Twice, we have propped up Jean Bertrand Aristide as the leader of Haiti. What did this accomplish? We reduced one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere to one of the poorest countries on earth. Now the country is in chaos.
The question is: are we going to make the same mistake thrice?
The answer appears to be, “yes!”
Last weekend, the plan presented to Haiti’s embattled ruler by the United States and other countries was as pathetically naive as it is flawed. It calls for an interim governing council to “advise” Mr. Aristide, the disarmament of politically allied street gangs and the appointment of a prime minister agreeable to both sides.
There is no one who would be agreeable to both sides; the pro-democratic forces have been burned too many times.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the U.S. wouldn’t object if Aristide agreed to leave before his term ends in February of 2006, but let’s be clear on one thing: Aristide isn’t going to step down until he is forced to step down or until someone kills him.
Secretary Powell said, “We cannot buy into the proposition that the elected president (of Haiti) must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect the law.”
The U.S., as the major power in this hemisphere, is in the driver’s seat. Everyone in Haiti and outside of Haiti knows this and as long as we continue to treat this man as the democratically elected President of Haiti and the opposition as thugs, we are the problem.
A little history lesson is needed:
Four years after the end of the Duvalier regime, the way was paved for a Haitian election. In 1990, Jean Bertrand Aristide was democratically elected. However, the former priest, who was removed from the Salesian order by Rome in 1988 for preaching the righteousness of class violence, did not rule democratically.
He forcibly removed the mayors in rural areas, unilaterally named five judges to the Supreme Court and began a seven month reign of terror as brutal as any Haiti had ever seen. As a result, he was forcibly removed by the army and fled to the United States.
President George W. H. Bush was the first to prop up Aristide. His foreign policy consisted of supporting existing governments, no matter how bad or corrupt they were. He wanted to send a message to the military of our Caribbean and Latin American neighbors that coups don’t pay.
At his urging, the Organization of American States began enforcing a blockade against Haiti. This wiped out the country’s light industry and destroyed the small but growing middle class. Bush then signed an executive order that gave Aristide access to Haiti’s treasury.
Aristide used Haiti’s money to hire a William Jefferson Clinton campaign aid, Michael Barnes, as his lawyer. He also hired McKinney & McDowell — a top public relations firm that handled such clients as the NAACP, the African National Congress and the National Organization of Women — to launch a campaign in Washington to promote his return to the island.
In 1994, President Clinton sent American troops to invade Haiti and force Aristide back on his people.
Despite all the Clinton rhetoric about “restoring democracy to Haiti,” we did no such thing. You can’t restore democracy with a two-bit dictator! We have cajoled, scolded bribed and negotiated with Aristide to try to get him to play the role of the president of a democratic country, to no avail.
On February 7, 1996, there was much pomp and circumstance when Aristide publicly stepped aside and his puppet, Rene Garcia Preval, was installed as president. However, when congressional elections were held, Aristide’s opponents were either killed or forced to step aside while we looked the other way.
In May of 2000, after Aristide’s Lavalas Party stole the Senate elections and forced Leon Manus, the jurist who ruled it a fraud, to flee for his life, the OAS and the United States simply gave up on Haiti. Surprise, surprise, Aristide was formally elected president again in a process that was so corrupt that barely five percent of the people even bothered to vote.
The Haitian people have been sold out for the benefit of Aristide too many times. They are not about to play this game again. We must declare this game over and begin again and make a commitment to stay until a true democracy has been established.
It is time to tell the American people the truth about Haiti. The truth hurts, but any alternative will be far more costly.