Was Aristide pushed?

Was Aristide pushed?

by Robert Chesal

9 March 2004

The call from Haiti's ousted President Jean Bertrand Aristide for peaceful resistance to the "occupation" of his country seems to have fallen on death ears as violence continues in the streets of Port-au-Prince. But his continuing insistence that he was kidnapped and forced from power by the United States is receiving backing from some quarters, including Africa.

Now in the Central African Republic, Mr Aristide maintains that his removal from power was the result of a coup orchestrated by both the US and France.

In this interview with Radio Netherlands, Shannon Field, deputy director of the Institute for Global Dialogue in Johannesburg, South Africa, backs Mr Aristide's position, and examines the reasons why he may not have been a popular figure with either Washington or Paris.

"I think that, ever since US President Bush came into power, it's been quite clear that his administration has been pursuing polices to topple Aristide. There has been a number of attacks by Republicans as soon as Bush entered office. I think many of them saw him not only as a socialist, a populist, perhaps the next Fidel Castro, some one who throughout the 1980s had preached liberation theology, and I think that they were very much against the nature of his governance. And many of the opposition forces, the old Duvalierists, they were supporting them financially, etc."

Supporters of Haiti´s former dicatator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Known as "Macoutes", some now reside in the United States. Jean-Claude Duvalier is believed to have channelled millions of dollars from Haiti´s state coffers to foreign banks before he lost power in 1986.
"And Bush had made a number of overtures to Aristide that were quite aggressive in the sense that he had demanded free access to Haiti's territorial waters to carry out anti-drug operations. He had basically insisted that the US must try and control the Haitian police force so that they can maintain law and order on the island, and that they can also deal with the drug problem, Haiti having become a major thoroughfare for drug dealers during the late 1990s."]

"And it's clear that France as well had its own interests. I think France was quite concerned that the islands that it controls – Martinique and Guadeloupe – that if you have a quite a strong independent leader in Haiti, that he might export his ideas of revolution and socialism to those islands, that France may lose its grip on power. And similarly the US also was enjoying quite a strong domination over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and I think that it felt that a leader that didn't tow the US line in Haiti would also probably be a threat to its dominance over those two islands."

RN: "So, given what you are saying, do you think that the African Union's backing of Mr Aristide's claims about being forced from office is actually, in a way, posing a counterbalance to that American and French power, flexing their muscles in the Caribbean?"

"I certainly think so, and I think the AU has tried, or countries within the AU have tried, to do that in the case of Iraq. And I think that's what happening here in effect is an emerging, developing country coalition - particularly in Africa - that is trying to say that unilateral measures in the international community are just not acceptable."

"And this circumvention of the United Nations, of multilateral processes, peace talks and dialogues, where you have [..] powerful countries coming out and removing leaders - whether in the way that they did it with Aristide or in Iraq through military force - is not going to be acceptable [to] the developing world, the South."

"And I think that the clubbing together and the rallying behind Aristide is not so much an endorsement of his rule per se, but the fact that they realise that there are lot of other agendas and dynamics going on here. We have to remember that when we had the world conference against racism in South Africa [September 2001, ed.] at that time Aristide had also been making noises about wanting reparations for slavery from France, and not only did this threaten France, but the US was also quite wary of those types of noises coming from Haiti. So, I think that basically his independence was largely a threat to the West."

RN: "So, if what you are saying is true, how far do you think that the African Union and perhaps CARICOM will take this attempt to counterbalance Western or Northern power?"

"Well, there's not too much, I think, that Africa can really do. Perhaps Aristide might get permanent asylum in one of the African countries. Whether that is South Africa, that would probably have to be discussed by the South African cabinet as members of our government have said. As with the case in Iraq, once this has been done one can make noises and criticise what the US has been engaged in, and what their agendas might be, but there's little that you can actually do in practice."

"CARICOM doesn't have a lot power. Aristide had been much more in favour of CARICOM's mediation of the situation in Haiti, particularly after there were alleged irregularities in the elections in 2000. And he was trying to veer away from the Organisation of American States, which is believed to be largely dominated by the United States. And I think that's why CARICOM has played over the last three or four years a much stronger role in trying to deal with Haiti. And I think that the AU believes that CARICOM does have more of a balanced approach to what is happening in Haiti, and I think that's why those arms that were sent by South Africa to assist in the situation [in Haiti] at the request of CARICOM, why that was a positive response."


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