CBC: Bush helped rebels oust Aristide

By Hans Nichols

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) yesterday accused the Bush administration of deliberately exacerbating the violence in Haiti to hasten the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

They charged that the White House misled lawmakers about its intentions as it undermined Aristide — who was restored to power in 1994 by the Clinton administration following a coup — and forced him to flee to the Central African Republic.

Black lawmakers said the White House must prove that Aristide was not kidnapped.
They demanded conclusive evidence that the Haitian leader — whose 2000 election victory was internationally condemned as fraudulent — was not forced out at gunpoint.

“What makes this not a coup?’ Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) asked at the United Nations after meetings with Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte.

Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.) added: “We are very troubled that this [Aristide´s ouster] was a terrorist takeover.’

CBC criticism of the exiled leader was muted, despite long-standing international concern about his regime´s engaging in fraud, thug rule and the repression of opponents.

Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), a leading voice on international affairs in the CBC, told The Hill, “Aristide made mistakes, but President Bush made mistakes, President Clinton made mistakes, but we don´t run them out of office.’

White House spokesman Scott McClellan called any suggesting that Aristide was kidnapped “complete nonsense,’ adding: “Conspiracy theories do nothing to help the Haitian people move forward to a better, more free and more prosperous future.’

But in New York, the CBC lawmakers vowed to hold congressional hearings. The departure of Aristide marks a sharp downturn in relations between the White House and African-American lawmakers.

Democratic lawmakers say the Bush administration´s policy on Haiti reflects a failure to respect democratic virtues there as much as elsewhere around the globe.

Reacting to the decision to send U.S. and French peacekeepers, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, “Had peacekeepers been sent earlier, a political settlement that better respected the results of the last democratic election with less bloodshed and chaos could have been achieved.’

Just last Wednesday, Bush and 18 members of the CBC appeared to have found common ground on the need for U.S. intervention.

After meeting with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, black lawmakers said they felt that the White House understood the urgency of the situation.

Bush admitted fault for not acting sooner to stem the crisis on the impoverished Caribbean island.

“The president told us that he ‘did not speak out loudly enough and soon enough´ on the humanitarian tragedy and political crisis in Haiti,’ CBC chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told The Hill last week.

“That acknowledgment helped us move forward,’ said Cummings, in what he described as an emotional meeting as lawmakers tearfully described the human suffering

Wednesday´s accord evaporated over the weekend. CBC members said Bush and his team intentionally allowed the situation to deteriorate to put Aristide and his family in physical danger.

“We could have nipped this in the bud, but it seems like the administration just wanted Aristide out,’ said Payne. “It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.’

“They let it get to the point where the president and his family´s lives were in jeopardy and there was no other recourse to get him out,’ Payne told The Hill.

Payne argued that Aristide´s widely criticized tenure as Haiti´s first democratically elected president did not justify what he regarded as the Bush administration´s anti-democratic actions and quasi-support for the opposition.

“The opposition is a bunch of thugs and drug runners,’ said Payne.

Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), said, “We were misled about their plan to force out Aristide. I don´t think any member of Congress can trust what this administration now tells us.’

Meek has the highest concentration of Haitians of any congressional district. He said they are deeply divided about Aristide, but noted that Aristide loyalists protested in the streets yesterday, demanding assurances that he is safe.

“Everyone has said that they don´t agree with what President Aristide did in terms of treating the opposition, but the way [he was removed] is severely troubling.’


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