by Mark Weisbrot
President Aristide speaks to the Haitian people on Jan. 1, 2004, in a ceremony commemorating the bicentennial of the Haitian revolution – the 1804 defeat of Napolean’s army in the world’s only successful slave revolt, creating the world’s first Black independent country. Plans to celebrate the centennial throughout 2004 were foiled by the coup two months later.
Haiti’s infamous dictator “Baby Doc” Duvalier returned to his country this week, while the country’s first elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is kept out. These two facts really say everything about Washington’s policy toward Haiti and our government’s respect for democracy in that country and in the region.
Asked about the return of Duvalier, who had thousands tortured and murdered under his dictatorship, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “This is a matter for the government of Haiti and the people of Haiti.”
But when asked about Aristide returning, he said, “Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens.”
WikiLeaks cables released in the last week show that Washington put pressure on Brazil, which is heading up the United Nations forces that are occupying Haiti, not only to keep Aristide out of the country but to keep him from having any political influence from exile.
Since U.S. Marines kidnapped President Aristide and his family on Feb. 29, 2004, Haitians have taken to the streets by the thousands many dozens of times to show their love and demand his return. Repression by police and U.N. “peacekeepers” has cost many demonstrators their lives. Here, police halt a huge march celebrating Aristide’s birthday on July 15, 2006. – Photo: Reuters
Who is this dangerous man that Washington fears so much? Here is how the Washington Post editorial board described Aristide’s first term
, back in 1996: “Elected overwhelmingly, ousted by a coup and reseated by American troops, the populist ex-priest abolished the repressive army, virtually ended human rights violations, mostly kept his promise to promote reconciliation, ran ragged but fair elections and, though he had the popular support to ignore it, honored his pledge to step down at the end of his term. A formidable record.”
That was before the Post editorial board became neo-conservative and most importantly before Washington launched its campaign to oust Aristide a second time. Together with its international allies, especially Canada and France, they cut off almost all foreign aid to the country after 2000. At the same time they poured in tens of millions of dollars – to build up an opposition movement. With control over most of the media and the help of armed thugs, convicted murderers and former death squad leaders, the broken and impoverished government was toppled in February of 2004.
Though President Aristide has been forced to remain in exile since the earthquake, his Aristide Foundation has been an organizing, stabilizing pillar of Haitian survival. This is one of their schools in the camps.
The main difference between the 2004 coup and the 1991 coup that overthrew Aristide was that in 1991, President George H.W. Bush did not recognize the coup government, even though the people who installed it were paid by the CIA. They had to at least pretend they were not involved. But in 2004, under the second President Bush, they didn’t even bother to hide it. This represents a degeneration of U.S. foreign policy.
I recently had a conversation with a long-time U.S. Congressman in which I pointed out Washington overthrew Aristide the second time, in 2004, because he had abolished the Haitian army. “That’s right,” he said.
Washington is a cynical place. The most important human rights organizations in this town did not do very much when thousands of Haitians were killed after the 2004 coup and officials of the constitutional government were thrown in jail.
And it does not seem to be an issue to them or to the main “pro-democracy” organizations here that Haiti’s prominent former president is kept out of the country – in violation of Haiti’s constitution and international law. Nor that his party, still the most popular in the country, is banned from participating in elections. The major media generally follows their lead.
Last September, in the runup to the Nov. 28 election, this man writes “Down with Preval,” “Down with selection election” and “Long live Aristide,” common graffiti in Port au Prince. – Photo: Judith Scherr, ©IPS
Now we have elections in Haiti where the Organization of American States, at the behest of Washington, is trying to choose for Haiti
who will compete in the second round of its presidential election. That is Washington’s idea of democracy.
But Aristide is still alive, in forced exile in South Africa. He remains the most popular political leader in Haiti, and seven years is not enough to erase his memory from Haitian consciousness. Sooner or later, he will be back.
This story originally appeared at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, where Mark Weisbrot is co-director. He is also a columnist for the London Guardian and for Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. His opinion pieces have appeared in almost every major U.S. newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.