Note: Written collaboratively and released in September 2001
Office of the Foreign Press Liaison, National Palace, Haiti
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FROM DICTATORSHIP TO DEMOCRACY
Haiti: Ten Years After the September 30, 1991 Coup d’état
This is not a civil war. There is no confrontation. The violence comes from one side alone. We feel there is a deliberate policy to eliminate Aristide partisans, to break the back of the pro-democracy movement and to terrorize the population.
A Ranking UN human rights official in Haiti, The Miami Herald, April 6, 1994
The September 30, 1991 military coup d'etat in Haiti, the bloodiest coup in 200 years of difficult history is rooted in a continuum of struggle for democratic change in Haiti. The continuum stretches back from before September 1991, out to today, and into the future. Although the contours of the struggle change, the objectives have always been liberty and dignity: liberty, of the body and of thought and expression, and the dignity of having the basic materials for human existence: food, shelter, healthcare and education.
This struggle has borne fruit, Haiti's democracy dividend. Irreversible progress in politics, justice and security has paved the way for fundamental and tangible improvements in the daily lives of Haitians. The brutal army was dismantled and replaced by a civilian police force, the number of public high schools doubled since 1994. An aggressive campaign to collect unpaid tax and utility bills has generated record revenues for the struggling government, and an extensive land reform program has distributed 2.47 acres of land to each of 1,500 peasant families. The government has also aggressively pursued an open market approach that has resulted in the development of a competitive and vibrant telecommunication sector and the reopening of the flourmill and cement plant.
HISTORICAL OVERVIEW: 200 Years of Struggle
Haiti's very existence was born of the struggle for liberty and dignity. The world's first independent Black Republic, and only successful slave revolt, emerged in 1804 after a long war with Napoleon's France. Haiti immediately faced a hostile international community that, in some cases waited a full sixty years before recognizing her. Some countries only recognized Haiti after payment of a crippling indemnity of 150 million francs to France and the former slave owners. This amount represented close to ten times the country's annual gross domestic product. The payment of funds borrowed for the indemnity was not completed until 1922. The burdensome repayment schedules denied Haiti the opportunity for any real economic development in the early years of the Republic. Haiti was set on a devastating course of borrowing funds to re-pay an ever-growing debt.
Haiti's chronic indebtedness to foreign banks became a pawn in a scheme of international financing with political repercussions at home. Short-lived governments changed often in the years leading up to the nineteen-year United States occupation that began in 1915. The Armed Forces of Haiti was created during the occupation as a "stabilizing," albeit repressive, force in the country. The link between the new army and foreign financial interests was made clear when the occupiers seized all customs receipts, and used some of the proceeds to pay the salaries of U.S. officers.