Sunday, January 23, 2011

Aristide's Blocked Return

Photo by John Carroll

Aristide's blocked return disrespects democracy

By Mark Weisbrot

Published: Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011 - 9:20 pm

WASHINGTON — Haiti's infamous dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier returned to his country this week, while the country's first elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is kept out. These two facts say everything about Washington's policy toward Haiti, and our government's respect for democracy in that country and in the region.

Asked about the return of Duvalier, who had thousands tortured and murdered, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "this is a matter for the government of Haiti and the people of Haiti." Asked about Aristide, he said "Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens."

WikiLeaks cables released recently show Washington put pressure on Brazil, which is heading up the United Nations forces that are occupying Haiti, not only to keep Aristide out of the country but to keep him from having political influence from exile.

Who is this man feared by Washington? Here is how the Washington Post editorial board described Aristide's first term, back in 1996: "Elected overwhelmingly, ousted by a coup and reseated by American troops, the populist ex-priest abolished the repressive army, virtually ended human rights violations, mostly kept his promise to promote reconciliation, ran ragged but fair elections and, though he had the popular support to ignore it, honored his pledge to step down at the end of his term. A formidable record."

That was before Washington launched its campaign to oust Aristide again. With its allies, especially Canada and France, it cut off almost all foreign aid to the country after 2000. Tens of millions of dollars were poured in to build an opposition movement. With control over most of the media, and the help of armed thugs and former death squad leaders, the government was toppled in February 2004.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush did not recognize the coup government, though the people that installed it were paid by the CIA. The United States had at least to pretend it was not involved. But in 2004, under the second President Bush, the government didn't even bother to hide it.

The most important human rights organizations did not do much when thousands of Haitians were killed after the 2004 coup and officials of the constitutional government were thrown in jail. It does not seem to be an issue to them, or to the main "pro-democracy" organizations, that Haiti's prominent former president is kept out of the country in violation of Haiti's constitution and international law. Nor that his party, still the country's most popular, is banned from elections. The major media generally follows their lead.

Now we have elections in Haiti where the Organization of American States, at the behest of Washington, is trying to choose for Haiti who will compete in the second round of its presidential election. That is Washington's idea of democracy.

But Aristide is still alive, in forced exile in South Africa.
He remains the most popular political leader in Haiti, and seven years is not enough to erase his memory from Haitian consciousness. Sooner or later, he will be back.

Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.


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