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Bill Clinton Named New UN Envoy to 'Stabilize' Haiti, a Country He Helped Destabilize

As president, Clinton forced neoliberal policies on Haiti, delayed President Aristide’s return after a US-backed coup and held Haitian refugees at Gitmo without rights.

by Jeremy Scahill
Former US President Bill Clinton has been named by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as his special UN envoy to Haiti. Clinton will reportedly travel to the country at least four times a year.

“[It’s] an opportunity to bring in resources to address the economic insecurity that plagues Haiti,” says Brian Concannon, a human rights lawyer who works extensively in Haiti. “But if the nomination is to be more than a publicity stunt, the UN needs to honestly shed a spotlight on the international community’s role in creating that instability, including unfair trade and debt policies, and the undermining and overthrowing of Haiti’s constitutional government.”

Former US president Bill Clinton (left) and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon are seen here in Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, in March. Clinton is to be named UN special envoy to Haiti, a UN official said Monday, confirming a report carried by The Miami Herald daily. (AFP/File/Thony Belizaire) Shining such a spotlight on those who created the instability, as Concannon suggests, would mean examining Clinton’s own role as president of the US during one of Haiti’s most horrifyingly dark periods.

Reuters news agency quotes a diplomat as saying Clinton is “an ‘excellent choice’ to help unlock Haiti’s potential as an investment target,” adding that his appointment “could attract investment in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation and help stabilize the country.”

That last statement about “stabiliz[ing]” Haiti would be humorous for its irony if the reality—and Clinton’s history in Haiti—wasn’t so deadly serious. The fact is that, as US president, Clinton’s policies helped systematically destabilize Haiti.

Dan Coughlin, who spent years as a journalist in Haiti in the 1990s for Inter Press Service, said he was “incredulous” when he heard the news. “Given the Clinton Administration’s aggressive pursuit of policies that profitted Haiti’s tiny elite, the IMF and big corporations at the expense of Haiti’s farmers and urban workers, the appointment does not bode well for the kind of fundamental change so needed in a country that has given so much to humankind,” Coughlin says.

In September 1991, the US backed the violent overthrow of the government of Haiti’s democratically-elected leftist priest President Jean Bertrand Aristide after he was in power less than a year. Aristide had defeated a US-backed candidate in the 1990 Haitian presidential election. The military coup leaders and their paramilitary gangs of CIA-backed murderous thugs, including the notorious FRAPH paramilitary units, were known for hacking the limbs off of Aristide supporters (and others) along with an unending slew of other horrifying crimes.

When Clinton came to power, he played a vicious game with Haiti that allowed the coup regime to continue rampaging Haiti and further destabilized the country. What’s more, in the 1992 election campaign, Bill Clinton campaigned on a pledge to reverse what he called then-President George HW Bush’s “cruel policy” of holding Haitian refugees at Guantanamo with no legal rights in US courts. Upon his election, however, Clinton reversed his position and sided with the Bush administration in denying the Haitians legal rights. the Haitians were held in atrocious conditions and the new Democratic president was sued by the Center for Constitutional Rights (sound familiar?).

While Clinton and his advisers publicly expressed their dismay with the coup, they simultaneously refused to support the swift reinstatement of the country’s democratically elected leader and would, in fact, not allow Aristide’s return until Washington received guarantees that: 1. Aristide would not lay claim to the years of his presidency lost in forced exile and; 2. US neoliberal economic plans were solidified as the law of the land in Haiti.

“The Clinton administration was credited for working for the return to power of Jean Bertrand Aristide after he was overthrown in a military coup,” says author William Blum. “But, in fact, Clinton had stalled the return for as long as he could, and had instead tried his best to return anti-Aristide conservatives to a leading power role in a mixed government, because Aristide was too leftist for Washington’s tastes.” Blum’s book “Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II” includes a chapter on the history of the US role in Haiti.

The fact that the coup against the democratically-elected president of Haiti was allowed to continue unabated for three full years seemed to be less offensive to Clinton than Aristide’s progressive vision for Haiti. As Blum observed in his book, “[Clinton] was not actually repulsed by [coup leader Raoul] Cédras and company, for they posed no ideological barrier to the United States continuing the economic and strategic control of Haiti it’s maintained for most of the century.  Unlike Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a man who only a year earlier had declared: ‘I still think capitalism is a mortal sin.’”

Blum added: “Faced ultimately with Aristide returning to power, Clinton demanded and received — and then made sure to publicly announce — the Haitian president’s guarantee that he would not try to remain in office to make up for the time lost in exile. Clinton of course called this ‘democracy,’ although it represented a partial legitimization of the coup.” Indeed, Haiti experts say that Clinton could have restored Aristide to power under an almost identical arrangement years earlier than he did.

When Aristide finally returned to Haiti, as Blum notes, “Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s reception was a joyous celebration filled with optimism.  However, unbeknownst to his adoring followers, while they were regaining Aristide, they may have lost Aristidism.” 

As The Los Angeles Times reported at the time:

In a series of private meetings, Administration officials admonished Aristide to put aside the rhetoric of class warfare … and seek instead to reconcile Haiti’s rich and poor. The Administration also urged Aristide to stick closely to free-market economics and to abide by the Caribbean nation’s constitution — which gives substantial political power to the Parliament while imposing tight limits on the presidency. … Administration officials have urged Aristide to reach out to some of his political opponents in setting up his new government … to set up a broad-based coalition regime. … the Administration has made it clear to Aristide that if he fails to reach a consensus with Parliament, the United States will not try to prop up his regime. Almost every aspect of Aristide’s plans for resuming power — from taxing the rich to disarming the military — has been examined by the U.S. officials with whom the Haitian president meets daily and by officials from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other aid organizations. The finished package clearly reflects their priorities. … Aristide obviously has toned down the liberation theology and class-struggle rhetoric that was his signature before he was exiled to Washington.

“While Bill Clinton oversaw the return of President Aristide in 1994, he also put significant constraints on what Aristide was able to do once back in power,” says Bill Fletcher, Jr, the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. “Clinton advanced a neo-liberal agenda for Haiti thereby undermining the efforts of an otherwise progressive populist administration (Aristide’s). There is no reason to believe that [as a UN envoy] ex-President Clinton will introduce or support efforts to radically break Haiti from under the thumb of the USA and the dire poverty which has been a significant consequence of said domination.”

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