- Two sometimes divergent, sometimes convergent streams of U.S. policy have played an influential role in defining the economic and political system of Haiti.
- Too often the interests of the Haitian people, who live in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, have been sacrificed for the imperatives of Washington policymakers.
- Outside of the realm of U.S. policy, a grassroots democratic movement caught hold in Haiti.
On 7 February 1996, ten years to the day after dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier was uprooted by popular protest and flown out of Haiti by the U.S. government, Rene Preval was inaugurated as that nation’s second democratically elected president. Like his friend and predecessor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Preval faced the ever-present question for Haitian policymakers: How will U.S. policy affect the fate of Haiti? And will it work for or against the needs of the Haitian majority?
For decades, two sometimes divergent, sometimes convergent streams of U.S. policy have played an influential role in defining the economic and political system of Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Economic policy has steadily supported the interests of U.S. investors and exporters. U.S. political interests in Haiti have been less unified, careening between support for democracy and development and traditional U.S. collusion with the elites and the military. Too often, the interests of the Haitian people, who live in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, have been sacrificed for the imperatives of Washington policymakers.
Since the early 1960s the U.S. has actively used its political influence and development assistance programs to help turn Haiti into a low-wage, export-friendly economy that provides profitable business opportunities for U.S. investors. In 1971, at a time when development assistance to Haiti had been cut off due to the terrible human rights record of the Duvalier regime, the Nixon administration agreed to give political support to the transition of power from Papa Doc to Baby Doc—dictator to dictator—in return for the establishment of generous incentives to attract U.S. private investors. These included maintenance of an extremely low minimum wage, the suppression of labor unions, and the right of foreign companies to repatriate their profits.
By 1985 the narrow strategy to increase Haiti’s exports and economic ties to the U.S. market had become quite successful. Haiti had become ninth in the world in the assembly of goods for U.S. consumption, the world’s largest producer of baseballs, and among the top three in the assembly of such diverse products as stuffed toys, dolls, and apparel. In the early 1980s the U.S. threw its support in Haiti behind structural adjustment program (SAPs) designed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The intention was to open the economy even further to foreign investment and concentrate resources in the export sector, which was considered to be the engine for trickle-down economic development. The SAPs included short-term stabilization measures, reduction of tariffs and import controls, cuts in government expenditures on health and education, and wage restraint. With the removal of import controls, the value of agricultural exports to Haiti from the U.S. increased from $44 million in 1986 to $95 million in 1989.
The benefit to the poor majority in Haiti was nil. Per capita food and agricultural production fell throughout the decade, private investment consisted almost exclusively of residential construction, the assembly sector, after reaching a peak in 1985, remained stagnant, and the value of agricultural exports dropped due to declines in the international price of coffee. Real wages declined by 50% between 1980 and 1990.
Outside of the realm of U.S. policy, however, a grassroots democratic movement had caught hold in Haiti, surviving and growing stronger even through the repression of the various military-dominated governments that ruled Haiti from 1986 to 1990. A month before the December 1990 presidential elections, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a leftist priest with a long history of working with and for the poor, became the people’s candidate, winning 67% of the vote. Aristide brought real hope to those struggling for political and economic justice in Haiti.
Problems with Current U.S. Policy
- Since early in the Clinton administration, U.S. support for the return of Aristide was conditioned on the implementation of a structural adjustment program.
- Ultimately, the U.S. effort to control the very essence of Haiti’s burgeoning democracy has undermined U.S. effectiveness.
- Despite the fact that the structural adjustment program will shape Haiti’s future for years to come, citizens were never consulted in its formulation.
The U.S. was not enthusiastic about Aristide’s landslide victory in the 1990 elections. In short order, however, Aristide’s administration made considerable progress in fighting corruption, improving efficiency, and increasing tax collection, thus winning some confidence in Washington. Desperately in need of funds, Aristide’s administration also supported the structural adjustment agenda pushed forward by the international financial institutions (IFIs). In July 1991, the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), the World Bank, the IMF, and other bilateral and multilateral donors pledged $511 million in development grants and loans. But the funds were never disbursed—stopped by the September 1991 coup d’etat that began three years of ruthless military rule.
The Bush administration’s initial outburst of indignation at the coup quickly faded, and soon it was declaring that restoring democracy to Haiti didn’t necessarily mean restoring Aristide. In February 1992 Washington unilaterally lifted the Organization of American States (OAS) embargo that it had spearheaded to pressure the military to step down. This allowed U.S. companies’ assembly plants to open in Haiti and granted U.S. import licenses to wealthy Haitian business families who are known to have supported the coup.
Since early in the Clinton administration, U.S. support for the return of Aristide was conditioned on the implementation of a structural adjustment program. Parallel to the failed 1993 U.N.-sponsored Governors’ Island Accords that were to have restored Aristide, donors drafted the Emergency Economic Response Program (EERP). In it were Aristide’s orders: prioritize the establishment of “a stable macroeconomic environment and an incentive framework for private sector development.”
In the weeks before Aristide’s planned October 1993 return to Haiti, CIA officials leaked a report based on information from Haitian military informants labeling Aristide a “psychopath.” Although the allegations were false, the CIA officers responsible were never sanctioned. Even more shocking, in the October 1994 issue of The Nation magazine, it was revealed that as the State Department and National Security Council were working for Aristide’s return, the CIA and Pentagon financed and encouraged Emmanuel Constant, an instructor with the CIA-linked National Intelligence Service, to launch the notorious paramilitary organization FRAPH to “balance the Aristide movement” and conduct intelligence work against it.
In August 1994 the Clinton administration sent 15,000 troops and a high-level negotiating team (Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, and Colin Powell) to force the military to step down. Covert assistance to antidemocratic forces and U.S. insistence on harsh economic conditionality made it clear that the U.S. was out to return a tamed Aristide to office. Ultimately, this effort to control the very essence of Haiti’s burgeoning democracy has undermined U.S. effectiveness. It has also weakened Haitian efforts to alleviate poverty and to install a system of justice that defends the rights of the poor majority as well as the wealthy few. Although the presence of U.S. and UN peacekeepers helped restore calm and security, this success was undermined by their refusal to disarm the disbanded Haitian military and paramilitaries. These forces now lie in wait, threatening the still-fledgling democracy.
AID is providing funding and technical assistance to strengthen Haiti’s judicial system, yet the U.S. has refused Haitian government requests to deport FRAPH leader Constant, who was imprisoned in the U.S. and wanted in Haiti on murder charges. Instead, the U.S. Justice Department released him from prison. Furthermore, the Clinton administration refuses to give the Haitian government uncensored copies of the documents seized from FRAPH headquarters, raising suspicions that the documents contain incriminating information about CIA and other U.S. collaboration with Haitian paramilitaries. Documents that were obtained revealed, for example, that the CIA knew that Constant was directly implicated in the 1993 murder of Justice Minister Guy Malory, yet kept him on their payroll until the return of Aristide in 1994.
The Clinton administration has continued to use development assistance funds to further open the Haitian economy to foreign investors. In late 1995 the new Haitian Parliament, responding to the vehement popular opposition to privatization, refused to authorize the privatization of state-owned industries as mandated by donors. This conflict led to the fall of Prime Minister Smarck Michel and the ministers of the parliamentary government, which had negotiated and supported the donors’ plan. AID held back disbursement of $4.5 million in balance-of-payments support to force movement on privatization. This prompted an immediate 20% devaluation in the gourd, throwing the Haitian poor further into crisis as food and fuel prices shot up over night. In October 1996 President Preval signed structural adjustment agreements with the IFIs that outlined his government’s commitment to cut government workers, increase taxes on the poor, provide subsidies to assembly industries and export agriculture, decrease tariffs to near zero (including those which provide some protection to domestic food production), and partially privatize nine state enterprises.
Despite two years of promises and rhetoric about the importance of dialogue and participation with all sectors of civil society, and despite the fact that the SAP will shape the future of Haiti for years to come, citizens were never consulted in its formulation.
Toward a New Foreign Policy
- Bilateral and multilateral loans and grants should be delinked from rigid economic conditionality that leads to inequity.
- The U.S. should end its own complicity in the continued state of impunity in Haiti.
- The U.S. should support measures to strengthen Haiti’s judicial system and to institutionalize the rule of law.
The fault lines in U.S. policy in Haiti run deep, threatening a number of important U.S. interests, including the Clinton administration’s desire to keep Haitian refugees from Florida’s shores.
The following recommendations are drawn from Voices for Haiti (a coalition of 80 U.S. groups working to change U.S. policy), the Washington Office on Haiti, the National Labor Committee, and a number of human rights organizations. If enacted, they would significantly strengthen the character of U.S. leadership in Haiti and the region.
The U.S. should use its bilateral assistance and its voice in the IFIs to: Delink bilateral and multilateral loans and grants from rigid economic conditionality that leads to inequity and the concentration of wealth and resources and reduces the capacity of the state to serve the interests of the poor majority. Support a Haitian-led development program. The U.S., in collaboration with the Haitian government, should engage the IFIs in an open, transparent, and substantive national dialogue with all sectors affected by the reforms. Women’s groups, grassroots cooperatives, peasant associations, labor unions, and other organizations should participate in the design, implementation, and monitoring of all development programs and policies, including economic restructuring.
The U.S. should use its influence to protect workers rights in Haiti. At a minimum, the U.S. should ensure that U.S. companies operating directly in Haiti or through subcontractors respect Haitian laws regarding minimum wages, working conditions, benefits, the right of Haitian workers to organize, to negotiate a collective contract. In addition, the U.S. should support worker demands for a living wage of 75 gourds a day, or about $4.30 a day. This wage does not constitute a large increase. Indeed, it would barely bring workers back up to the wages they earned in 1980. The U.S. should end its own complicity in the continued state of impunity in Haiti. The glaring hypocrisy of U.S. demands for stepped-up Haitian government action to bring about a rule of law on the one hand and the U.S. refusal to release the FRAPH documents or extradite Constant on the other greatly weakens both the moral authority and practical effectiveness of U.S. policy.
To do away with this hypocrisy, the Clinton administration should: Order the U.S. Intelligence Oversight Board to conduct and publicly disclose a thorough and independent investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies in Haiti from 1990 to date, with an emphasis on finding out how these actions have undermined U.S. policy support for democracy and human rights. Immediately end any U.S. intelligence support for Haitian groups or individuals associated with human rights abuses. Instruct the Pentagon to release to the Haitian government the complete and unaltered set of FRAPH documents captured by U.S. forces. Immediately deport FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant.
To assist in the establishment of a system of justice, the U.S. should support: Continued international monitoring, training, and technical and material assistance to develop a professional, civilian police force respectful of human rights. Haitian government requests for the continued presence of UN peacekeepers, although many Haitians are increasingly uneasy about their presence in part because of the failure of Washington and the international community to support Haitian government’s efforts to disarm paramilitary forces. Multilateral technical assistance to strengthen and reform Haiti’s judicial system, to bring perpetrators of violence against the Haitian people to justice.
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