In the wake of the expulsion of the Organization of the American States from Nicaragua, we need to revisit one of its major crime scenes: Haiti.
On April 24, 2022, Nicaragua’s Sandinista government officially booted the Organization of American States (OAS) out of their country. Foreign minister Denis Moncada called the OAS a “deceitful agency of the State Department of yankee imperialism” and in an official statement, the Nicaraguans proclaimed that they “will not recognize this Instrument of Colonial Administration, which does not represent at any time, the Sovereign Union of Our Latin and Caribbean America, and that…violate[s] Rights and Independences, sponsoring and promoting interventions and invasions, [and] legitimizing coups.”
In response to Nicaragua’s break with the OAS, many in the imperialist west will undoubtedly speak self-righteously about the Central American republic’s lack of “democracy.” Others, on the left, will correctly point to the OAS’s long-standing role in undermining democracy – to the support the organization has given to regime change in Bolivia, Honduras, and, especially, Venezuela, where the OAS recognized unelected stooge Juan Guaido as president.
However, to really understand the undemocratic, demagogic, and racist history of the OAS, we need to return to one of its major crime scenes: Haiti.
In no small part because of the OAS, Haiti is currently a de facto colony administered and controlled by foreign, white rulers: the U.S., France, Canada, and the European Union. With an outsized involvement in Haiti’s political bureaucracy, it has had a clear and incontrovertible role as a tool of western imperialism and white supremacy. A brief review of the past two decades reveals its meddling in Haiti’s politics and democratic processes, all to support US interests while undercutting Haitian self-determination and sovereignty.
In 2010, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, with hundreds of thousands dead or displaced, many counseled against holding national elections. Yet the US, France, and Canada forced Haiti to carry on with the vote, pumping $29 million dollars into the country for logistical support. But, in the run up to the elections, Haiti’s partisan electoral provisional council (CEP) banned the most powerful political party - Fanmi Lavalas, founded by former president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. The first round of the elections was notably flawed (because of the exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas, voter turnout was low, with 71% of registered voters staying away from the polls). Those displaced because of the earthquake were disenfranchised. Moreover, of those votes cast, a high percentage were irregular. Nevertheless, the first round of elections saw the first place go to conservative candidate Mirlande Manigat, and second place to Jude Celestin (who was endorsed by sitting president Rene Preval). US-backed, neo-Duvalierist Michel Martelly, of the new PHTK party, came in third place. Members of the Haitian political and activist community called for the cancellation of the elections. However, according to Wikileaks, the US demanded that Martelly replace Celestin in the run-off despite his third place position.
For this to work, however, the white rulers mobilized the OAS. The OAS was the first organization to affirm the integrity of the flawed and dubious election of 2010. It put together an “Expert Electoral Verification Team,” composed of seven members, six of which came from three western countries - US, France, Canada - and one from Jamaica. It must be remembered that it was these same three western countries that were behind the 2004 coup d'etat that overthrew Haiti’s democratically elected president, ushering in the subsequent UN military occupation, which was ongoing at the time of this presidential selection. These countries are also key members, along with the OAS and the European Union, of the Core Group (of foreigners) that continues to be Haiti’s colonial master. The OAS “Verification Team” discarded some votes and changed the results to ensure that Martelly came in second place, affirming his position on the run-off ballots, thus ensuring two right wing candidates as finalists in the election. Haitian officials at first refused to accept the OAS recommendation. However, the US and other Core Group countries threatened to withhold post-earthquake relief. To consolidate this position, Barack Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, flew down to Haiti and threatened Preval with exile if his government did not change the results of the election to allow Martelly on the run-off ballot.
This is how Haiti came to be under the corrupt and murderous “Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale” (PHTK) neocolonial government.
The OAS would strike again in the effort to help the white rulers keep their PHTK puppets in power. This time, it was during the political and electoral crisis of 2015-2016. As Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research correctly stated, “The brazen intervention, backed up by threats of aid cutoffs and visa sanctions, has inextricably tied the fate of the OAS in Haiti with Martelly and his political party, Parti Haïtien Tèt Kale (PHTK). The 2015/2016 electoral process did little to dispel those concerns.”
Haiti’s “sham elections,” as they were called, occurred in August and October of 2015, after massive public protests forced Martelly to organize legislative, local, and presidential elections. By this time Martelly was running the country by decree - a move that the OAS and Haiti’s other rulers supported - after allowing the terms of the Haitian senate to expire without elections. The result of Martelly’s actions were to leave Haiti without a functioning government. Despite extreme low voter turnout, electoral fraud, violence, and the destruction of ballots, the OAS, along with the UN (and the Core Group), immediately congratulated the country for its peaceful and “well-organized” elections. The OAS would later verify the election of Martelly’s handpicked successor, Jovenel Moïse as he proclaimed victory in a set of fraudulent elections in 2016.
Moïse’s tenure was marked by nonstop protests, both for corruption and theft of PetroCaribe funds, and for refusing to step down at the end of his mandate, which many in Haiti argued was in February 2021. Moïse, whose rule continued the legacy of PHTK’s corrupt and kleptomaniac practices, seems to have received the most direct support from the OAS. His relationship with OAS’s Secretary General, Luis Almagro, helped him survive his lack of legitimacy. The OAS provided cover for Moïse during the PetroCaribe protests, offering to put together an “OAS-sanctioned commission” to investigate claims of corruption. In return, Haiti voted against Venezuela’s democratically elected government of Nicolas Maduro, and in favor of the unelected Juan Guaido.
When the Haitian masses were protesting Moïse’s refusal to step down at the end of his term, on February 7, 2021, Almagro released a statement unilaterally determining that Moïse’s term actually was to end in February 2022. This move went directly against the OAS’s own charter that declares that the organization does not have the power to “intervene in matters that are within the internal jurisdiction of the Member States.” Haitian leaders protested, arguing, “President Moïse cannot determine the duration of his term of office, in the same way that the Secretary General himself could not define his own mandate according to his interpretation of the OAS Charter.” Nevertheless, Moïse stayed in power, ruling by decree, until he was assassinated in July 2021.
The forced elections in Haiti, in 2010/2011 and 2015/2016, are only the most recent in active OAS actions to deny the people their human and political rights.
It must also be remembered that since 2004, Haiti has been under foreign occupation that began as full fledged military control and continues through the political/colonial control of the country by the UN's Core Group. The Core Group, an unelected, self-styled council of foreign western representatives, “plays an active, interventionist role in Haiti’s everyday political affairs.” The OAS is an active member of the Core Group.
Going back slightly further in time, Haiti would not be under western colonial rule by 2004 without the aid of the OAS in 2000, when its representatives interfered in Haiti’s legislative elections under President Aristide. Here, after admitting that the May 2000 elections were, as Yves Engler reported, “a great success for the Haitian population which turn out in large and orderly numbers to choose both their local and national governments,” the OAS did an about face and labeled the elections “deeply flawed.” The reason? Because the US and the other western powers did not like the election results and their clear affirmation of the popularity of the Aristide government. The Haitian opposition and the western powers then used the OAS claims to not only undermine these democratically elected officials, but to also call into question Aristide’s presidential mandate. Anxious to dispense with Aristide, the US imposed an economic embargo on his government, while organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID funded youth and other “opposition” groups against his government. This led directly to the 2004 coup d’etat, and the full destruction of Haiti’s sovereignty.
When recounting the history of the OAS’s unending assault on Haitian democracy and Haitian people, we see clearly an organization that acts in the service of the US-led white western imperial order. In this sense, we have to understand that the OAS is but one of the many western “international” organizations that uphold an unequal racial and economic order. To the OAS, we can add the UN, the IMF, the ICC, the WTO, NATO, and others.
Nicaragua’s decision to kick out the OAS should be saluted. The rest of our people in the region - a region that Joseph Biden arrogantly calls “America’s backyard” - could only be so lucky. Instead we are stuck with an organization that Fidel Castro called a “Ministry of Colonies,” that “has a history that collects all the trash of 60 years of betrayal of the people.”
Jemima Pierre is an editor and columnist for Black Agenda Report, the Haiti/Americas Team Co-Coordinator for the Black Alliance for Peace, and a Black Studies and anthropology professor at UCLA.