U.S. played a role in pushing Aristide aside

By Dr. W. Andy Knight

March 26, 2004 – The world is being told by the Bush administration that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide chose February 29 to do the statesman-like thing and fly out of Haiti to prevent further bloodshed in that troubled country, rather than hold on to power until February 7, 2006--the end of his term.

But growing evidence indicates that Aristide did not leave willingly. He was pushed.

Aristide saw the writing on the wall from two ominous sources: thugs with extended records of crimes against the Haitian people; and the region's malign hegemon, the United States, whose intelligence services may have directly supported the coup d'état that resulted in removing the Haitian president from office.

By being party to this coup, the U.S. follows a century-long pattern of intervention in Haiti. Due to Washington's influence, coup d'état has followed coup d'état over the years, making peace and democracy impossible.

Haiti, formerly one of the richest of French colonies, has succumbed to 33 bloody coups in its 200-year history. The country was born of rebellion. Toussaint L'Ouverture and half a million African slaves revolted against their French imperial masters in a struggle in 1804 to become the first black independent republic. Since then, Haiti has been plagued by a violent history and a string of dictatorships. From 1915-1934, Haiti was under U.S. military occupation.

After the U.S. left in 1934, the groomed leadership grew increasingly dictatorial, eliminating the opposition. President Stenio J. Vincent, elected in 1930, decided to remain in office beyond the expiration of his second term, but was forced out in 1939. Élie Lescot was elected president by the Haitian legislature in 1941, but was subsequently overthrown in 1946 by the military. Dumarsais Estimé, who replaced him in August of that year, was forced out of office by a military junta in October 1950. Paul Magloire, a member of that junta, became president but was ousted in 1957 by François Duvalier, known endearingly as "Papa Doc."

In an attempt to break this cycle of coups, Papa Doc outlawed his political rivals, passed legislation declaring himself “President for Life,’ and established an irregular armed force of henchmen to dispatch his rivals and help control the population through terror. By 1967, Papa Doc had executed more than 2,000 political enemies and drove thousands more into exile.

In 1971, just before his death, Papa Doc named his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, as successor. "Baby Doc" proved as ruthless as his father. Fifteen years later, he succumbed to a junta and was forced to flee. His replacement, Leslie Manigat was also forced out by a military coup only six months after taking office. This is where Aristide comes in.

Aristide took his revolutionary sermons of violent overthrow of dictators, from his Saint Jean Bosco Catholic Church pulpit to the nation's political arena in the 1980s. His message galvanized the country's poor majority to resist dictatorship and support his grassroots democracy movement. That movement forced the resignation of Lieutenant General Prosper Avril from office in 1990. Internationally supervised elections were held in December.

The charismatic Aristide enjoyed a landslide victory, and he became Haiti's first democratically-elected leader.

However, seven months after his inauguration, Aristide was ousted by a military coup led by Lieutenant Prosper General Raoul Cédras. Aristide was forced into exile, first in Venezuela and then in the U.S. An international effort, led by the Clinton administration, restored Aristide to power with a mixture of diplomacy and coercion.

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter brokered a deal--backed by UN-mandated smart sanctions imposing a ban on air travel for Haiti's military rulers and a UN-authorized peacekeeping force of 2,000 Marines--that induced Cédras and his gang to leave the country.

Many of the coup leaders, known perpetrators of crimes against the Haitian people, fled the country. Among the most notorious are some of the leaders of the current insurrection in Haiti, e.g. Guy Phillippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain. It has been alleged that these men may have received support from U.S. intelligence services and Special Forces. These charges are serious enough to merit an inquiry.

The Bush administration had been working to undermine Aristide since it came into office in 2001. At that time, Washington began to destabilize Haiti's economy, by freezing $500 million in humanitarian aid and other assistance from the U.S., the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Aristide was told that the only way to unblock the aid was to reach an agreement with the opposition, an agreement the opposition was unwilling to make.

Whatever the details of Washington's direct aid to the rebels, there are clear indications that the U.S. government gave them a final 'wink and nod'. By blocking UN Security Council action to send an emergency peacekeeping force to Haiti, the Bush administration was giving the rebels carte blanche to continue their violent actions; and to Aristide, that unless he left the country he would be captured or killed--but definitely removed from office.

U.S. actions show disdain for the democratic process in Haiti. What is needed is not the strengthening of rebels and criminals, but the shoring up of that country's democratic institutions. Instead, the Bush administration has continued a sorry tradition of support for coup d´état after coup d´état in that unlucky country.

Dr. W. Andy Knight teaches political science at the University of Alberta. This article appeared in Global Policy Forum March 4, 2004.

Related links – internal

Dr. W. Andy Knight's U of A webpage: http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/polisci/Knight.cfm
The U of A Department of Political Science website: http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/polisci/


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