Despite the resurgence of the U.S.-backed right wing in Latin America, Luis Almagro’s attempt to have the OAS Democratic Charter applied against Venezuela’s government was a complete flop. The OAS bureaucracy is heavily funded and in other ways influenced by Washington and has long been used as a weapon against governments it doesn’t like. In the twenty first century, OAS member states have become independent enough to make that bureaucracy less dangerous, but it has still done considerable damage.
The role that OAS officials have played in Haiti is especially ugly. Almagro has not uttered a word of outrage against recent U.S. efforts to force Haitians to accept fraud ridden elections that the OAS helped run – quite a contrast with the way he belligerently and absurdly impugned Venezuela’s electoral process last year before legislative elections which were won by the opposition. Perhaps the most outrageous thing Almagro has ever done was demand OAS monitoring of Venezuela’s elections. It was like demanding that the Mafia supervise police.
On Feb. 29, 2004, Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was whisked out of Haiti in the early hours of the morning by U.S. troops. It was an amazingly gross violation of article 1 of the OAS Democratic Charter that should have resulted in the USA’s prompt expulsion from the OAS. Unfortunately, the idea of holding the U.S. to the rule of law is still a fantasy. With Aristide out of the picture, the U.S. and its allies proceeded to install a dictatorship that would rule Haiti with extreme brutality for two years. Thousands of Aristide’s supporters were murdered according to a scientific study published in the Lancet medical journal. The region has over a century of experience with U.S.-backed coups, but this one was directly perpetrated by the U.S. government. It generated minimal international attention or protest. One reason for that is the political cover that organizations like the OAS and the UN have provided for the U.S. government.
The stage was set for the 2004 coup when the OAS monitored Haiti’s legislative elections in 2000 which were won handily by Aristide’s party. Initial reports certified the elections as free and fair but subsequently the method that had always been used to calculate voting percentages for senate seats was suddenly deemed by the OAS to be “not correct”. Though it conceded that the procedure had no significant impact on the results (which a secret USAID commissioned Gallup poll had all but predicted) this dubious objection by the OAS became the basis for the U.S. government to allege that the elections were not “credible”. The international media dutifully spread and often wildly embellished that allegation. Armed with the pretext that OAS officials had provided, the U.S. government hit the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a crippling aid embargo. It was lifted once a U.S. backed dictatorship was installed in 2004. Such is the Empire’s commitment to democracy.
At the same time it faced the aid embargo, Aristide’s government also had to deal with armed insurgents based in the Dominican Republic. In 2001, they launched an attack on Haiti’s presidential palace. Jeb Sprague wrote a detailed account of the numerous paramilitary assaults on Haiti during those years. He explained that an OAS report on the presidential palace attack of 2001 “provided a public relations cover to the paramilitaries and their backers by engaging in sophistries about the exact definition of a ‘coup’ and by transferring criticism onto Haiti’s elected government. An opportunity to strike an early blow against the murderous paramilitary campaign was not only squandered but converted into a victory for the paramilitaries.” According to Sprague “U.S. embassy cables clarify that the cynical leaders of the country’s small elite political parties heavily swayed OAS officials.” That small elite happen to be traditional U.S. allies in Haiti and, in some cases, financiers of the paramilitaries as Sprague showed.
In 2010, an earthquake devastated Haiti and enabled the U.S. government to deepen its toxic influence in the country. As usual, OAS bureaucrats were there to help the U.S. trample democracy. In 2011, OAS officials overturned the results of the first round of Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections without any credible basis. The U.S. threatened earthquake ravaged Haiti with economic sanctions if it defied the OAS.
As Jake Johnston observed, in 2015 history basically repeated itself during the first round of Haiti’s presidential elections. Fraud was rampant, turnout was abysmal, but protest against the electoral sham within Haiti was now fierce even among some groups in Haiti that had supported the coup against Aristide in 2004 – the liberal “cosmopolitan elite” as Peter Hallward has called them in his book “Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the politics of containment”. Against U.S. objections, an independent commission just found that only 9 percent in the first round votes were valid. Once again the message from the U.S. government has essentially been that Haitians should tolerate fraudulent elections or else. The bitter truth is that by far the freest and fairest elections in Haiti’s recent history – arguably ever – were the elections of 2000 that OAS officials helped the U.S. government discredit.
The OAS bureaucracy was hardly alone in its betrayal of Haiti. By now it is too easy to expose the way prominent NGOs like Human Rights Watch reliably support U.S. foreign policy. Instead, consider the Carter Center, a group that, despite its strong links to the U. S. establishment, has been willing to report some important facts that contradict the U.S. government’s propaganda campaign against Venezuela.
In an op-ed written in 2014, Jennifer McCoy, head of the Carter Center’s Americas division, wrote that “…outside nations often exacerbate polarisation. In Haiti in the early 2000s, the government believed US Democrats, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, would back them, while the opposition thought they had US Republican backing. Both sides therefore resisted efforts to mediate their crisis.”
In this appalling Orwellian distortion, a few Congressional Black Congress members who opposed the vicious destabilization campaign against Haiti’s democratically elected government are equated to the Bush administration that perpetrated a coup and installed a dictatorship. There were no powerful and well-intentioned mediators willing to accept Aristide’s many significant offers of compromise, only malevolent ones like the OAS and the U.S. government that continuously enabled his opponents’ intransigence. McCoy also tried to put a positive spin on Almagro’s belligerence towards Venezuela.
Aside from a highly indoctrinated and cowardly political class in the U.S., another reason the destruction of Haitian democracy succeeded was the assistance provided by Lula’s government in Brazil. More than any other Latin-American government, it helped consolidate the coup by providing troops, and leading commanders, to the “UN stabilization” mission known as MINUSTAH. While the differences between Latin America’s left governments have often been exaggerated, it is worth noting that Venezuela and Cuba were both solidly against the 2004 coup. That explains the spontaneous and joyous reception Hugo Chavez received when he visited Haiti in 2007.
Hopefully the unpleasant experiences Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, have had during the ongoing parliamentary coup in Brazil have caused them to rethink many unwise alliances – including any rationalizations made for collaborating in Haiti with the United States and its OAS minions.