribution of voter identification cards.
Aristide’s supporters claim that an opposition boycott of the election was used as a ploy in order to discredit it and that they did not have anywhere near majority support.
European nations suspended government-to-government assistance to Haiti. Haiti had received no help from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank for years. The U.S. Congress banned any U.S. assistance from being channeled through the Haitian government, codifying an existing situation.
Aristide’s request for reparations from France
In 2003, Aristide requested that France pay Haiti over US$21 billion in reparations, which he said was the equivalent in today’s money of the 90 million gold francs Haiti was forced to pay Paris after winning independence from France 200 years ago.
The United Nations Security Council, of which France is a permanent member, rejected a 26 February 2004, appeal from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for international peacekeeping forces to be sent into its member state Haiti, but voted unanimously to send in troops three days later, just hours after Aristide’s forced resignation.
“I believe that (the call for reparations) could have something to do with it, because they (France) were definitely not happy about it, and made some very hostile comments,” Myrtha Desulme, chairperson of the Haiti-Jamaica Exchange Committee, told IPS. “(But) I believe that he did have grounds for that demand, because that is what started the downfall of Haiti,” she says.”
Following the 2004 Haitian coup d’état, the appointed provisional prime minister Gerard Latortue rescinded the reparations demand, calling it “foolish” and “illegal”.
Cross-border paramilitary campaign against Haiti’s state 2001–2004
The role of rightwing paramilitary groups in violently targeting activists and government officials aligned with the Aristide government has been well documented. Freedom of Information Act documents have shown how paramilitary forces received support from sectors of Haiti’s elite as well as from sectors of the Dominican military and government at the time. It is also believed that they had contact with U.S. and French intelligence. While the paramilitary campaign was launched in late 2001 and immediately targeted key governmental infrastructure in Port-au-Prince, during 2002 and 2003 it targeted rural areas of the country. In early 2004, paramilitary forces launched a ramped up offensive into the country.
The Ottawa Initiative on Haiti was a conference hosted by Canada that took place at Meech Lake, Quebec (a federal government resort near Ottawa) on 31 January and 1 February 2003, to decide the future of Haiti’s government, though no Haitian government officials were invited. The conference was attended by Canadian, French, and U.S. and Latin American officials.
Journalist Michel Vastel leaked information about the conference that he says was told to him by his friend and conference host Denis Paradis, Canada’s Secretary of State for Latin America, Africa, and the French-speaking world, in his 15 March 2003, article in Quebec news magazine L’actualité. In the article, he claims that the officials at the conference wanted to see regime change in Haiti in less than a year. “Michel Vastel wrote that the possibility of Aristide‘s departure, the need for a potential trusteeship over Haiti, and the return of Haiti’s dreaded military were discussed by Paradis and the French Minister for La Francophonie, .” Paradis later denied this, but neither Vastel nor L’actualite retracted the story.
Multiple protests by Haitian students were organized in 2002, 2003 and 2004 against the Aristide government. On 5 December 2003, some of Aristide’s supporters, backed by the police according to witnesses, entered the social studies department of the Université d’État d’Haïti to attack students who were rallying for an anti-government protest later that day. Dozens of students were injured and the University dean had his legs broken. This tragic event led to more protests by students, eventually joined by other groups. A student protest against Aristide on 7 January 2004 led to a clash with police and Aristide supporters that left two dead.
In September 2003, Amiot Métayer was found dead, his eyes shot out and his heart cut out, most likely the result of machete-inflicted wounds. He was, prior to his death, the leader of the Gonaives gang known as “The Cannibal Army.” After his death, his brother Buteur Métayer swore vengeance against those he felt responsible for Amiot’s death—namely, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Buteur took charge of the Cannibal Army and promptly renamed it the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti. It has been claimed by Louis Rosario of the Dominican Republic’s investigation committee that the United States government helped fund and train the Haitian rebels. He was quoted saying, “200 soldiers of the US Special Forces arrived in the Dominican Republic, with the authorization of Dominican President Hipolito Mejia, as a part of the military operation to train Haitian rebels,” when unveiling the report in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo. On 5 February 2004, this rebel group seized control of Haiti’s fourth-largest city, Gonaïves, marking the beginning of a minor revolt against Aristide. During their sack of the city, they burned the police station and looted it for weapons and vehicles, which they used to continue their campaign down the coast. By 22 February, the rebels had captured Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haïtien. As the end of February approached, rebels threatened to take the capital, Port-au-Prince, fueling increasing political unrest and the building of barricades throughout the capital. Haitians fled their country on boats, seeking to get to the United States. After a three-week rebellion, Aristide involuntarily left Haiti on a US plane accompanied by US security personnel as the rebels took over the capital and was flown without knowledge of his route and destination, via Antigua to Bangui, Central African Republic.
Many international politicians, including members of the U.S. congress and the Jamaican Prime Minister, expressed concern that the United States had interfered with Haiti’s democratic process by removing Aristide with excessive force. According to Rep. Maxine Waters D-California, Mildred Aristide called her at her home at 6:30 am to inform her “the coup d’etat has been completed”, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide said the U.S. Embassy in Haiti’s chief of staff came to his house to say he would be killed “and a lot of Haitians would be killed” if he refused to resign immediately and said he “has to go now.” Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York expressed similar words, saying Aristide had told him he was “disappointed that the international community had let him down” and “that he resigned under pressure” – “As a matter of fact, he was very apprehensive for his life. They made it clear that he had to go now or he would be killed.” When asked for his response to these statements Colin Powell said that “it might have been better for members of Congress who have heard these stories to ask us about the stories before going public with them so we don’t make a difficult situation that much more difficult” and he alleged that Aristide “did not democratically govern or govern well”. Jamaican Prime Minister P. J. Patterson released a statement saying “we are bound to question whether his resignation was truly voluntary, as it comes after the capture of sections of Haiti by armed insurgents and the failure of the international community to provide the requisite support. The removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre succeeded Aristide as interim president and petitioned the United Nations Security Council for the intervention of an international peacekeeping force. The Security Council passed a resolution the same day, “[t]aking note of the resignation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as President of Haiti and the swearing-in of President Boniface Alexandre as the acting President of Haiti
in accordance with the Constitution of Haiti” and authorized such a mission. As a vanguard of the official UN force and Operation Secure Tomorrow, a force of about 1,000 United States Marines arrived in Haïti within the day, and Canadian, French and Chilean troops arrived the next morning; the United Nations indicated it would send a team to assess the situation within days.
On 1 June 2004, the peacekeeping mission was passed to MINUSTAH and comprised a 7000-person force led by Brazil and backed up by Argentina, Chile, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.
In November 2004, the University of Miami School of Law carried out a Human Rights Investigation in Haiti and documented serious human rights abuses. It stated that “Summary executions are a police tactic.” It also stated the following:
U.S. officials blame the crisis on armed gangs in the poor neighborhoods, not the official abuses and atrocities, nor the unconstitutional ouster of the elected president. Their support for the interim government is not surprising, as top officials, including the Minister of Justice, worked for U.S. government projects that undermined their elected predecessors. Coupled with the U.S. government’s development assistance embargo from 2000–2004, the projects suggest a disturbing pattern.
On 15 October 2005, Brazil called for more troops to be sent due to the worsening situation in the country.
A number of figures from Haiti’s past re-appeared in government after the rebellion, including Hérard Abraham at the Ministry of the Interior, Williams Régala (a former aide to Henri Namphy) and Colonel Henri-Robert Marc-Charles, a member of the post-1991 military junta.
CARICOM (The Caribbean Community) governments denounced the “removal” of Aristide from government. They also questioned the legality of the new government. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, P. J. Patterson, said that the episode set “a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces.”
As reported by the BBC, on 3 March 2004, CARICOM called for an independent inquiry into the departure of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and says it will not send peacekeepers at this time. Patterson said there had been no indication during discussions with the U.S. and France that the plan which CARICOM had put forward prior to Aristide’s departure was not acceptable. “In respect of our partners we can only say this, at no time in our discussions did they convey to us that the plan was unacceptable so long as president Aristide remained in office. Nor did they suggest to us anything of a nature pertaining to the conduct of President Aristide in office that would cause us to come to the judgment ourselves that he was unsuited to be the President of Haïti,” Mr. Patterson said. The U.S. and France have been accused of using pressure on CARICOM to not make a formal UN request for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s removal.
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|History of Haiti|
On 1 March 2004, US Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), along with Aristide family friend Randall Robinson, reported that Aristide had told them (using a smuggled cellular phone), that he had been forced to resign and abducted from the country by the United States. He claimed to be held hostage by an armed military guard.
Aristide later repeated similar claims, in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on 16 March. Goodman asked Aristide if he resigned, and President Aristide replied: “No, I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a ‘new coup d’état,’ or ‘modern kidnapping.'”
Many supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party and Aristide, as well as some foreign supporters, denounced the rebellion as a foreign controlled coup d’état orchestrated by Canada, France and the United States (Goodman, et al., 2004) to remove a democratically elected President. A new book on the subject, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment by Peter Hallward, documents the events leading up to 29 February 2004, and concludes that what occurred during the “rebellion” was in fact a modern coup d’état, financed and orchestrated by forces allied with the US government.
Sources close to Aristide also claim the Bush administration blocked attempts to reinforce his bodyguards. The , the San Francisco-based organization which supplied Aristide’s bodyguards, declined to comment.
Mr. Aristide, who accuses the United States and France of conspiring to force him out of power, filed a lawsuit in Paris last week accusing unnamed French officials of ‘death threats, kidnapping and sequestration’ in connection with his flight to Africa.
The Bush administration insists that Mr. Aristide had personally asked for help and voluntarily boarded a U.S. plane. ‘He drafted and signed his letter of resignation all by himself and then voluntarily departed with his wife and his own security team,’ Mr. Powell said.
The US has denied the accusations. “He was not kidnapped,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said. “We did not force him onto the airplane. He went on the airplane willingly and that’s the truth.” The kidnapping claim is “absolutely false,” concurred Parfait Mbaye, the communications minister for the Central African Republic, where Aristide’s party was taken. The minister told CNN that Aristide had been granted permission to land in the country after Aristide himself – as well as the U.S. and French governments – requested it.
According to the US, as the rebels approached the capital, James B. Foley, U.S. ambassador to Haiti, got a phone call from a high-level aide to Aristide, asking if the U.S. could protect Aristide and help facilitate his departure if he resigned. The call prompted a series of events that included a middle-of-the-night phone call to President Bush and a scramble to find a plane to carry Aristide into exile. He traveled voluntarily via motorcade to the airport with his own retinue of security guards, including some contracted Americans. Before takeoff, Aristide gave a copy of his resignation letter to Foley’s aide.
Aristide has also denied that a letter he left behind constitutes an official resignation. “There is a document that was signed to avoid a bloodbath, but there was no formal resignation,” he said. “This political kidnapping was the price to pay to avoid a bloodbath.” According to the US embassy translation it reads “Tonight I am resigning in order to avoid a bloodbath. I accept to leave, with the hope that there will be life and not death.” A slightly different translation was given by Albert Valdman, a linguistics professor and specialist in Haitian Creole at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. “If tonight it is my resignation that will avoid a bloodbath, I accept to leave with the hope that there will be life and not death.”
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On several occasions, the police opened the way for the chimè’s attacks and also covered their backs.
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Jan. 7—Haitian students clash with police and supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide during a protest march in the capital. Two protesters die and 13 are wounded.
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- The 2004 removal of Jean-Bertrand Aristide—Timeline of events
- Extensive coverage of the coup— Provided by Democracy Now!.
- Archive of broadcasts on the Haiti coup and its aftermath—Provided by Flashpoints.
- Haiti Watch—Provided by ZNet.
- PBS NewsHour coverage
- The Week of War – The final week of Jean Bertrand Aristide
- —Naomi Klein’s article in The Nation
- A political website dedicated to political activism on Canada’s role in Haiti
- CIIA Development and Inequality Symposium Paper (March 2006) – Paper examining repression in the post-Coup period and link to Canadian policy
- Review of Peter Hallward, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment (2008), Randall Robinson, An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President (2007), and Alex Dupuy, The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti, and the International Community (2006). NACLA Report on the Americas. November–December 2008. Issue Vol. 41, No. 6. By Jeb Sprague.
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