Posted March 15, 2016
YOU DON’T NEED to hold any illusions about United States foreign policy, and the interests that govern it, to be outraged and horrified by what the government of our country has perpetrated on the peoples of Bosnia and Haiti. These are the normal, natural emotions of ordinary decent people confronted with the realities, as the electronic infotainment superhighway carries the genocide onto our nightly TV screens.
In the slide toward global chaos, it’s often easy for such specific horrors as Haiti and Bosnia to be crowded out of attention by even more massive ones—especially today’s overwhelming catastrophe in Rwanda. There are also the banal distractions: a carnival of trivia regarding Clinton’s old sexcapades. We focus here on Haiti and Bosnia because of the direct, immediate and ongoing central responsibility of the United States and its major allies in the destruction of these societies and the murder of their peoples.
To Begin with Bosnia: What Can Be Done?
For three weeks in April and May came the latest destruction of a UN-proclaimed “safe area,” the town of Gorazde. The hospital shelled. The outlying villages burned en masse, with unknown casualties. The international political response was utterly predictable. From Clinton, the United Nations and NATO: Talk-talk-talk. The Serb army’s total contempt for the handwringing proclamations of the United Nations and the idle chatter of NATO “Ultimatums.”
More massacres; more talk-talk-talk. A final and last “Ultimatum”—after Gorazde had been reduced to rubble. Success at last! A “withdrawal” of Serb heavy weapons—just in time to move onto the next target. Serb tanks moved, with the approval of the United Nations’ special representative, right through the Sarajevo “exclusion zone” on their way northward. In exchange the Serbs have generously allowed the stationing of a UN force in the ruins of Gorazde.
Branka Magas, an author and activist from the former Yugoslavia, put it well one year ago in the pages of this journal (Against the Current 45):
“If the whirlwind set into motion by (Serbian president) Slobodan Miosevic and his generals marks the end of forty-five years of peace in Europe, Europe’s decision not to quell it amounts to the final destruction of what was left of the political and moral capital won by the defeat of fascism.”
But the Bush and Clinton administrations equally share “Europe’s” responsibility for allowing the destruction of the republic of Bosnia and the genocide-in-progress of its Muslim community. The wretched Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, William Perry promised at the beginning of the siege of Gorazde that nothing would be done to prevent its fall.
Thus was determined the fate of the supposed “safe area,’ as the West’s weaponry and military technology—stood by, allegedly powerless. Remember, this is the same war machine that flattened Baghdad and caused the deaths of probably a couple of hundred thousand Iraqi I civilians in order to defend a Kuwaiti oil kingdom—and which Bill Clinton sent to bomb a civilian hotel in Baghdad last year to “punish” Saddam Hussein once more.
Arm Bosnia, Abolish NATO
The events have elicited two kinds of reactions among ordinary, decent Americans sickened by the slaughter and ashamed of their country’s complicity in it. One impulse is to say, it’s not our problem and we can’t do anything about it. Yet it is our problem, a problem for peoples if not for their governments: In the telecommunications era, Americans and the whole so-called “world community” are in the position of the good Germans under Hitler who couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to stop genocide.
The other impulse is to say, clean out the ethnic cleansers: Bomb the Serb military into oblivion if necessary—the Serb army’s supply lines, its artillery positions that slaughter helpless civilians, its command/communications/control centers. This position has more moral force—with all due respect for our pacifist friends—than the stand-by-and-do-nothing option.
Unfortunately, it is also wrong. To see why, we have to go a little deeper into the depravity of the West’s policy. The United States and NATO could stop the Serb assaults, and could have done so two years ago. They stand by not because they couldn’t aid Bosnia—but because they don’t really want to. They imposed an arms embargo that crippled Bosnia’s defenses against the ethnic cleansing forces who want to carve it up.
Once the former Yugoslavia had broken up, Bush, Clinton & Co. thought Bosnia would die more or less quietly and that a Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia would create a new “stability” in the Balkans. Yet the republic of Bosnia, not just its Muslim community but also many Bosnian Croats and Serbs too, especially in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and other cities like Tuzia, refused to surrender to partition. They couldn’t surrender: hundreds of thousands of them have nowhere to go.
The West doesn’t mind seeing the Serbian army and its client militias punish Bosnia for trying to survive. Now that the Serb forces are going “too far”—causing a wave of revulsion among ordinary people and enormous anger throughout the Muslim world—the Western allies are falling deeper and deeper into a bloody cesspool of their own making.
The great powers are trapped by their own deceit in refusing to allow the republic of Bosnia to defend itself. The prospects are that they will be stuck there for years if not decades. Yet they still refuse to lift the arms embargo, to give Bosnia access to weapons of self-defense. Every act of political and military intervention by the West in Bosnia has been designed to prevent Bosnia from effectively fighting back.
The alleged purpose for NATO was to protect “freedom.” Some of us—particularly the revolutionary socialist left—never believed it. With the Soviet menace, real or alleged, gone, Bosnia is a test of politics in a post-Cold War world. Where only democratic principle was at stake—not oil or strategic minerals, but the survival of a small multi-ethnic republic facing nazi-like aggression—how would Washington and its allies respond?
Now we know: If the Gulf War proved that the Western Alliance would use all means necessary to maintain control over oil, Bosnia has proven that it will do nothing to protect a small country against aggression, the massacre of civilians and imminent genocide.
The solution is therefore twofold: that weapons be sent immediately to the republic of Bosnia, and that U.S. military forces come home from Europe. Arm Bosnia, abolish NATO—now!
Haiti: Crime Against Humanity
Since the September 1991 coup against President jean-Bertrand Aristide the U.S. Coast Guard has forcibly returned more than 40,000 Haitians. Taken by itself, Bill Clinton’s policy of picking up Haitian refugees at sea and returning them to the torturers and rapists running Haiti is grounds for indictment before an international human rights tribunal.
In the week prior to the “toughened” sanctions against Haiti (May 13-20), 968 refugees were returned! Then on May 21 the UN and OAS oil and arms embargo against the Haitian military—which has been in effect ever since military leaders blocked President Aristiide’s return last October—was extended to include most goods. Only food and medicine are exempt under the terms of the latest embargo, the fourth to be imposed on Haiti within the last three years.
This embargo has been the result of the Haitian solidarity movement; it therefore represents a victory for the people of Haiti. The new “tough” sanctions don’t even suspend commercial flights, although as of early June, that is being contemplated. The U.S./UN demands on the Haitian military don’t even include removal of the entire military command, who are all thoroughly involved in the crimes against humanity committed every day in Haiti.
While the media feature reports that the Haitian people are suffering under the impact of the embargo, the real fact is that this phase of the suffering has existed ever since the military overthrew President Aristide. More than 4,000 Haitians have been killed—many after mutilation and torture—while hundreds of thousands have been forced into hiding.
Since last fall the solidarity movement has stepped up its work: holding meetings, demonstrations, pickets, vigils and public forums. This spring the Congressional Black Caucus began a series of actions, including civil disobedience, to focus on the plight of Haiti. Randall Robinson, whose group Transafrica had been active in the boycott against apartheid South Africa, fasted most of April in order to demand that U. S. foreign policy toward Haiti be altered.
Additionally, a large ad appeared in the New York Times (March 23), signed by celebrities and sponsored by Transafrica. As its text remarks, “International law and precepts of common decency require our nation to provide fleeing Haitian political refugees safe haven until democracy can be restored to their country.” While 96.2% of all Cuban refugees receive political refugee status, only 10.7% Haitians are approved.
Clearly U.S. business, which views Haiti as a cheap source of superprofit, did not want the U.S. government to be forced into imposing an embargo. They got the Clinton administration to use a loophole in the OAS embargo so that U.S. assembly companies could continue their trading. Consequently, 1993 Haitian exports to the United States increased 44% over the previous year. During the first ten months of 1993, under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act and the Generalized System of Preferences, a total of $34.7 million goods made in Haiti entered the United States duty-free.
The Clinton administration has been placed in a political position where it must enforce the embargo, however reluctantly. But they don’t want it to really succeed. What the administration fears is not Aristide’s return in itself, but the power of the base of the Aristide administration: the popular movements that threaten private property when they raise the demand for social justice, land reform, a government based on democratic law. That’s why Clinton hints of sending U.S. troops after the military has left. He fears the power of the popular movement.
That power is shown even now by the “quiet comeback” of the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), the movement of 2000 peasant, women’s and youth groups (Haiti Info, May 21). Meetings, agricultural self-help programs and a Creole-language newsletter “work to organize peasants in order to continue struggling for the return of democracy.” Significantly, Haiti Info notes, “MPP members (interviewed secretly in a church meeting) all opposed any form of military intervention and said they believe that continued resistance, local organizing and the embargo are the few tools the Haitian people have to regain their president.”
In solidarity with the Haitian people, we support the extension of the embargo as well as the ban on military personnel and their relatives being able to visit and shop in the United States. We supported sanctions against South Africa because that is what the liberation movement demanded. Similarly, the popular movement in Haiti and the sole legitimate government of that country—led by Aristide—raise this demand today. We realize that will impose grave sacrifices on the popular movements, but poor people always bear the price of their victory.
We understand, as does most of the Haiti solidarity movement in the United States, that a military intervention in Haiti would not be to restore democracy in Haiti but to subvert it U.S. troops would go in after the generals leave, to “protect” their cronies and their property, and to police the popular movement Clinton has known that the military reorganized the drug traffic through Haiti. He does not really want to invade, which is why he is talking so loudly about it now. Yet from the administration’s point of view, an invasion might ultimately prove necessary to forestall what it and U.S. business fear—the possibility that Haitians might be able to take control of their own country, as they had begun to do during the seven short months of the Aristide government.
Clinton would prefer the facade of democracy to open killings in Haiti’s streets. But if Aristide is to return to Haiti, Washington wants to make sure two things are clear: Aristide is to be a figurehead, and the popular movement must be kept on a leash. For the U.S. investment strategy—above all, a docile, low-wage work force—to be successful, the popular movement cannot flourish. Genocide is unpleasant and inconvenient, but an assault on profits is a catastrophe not to be contemplated.
July-August 1994, ATC 51