In the midst of the current crisis in Haiti, an issue has emerged among many people of conscience in the U.S.A. concerned about the future of that country.
The question facing pro-democracy forces is whether, in addition to demanding an investigation of the US role in the destabilization of President Aristide, and in addition to calling for the disarming of the thugs, that it is correct to call for the restoration of President Aristide to office.
The arguments against making such a call seem to come down to the fact that President Aristide remains a lightning rod in Haiti and that there are many Haitian progressives on the ground in Haiti who oppose the president. Those who are against calling for the restoration of President Aristide are often concerned that supporting such a demand will color U.S. progressives as â¤”pro-Aristide,’ leaving us little room to reach out to the broad Haitian progressive movement.
In looking at this matter, one must keep in mind that fundamentally there is a question of democracy and constitutional rule at stake. Specifically, a duly elected president was removed from office through the combination of a civilian opposition movement that chose not to use legal means to challenge him; through the military intervention of thugs from the old regime; and, according to President Aristide, the connivance of the U.S. and the French, resulting in a kidnapping.
A demand for the restoration of President Aristide is not a comment on Aristide himself. It is a demand for the restoration of constitutional democracy, albeit with its deficiencies. In demanding the restoration of President Aristide we are saying that an illegal action(s) was taken that disrupted the agreed upon process along which Haiti was to function. In fact, the failure to demand the restoration of President Aristide amounts to the acceptance of the results of a coup, albeit in subtle terms.
Taking a pass on the demand for the restoration of President Aristide because of criticisms of his performance as Haitian president is saying that legal process can be trumped by political disagreements. Insofar as legal instruments exist to address concerns about the performance of an elected leader, they should not be disregarded. To do so is to fall into the law of the survival of the fittest.
The argument against the demand is sometimes phrased in terms of how President Aristide is divisive. Such an argument is, in point of fact, irrelevant, since, as noted above, the matter is constitutional rather than personal.
Yet, there is a deeper problem here that should be explored. There are bitter divisions in Haiti that include skin color, class, gender, and human rights. There are no angels in Haitian politics, so there is no simplicity to the political situation.
What Aristide represented for many people, irrespective of whether he was able to fulfill the promises he made, was an attempt at politics that addressed the conditions of Haiti’s majority, i.e., of the poor. Tackling this question was and will be divisive. There is no consensus candidate when it comes to addressing the vast disparity of wealth, income and privilege in Haiti. The fact of division alone cannot be interpreted as condemnation.
It is also the case that the Haitian people will have to settle their own accounts with President Aristide. As we have earlier said, President Aristide lost sections of his base due to what we believe to have been some significant political errors. Some of those errors may have been unavoidable, while others certainly were. This situation, no matter what one thinks about the relative merits or demerits of President Aristide cannot be settled through the de facto acceptance of the result of a coup.
What makes it essential that people of conscience speak clearly and unambiguously in favor of the restoration of President Aristide are the circumstances that followed his exit. In a manner reminiscent of the exile of Toussaint L’Ouverture more than 200 years ago, President Aristide was spirited out of Haiti and dumped in near isolation thousands of miles away from home.
While the Bush administration enjoyed ridiculing the notion that President Aristide was kidnapped, the fact that he found himself sitting in the Central African Republic under the intense scrutiny of the French- backed government, unable to have regular and open communications with the media, let alone his supporters, renders less than credible the rhetoric of Bush, Powell, et. al., to the effect that President Aristide left on his own volition. In fact, the circumstances of President and Mrs. Aristide (the latter being a U.S. citizen) seemed fairly close to what was once called ‘preventive detention.’
The Bush administration has failed to give a straight answer to anyone as to how one can explain the Central African Republic interlude.
The exit of President and Mrs. Aristide from the Central African Republic and their return to the Caribbean has been interesting in terms of the reaction that it has garnered from the Bush administration. The arrogance of the administration on the matter of the status of President Aristide is almost unbelievable, but also compounds the credibility problem that Bush, et. al., have on the matter of their role in Aristide’s exit. The Bush administration’s insistence as to the alleged inappropriateness of Aristide being in the Caribbean could lead an observer to infer that their suggestion that President Aristide voluntarily left Haiti and the Caribbean was less than truthful.
Try as many may, there is no getting around a basic fact: if there was a coup against a legitimately elected leader, the remedy is not passing blindly forward in the hope of creating a better day. The remedy is full restitution, in this case meaning, restoration to office and the completion of his elected term unless he is removed through constitutional steps. It would be equally acceptable, constitutionally, should President Aristide choose to step down voluntarily, but not under duress and against his will.
TransAfrica Forum and many other groups have demanded a full Congressional investigation of the role of the U.S. government in the overthrow of President Aristide. This is about more than whether he was literally kidnapped. It involves an investigation into the destabilization efforts that have unfolded over the last several years.
Pressure must be put on the administration to account for its actions, but pressure must be placed on international bodies such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States and CARICOM (the Caribbean Community) to conduct their own investigations. President Aristide, for example, should be invited to the United Nations to address that body. He should be provided a means and opportunity to explain publicly what happened to him and to his government. Additionally, troops from other nations not associated with a vile policy toward Haiti should replace the current occupation force, disarm the so- called military opposition and help with the return to constitutional democracy.
That said, as long as the world ignores the need to restore President Aristide to office, the crisis will not be terminated. In fact, any successor government will lack legitimacy. At best the burner will have been turned down a bit, while the stew simmers awaiting a change in pressure before it boils over.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is president of TransAfrica Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit educational and organizing center formed to raise awareness in the United States about issues facing the nations and peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. He also is co-chair of the anti-war coalition, United for Peace and Justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.