Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hopes Fade for Aristide's Return Enigmatic Style of Exiled Haitian Leader Troubles Diplomats Committed to His Reinstatement

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hopes Fade for Aristide's Return Enigmatic Style of Exiled Haitian Leader Troubles Diplomats Committed to His Reinstatement

Article excerpt

FOR impoverished Haitians, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, their first democratically elected president, evokes a mystical aura of liberty.

For others who don't live in that world of extreme poverty and fragile hope, he is no democratic hero. Some foreign diplomats and the Haitian elite see in the former parish priest, who alternates between beatific calm and frothy rhetoric, a dangerously erratic charismatic.

So perhaps it is no surprise that months of efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) to reinstate the president after his ouster in a military coup Sept. 30 have so far failed.

Today, there are few in the diplomatic community who believe the Rev. Aristide can ever return to power, yet their policy remains hinged on his reinstatement. The exiled president was not even mentioned in last week's announcement in Haiti of a new provisional government.

International policy surrounding Aristide has become tangled because of the complexities of the man and his country that few outsiders understand, those close to Haitian affairs say.

"Negotiations have reached a cul de sac, and the OAS doesn't understand why. It's not so much a clash as it is a disconnect of culture," says Robert Pastor, director of the Latin American and Caribbean program at the Carter Center of Emory University in Atlanta. "To understand Aristide you have to start by understanding that he is perhaps the clearest embodiment of his nation ... the outside world has ever known."

While Aristide holds advanced degrees from abroad and speaks several languages, his loyalties lie with his constituents - 6 million Haitian peasants. Most live in almost medieval conditions of rural poverty and their moral codes owe more to African voodoo than constitutional democracy.

The OAS - which includes the United States - maintains a tough multilateral policy toward Haiti's de facto military rulers, built around Aristide's reinstatement. This policy is based on democratic principle, not any love for Aristide himself, most Haiti observers agree. Indeed, Aristide's antipathy for the US is well known, including references in his writings to the "disease" of capitalism.

Unqualified support for Aristide, simply because he was freely elected, put the OAS policy on a problematic foundation, long-time Haiti analyst Steve Horblitt says. "It's a simple-minded equation that an election by itself equals democracy. There's much more to democratic transformation than that," he observes.

In the rush to unconditionally back Aristide, OAS nations made "a great mistake," says Ernest Preeg, a former US ambassador to Haiti. "If we were going to play a mediator role we should have positioned ourselves independently, without taking one side."

Signs that the OAS had misread the situation were apparent just days after the coup when an OAS team arrived in Port-au-Prince to negotiate Aristide's return among diverse Haitian political parties and the military. …

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