1991 Haitian coup d'état

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1991 Haitian coup d'état
Date 29 September 1991
Location Haiti, primarily Port-au-Prince
Goals Removal of President Aristide
Methods Military coup
Resulted in
Lead figures
Army General Raoul Cédras
Army Chief of Staff Phillipe Biamby
Chief of the National Police, Michel François
Death(s) At least 21 killed
Injuries At least 200 wounded [1]

The 1991 Haitian coup d'état took place on 29 September 1991, when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected 8 months earlier in the Haitian general election, 1990–91, was deposed by the Haitian army. Haitian military officers, primarily Army General Raoul Cédras, Army Chief of Staff Phillipe Biamby and Chief of the National Police, Michel François led the coup.[2] Aristide was sent into exile, his life only saved by the intervention of US, French and Venezuelan diplomats.[3]


The 1990 Haitian election was widely regarded as the first democratic election in Haiti's history, but the transition of power was rocky. Aristide's political platform threatened the power of some of the Haitian elite.[4] In particular, Aristide planned to place the Haitian Armed Forces under civilian control, crack down on drug trafficking and other corruption, and bring to trial several Tontons Macoute. A coup attempt against Aristide had taken place on 6 January, even before his inauguration, when Roger Lafontant, a Tonton Macoute leader under Duvalier, seized the provisional President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot and declared himself President. After large numbers of Aristide supporters filled the streets in protest and Lafontant attempted to declare martial law, the Army crushed the incipient coup.[5] The first few months of Aristide's presidency deepened the political conflict with military leaders and set the stage for Raoul Cédras and others to attempt a coup d'état.

Coup d'état[edit]

The coup was brief, with some conflict the night of September 28, 1991, but the bulk of the action taking place on September 29, ending with Aristide deported to France in exile and Cédras announcing the success of the coup at 11 P.M. Monday night. On the night of September 28, some army bases and police stations mutinied, aligning themselves with Cédras over the Aristide administration. At daybreak, soldiers fired on Aristide's residence and his armored personnel carrier as he traveled to the National Palace. Soldiers overtook the palace, captured Aristide and led him to army headquarters. There, Venezuelan, French, and US ambassadors successfully negotiated with coup leaders for Aristide's life. Aristide was forced into exile and flew to France, later visiting the United States and speaking before the United Nations.[1]


Cédras announced his victory at 11 p.m., on September 29, via a televised broadcast, claiming, "Today, the armed forces find themselves obligated to assume the heavy responsibility to keep the ship of state afloat. After seven months of democratic experience, the country once again finds itself a prey to the horrors of uncertainty. With all Haitians we will bring the ship to port."[1] At least 26 people were killed and 200 wounded in the fighting, and gunfire lasted through the night.

The coup was condemned by both the UN General Assembly and the Organization of American States in October 1991. Throughout the coup regime's existence, the only state to recognize the regime was Vatican City.[6] Aristide spent his time in Venezuela and then the United States, working to garner international support. The UN enforced economic sanctions on Haiti, damaging the regime.[7] However, they continued to make profits from the drug trade.

After large, pro-Aristide demonstrations in the United States, President Bill Clinton, with the support of the United Nations, pressured the coup regime to step down. On 31 July 1994, United Nations Security Council Resolution 940 authorized a United States-led multinational force under unified command and control to restore Aristide to office, under Operation Uphold Democracy. United States military forces were deployed in Haiti, and on 15 October 1994, the Clinton administration returned Aristide to Haiti to complete his term in office.[8]

US involvement[edit]

Despite the US role in the 1994 Operation Uphold Democracy to reinstall Aristide to power, questions remain about its involvement in the coup itself. Emmanuel Constant later reported that CIA agents were present with Cédras at the army headquarters during the coup, but the CIA denied prior knowledge.[2] Additionally, the CIA "paid key members of the coup regime forces, identified as drug traffickers, for information from the mid-1980s at least until the coup."[2]

Cédras and François had received military training in the United States.[9] It is unknown to what degree US assistance empowered or assisted the leaders of the coup, and many Haitian-Americans protested violently over the perceived US government support of Cédras and the possible involvement of the CIA.[1]

After the coup, members of the new coup regime, notably the Chief of National Police, Michel François, were accused of drug smuggling[10] at a much greater rate than before the coup.[11] A 1992 US State Department report noted that Aristide was "planning new policies and institutions to combat narcotics trafficking, [and] his ouster... crippled narcotics control efforts in Haiti."[11] An internal 1993 US Congress memo stated that "all those jailed for drug-trafficking have been released and... Michel François has personally supervised the landing of planes carrying drugs and weapons."[11] The US later indicted François but could not secure his extradition from Honduras.


  1. ^ a b c d "Haiti's Military Assumes Power After Troops Arrest the President". The New York Times. 1 October 1991. Retrieved 4 June 2017 – via NYTimes.com. 
  2. ^ a b c Whitney, Kathleen Marie (1996). "Sin, Fraph, and the CIA: U.S. Covert Action in Haiti". Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas. 3 (2): 303–332 [p. 320]. 
  3. ^ Collins, Edward Jr.; Cole, Timothy M. (1996). "Regime Legitimation in Instances of Coup-Caused Governments-in-Exile: The Cases of Presidents Makarios and Aristide". Journal of International Law & Practice. 5 (2): [p. 199]. 
  4. ^ Pike, John. "Haiti - 1991-1994 - Raul Cedras". www.globalsecurity.org. 
  5. ^ Collins & Cole 1996, p. 220
  6. ^ Collins & Cole 1996, p. 233
  7. ^ "Business - U.N. Ready To End Haiti Sanctions -- Security Council Expected To Suspend Oil, Arms Embargo - Seattle Times Newspaper". community.seattletimes.nwsource.com. 
  8. ^ Von Hippel, Karin (2000). Democracy by Force. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 96. 
  9. ^ Whitney 1996, p. 321
  10. ^ Project Censored, 1994, Haiti: Drugs, Thugs, The CIA And the Deterrence Of Democracy Archived 2011-07-15 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ a b c "THE CIA'S HAITIAN CONNECTION", by Dennis Bernstein and Howard Levine; San Francisco Bay Guardian, 11/3/93