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29027: Fenton (Article) The Return (fwd)
From: Anthony Fenton <email@example.com>
Article By Brian Concannon, Jr. - Aug 25 2006
Say “the return” when discussing Haiti, and people who follow events
in the country know you are talking about the return of former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 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.
The prospect of President Aristide's return generates passionate
reactions for and against, in Haiti, but also in Washington and other
world capitals. 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,
“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.
Several commentators have stated that President Aristide would have
to face possible legal action against him if he returns to Haiti, or
if he goes to the United States. 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 countries, there
are no criminal charges against him. The Interim Government and its
allies frequently made accusations of criminal activity against
President Aristide to the press, but over the past two years never
filed a single one in the Haitian justice system.
The Interim authorities did file a civil complaint against Mr.
Aristide and several others in Federal Court in Miami and launched an
impressive public relations campaign—including press conferences,
Washington briefings, and seminars—to accompany the filing. But they
did not pursue the case in court. Eight months after filing the
complaint, 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 investigating 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 United States, 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 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 United States
“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 applied 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
what 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.
Human Rights Lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for
Justice & Democracy in Haiti, www.ijdh.org.