FRAPH Raises the Stakes

This past weekend, a former leader of FRAPH, the Haitian paramilitary organization famous for doing the dirty work of the military leaders that overthrew Aristide in 1991, apparently led a group of ex-military men as they shot their way into several towns on Haiti's central plateau. These towns included Hinche, the main population center in the region, where ex-military men killed the police chief and several other people in taking over the police station.

Hinche also happens to be only a few miles from the main base of operations of the Papaye Peasant Movement, GRI's largest and oldest partners in Haiti. FRAPH members were authors of many atrocities against the MPP during the coup period, and their re-emergence in the Central Plateau is a direct threat to the activists of the MPP...not to mention any other pro-democracy activist on the Plateau.

The stage is set. Aristide has called for international police support to help him quell the rebellion against him that is now completely out of control. Amnesty International and others are rightly pointing to the dangers of a serious humanitarian problem if the current disorder persists. Politicians of the left and right are clamoring for the U.S. to take action. Still, Colin Powell insists that "there is no appetite" for direct intervention in Haiti within the Administration.

One expects that the mossbacks in the Administration are waiting for the opposition to force Aristide from office before then intervening to determine the winner of the struggle to replace Aristide.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is among those asking Powell for answers. Lee's credentials as a voice for a sane and just foreign policy are well established, but, on this issue, the perspectives of our partners suggest an approach different from Lee's. Her letter to Powell asks why the U.S. has not supported a democratically elected President under fire. She clearly wishes that the U.S. would take action to keep Aristide in office. Our partners in Haiti differ on many things, but they all unequivocally oppose any U.S. intervention in support of Aristide. They insist that, while Aristide was democratically elected, he has become a primary obstacle to democracy in the country.

With FRAPH goons right next door in Hinche, the MPP continues to call for Aristide's resignation and for the U.S. to keep its hands off Haiti.

How could it be that one of the oldest pro-democracy organizations in Haiti is calling for the resignation of a President that it helped elect? How can they continue to make this demand even as the traditional opponents of democracy in Haiti position themselves to reassert their control?

Writing in this past Sunday's New York Times, journalist Amy Wilentz offers her explanation. Aristide has long since lost his way. With no institutions to support democracy, Aristide has turned to the traditional "big man" vision of Haitian politics, with him as the big man. But without a repressive force behind him, he hasn't been able to deliver enough of the goods for the Haitian elites, or the Haitian poor who put him in office in the first place. Hence, he faces the same fate as many big men before him.

Wilentz knows something about Aristide. In 1989, she wrote a book called "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier." That book did a great deal to create the aura of near sainthood around Aristide and his Lavalas movement. That view captured left and liberal opinion in the U.S. (Grassroots International included) for much of the 1990s and continues to serve Aristide in some circles. Then, in 1991, she wrote the introduction to "In the Parish of the Poor," a book in which Aristide presented his own compelling vision for a democratic Haiti to U.S. activists.

Wilentz is right in suggesting that the lack of democratic institutions was a great obstace to Aristide from the start, but she provides no explanation for that lack of institutions. Next time, we want to look at one explanation of the problem and its implications for Haiti today.