[News] Haiti - A Homecoming for Aristide?

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Fri Jun 30 14:33:40 EDT 2006


June 30, 2006

A Homecoming for Aristide?

The Return to Haiti


Say "the return" when discussing Haiti, and 
people who follow events in the country know you 
are talking about former President Jean-Bertrand 
Aristide returning from his exile in South 
Africa. Mr. Aristide was ousted in a coup d'etat 
in February 2004, and flown, against his will, in 
a U.S. government plane to the Central African 
Republic. He has since settled in South Africa, 
at the government's invitation, but has always 
said he will return to Haiti when the conditions are right.

The conditions are getting closer to right, 
although President Aristide would now return as a 
private citizen. President René Preval was 
elected on February 7 and inaugurated on May 14, 
2006. His Ministers were ratified by Parliament 
on June 7, replacing the brutal and 
unconstitutional Interim Government that had 
ruled since the coup. Haiti's Constitution limits 
presidents to two non-consecutive terms, and 
President Aristide's second term ended in February.

The prospect of President Aristide's return 
generates passionate reactions, both for and 
against, in Haiti, but also in Washington and 
other world capitols. The return is usually 
debated in terms of President Aristide's likely 
role in Haitian political life, but the 
controversy raises two important questions beyond 
politics- what right does everyone have to weigh 
in on a private Haitian citizen's decision to 
live inside his country or out? And what does the 
controversy say about the much broader issue of 
return- of the return of full democracy and sovereignty to Haiti.

President Preval is asked about the return 
incessantly by the foreign press, and he gives a 
simple answer: as he told France's Le Monde on 
Tuesday, "the decision is not mine to make." He 
cites Article 41 of Haiti's Constitution, which 
declares that "no individual of Haitian 
nationality can be deported or forced to leave 
the country for any reason whatsoever," and 
Article 41-1 which adds that "no Haitian needs a 
visa to leave the country or to return to it." 
President Preval affirms that he intends to 
comply with Articles 41 and 41-1, as with all the 
articles of Haiti's Constitution.

Several commentators have mentioned that 
President Aristide would have to face any legal 
action against him if he returns to Haiti, or if 
he goes to the U.S. That is true of any citizen 
in any country, but is independent of the right 
to come home. Moreover, although the foreign 
press has reported extensively on criminal 
investigations against President Aristide in both 
Haiti and the U.S., there are no criminal charges 
against him in either country. The Interim 
Government and its allies made many serious 
accusations of criminal activity against 
President Aristide to the press, but not a single 
one to the Haitian justice system in two years. 
The Interim authorities did file a civil 
complaint against Mr. Aristide and several others 
in Federal Court in Miami. They launched an 
impressive public relations campaign, including 
press conferences, Washington briefings and 
seminars to accompany the filing. But they did 
not actually pursue the case in court- eight 
months after filing the complaint (the first 
step), not a single defendant has ever been 
served with the complaint (the second step, 
usually done immediately). A U.S. grand jury has 
spent two years investigated drug trafficking and 
money laundering between Port-au-Prince and 
Miami, and although the "smoking gun" against 
President Aristide has been announced several 
times in the press, not a single charge has issued from the courthouse.

Articles 41 and 41-1 should dispose of the 
discussion of the return, but once again Haiti's 
Constitution is not allowed the last word. The 
countries that used their financial and military 
clout to remove President Aristide back in 2004- 
the U.S., Canada and France- are now using their 
diplomatic clout to keep him out. The U.S., once 
again, is taking the lead, with its trademark 
faithfulness to a consistent sound bite. Before 
the votes from the February 7 Presidential 
elections had even arrived at election 
headquarters, Acting U.S. Ambassador Tim Carney 
predicted that the election "is going to 
demonstrate . how Jean Bertrand Aristide is a man 
of the past." Later that week, State Department 
spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that 
Aristide "is in South Africa, and I would expect 
that he would stay there," and that "we think the 
Haitian government should be looking forward to 
their future, not to its past." Deputy State 
Department Spokesman Adam Ereli added: "our 
understanding is that the government of Haiti is 
looking forward, not looking back. They've got a 
democracy to build, and the future is not in the 
past. Aristide is from the past" (all italics supplied).

This message was echoed far beyond the Bush 
Administration. Former Assistant Secretary of 
State Roger Noriega declared that for Preval, 
Aristide's return "would be the end of his 
ability to run the country." Lawrence Pezzullo, 
President Clinton's special envoy to Haiti warned 
"if [Preval] brings Aristide back, that thing 
will blow up." The International Crisis Group 
added that Aristide's return "would be a very 
polarizing and divisive event that could fatally 
damage the effort to move Haiti forward.'' None 
of these experts even mentioned that it was 
Aristide's removal in 2004 that led to 
unprecedented violence- thousands of deaths- not 
to mention the reversal of ten years' hard won democratic progress.

France's Minister for Cooperation and 
Development, Brigitte Girardin, visited South 
Africa in April, and opposing Aristide's return 
was high on her agenda for discussions with 
Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Nkosazana 
Dlamini-Zuma. Canada, France, and even some South 
American countries buttonholed South African 
President Thabo Mbeki when he went to Chile for 
President Michelle Bachelet's March inauguration, 
to tell him not to allow Aristide's return.

The fact that such a broad spectrum of 
non-Haitian officials and commentators feel they 
can pressure Haiti's government to deprive a 
citizen of his Constitutional right to live in 
his homeland raises an obvious question: how much 
has democracy actually returned to Haiti, and how 
much democracy will the international community allow?

There are few, if any, precedents of the world's 
powerful countries keeping a former elected 
President out of his own country, but that level 
of interference is routine for Haiti. On February 
17, 2004, as insurgents took over cities in the 
north of Haiti, U.S. Secretary of State Colin 
Powell reaffirmed that President Aristide was 
Haiti's constitutional President, and announced 
that the U.S. "cannot buy into a proposition that 
says the elected President must be forced out of 
office by thugs and those who do not respect law 
and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian 
people." But twelve days later, Mr. Powell's 
State Department forced President Aristide onto a 
plane, delivering Haiti to thugs who brought 
terrible violence to the Haitian people- over 
4,000 killed, hundreds of political dissidents 
imprisoned illegally, and a deadly increase in 
hunger and disease. The United Nations, with a 
Charter proclaiming "respect for the principle of 
equal rights and self-determination of peoples," 
declined the elected government's request for 
help before the coup. But within a few hours of 
President Aristide's departure, and on a Sunday 
morning to boot, the UN Security Council had 
authorized a military mission to Haiti, not to 
restore the Constitutional authorities, but to 
consolidate their overthrow. The Organization of 
American States, which had a newly-minted 
Inter-American Democratic Charter designed to 
respond to threats against the democratic order 
of member states, never once criticized the coup.

If Haiti's former President has trouble traveling 
into Haiti, its current Prime Minister, 
Jacques-Edouard Alexis has trouble traveling out. 
Canada announced in early May that he was barred 
from the country because his name is on a list of 
people accused of "crimes against humanity." The 
Canadian government admits it has no specific 
evidence against Mr. Alexis. It makes vague 
reference to the Carrefour Feuilles massacre, a 
police killing of suspected gang members during 
Mr. Alexis' previous tenure as Prime Minister in 
1999. Ironically, Mr. Alexis' government 
aggressively prosecuted that massacre- several 
top police officials were convicted of murder and 
imprisoned- and the UN and human rights groups 
hailed the prosecution as a major step in 
fighting large-scale human rights violations. 
Canada claims to be sorry and to be looking into 
the matter, but almost two months after the issue 
was first raised, Mr. Alexis' name is still on the list.

Imagining analogous treatment among the world's 
powerful countries is difficult: England's Prime 
Minister Tony Blair pressuring President Bush to 
restrict former Vice-President Gore's anti-war 
speeches, because he "is a man of the past." Or 
the U.S. Ambassador to France warning against the 
"divisive" socialist Parliamentarians who called 
for a vote of no-confidence against the French 
government last month. In Canada, lawyers and 
human rights groups did present extensive 
evidence of George Bush's responsibility for war 
crimes and crimes against humanity ahead of his 
December 2004 visit. Of course the Canadian 
government declined to invoke its laws barring 
entry of human rights violators- the very laws it 
did apply to Mr. Alexis- despite the ample 
evidence for Mr. Bush, and the lack of any for Mr. Alexis.

Haitians have a marketplace expression for double 
standard- de pwa, de mezi (literally "two 
weights, two measures"), that gets frequent use 
in discussions about the international 
community's treatment of their country. Haitians 
with varying levels of approval for President 
Aristide's tenure in office agree that his forced 
exile is yet another example of de pwa de mezi 
-powerful countries that preach respect for human 
rights, the rule of law and national sovereignty 
declining to apply those principles when they 
stand in the way of want they want to do with 
Haiti. So for them, President Aristide's physical 
return is one part of a broader return of Haiti 
to a complete democracy, and to a sovereignty 
respected by the rest of the world. In this 
broader return, there would be no more need to 
argue about a former President coming home, any 
more than there is in the rest of the world.

Brian Concannon Jr. is a human rights lawyer and 
directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in 
Haiti, <http://www.ijdh.org/>www.ijdh.org

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