The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #325 on Latin America

March 13, 1992

March 13, 1992 | Executive Memorandum on Latin America

Aristide Is No Answer to Haiti's Problems

(Archived document, may contain errors)

3/13/92 325


In the months since the September 30 military coup in Haiti, the Bush Administration stubbornly has backed ousted President Jean Bertra nd Aristide and demanded his return to. power as a precondition for nor- malizing relations with Port-au-Prince. Equating democracy with Aristide, however, is a mistake. Prior to the putsch that toppled Aristide, his actions began to resemble those of com m unist neighbor Fidel Castro of Cuba. Aristide fostered class violence, incited lynchings, encouraged attacks against political opponents,and organ- ized militias for his personal use. As a result, the Haitian people have good reason if they decide not to take him bacL Rather than forcing Aristide on Haiti, Washington should ask the Haitian people what they want. To do this, the Organization of American States (OAS) could help Haitian civilian authorities arrange for a refer- endum on Aristide's fate.

After last year's coup, the Bush Administration suspended the United States' $85.5 million in economic and military aid to Haiti for fiscal 1992. The 34-member OAS, with strong U.S. backing, voted on October 8. to im- pose a trade embargo on Haiti and fi-eeze a ll of the country's international financial assets. This February 4. Bush wisely eased the embargo's impact on Haiti's struggling and innocent work force by allowing some American companies to resume assembling goods in Haiti for export to the U.S. This h e lped save at least 40,000 Haitian jobs. IMe Administration correctly explained that the reason for this action was to direct the em- bargo against Haiti's junta leaden, not against the Haitian people. Remdliation Plan. The Bush Administration and the OAS h ave worked vigorously to seek a negotiated solution to the political impasse in the troubled Caribbean nation. Marathon meetings were held in Washington and Venezuela between Aristide, his representatives, members of the Haitian Parliament, and political l eaders fr(xn across Haiti's political spectrum. As a result, an agreement was reached in Washington on -February 23 between Aristide, and members of the Haitian Parliament to restm.civilian control over the Haitian govern- ment. The Haitian Parliament is e xpecteA to vote on the plan on March 23. The reconciliation plan, which is supported by Washington, the OAS, most of Haiti's political parties, busi- ness community, and military leadership, named Rene Theodiore as Haiti's new Prime Minister-designate. Th e - odore is the President of the National Reconstruction Movement (MRN), a coalition of lefkist and centrist polit- ical groups, viewed as a moderating force by many.Haitian and U.S. officials., If the plan is approved, then Theodore and the Haitian Parlia m ent, in consultation with the U.S. and OAS, will decide whether to pave the way for Aristide's return to the Haitian presidencyor to lead the charge for a new Hait'ian president Regard- less of the path that Theodore and the Haitian lawmakers take, it is c lear that Aristide's return remains a- clear. issue of dispute. Poftical ExtrembL IMe reasons for this are many. Despite being a clear victor in Haiti's December- 1990 elections, Aristide surely is not the democrat he claims to be. His actions since his F e bruary 7. 1991, inaugura- tion. -paint him as a political extremist in the tradition of previous Haitian rulers. He has repeatedly used ex- plicit and implicit threats of mob and class violence to intimidate his opponents in the wealthy business class, th e Haitian National Assembly, centrist and conservative political parties, and the -army. The headquarters. of every single opposition party in Haiti, for example, has been attacked since Aristidevs election. Often during,

speeches, fporeover, Aristide hinted of his willingness to use hisipopularity among Haiti's poorest sectors to ride roug6hod.over the business', tqilitary, and political opposition- sectors of Haitian society. Unpriestly Preaching. Aristide is a former pr i est, expelled from the Salesian order of the Roman Catholic Church for preaching class hatred. While- he claims, to be a champion of human rights, the U.S. State bepartmeni's Annual Human Rights Report on Haiti indicates otherwise. According to the Januar y 31 report, at least 75 political opponents were brutally attacked in incidents -of so-called "popular justice" last year. For, example, well-known critic of Aristide. and two-time presidential candidate Silvio Claude was attacked and, killed by a pro-Ari s tide mob on the day before the September coup. Aristide's followers used a Haitian mur- der method called "necklacing" to killbaude. This- involves chopping off -the victim's arms, hanging a gaso@. line-soaked tire around the victim's neck.-'andburning th e victim alive. Aristide said the day prior to the mur- der: "What a beautiful tool, what a beautiful instrument, what a beautiful device. It smells good, and every- where you go you want to breathe it." As a last strike against hi s' enemies before fleein g Haiti during the Sep- tember coup, Aristide may also liave ordered -the killin'g of Roger Lafontant, who was serving a life sentence - in the National Prison in Port-au-Prince for"a previous coup attempt against -the government. Aristide, moreover, is no friend of the U.S. During. his 1990 campaign for president, he often said that the t.S - was "responsible for the worst abuses"'of the former Duvalier family. dictatorship in Haiti and routinely. Haiti's economic and political troubles on Washington. Just last month, in fact, Antoine. Adrien, a se- mor Aristide advisor, charged that-Washingtonvas behind the September coup and that the crisis in Haiti would only be solved if the-U.S .- "explained its. role in the coup." Adrien also -said that U.S. Ambassado r to Haiti Alvin P. Adams ."played a role in the,coup" and that in the days -following the military takeover, Adams "provided coup supporters with high technology communication equipment and manipulated,the-situadon." With this record, Aristide should be v i ewed as a threat to Haiti's chances of democratic and economic prog- ress. To help restore democracy and stability in Haiti, as well as help launch an economic recovery-program on the island nation, the Bush Admu'u'stration should: # Not forde Arlstide up o n the Haitian; people. Washington, along with the OAS countries, should, proposela referendum in Haiti t6 decide Aristide's - status. If 'the Haitians reject him, then. the OAS, with U.S. backing. should help Prime Minister Theodore, the Haitian Parliamen t , and Haiti's political partieff organize new elections. # Call for the OAS-sponsored embargo against Haiti to end once the February 23 accord is made law by the Haitian Parliament. Now that a democratic accord tentatively- has been agreed to by the polit i cal, military, and busmess groups in Haiti, and a civilian Prime Minister-designate has been, named, there is no need for an economic embargo. # Help organ1w an OAS monitoring team to gauge whether the terms of the February 23 recon- ciliation accord are c arried out. These terms include a full amnesty for military officers, civilian control over the political system, and protection of human rights. * Threaten to organize an OAS peacekeeping force if the democratic accord collapses and ex- tremists of eithe r the left or the right again seize power. * Dispense emergency humanitarian relief to Haiti's poor. Mindful of the embargo's potential dev- astating impact on the Haitian people, the Bush Administration correctly exempted some food sta- ples, including ri c e, wheat, and cooking oil, from the economic sanctions. A special humanitarian assistance program. operating through private voluntary agencies and the U.S. Agency for Intema- tional Development (AID), also gave food and medical assistance to the Haitian p oor. Because of eco- nomic mismanagement in Haiti and the OAS economic embargo, however, the Haitian economy has collapsed and the country is on the verge of chaos. Additional humanitarian assistance will be needed urgently in the coining weeks to prevent loss of human life. Michael G. Wilson Policy Analyst


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