[News] Wikileaks Haiti: The Aristide Files

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Sun Aug 7 19:38:36 EDT 2011

Wikileaks Haiti: The Aristide Files

Kim Ives and Ansel Herz | August 5, 2011 - Nation Magazine

US officials led a far-reaching international 
campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian 
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South 
Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there 
for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables.

The cables show that high-level US and UN 
officials even discussed a politically motivated 
prosecution of Aristide to prevent him from 
“gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

The secret cables, made available to the Haitian 
weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by WikiLeaks, show 
how the political defeat of Aristide and his 
Lavalas movement has been the central pillar of 
US policy toward the Caribbean nation over the 
last two US administrations, even though­or 
perhaps because­US officials understood that he 
was the most popular political figure in Haiti.

They also reveal how US officials and their 
diplomatic counterparts from France, Canada, the 
UN and the Vatican tried to vilify and ostracize the Haitian political leader.

For the Vatican, Aristide was an “active 
proponent of voodoo.” For Washington, he was 
“dangerous to Haiti’s democratic consolidation,” 
according to the secret US cables.

Aristide was overthrown in a bloody February 2004 
coup supported by Washington and fomented by 
right-wing paramilitary forces and the Haitian 
elite. In the aftermath of the coup, more than 
3,000 people were killed and thousands of 
supporters of Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas political party were jailed.

The United States maintained publicly that 
Aristide resigned in the face of a ragtag force 
of former Haitian army soldiers rampaging in 
Haiti’s north. But Aristide called his escort by 
a US Navy SEAL team on his flight into exile “a modern-day kidnapping.”

Two months later, the UN Stabilization Mission in 
Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established, a 9,000-strong 
UN occupation force that still oversees Latin 
America’s first independent nation.

Aristide has spoken forcefully against the UN 
occupation, particularly in his 2010 year-end 
letter to the Haitian people. “We cannot forget 
the $5 billion which has already been spent for 
MINUSTAH over these past six years,” he wrote. 
“Anybody can see how many houses, hospitals, and 
schools that wasted money could have built for 
the victims” of the January 12, 2010, earthquake 
that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions.

Such positions are major reasons Washington 
fought to get and keep Aristide out of Haiti, the 
cables make clear. “A premature departure of 
MINUSTAH would leave the [Haitian] 
government...vulnerable to...resurgent populist 
and anti-market economy political 
forces­reversing gains of the last two years,” 
wrote US Ambassador Janet Sanderson in an October 
1, 2008, cable. MINUSTAH “is an indispensable 
tool in realizing core USG [US government] policy interests in Haiti.”

At a high-level meeting five years ago, top US 
and UN officials discussed how the “Aristide 
Movement Must Be Stopped,” according to an August 
2, 2006, cable. It described how former 
Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, then chief of 
MINUSTAH, “urged US legal action against Aristide 
to prevent the former president from gaining more 
traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.”

At Mulet’s request, UN Secretary General Kofi 
Annan urged South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki 
“to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa.”

President Obama and Kofi Annan’s successor, Ban 
Ki-moon, also intervened to urge Pretoria to keep 
Aristide in South Africa. The secret cables 
report that Aristide’s return to Haiti would be a 
“disaster,” according to the Vatican, and 
“catastrophic,” according to the French.

But the regional and Haitian view was quite 
different. US Ambassador James Foley admitted in 
a confidential March 22, 2005, cable that an 
August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was still 
the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%.”

The Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell, 
apparently referring to Haiti’s revolutionary 
leader Toussaint Louverture’s kidnapping and 
imprisonment in the Jura mountains in 1802, 
warned “that a perceived ‘Banishing Policy’ has 
racial and historical overtones in the Caribbean 
that reminds inhabitants of the region of slavery and past abuse.”

Keeping the Pressure On

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South 
Africa on May 30, 2004, the US government worked 
overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even the 
hemisphere, even though the Haitian constitution 
and international law stipulate that every 
Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Leonel Fernández 
suggested at a hemispheric conference eight 
months after the coup that Aristide should return 
and play a role in Haiti’s political future, the 
United States reacted angrily, saying in a cable 
that Fernández had been “wrong in advocating the 
inclusion in the process of former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.”

The US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic 
“admonished” Fernández “during a pull-aside at a social event.”

“Aristide had led a violent gang involved in 
narcotics trafficking and had squandered any 
credibility he formerly may have had,” US 
Ambassador Hertell told him, according to a November 16, 2004, cable.

“Nobody has given me any information about that,” Fernández replied.

The embassy followed up with a series of 
aggressive meetings insisting that the Dominican 
government renounce its support for Aristide. The 
meetings included a sit-down with the Dominican 
president specifically on the subject of Haiti 
with the British, Canadian, French, Spanish and US ambassadors.

No charges were ever filed against Aristide for 
drug trafficking, although the United States 
“spent, literally, tens of millions of taxpayer 
trying to pin something, anything on 
President Aristide,” Ira Kurzban, Aristide’s 
lawyer, told Pacifica Radio’s Flashpoints in 
July. “They’ve had an ATF investigation, a tax 
investigation, a drug investigation, and now 
apparently some kind of corruption 
investigation.... The reality is they’ve come up 
with nothing because there is nothing.”

According to a report in Haïti Liberté, other 
sources say that a US legal team is still angling to prosecute Aristide.

In 2005, the Fanmi Lavalas political party 
planned large demonstrations to mark Aristide’s 
July 15 birthday and call for his return. The US 
Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, met with 
the French diplomatic official Gilles Bienvenu in Paris to discuss the issue.

“Bienvenu stated that the GOF [Government of 
France] shared our analysis of the implications 
of an Aristide return to Haiti, terming the 
likely repercussions ‘catastrophic,’ ” Stapleton 
wrote in a July 1, 2005, cable. “Initially 
expressing caution when asked about France 
demarching the SARG [conveying the message to the 
South African government], Bienvenu noted that 
Aristide was not a prisoner in South Africa and 
that such an action could ‘create difficulties.’ ”

Stapleton swiftly overcame Bienvenu’s reluctance. 
Bienvenu agreed to relay US and French “shared 
concerns” to the South African government, saying 
that “as a country desiring to secure a seat on 
the UN Security Council, South Africa could not 
afford to be involved in any way with the destabilization of another country.”

The Ambassador went even further: “Bienvenu 
speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, 
seeing a possible opportunity to hinder him in 
the logistics of reaching Haiti,” Stapleton 
wrote. “If Aristide traveled commercially, 
Bienvenu reasoned, he would likely need to 
transit certain countries in order to reach 
Haiti. Bienvenu suggested a demarche to Caricom 
[Caribbean Community] countries by the US and EU 
to warn them against facilitating any travel or 
other plans Aristide might have. He specifically 
recommended speaking to the Dominican Republic, 
which could be directly implicated in a return attempt.”

Five days later in Ottawa, two Canadian 
diplomatic officials met with the US Embassy 
personnel.  “‘We are on the same sheet’ with 
regards to Aristide,” one Canadian affirmed, 
according to a July 6, 2005, cable. “Even before 
these recent rumors, she said, Canada had a clear 
position in opposition to the return of Aristide.”

Canada shared the message with “all 
parties...especially the Caricom countries,” as well with South Africa.

Vatican Blocks Post-Quake Return of Aristide

The earthquake that killed tens of thousands and 
destroyed many parts of the city also threatened 
to upend the established political order, worrying diplomats.

US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) met 
with a Vatican official in the days after the 
earthquake to discuss Church losses and responses.

A January 20, 2010, cable reports, “In 
discussions with DCM over the past few days, 
senior Vatican officials said they were dismayed 
about media reports that deposed Haitian 
leader­and former priest­Jean Bertrand Aristide 
wished to return to Haiti.... The Vatican's 
Assesor (deputy chief of staff equivalent), Msgr. 
Peter Wells, said Aristide's presence would 
distract from the relief efforts and could become destabilizing.”

Then the Vatican’s Undersecretary for Relations 
with States, Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, conferred 
with Archbishop Bernardito Auza in Haiti, who 
“agreed emphatically that Aristide's return would 
be a disaster.”  Balestrero “then conveyed Auza's 
views to Archbishop Greene in South Africa, and 
asked him also to look for ways to get this 
message convincingly to Aristide. DCM suggested 
that Greene also convey this message to the SAG [South African government].”

The Vatican’s position on Aristide’s return was 
augured in earlier cables. In November 2003, 
three months before the bloody February 2004 coup 
against Aristide, a US political officer met with 
the Vatican’s MFA Caribbean Affairs Office 
Director Giorgio Lingua. He said that “effecting 
change in Haiti should be easier than in Cuba,” 
reported US Chargé d'Affaires Brent Hardt in a 
November 14, 2003, cable. “Unlike Castro, Lingua 
observed, Aristide is not ideologically 
motivated. ‘This is one person­not a system,’ he added.”

Shortly after the coup, on March 5, 2004, US 
Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson wrote a 
cable reporting that the Holy See’s Deputy 
Foreign Minister had “no regret at Aristide's 
departure, noting that the former priest had been 
an active proponent of voodoo.”

A Hero’s Welcome

Aristide ultimately returned to Haiti on March 
18, 2011, despite personal calls by President 
Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to 
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to stop him. 
They argued he would disrupt Haiti’s imminent elections.

“The problem is exclusion, and the solution is 
inclusion,” Aristide said during a brief return 
speech at the airport after landing. Then he made 
his only reference, however oblique, to that 
week’s elections from which his party was barred: 
“The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the majority.”

Two days later, the second round of Haiti’s 
elections went off relatively smoothly, but with 
historically low voter participation. Some 
polling stations in Port-au-Prince were empty, 
with stacks of ballot sheets piled high, hours 
before they closed.  Less than 24 percent of 
registered voters went to their polls, according 
to official statistics. Other observers say the turnout was much less.

On the morning of Aristide’s return in 
Port-au-Prince, thousands massed outside the 
airport in an exuberant, spontaneous 
demonstration. They jogged alongside his 
motorcade waving Haitian flags and placards 
bearing Aristide’s visage, then scaled the fence 
surrounding Aristide’s home and poured into its 
yard until there was no room left to move. The 
crowd even climbed the walls and covered the roof.

Sitting in an SUV just twenty feet from the door 
to his hastily repaired but mostly empty house, 
Aristide and his family waited until a crew of 
Haitian policeman managed to clear what resembled 
a pathway through the crowd. First his wife and 
two daughters emerged from the car and dashed inside the home.

Finally Aristide, diminutive in a sharp blue 
suit, stood up in the car doorway and waved. The 
crowd roared in excitement and surged around him. 
The path to the door vanished. His security 
grabbed him and shouldered their way through the 
sea of humanity until they got him to the house’s 
door, through which he popped like a cork, clutching his glasses in his hands.

After a coup, kidnapping, exile, diplomatic 
intrigue and his rapturous welcome, Aristide was finally home.

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