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 V.13 No.13 | March 25 - 31, 2004 

Ortiz y Pino

Nation Building

Haiti's Sad Tutorial on Democracy

It is too bad that our actions speak louder than our words. If that were not so, our treatment of other countries would go into the history books as benign, altruistic, principled. We would be trusted. We would be a beacon of hope. Those are the things that our leaders have always said we stand for.

Instead, our actions speak differently. Lately, each of our interventions into other nation's affairs has hammered home precisely an opposite lesson: We will define when you get it right; We will decide who will be your leaders; We will control your economy. Then, and only then, will we anoint you as an acceptable member of our society of democratic people and extend a helping hand. And if you resist us, well, then, we have only two words for you: regime change.

Haiti is the most recent in what is, after several decades of this ruthless instructional methodology, a very long list of nations to suffer under our tutelage. What has just happened there bears examination, because it reveals a great deal about why the United States is gradually losing its identity in the world as a "beacon of democracy" and instead is becoming just another in the parade of imperial bullies who are feared, hated and ultimately destroyed by those it seeks to dominate.

To briefly recap that sad Caribbean nation's recent history, first, the Haitians revolted and overthrew the brutal dictatorship of Baby Doc Duvalier. The world long had recognized his dictatorship as extremely cruel and repressive, but as so many tin horn, be-medaled generalisimos before him, Duvalier had the canniness to ally himself with the United States, loyally supporting us with votes in the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

For decades this permitted him to operate inside his country's borders with practical impunity. Ultimately, even his friends in Washington couldn't protect him from his own people and Duvalier and his supporters were tossed out, to be replaced by the former parish priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Aristide, while perhaps not a shining example of a democratic leader, was the choice of the Haitian people, elected by a majority in a constitutionally legal election and supported by the masses of the impoverished. His term was due to end in two years when, several weeks ago, he was overthrown by insurgents who had been armed and trained with U.S. assistance.

He earned our enmity by eliminating the Haitian army and by charting an independent course of action in the international bodies. Our reaction was swift and decisive. First we imposed an economic embargo. (If this stratagem sounds familiar, it is of course exactly how we have hobbled Cuba for 45 years, and how we assured that Iraq would remain impoverished following the First Gulf War.)

Then, when even the growing poverty and deterioration in the country's infrastructure didn't cause an overthrow of the Aristide government, we took more direct action and sent in the armed rebels first, followed in a few days by the Marines. Aristide and his family were packed off to one of the only countries on the entire globe that is worse off financially than Haiti, the Central African Republic.

With him out of the way, we can set to work "restoring" the nation. This will mean insuring that the economic upper classes will once again be expected to call the shots. Trade pacts with the U.S. will again become possible, though on terms that are most favorable to us and that maintain the Haitian people in the bleakest financial status imaginable.

And we will quickly move to re-establish the Haitian military. Nothing could have antagonized Washington more than eliminating it. We trust the military officers of Third World nations because we know them. Hell, we've trained most of them. We know, usually, how far they can be pushed before their support for us slacks off. They are above all, dependable.

So it is most likely that in a year or two Haiti will again be ruled by a military authority of some sort. We might see a junta of generals take control. Or a puppet civilian government backed by a strong military figure. Or why screw around? Let's just cut right to the chase and prop up a School of the Americas-trained general (or colonel until his promotion can take effect) who will carry out orders from Washington with heel-clicking efficiency? Whatever. You can be sure of one thing: It will not be a government with the interests of the Haitian masses as its highest priority, but a leadership of elites that honor White House demands first.

If this sounds unnecessarily pessimistic, you need to understand that this is exactly what people around the world understand to be what happened in Iraq. What is going to happen in Venezuela, if our plan there succeeds. What we are expected to do in a dozen other places around the globe that are prospective battlegrounds.

We are no longer seen as the defenders of liberty and the beacon of democracy. It was a shift many decades in the making, but it is a shift that puts us on the wrong side of the most inexorable force in the world today, the irresistible drive of humans for freedom and representation. It isn't ever going to be safe for us as long as we are on this side of imperialism.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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