“Empire’s Laboratory”: How 2004 U.S.-Backed Coup Destabilized Haiti & Led to Current Crisis

By Democracy Now!, March 11, 2024

Caribbean leaders are holding an emergency meeting in Jamaica today to discuss the crisis in Haiti, where armed groups are calling for the resignation of unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Haiti is under a state of emergency, with tens of thousands displaced amid the fighting, and United Nations officials warn the country’s health system is nearing collapse. Ariel Henry was appointed prime minister after the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, but he is currently stranded outside the country after a trip to Kenya, where he was seeking a U.N.-backed security force to help him maintain power. For more, we speak with Haitian American scholar Jemima Pierre, who says the unrest in Haiti today can be traced to decisions made two decades ago by the United States and other outside powers. “The root of this crisis is not last week, it’s not this week, it’s not even Ariel Henry. But we have to go back to 2004 with the coup-d’état,” says Pierre. She adds that because successive security plans have been sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, “the whole world is participating in the occupation of Haiti unwittingly.”


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Haiti, where fighting continues between police and armed groups calling for the resignation of the unelected Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Over the weekend, police and palace guards worked to retake some streets in the capital Port-au-Prince after armed gangs launched large-scale attacks on at least three police stations. Haiti has been under a state of emergency for the past week, with tens of thousands displaced amidst the fighting. U.N. officials are warning Haiti’s health system is nearing collapse due to shortages of staff, equipment and other resources to treat a growing number of wounded patients.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Sunday it conducted an overnight mission to airlift nonessential U.S. staff out of Haiti and to boost security at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. Caribbean leaders issued a call late Friday for an emergency meeting today in Jamaica. They’ve invited the United States, France, Canada, the U.N. and Brazil to the meeting. CARICOM, the 15-nation Caribbean bloc, said in a statement, quote, “the situation on the ground remains dire.”

Ariel Henry was appointed prime minister after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Henry still has not returned to Haiti after a trip to Kenya, where he was seeking a deal for a long-delayed U.N.-backed mission to Haiti. Kenya announced last year it would lead the force, but it has effectively been placed on hold. Henry arrived in Puerto Rico Tuesday after he was unable to land in the Dominican Republic, with the Dominican president saying Henry was not welcome in the country for safety reasons.

For more, we’re joined by Jemima Pierre, professor at the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia in Canada and research associate at the University of Johannesburg. She’s a Haitian American scholar and co-coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace’s Haiti/Americas Team, which has been closely following the crisis in Haiti. Her recent article for NACLA is headlined “Haiti as Empire’s Laboratory.”

Professor Pierre, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you start off by describing what you understand is the latest on the ground, who the armed groups are, and the different sectors of Haitian society that are joining together with those armed gangs and calling for the resignation of the unelected Prime Minister Henry?

JEMIMA PIERRE: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me, Amy.

One of the things that we need to just start off with is just these are paramilitary forces. I think “gangs” is an insufficient name for them, because a lot of them are former military and former police officers, and they’re heavily armed. What’s happening is a bunch of different groups coming together to say — and they call themselves now “Viv Ansanm,” which is “Live Together,” a bunch of different various — various armed young groups, young men in groups — to say that they want to get rid of Ariel Henry.

Now, we hear that there are negotiations happening around the clock. And apparently, there are supposed to be negotiations going on today, I think, in Jamaica or by the CARICOM countries, that include the U.S., France and Canada. The problem, though, is the fact that there are all these negotiations going on outside of Haiti by many foreigners with no main participation from the Haitian masses. And I think, you know, we have to go back to understand that the root of this crisis is not last week, it’s not this week, it’s not even Ariel Henry, but we have to go back to 2004 with the coup d’état.

AMY GOODMAN: So, take us on that journey back. If you’ll give us the historical context? In your piece, it’s headlined “Haiti as Empire’s Laboratory.” In it, you write, “Haiti has been and continues to be the main laboratory for U.S. imperial machinations in the region and throughout the world.” Explain.

JEMIMA PIERRE: Yes, definitely. You know, we say the crisis in Haiti is a crisis of imperialism. In 2004, as has been revealed and admitted to, the U.S., France and Canada got together and backed a coup d’état against the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And the U.S. Marines flew into his home, put him on a plane with his security officials, his wife and aide, and flew them to the Central African Republic. And people can actually go to the Democracy Now! archives, which covered this live. And I remember listening to this happening live.

And the point of this was that this coup d’état, which was led by two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, was then sanctioned by the U.N. when these same two members of the U.N. Security Council — and that’s the U.S. and France — basically pushed the U.N. Security Council into sending a multinational military force to Haiti armed under Chapter VII deployment. And that itself was illegal, because the original coup d’état was illegal. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti and the deputy ambassador were in the process — they’re the ones that named who the interim president would be, put together a Council of Sages, and basically restructured Haiti’s elected president. And back then we had 7,000 elected officials; today we have zero. And over time, I say Haiti has been under occupation, because it is this military occupation, the MINUSTAH occupation, that went from 2004 to 2007, that established the Core Group, that — it’s an unelected group of Western officials, including Brazil, which led the military arm of the occupation in 2004 under Lula, which led then — which has been controlling all the actions in Haiti, down to naming who the prime minister would be, Ariel Henry, after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse.

I have to quickly say, though, one of the key things that happened is, in 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti that killed hundreds of thousands, when the U.S. pushed the sitting president, René Préval, to have elections — and the WikiLeaks papers revealed to us later that Hillary Clinton actually flew to Haiti and changed the election results, where Michel Martelly of the PHTK political party did not make the first round, but the U.S. forced the Haitian election council to actually make him — put him in the second round. And so, establishing the PHTK, Michel Martelly, a neo-Duvalierist, as Haiti’s president with under 20% of the people voting, with the largest political party in Haiti, Lavalas, not being able to participate, we set the stage for what we see today.

So, by the time we get to Ariel Henry being imposed on the Haitian people by the Core Group, we had no elected officials, because Michel Martelly, basically, under him, we lost a lot of — we didn’t have many elections, and then he put in his protégé, Jovenel Moïse, who was also unpopular and didn’t run any elections. So we actually haven’t had any elections in Haiti since 2016, when Jovenel Moïse was selected for us by the Core Group.

And so, to understand what’s going on in Haiti, we have to understand how the original moment of the 2004 coup d’état led us to the complete destruction of the Haitian state. And if we don’t do that, we don’t understand these current flareups, where people are saying that they want their democracy back and saying that whatever negotiations that are happening outside of Haiti has nothing to do with them because it has not included them.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, when we went to the Central African Republic in a small plane with U.S. Congressmember Maxine Waters and the late founder of TransAfrica, Randall Robinson, and a Jamaican MP, we flew to the Central African Republic. They went to retrieve the Aristides, who had been put there by the United States. And as we were flying back over the Atlantic, they got word that Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell were saying that the Aristides were not to return to this hemisphere, were not to return to Haiti, to which Randall Robinson replied, “Whose hemisphere?” And so, he was not able to land in Haiti and went into exile in South Africa, where you have also taught for many years, for over seven years, and then we went to South Africa when he finally returned to Haiti. And people can see all of those reports at democracynow.org.

But I’m wondering — I wanted to talk about the latest news, the Miami Herald reporting that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Thursday with Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in a series of calls that officials described as “tense.” This is the U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller speaking Wednesday about the violence in Haiti.

MATTHEW MILLER: As the situation on the ground grows increasingly dire, we and CARICOM have continued to call on stakeholders, including the prime minister, to make concessions in the interest of the Haitian people. So, we are not calling on him or pushing for him to resign, but we are urging him to expedite the transition to an empowered and inclusive governance structure that will move with urgency to help the country prepare for a multinational security support mission to address the security situation and pave the way for free and fair elections.

AMY GOODMAN: But Jacqueline Charles, the Miami Herald reporter, said that the U.S. was pushing Ariel Henry to resign. What do you understand, Professor Pierre, about the latest, and also even where he is? Is he still in Puerto Rico, unable to get back to Haiti?

JEMIMA PIERRE: Yeah, he’s in Puerto Rico under FBI’s protection. He had to leave the hotel he was in when he first landed, because Haitian people living in Puerto Rico were protesting his presence in the state. And so that’s important.

You know, the U.S. government is being extremely hypocritical here, because in 2004, when the U.S. Marines landed at Aristide’s house, put him on a plane and told the world that he resigned, before the plane even landed in Central African Republic, and basically put in power a whole new government, and now they’re saying that this unelected prime minister that they put in place refuses to resign, where he actually has no legitimacy and no mandate whatsoever.

I also want to say quickly, just to touch back to the question earlier, is, the reason I say Haiti is a laboratory, because this is the first coup d’état that was sanctioned by the U.N., and Haiti was ruled by a multilateral coalition of all these countries. And so, the U.N. occupation of Haiti, through MINUSTAH and through the Core Group, is multinational, multiracial, and it almost seems as if this is a humanitarian effort as opposed to a coup d’état that has been successful. And so, the whole world is participating in the occupation of Haiti unwittingly, because — and this is how — we have to remember how the U.S. will work, and they will use their proxies to do the dirty work for them.

And I want to say what’s happening today on the ground with CARICOM is also a problem, because back in 2004, P.J. Patterson, who was the leader — who was the president of CARICOM, was very much against the removal of Haiti’s sitting president. In fact, he refused to acknowledge the imposed government that the U.S. put on us. But now CARICOM is playing a different role where they’re bringing the U.S., France and Canada, the people who did the original sin, to pick our leaders again.

And so, the problem is, if this goes on and if they don’t take into account other solutions that Haitians have been putting together — you know, in early 2021, you had La Fanmi Lavalas come up with Sali Piblik, which means that we need to start over and change the system. We had the Montana Accords. We have local groups that actually had a solution before the Moïse assassination. The U.S. government was trying to protect Moïse and basically ignored all these local solutions. And so, now they cannot say that they’re here to help Haiti, as much as trying to figure out how to put in place another unpopular and illegal government, and so then we’ll have the same problem a few years down the line.

The other thing I want to quickly say — I know, in a hurry — is that the people funding these armed groups are part of the oligarchy. And most of the guns and ammunition are coming from the U.S. People must remember that in the late 2022, in early 2023, the Canadian government sanctioned three of the richest oligarchs in Haiti. That’s Gilbert Bigio, Reynold Deeb and Sherif Abdallah. The Canadian government also sanctioned former President Michel Martelly and other — and Laurent Lamothe, his prime minister, all of them because they — for drug trafficking, but also for funding these armed groups. And so, in the news we get, you get these guys that look, you know, like raggedy — ragged and poor, but then the people really funding them, because Haiti does not manufacture guns, are these elites that are behind all the violence. And so I also want to put that into very clear context so that we know that this is a very complex problem that’s very much set up by the 2004 coup, but also perpetuated by the oligarchy and the U.S., which work together to keep Haiti unstable, so that we can say Haiti is ungovernable and we need to come in and save it.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain who Guy Philippe is, who just left U.S. prison in November, his role in the coup in 2004 and now what he’s doing?

JEMIMA PIERRE: Right, and this is very important. Thank you for asking this. Guy Philippe was around in 2004. In fact, Guy Philippe was trained by the U.S. in Ecuador and spent a lot of time training in — living and training in the Dominican Republic. So, in the lead-up to coup d’état against Aristide in 2004, what you had is — all the fall of 2003, what you had, Guy Philippe and his armed groups would ransack — would cross into the border and ransack and attack police stations and so on and so forth. Back then, which is fascinating, if you look up in the news, the Western media portrayed him as a freedom fighter. He was the hero standing up against the evil Aristide, according to the West. And so they supported him. And he would say later that he was actually being funded by the CIA and so on.

And then, as soon as, you know, what happened, once they removed Aristide, what you have is they tried to integrate these former armed military groups into the Haitian National Police, because Aristide had disbanded the army. And so, what you have is — that’s why I say we have to call these “paramilitaries,” because these are former armed groups that actually were funded by outsiders to oust our democratically elected president.

And here we are. Guy Philippe was arrested by the U.S. and put in prison for drug trafficking. And we have to understand this, because even during his trial, there are certain things that were kept secret because it implicated the U.S. government. And so, he served six years in prison as a criminal in the U.S., and now the U.S. dumped him in Haiti in November 2023, after serving six years of a nine-year term. And so now he’s back running around saying he wants to be president.

And he’s getting — you know, you’re saying Haiti’s — you know, everyone pretends that Haiti — you know, are saying that Haiti is at war, and so on and so forth, but the reality is, Guy Philippe is giving interviews to all the mainstream press. Guy Philippe gives more interviews than the local people who are organizing against repression. We don’t hear them in The Washington Post, but we hear Guy Philippe. But I wonder what the U.S. role is for Guy Philippe right now. And as far as I’m concerned, he should be tried for treason, because he was behind — he worked with the U.S. to actually remove our elected president. And so, we have to be very careful about what the U.S. is bringing, what the mainstream media is bringing to us as real and as the situation, when we know the situation is actually very much controlled by the U.S. and the Core Group when it comes to Haiti.

AMY GOODMAN: And Chérizier, known as “Barbecue,” the leader of one of the most powerful armed groups, explain his role right now and the alliance that has been formed between the armed groups. And also, really, is it true, for the very first time, sort of forming an alliance with the elite. as well, at least agreeing that Ariel Henry should be ousted?

JEMIMA PIERRE: Yes, apparently, it seems like Chérizier has joined in with all the other groups that they were having trouble with. And so, it is a combination of all kinds of groups that had worked against one another, that have fought against one another, and now they’re coming together to get rid of Henry. And I think part of the problem is, I think they’re afraid of this supposedly Kenyan-led, but U.S.-pushed, Kenyan mission of a thousand police officers coming in, another foreign invasion, and they’re worried about their position in Haitian society.

I do think the elite have to be brought into this, the oligarchs of Haiti that are funding this and supporting this, because this nonstop ammunition comes from somewhere. They’re coming from these ports that are owned by the elites. And so, there might be a — you know, we don’t know the machinations behind these gangs, who’s paying for them. You know, we know that they broke into the ports and emptied some containers. We don’t know what they took. But we know that the ports are not owned by the people, they’re owned by the oligarchs.

And so, what’s going on in Haiti is actually very important, because it’s — I don’t think it’s a plan that the U.S. wanted, which is why they rushed Henry to Kenya to sign this bilateral agreement, after the Kenyan courts said that it was unconstitutional for Kenya to send its police to Haiti. But I think things changed faster than they anticipated, and so now they’re scrambling for a new plan in Haiti. And in the meantime, what’s happening is our people, that are the people — the poor people on the ground, are the ones suffering.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jemima Pierre, we want to thank you so much for your analysis, professor at the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia in Canada, was before that at UCLA and is research associate at the University of Johannesburg, a Haitian American scholar and co-coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace’s Haiti/Americas Team, which has been closely following the crisis in Haiti. We’ll link to your piece in NACLA, “Haiti as Empire’s Laboratory.”

When we come back, guilty. That’s the verdict on the former president of Honduras, convicted of cocaine trafficking after a U.S. two-week trial. We’ll go to Tegucigalpa for the latest and look at the role of the U.S. in propping him up. Back in 20 seconds.


Posted March 14, 2024