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Haiti

Was Aristide Forced Out?

Unsigned editorial, The Jamaica Gleaner (privately owned, independent), Kingston, Jamaica, March 4, 2004

Haitian streetcleaner
A streetcleaner burns trash in downtown Port-au-Prince, March 3, 2004 (Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP-Getty Images).
This newspaper endorses the call by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for a U.N.-led investigation into the circumstances under which Jean-Bertrand Aristide relinquished the presidency of Haiti on Sunday.

We are not immediately clear as to what mechanism can be employed in such an investigation, but we believe that it is important that the international community gets to the bottom of an issue that should be worrying for all democratic nations.

Aristide has claimed that he was kidnapped and shunted out of his country by American forces, who already were pressuring him to resign and quit the country.

But as we have argued before, it is, in our view, immaterial whether American troops literally put guns to Aristide and marched him to the plane or whether they just assured safe passage to the airport on his way into exile.

Either way, Aristide's fate was sealed long before the events in the early hours of Sunday. Essentially, Aristide was offered as sacrifice on an altar of expediency by an axis of powerful nations, led by the United States and France and including Canada.

This troika at first supported an initiative fashioned by CARICOM for ending Haiti’s political crisis that would have had Aristide sharing power with the legitimate opposition, so-called.

But as soon as the opposition declared a rejection of the plan, they did a volte-face, instead of pressuring the opposition, over whom many at the center of American politics have influence and leverage.

It is curious that rather than placing pressure on the opposition to respect the tenets of democracy, Messrs. [Colin] Powell, [Dominique] de Villepin, and [Bill] Graham [the men in charge of foreign policy for the United States, France, and Canada, respectively,] quickly acquiesced. But worse, they turned the screws on Aristide. Noticeably, too, the insurgency, led by former death-squad leaders and coup planners, erupted after Aristide declared—for the second time—that he would embrace the power-sharing agreement.

So Aristide is out of Haiti.

And the new Canadians, who have mastered the art of the lulling old speak—there is the same cadence of a shared empathy from living in the shadow of a powerful neighbor—say they would have preferred the power-sharing arrangement to work. Even though they helped to undermine the plan. Now they say move on to help the Haitian people. And they offer a bill of sale which purports to show that what is now being implemented in Haiti is the CARICOM plan. Which it is not.

CARICOM’s initiative called for a U.N.-backed peacekeeping force to be sent to Haiti while the democratically elected leader was still in place. Instead, those with power blocked approval until Aristide was out of Haiti. Then it was immediately approved.

Even with the fig leaf of constitutional cover with which Aristide’s removal was deposed, it was, in the view of most rational people, nothing short of a coup. For as CARICOM said, these circumstances set a dangerous precedent for the removal of democratically elected governments everywhere.

That of itself is deserving of review and debate by the U.N. General Assembly. Perhaps a special session. However, Aristide’s claims of the circumstances under which he left Haiti demand a deeper, forensic examination.

Perhaps, too, this whole situation should again place on the agenda the structure and rules of the Security Council with its narrow concentration of power.

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