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Haiti: 20 Years After The Coup

Jemima Pierre’s presentation at a forum to commemorate the US-France-Canada-sponsored 2004 coup d’état in Haiti.

The forum was hosted by the Center for Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto on February 26, 2024.

My comments today focus on the general refusal to acknowledge that since 2004, Haiti has been under a foreign occupation initiated by a U.S./France/Canada-led coup d’état, and adopted and managed by the machinery of the United Nations. The simple facts of both the coup and the violence of the international legal mechanisms used against Haiti and its people have been shamefully ignored. What enables the refusal to acknowledge the occupation of Haiti?  I demonstrate that it is both how the occupation was established, and how it is administered that obscures the occupation’s existence. I also argue that the 2004 coup d’état – planned and enabled by the United States, France, and Canada – has been one of the most consequential events in Haiti’s history. It is singular in its significance, not only for the history of Haiti, but also in how it signifies a key victory for U.S. and western imperialism. In the global struggle for decolonization, we ignore Haiti’s plight at our peril.

I want to memorialize the 2004 coup d’état by presenting a partial timeline of its history.  I hope my reconstruction of this timeline can serve to freeze, if only for a moment, Haiti’s history in place, allowing us to assess and understand Haiti’s complex, volatile, and changing status in the context of a swirling set of international neocolonial and imperial forces. I wish to also demonstrate how consistent the imperial assault on Haitian people and Haitian sovereignty has been, and still remains.

A partial timeline. An Archive*

January 31–February 1, 2003

It is dubbed the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti,” and the objective is to decide the future of Haiti’s governance. The liberal Canadian administration of Jean Chretien organizes a two-day conference at Meech Lake (a government resort near Ottawa). The conference is attended by Denis Paradis, Secretary of State of Canada for Latin America, Africa, and La Francophonie; representatives of the OAS; members from the European Economic Commission (EEC); French Minister for Cooperation, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer; two high-ranking officials sent by US Secretary of State Colin Powell; and Maria Da Silva from El Salvador.

No Haitian government officials are invited.

March 15, 2003

Journalist Michel Vastel publishes one of the only reports on the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti ” in l’Actualite, a magazine in Quebec.  Vastel writes that the real goal of the meeting was to plan for regime change; the discussions included “the possibility of Aristide’s departure, the need for a potential trusteeship over Haiti”

April 7, 2003

On the bicentennial anniversary of the death of Toussaint Louverture, Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide announces he will ask France to pay back the “independence indemnity.” (The indemnity is the payment of one hundred fifty million gold francs that France demanded from Haiti in 1825, under the threat of military invasion). Aristide states that the indemnity of ninety million gold francs (adjusting for inflation and interest) is equivalent to today’s $21,685,135,571.48. He declares that France “extorted this money from Haiti by force and . . . should give it back to us so that we can build primary schools, primary healthcare, water systems and roads.”

In response to Aristide’s call for reparations, French President, Jacques Chirac, in the summer of 2003, responded with a threat:

Before bringing up claims of this nature… authorities of Haiti the need to be very vigilant about…the nature of their actions and their regime (Hallward 2004)

14 November 2003

Secret cable:  the Vatican’s Caribbean Affairs Office Director Giorgio Lingua, approaches U.S. embassy officials to ask for further international pressure on Haiti. Lingua states that the problem is “the presence – in fact the omnipresence – of Aristide.”

January 1, 2004

People in Haiti as well as Haitians worldwide celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the country’s revolutionary founding. South African President Thabo Mbeki and his foreign minister, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, are among the guests of honor at the country’s Bicentennial celebrations. In his speech to the crowd, Mbeki says:

We celebrate the heroic deeds of these Africans who single-mindedly struggled for their freedom and inspired many of us to understand that none but ourselves can defeat those who subject us to tyranny, oppression and exploitation. We celebrate the Haitian Revolution because it dealt a deadly blow to the slave traders who had scoured the coasts of West and East Africa for slaves and ruined the lives of millions of Africans.

It must be noted that no other African or Caribbean head of state attended the celebrations.

Late January – Early February 2004

There are protests of several groups against President Aristide. The protests are widely covered by the Western media. There are also numerous and much larger rallies (and counter-rallies) by supporters of the Aristide government, with the largest one occurring on February 7, 2004 (Farmer 2004; Hallward 2007; Podur 2012; Sprague 2012). The Western media barely mention the rallies in support of the government.

During Aristide’s first and second terms, the government created enemies both to the left and to the right of the political spectrum. Leftist groups “condemned the Fanmi Lavalas [the political party founded by Aristide] for its cooperation with structural adjustment and accused it of becoming ‘anti-populaire” (Hallward 2004).  At the same time, Fanmi Lavalas has always been—and remains—the largest and most popular political voting bloc in the country (Hallward 2007; Sprague 2012).

The major forces on the political right are the traditional Haitian elite (businesspeople and intellectuals) and the various institutions of the US government, particularly the international non-governmental institutions (NGOs) it supports through funding agencies such as the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

A fifteen-party anti-Aristide coalition was formed. Known as “Convergence ” it includes almost every faction of the Haitian dominant class. Despite anemic support from the voting, they were able to converge around three million dollars-a-year in funding in from the International Republican Institute, a Republican party backed arm of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Haitian American political scientist Robert Fatton explains that “among the Haitian elite, hatred for Aristide was absolutely incredible, an obsession” (Hallward 2004). Thus, it was members of this right wing “convergence” that had funded, over the ten years of Aristide’s tenure as president, a growing armed resistance.

One of the leaders of this armed resistance was Guy Philippe, a former member of the Haitian military who was incorporated into the new National Police Force when Aristide dissolved the military in 1995. Phillip later moved to the Dominican Republic, where he gathered ammunition to stage attacks on the Aristide government. This group was initially trained by agents in the Dominican Republic and later by US special forces. And, between 2001 and February 2004, the paramilitary group had been staging incursions into the countryside – rural towns ill-equipped to deal with armed invasions. By the late 2003m their attacks had intensified. Some analysts claim that this was possible because of the foreign infusion of cash and military-grade arms (Sprague 2012).

February 22, 2004

A BBC headline reads  “Haiti rebels capture key city,” with a report that around two hundred fighters entered the port city of Cap Haitian, seized control of the airport, attacked, looted, and set fire to four police stations, and set free hundreds of prisoners.

February 23, 2004

Fifty US Marines land in Haiti, purportedly to protect US interests, property, and the lives of its citizens.18 Around the same time, there are news reports of the United States, France, and Canada asking democratically elected President Aristide to step down.

February 25, 2004

French Foreign Affairs Minister, Dominique Villepin, sends a formal statement  to other members of the UN Security Council asking the UN to prepare for regime change in Haiti through two things: 1) “The immediate establishment of a civilian peacekeeping force. This international force would be responsible for guaranteeing the return to public order;” 2) preparing a presidential election in Haiti by establishing an electoral commission and organizing international observer missions.”

February 26, 2004

As the threat looms of an armed attack on Haiti’s government by the small band of US-sponsored Haitian paramilitary soldiers (led by Guy Philippe), CARICOM (the organization representing the fifteen-nation Caribbean community) appeals to the United Nations Security Council for the help of international peacekeeping forces to protect the Haitian presidency—and Haitian sovereignty. France, a permanent member of the Security Council, flatly rejects this call.

On that same day, the Guardian (UK) newspaper runs a celebratory article  on Guy Philippe entitled, “A Family Man and a Fan of [G. W.] Bush” and describes him as having received instruction from French troops and the US secret service at a military school in Ecuador.

February 27, 2004

CARICOM quietly negotiates with some friendly nations to provide arms, ammunition, and riot control gear for the underequipped Haitian National Police to protect President Aristide.20 (Of note: One of Aristide’s first moves when he returned in 1994 was to disband Haiti’s army and to establish a civilian police force.21) The Republic of South Africa, whose President Thabo Mbeki had just attended Haiti’s bicentennial celebrations, agrees to send  one hundred fifty R1 rifles, five thousand bullets, two hundred smoke grenades, and two hundred bullet-proof vests to re-supply Haiti’s embattled police.

February 28, 2004

The George W. Bush Administration issues a statement  from the White House on Haiti that reads in part:

This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr. Aristide’s making. . . His own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern Haiti.

February 28–29, 2004

In the early morning hours of February 29, 2004, US Deputy ambassador to Haiti, Luis Moreno, accompanied by 12 heavily armed US commandos come to the home of President Jean Bertrand Aristide (in the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince) and order the democratically elected Haitian president and his family into a car for a ride to the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. The Aristide family and a close aide are directed onto an unmarked US jet, and President Aristide is flown out of Haiti and away from power. (This would be two hundred years and twenty-six days after the defiant founding of the Republic of Haiti.)

At the very moment that Aristide is taken out of the country by US Marines, a Haiti-bound Boeing 747 filled with South African military equipment  refuels on a tarmac in Kingston, Jamaica, less than three hundred miles away.

That same early morning, after the Aristides are escorted to the airport, Haiti’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre is picked up by US ambassador to Haiti, James Foley, and driven to the Haitian Prime Minister’s house in preparation for his ascension to power. Haiti’s Prime Minister, Yvon Neptune, would later report, however, that he did not have a say—nor did he participate, as dictated by Haitian law —in the swearing in of Haiti’s US-installed new interim president.

By this time, 2000  US, French, and Canadian soldiers were already on the ground in Haiti.

February 29, 2004

CARICOM chairperson and Prime Minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson, releases a statement :

The removal of President Aristide in these circumstances sets a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel forces. . .

In the meantime, at the behest of permanent members the United States and France, the UN Security Council suspends its normal 24-hour pre-vote consultation and pushed through passes a resolution that authorizes “the immediate deployment of Multinational Interim Force for a period of three months to help to secure and stabilize the capital, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere in the country” (Hallward 2004).

UN 1529 (2004), is under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Unlike a Chapter VI resolution, which refers to peacekeeping missions where the parties in conflict give their consent to the presence of foreign forces, a Chapter VII resolution demands no such consent. (It must be noted that Haiti is the only place in the world that was not embroiled by civil war that received a Chapter VII deployment, where UN forces are allowed to use military force to “pacify” the population). The UN Security Council resolution also officially recognizes the swearing-in of Haiti’s Head of Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, as acting President of Haiti.

Alexandre’s first act as interim President is to submit an official request to the United Nations Security Council to send multinational military forces to restore law and order in the country. Unlike the earlier request by CARICOM for the United Nations to send support for Aristide, Alexandre’s request is immediately approved by the Security Council.

The Bush administration, through Donald Rumsfeld, initiates “Operation Secure Tomorrow ,” a force of about one thousand extra US Marines that arrive in Haiti within the day. Canadian, French, and Chilean troops are expected to arrive the next morning.

CARICOM formally protests  to the UN and the United States about the conditions under which Aristide left office, while expressing concern about “the arrival of approximately 1,000 US soldiers in Haiti just a few hours after the leader’s departure.”

March 1, 2004

President Aristide and family descend from the US military plane in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. They had spent countless hours on the plane. From Haiti, the unmarked (except for a US flag insignia) plane had landed on the island of Antigua and remained on the tarmac for hours. During this time, Antiguan government officials were not made aware of the plane’s passengers, and the Aristides were not allowed to move from their seats on the plane or raise the window blinds (Farmer 2004).

March 1, 2004

It’s early morning in Washington, D.C. I wake up and turn on the radio to local Pacifica Radio affiliate station, WPFW, 89.3 FM. The news show, Democracy Now!, has just come on with an “Exclusive Breaking News ” report: US Congresswoman and chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, Maxine Waters, is speaking live. She says that she has just finished speaking to President Aristide by phone:

He’s anxious for me to get the message out so people will understand. He is in the Central Republic of Africa at a place called the Palace of the Renaissance, and he’s not sure if that’s a house or a hotel or what it is, and he is surrounded by military. It’s like in jail, he said. He said that he was kidnapped; he said that he was forced to leave Haiti. He said that the American Embassy sent the diplomats and they ordered him to leave…But one thing that was very clear and he said it over and over again, that he was kidnapped, that the coup was completed by the Americans that they forced him out. .

Later in its full broadcast, Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman speaks live to Randall Robinson, African American lawyer, activist, and founder of the prominent TransAfrica Forum.

Robinson also relays his recent conversation with President Aristide:

The president called me on a cell phone that was slipped to him by someone—he has no land line out to the world and no number at which he can be reached…The president asked me to tell the world that it is a coup, that they have been kidnapped. That they have been abducted. He did not resign.

March 4, 2004

The Jamaica Observer reports  an Associated Press story, “CARICOM calls for UN probe of Aristide’s ouster”:

Caribbean leaders yesterday called for a United Nations-led investigation into Sunday’s ouster of Jean-Bertrand Aristide from the Haitian presidency…CARICOM . . . felt betrayed by the United States, France and Canada . . . [and] were further angered that these countries refused to support a UN-peacekeeping force for Haiti after the rebels took over several towns and cities, but yet pushed through the authorizing resolution at the Security Council only hours after Aristide’s departure.

March 5, 2004

In addition to the US troops, around 2000, a new contingent of foreign troops  arrives in Haiti. There are five hundred French troops, one hundred sixty Chilean troops, one hundred Canadian troops, and “assorted other nationals.”

March 9, 2004

Breaking with the Haitian constitution, the so-called International Community—that is, the United States, France, and Canada—sets up a “Council of Sages ,” made up to choose a new prime minister. Gerard Latortue, a UN bureaucrat, and business consultant who had been living in the United States the past thirty years (and was still living in the United States at the time), was selected as prime minister and appointed head of the new Haitian government.

March 12, 2004

Gerard Latortue is sworn in as Haiti’s provisional prime minister. Latortue’s administration is immediately recognized by the United Nations, the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

Several governments—Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela, and Cuba—as well as the African Union do not recognize his administration. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez declares :

My government does not recognize the one government placed by the United States in Haiti and we call on the other countries of the continent, as the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) has already done, to pronounce this.

It is important to note that one of Latortue’s early acts in office is to drop the reparations claim  made by the Aristide government for the $21 billion restitution from France. Latortue described Aristide’s call for economic reparations as “foolish” and “illegal” (Robinson 2007, 254).

April 30, 2004

After receiving a report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the situation in Haiti is a “threat to international peace and security in the region,” the United Nations Security Council passes and unanimously adopts Resolution 1542.53 This resolution establishes the United Nations Stabilization Force in Haiti (MINUSTAH is the acronym of the French translation).

The military component is said to be responsible for maintaining the mission’s primary mandate of “enforcing security in Haiti.” The civilian leadership of MINUSTAH is made up of a team of three “counsels” of the UN Secretary-General: men from Guatemala, the United States, and Canada. (At the same time, the resolution also establishes a “Core Group” that includes leaders of mission as well as “international financial institutions and other major stakeholders, in order to facilitate the implementation of MINUSTAH’s mandate.”

The Core Group would ultimately consist of representatives from the United States, France, Canada, Brazil, the European Union, and the OAS.). The Security Council decides to send an 8,300- strong UN Stabilization Force from June 1, 2004.

The military component has 6,700 troops from 167 countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Jordan, France, South Korea, and the United States and police from forty-one countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Russia, and Spain. The government of Brazilian President Lula Ingacio da Silva provides the military leadership of these troops.

MINUSTAH will not be subject to Haitian laws.

June 1, 2004

MINUSTAH begins its official mandate in Haiti. It is the first security mission in the region to be led by Brazilian and Chilean militaries, and almost entirely composed of Latin American forces, particularly from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay.

August 2, 2006

A secret cable  to Washington, sent by US Ambassador to Haiti Janet A. Sanderson reports on a high-level meeting of top US and UN officials in Haiti that occurred on July 25th.  Under the heading, “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped,” Sanderson relays that Guatemalan Edmond Mulet, UN Joint Secretary General for MINUSTAH, “urges US legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

Kim Ives and Anzel Herz (2011), in their “Wikileaks and Haiti ” series for the Nation magazine, report that, “at Mulet’s request, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urges South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki ‘to ensure that Aristide remains in South Africa.”

November 2007

One hundred fourteen members of the 950-member Sri Lanka contingent in MINUSTAH are accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of Haitian women and girls . Not one of these soldiers is charged with a crime.

January 12, 2010

4:53:09 PM, local time in Haiti . A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits. Its epicenter is near the town of Leogane, sixteen miles west of Port-au-Prince. The southern cities and towns crumble. An estimated three hundred thousand people perish. A million and a half are left homeless.

November 28, 2010

The first round of presidential election in Haiti takes place. The timing of the elections was difficult. The earthquake posed many challenges, the most serious of which are the millions of people who are displaced and disenfranchised. The United States, France, and Canada, however, insist that the Haitian government hold elections and provide $29 million in logistical support. When elections are set, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Haiti’s electoral authority, bans “Fanmi Lavalas,” the political party founded out of the social movement that elected Aristide, and the largest and most popular party in the country.

Michel Martelly, the entertainer turned presidential contender under the new political party, PHTK, comes in third place, but not into the decisive second round.

A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research demonstrated  that, out of all registered voters, 71% did not vote, and the ultimate runoff candidates received less than 11% of the votes combined.

In between the first- and second-round elections of 2010–11, Hillary Clinton travels  from the Middle East (at the height of the Arab Spring) to Haiti to demand the removal of Jude Celestin from second place so that the second round would be a contest between the United States’ preferred candidates Martelly and Mirlande Manigat. Despite protests from the Haitian government, members of the electoral council, and Haitian activists, the Obama administration insisted. Martelly was placed on the ballot for the runoff of the presidential elections.

March 20, 2011

The second round of the presidential elections occurs. Half of the members of the provisional electoral council refuse to ratify the results of the first round. Less than 23% of Haiti’s registered voters had their vote counted in either of the two presidential rounds. It is the lowest electoral participation rate in the hemisphere since 1945, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

April 4, 2011

Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly is declared president of Haiti. He reportedly receives less than 20% of the vote from the registered 4.5 million registered voters.

July 7, 2021

Jovenel Moïse, the installed successor to Michel Martelly as Haiti’s president, is assassinated.

July 11, 2021

The Core Group issues a statement  declaring that Ariel Henry, who had been named but not officially installed by the time of Moise’s assassination, would assume the official role of Prime Minister of Haiti.

October 2, 2023

The US manages to get the UNSC to overwhelmingly vote to authorize  a “non-UN” security mission to Haiti – presumably to take care of an internal “gang” problem. It must be noted that the US had been trying for more than 2 years to get an UN-sanctioned build-up of the military presence in Haiti to protect the puppet government of the unelected and unpopular Ariel Henry. Importantly, Resolution 2699, was passed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which, like the resolution that began the occupation in 2004, allows the use of deadly force against individual states.

Not a Conclusion:  2024 – … 

Haiti officially lost its nominal sovereignty in late February 2004 through the U.S./France/Canada-led coup d’état and an occupation that has been managed by the machinery of the United Nations.

The nature of the legitimization of the coup by the UN (through the deployment of “peacekeeping troops” and via long-term occupation) allows it both to not be perceived as a coup and for the foreign occupation to not be understood as occupation.

Three important points need to be made about the deployment of the UN “Peacekeeping mission” to Haiti that established the occupation. First, it was permanent members of the UNSC, France and the U.S., which played the key role in backing and aiding the removal of Haiti’s sitting president. The UNSC, it must be remembered, is the only body with the power to deploy a multinational “peacekeeping” mission. Second, the narrative used to justify the coup and occupation was concocted by France and the U.S. Despite all evidence pointing to the reality that Aristide was kidnapped, all the UN security documents and resolutions about Haiti during this time – and especially about the deployment of UN military forces – used Aristide’s “resignation” as justification for intervention. Finally, and perhaps the most egregious point, the so-called Haitian “interim” government that the UNSC claimed to have asked for a stabilization force in 2004, was illegitimate.

In other words, the UN deployment and occupation –  based on a coup d’état sponsored by two states of the UNSC, the claims that the president resigned, and the illegal swearing in of an illegitimate head of state – were fraudulent. To add insult to injury, most of the UN resolutions refer to securing Haiti’s “sovereignty,” as if this sovereignty could coexist with foreign political control and military occupation. This is especially since the UN’s Core Group continues to be the arbiter of colonial (not “neocolonial”), direct rule of Haiti.

But another reason that the current occupation of Haiti is not deemed an occupation as such, is that while it was initiated and largely funded by the U.S., France, Canada, and the United Nations, Haiti’s sovereignty has been extinguished by a multiracial coalition of Caribbean, Latin American, and African countries. This may be the most sinister and effective aspect of the occupation. The current U.S. goal is to use Kenya and other Caribbean countries in the effort. How do you hide an occupation? Diversify it!

We must also point to the coordinated work among many US institutions – the U.S. State Department, the US intelligence apparatus, and its mammoth “aid” network. For example, it is no secret that the CIA-front, National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funded several Haitian “civil society groups” against the country’s elected president. There is also he western media which is predisposed to very certain racist textual and pictorial representations of Haiti (and of the African continent). A review of more than 200 years of western media coverage of Haiti would reveal the same language about Haitian as a place of violence, chaos, savagery, anarchy, etc.

US, France, and Canada’s actions in Haiti over the past twenty years demonstrate the country’s critical place as a laboratory of US and western imperialism. And US imperialist actions in Haiti have and continue to fundamentally shape internal dynamics – the national terrain of class and color conflict, of politics and culture, of accommodation and resistance.

The occupation of Haiti that began in 2004, and that continues, should, as Peter Hallward (2004) argued, be considered the “most successful exercise of neo-imperial sabotage.” The US, France, and Canada were able to remove a democratically elected and popular president, bypass the country’s constitution and, over the past twenty years, install prime ministers, and presidents, while overseeing the complete dismantling of the Haitian state. This was all done with the support, however unwitting, of the world. Perhaps this is the most shocking aspect of the coup. Today, most people in the world do not understand that Haiti is currently under occupation!

The struggle continues.

References

Dupuy, Alex. 2007. The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Farmer, Paul. 2004. “Who Removed Aristide? Paul Farmer Reports from Haiti.” London Review of Books 26(8): 28–31.

Hallward, Peter. 2007. Damming the Floods: Haiti and the Politics of Containment. New York: Verso Books.

Podur, Justin. 2012. Haiti’s New Dictatorship: The Coup, the Earthquake and the UN Occupation. London: Pluto Press.

Robinson, Randall. 2007. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President. New York: Basic Civitas Books.

Sprague, Jeb. 2012. Paramilitarism and the Assault on Democracy in Haiti. New York: Monthly Review Press.

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