Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haiti at Brink Again - US Owes Help

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Haiti at Brink Again - US Owes Help

Article excerpt

Ten years ago, I risked my life by embarking on a hunger strike. It was a desperate attempt to change America's Haiti policy. In the 28th day of my fast, President Clinton announced that the US would pursue a more just Haiti policy. Shortly thereafter, a US-led multinational force reinstalled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been ousted in a military coup. Haiti's first democratically elected president, Mr. Aristide had won in a landslide, and I was proud to stand with the Haitian people - and him.

Today, Aristide - who stepped down at the end of his first term and was reelected to the presidency in 2000 - is under attack again. Political unrest is rocking the poverty-stricken nation - including protests both for and against the president. And a summit of Caribbean Community representatives has begun a series of meetings to resolve the crisis. This week they are meeting with Aristide opponents who accuse him of trampling on civil rights and are demanding he step down.

Again, I stand with this leader and his right to complete his five-year term. And again, I urge the US - the world's most powerful democracy - to resolutely embrace Haiti's democratically elected president.

How has Aristide - who was so loved and revered - ended up the focus of calls for his ouster?

Aristide may have failings in his ability to negotiate the vicious power divide between Haiti's economic elite and its broader masses, but US policy has created an environment in which it is impossible for him to succeed.

As in Iraq, the US has in Haiti pursued policies and formed allegiances that violate the sanctity and inviolability of the ballot box, while attempting to deliver the future of an entire nation and people into the hands of a specially selected, unelected few.

US financial, political, and military support for Haiti remained strong while the Duvalier family dictators and their successors were in power. However, the US attitude soured with the election of Aristide, who'd been an enormously popular Roman Catholic priest working among the poor and against the brutality of Haiti's dictators.

Aristide's criticism of US support for Haiti's dictators won him the eternal distrust and ire of certain US policymakers. And as president, his adherence to principles - when wealthy Haitians and the US expected greater "flexibility" - only deepened his foes' opposition to him.

Haiti's US-trained Army overthrew Aristide in 1991. Public pressure pushed the US to lead a multinational effort to restore Aristide's government in exile in 1994. But when Republicans, who'd vehemently opposed the restoration, won control of Congress, they moved to isolate Aristide.

They successfully pushed legislation to finance the training of those who opposed Aristide's grass-roots Lavalas movement and to withdraw US assistance to the Haitian government. …

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