Coup in Haiti, Corps in Haiti, Rally in SF

March 1, 2004

When I heard on KPFA that the Marines were back in Haiti, I remembered when I was in the USMC. The Corps made a big thing of teaching us its history, which included a "proud" moment in Haiti. That’s when the legendary General Smedley Butler got his second Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery during the capture of Fort Rivière in 1915. The Marine Corps was extremely proud of General Butler. So imagine my astonishment when I eventually found what the general himself had to say about all that:

"I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long," said General Butler after he retired and thought it over.

Those unforgettable words were now again echoing through my mind on Monday, March 1st, 2004, as I set out to attend an emergency rally that was to be held at 5 p.m. It looked like rain when I left home, so I put an umbrella in my pack, but when I arrived at Powell & Market in San Francisco, the late afternoon sun was shining. There looked to be about a hundred demonstrators at the rally. Some held signs reading, "No to the U.S. Coup in Haiti" and "Bring Pres. Aristide back!"

The event seemed to be just starting and more people were arriving. Speakers stood in front of a large banner which read: "Self Determination--Not Occupation!"

"An unelected president has kidnapped an elected president," a speaker was saying. Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was duly elected by the people of Haiti, he said, and then to graphically illustrate the point, he asked us to raise our hands. "Open your fingers," he said.

We did.

"How many fingers do you have?" the speaker asked.


"Aristide was elected to serve for five years," he said. "Five full years!"

"Five full years!" we chorused back, "Five full years!"

Then we took up a chant:
"Aristide elected! Bush selected!"
"Aristide elected! Bush selected!"
"Aristide elected! Bush selected!"

We never forget that that the presidency of Bush is less than legitimate. Another chant was:
"Bush and Powell! We blame you!
For the U.S. sponsored coup!"

By now the crowd seemed to have doubled in size, but from where I stood I couldn’t get a very good estimate of how many we were.

Speakers included persons from the Haiti Action Committee, International A.N.S.W.E.R. and the SF Bay View, which had a reporter on the scene in Haiti. The latest news of the kidnapping was announced. Several sources including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Randall Robinson had spoken by phone with President Aristide.

The president was taken by force to the Central African Republic, it was reported, and from there he made phone calls on a cell phone that was smuggled to him. He told Randall Robinson that he was abducted by the United States in the commission of a coup. He did not resign; he was still president.

It was the word of Aristide against that of the Bush regime. Bush is a notorious liar who recently got caught lying about his military service--not to mention the WMDs and the nonexistent connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaida.

"Bush and Powell! We blame you!" we chanted, "For the U.S. sponsored coup!"

The PA system was working extremely well at this rally and I could hear very well. Another speaker told us about France’s role in the coup. France is Bush’s partner in this.

"We’d like to think that when France opposed Bush’s war on Iraq last spring it was out of altruism," said the speaker. He pointed out that it wasn’t out of any principle other than imperial self-interest. "We all know what the U.S. empire is like--there’s also a French empire," he reminded us. "The French empire is also exploitive. There’s no such thing as a ‘nice’ empire."

I recalled how a year ago France had been in great favor among us. France had then been seen as the traditional friend of Americans suffering under the tyranny of unelected rulers named "George." There’d been French Tri-colors at every demonstration. People drank French wines, and in coffee shops I’d always made a point of asking for "French roast." But that good feeling for France was largely gone now.

Other speakers described Bush’s actions to destabilize Haiti in preparation for the coup, and compared that with what Bush was also doing to topple the government of Venezuela. The Guatemalan coup of 1954 was also remembered and mentioned. There too, a democratically elected government had been overthrown. It had been exactly 50 years ago. There have been so many U.S. sponsored coups in so many countries; I couldn’t help wondering what might happen here in our country this November, now that Bush will be up for re-defeat.

The rally at the Powell & Market plaza continued for about an hour, from 5 p.m. till about 6 p.m., and by now there seemed to be a lot more of us. A speaker told us we’d march to the Federal Building in a little bit. "Are you ready to march?"


There were still a couple more speakers, and then there was a guitarist who sang in Spanish. The song had a deep, soulful quality. It went, in part:

"Vamos caminando hacia la libertad."

Simple but meaningful words with a good tune. The lines mean: "Walking! Walking! We go marching on our journey towards our liberty." The guitarist’s name is Francisco Herrera. He plays at labor and social justice events, singing about struggle and human rights. Together with his brother and sister he’s part of a trio called the "Trio Caminante."

The banner which had served as a backdrop for the speakers was carried out onto the street: "Self Determination--Not Occupation!"

We got in behind it and set out up Market Street, filling up the southwest-bound lane. Now that we were marching I could see that our numbers were greater than I’d thought. A couple of times I stepped onto the sidewalk to get a look but even now it was hard to see; finally, as we turned on Larkin, I could see that our column stretched quite a way back. I estimated four to five hundred people. I felt we had a good-sized crowd to have been brought out on such short notice.

Several persons with bullhorns, spaced throughout our column, led the chants as we strode along. "Aristide elected!" one would say, and we’d respond, "Bush selected!"

"Aristide elected!" -- "Bush selected!"

"Bush and Powell! We blame you!
For the U.S. sponsored coup!"

We marched around the Federal Building which at this hour was closed for the day, and continued on to the steps of the city hall where we held a short rally to wind it up. By this time it was quite dark.

On my way home I again thought of my time in the Marine Corps. It had been peacetime garrison duty on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Our officers told us that the postwar "Occupation of Japan" was over, and so we weren’t "occupying" the place. But the island was under a U.S. military government. That was back around 1960.

While stationed on Okinawa it came as something of a surprise for me to learn that the Okinawans didn’t want us there. They weren’t hostile to us GIs on a personal level, but they did tell me they didn’t want their farmland taken and used for military bases, and they didn’t like living under our military government. What seemed to outrage them most of all was the lack of U.S. respect for something we Americans would claim as "our constitutional rights"--those same democratic rights that Bush and Ashcroft are attempting to steal from us today.

Daniel Borgström
March 2004