In 1802, two years before revolting slaves turned France's crown colony of St Domingue into the independent black nation of Haiti, the revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture was captured by Napoleon's troops. From the ship that would take him to a prison cell, and eventually death, in France, he spoke legendary words: "In overthrowing me, you have cut down only the tree of liberty in Saint Domingue. It will spring up again from the roots, for they are numerous and deep."
L'Ouverture did not live to see how right he was. Throughout Haiti's troubled history as an independent nation, his prophesy has echoed in the ears of those forces--also quite numerous and deep-reaching--that have wished to restore slavery in Haiti.
In a country severely divided by skin colour, religion, language and class, Haitians have again and again united to protect their liberty. They forced back early attempts by both the British and the Spaniards to recolonise the country, they massively resisted a repressive US occupation (1919-1934), and 20 years ago they finally put an end to the 30-year-long Duvalier dictatorship. Few of their achievements have lasted long, however, before being crushed again by powerful foreign and domestic interests.
It was exactly 200 years after Haitian independence that another of its popular leaders was taken away by foreign forces, on 29 February 2004. Again, France was involved, now with the support of the US, Canada and the European Union. The former priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had by then served three years of his second term as president, after winning the 2000 elections by a landslide. The country's tiny but immensely wealthy elite were not too satisfied with Aristide. Neither were foreign business interests that saw in Haiti one big sweatshop in the making. A president whose base of support came from the country's poor was not what they wished for.
In 1986, Father Aristide had led the movement that ousted the long-time dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Like his even more notorious father, Francois ("Papa Doc") Duvalier, Baby Doc received tacit support from Washington and North American companies, while his terror regime was ignored or at best mystified by the international community. In their tradition of refusing to wait for someone else to "emancipate" them, the deep roots of Haitian liberty finally grew up and shook off the burden of dictatorship. When four years later Haiti held its first democratic elections, the roots made their voices heard again. Aristide and his progressive Lavalas ("Flood") movement swept the floor with the US and World Bank-backed candidate, Marc Bazin. Since his coming to office in 1990, Aristide had been a symbol for the ever-present Haitian battle between "roots" and colonialists that most recently erupted in the chaotic presidential elections in February 2006 won by Aristide's Lavalas ally, Rene Preval.
In 2000, the Haitian electorate had voted Aristide back in, in elections boycotted by the US-financed opposition groups claiming to represent "civil society" and its dissent with Lavalas politics (which included taxing of the rich, increased minimum wages, disbanding of the army, building of schools and roads--but also hard-hitting structural adjustments to suit IMF and World Bank demands). By now, the White House had been taken over by George Bush and several measures were taken by American and other foreign actors to destabilise the Aristide/Lavalas reign. Washington put a partial embargo on Haiti and monetary aid from the US, the EU and financial institutions was blocked. Most funding was redirected to opposition groups representing no more than 10% of the Haitian population. Further, about 1,000 ex-militaries from Haiti's disbanded army were given training by US Special Forces in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The operation was financed by the American Republican Party's International Institute, which also played a vital role in the establishment of the anti-Lavalas opposition party, Groupe 184. …