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a360: COHA Press Release (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

For immediate release

January 15, 2002

Hypocrisy at the OAS as Lima Declaration May be Applied

*   Watered-down measure may be passed as a compromise Regional organization's glaring double standards and its lap-dog mentality
*   Washington joins Latin America in calling for more democracy in Haiti, yet region is beset by massive corruption, a venal court system, and an unregenerate military, as seen in Chile and Argentina.
*   Washington's unremitting hostility to Aristide now infects the hemisphere
*   Nothing in Lima Declaration covers Haitian realities
*   Latin America's Pseudo Democracies Rap Haiti for being something more

Under pressure from the U.S., the OAS called a Special Session of the organization's Permanent Council which is meeting today to discuss the current situation in Haiti. Washington, the hemisphere's supreme organ
grinder when it comes to Haiti, is aggressively pushing a resolution to invoke the Lima Declaration that was signed by all OAS member states on September 11, 2001. Dubbed the "Inter-American Democratic Declaration," this
instrumentality could be interpreted to mandate that foreign mediators be sent to Haiti to negotiate a peace between Aristide's Lavalas party and the controversial 15-party Convergence coalition, which represents the country's "disloyal opposition."

Prompting this action were the events of December 17th, when thirty-three armed men stormed Haiti's National Palace, exchanging gunfire with its guards. In short order, tens of thousands of Haitians took to the streets to protest this latest attempt on their democracy. They protested at the palace
gates, as well as throughout the poverty-stricken country, banging pots and pans and chanting. The protest was overwhelmingly peaceful, even though
there were some scattered incidents of violence committed by some who called themselves Aristide supporters, including the killing of four suspected coup
participants near the Dominican Republic border.

Glaring Double Standards

Interestingly, the international community seems to be more concerned with the protests following the coup attempt than the coup itself. Menacing
pictures showing burning tires on Port-au-Prince street corners have widely appeared in newspapers abroad although, in reality, such tactics are traditionally used in constructing defensive barricades and not as offensive weapons. To the contrary, few newspapers ran photos of the actual attacks on the palace. Some public figures, most notably OAS Secretary General Cesar
Gaviria-- who throughout his administration has made it a habit of appearing blind to the worst atrocities of such regional villains as Alberto Fujimori,
while the latter was president of Peru for a decade-- was quick to imply, on the basis of no solid evidence, that the violent anti-Aristide coup which resulted in the death of eight people, might actually be a plot by the Haitian authorities to justify cracking down on the anti-Aristide opposition.

Who is Making Haiti Policy?

Concerned observers feared that OAS officials were harmonizing their own anti-Aristide bias with that of U.S. policy makers in order to take advantage of Haiti's current precarious political and economic situation to impose their own agenda on the long-suffering country, although a watered-down measure is likely to result from today's deliberations.
Articles 17 to 21 of the Declaration are being stressed so that the regional organization may be able to "assist" Haiti.  One of the provisions would
allow a member state to "request assistance from the Secretary General or the Permanent Council for the strengthening and preservation of its
democratic system" when it "considers that its democratic political institutional process or legitimate exercise of power is at risk."  Clearly,
President Aristide would not be the one to initiate such a process that would spurn his nation's sovereignty. Another of the Declaration's sections
would allow the OAS to convene the Permanent Council "when situations arise in a member state that may affect the development of its democratic
political institutional process or the legitimate exercise of power."  It is under this provision that the opportunist strategy of the U.S. is based,
although without any rationale.

The strategy is for Roger Noriega, the thoroughly unqualified U.S. political "gofer" who was elevated to the ambassadorship to the OAS as the result of
the lobby of now-Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi, who was Noriega's predecessor in the post, to take the initiative. He is being
cheered on in his initiative by Rep. Porter Goss (R-FL) who despises Aristide and take any opportunity to do mortal damage to his prospects. The ties between Gaviria and Goss's office are substantial. It is rumored that Goss's former staffer on Haiti, Kristen Madison, will soon become an aide to Gaviria.

    Since being elected president in 1990, Aristide has lived with the continued threat of a military coup. He was in power a mere eight months before a coup forced him from office on September 13, 1991. Since Aristide,
the nation's first democratically- elected president, came into power, his governance has been marked by an adherence to the country's constitutional
provisions, in spite of the denunciations of his critics in the country and in Washington. According to the constitution, the president cannot be
elected for two consecutive terms. Following this mandate, Aristide stepped down and then ran again, fiver years later, in a universally acknowledged
free and fair election in November 2001.  In recent months, the government has weathered two other violent coup attempts, in July and December 2001.
Even in the face of threats to his person as well as to his government, Aristide has called on his supporters to be "vigilant without vengeance."
Teaching by example, Aristide continues to preach adherence to the rule of law, in spite of the denunciations by his detractors. He urges his people to
resist attempts on their hard-earned democracy with determination, strength, and most importantly, without violence.

Aristide works to reform process

Since the OAS's critical report on Haiti's May 2000 election, the Aristide government has made important advances towards resolving its most contentious charges. In his still-unanswered November 23, 2001 letter to the OAS, Aristide explains the numerous advancements and concessions his government has made. First, seven contested pro-Aristide senators elected on
May 21, 2000 have been induced to resign. Second, the terms of senators elected on May 21, 2000 have been truncated by two years. Third, the terms
of the entire Chamber of Deputies has been reduced by two years. Fourth, the elections for senators to fill the seats of those who resigned after being
elected on May 21 2000 are set for November 2002. Fifth, the elections for the entire Chamber of Deputies are set for November 2002. Finally, a reconstitution of the Provisional Electoral Council, which hardly
varies from that outlined by OAS officials, has been agreed to by Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas supporters.

The current Haitian executive and judicial systems have made important moves towards improving the adjudication of the perpetrators of the violent coups and other extra-constitutional practices. Despite the crippling
disadvantages and a severe lack of resources, the Haitian legal system and police force have launched investigations into each attempt, gathered evidence against the perpetrators and made several key arrests. The current political situation in Haiti, though unstable, does not rise to the required
threshold for the OAS to imperiously apply the Lima Declaration to the country, in what must be seen as little more than a show trial.

OAS as regional bully

Despite the worthy efforts of this fragile new democracy to meet the demands upon it, the OAS continues to ignore Haiti's achievements. At last June's
meeting of its General Assembly in Costa Rica, the OAS passed a resolution that stated that it would advocate, on Haiti's behalf, to obtain the release of frozen funds as soon as the country improves its political, economic and judicial situation. After the two most recent violent coup attempts, the OAS has not come to the aid of its embattled member state. To the contrary, it has tried to impose the provisions of the Lima Declaration so that it can send a multi-national mission to excercise effective control of Haiti's well
intentioned but still weak judiciary as well as some of its other vital institutions. Furthermore, not only has the OAS shirked its responsibilities towards Haiti as delineated in the unanimous by-passed June 5th resolution, it has also decided to take advantage of the country's current volatile political climate to unfairly exert its influence and intervene in the
country's internal affairs.

        Moreover, in Aristide's November letter to the OAS, he voices sincere concerns that " ...the parameters set out in the OAS resolution passed at that General Assembly in Costa Rica have, to my dismay,
been greatly enlarged.  This enlargement of the mandate has allowed the bar to be raised over and over, adding issues to the negotiating table that were never anticipated, defying the authority of the 34 nations who unanimously resolved to help end the impasse." Due to the OAS's ever-evolving demands, it will be increasingly more difficult for this government to continue to address them.

        The poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti is now in serious danger of being made a pariah by the OAS. According to Article 21 of the Lima Declaration, depending on the OAS's interpretation of the Haitian
situation, the OAS Permanent Council could determine the need for a range of measures affecting Port-au-Prince. Under its terms, this could ultimately
culminate in the suspension of Haiti's privileges as an OAS member state.

        Infuriatingly, OAS's policies regarding Haiti have been consistently fraught with double standards. Though the Haitian government and ruling Fanmi Lavalas party have made multiple major concessions to
resolve the issues presented in the May 2000 OAS election report, the interminable outside caviling, led by the U.S., have permitted Convergence-- which enjoys virtually no constituency in Haiti-- to exercise an de facto veto power without it being called upon to make any concessions whatsoever. Rather than a legitimate political movement, Convergence is a fringe group
which contains a number of disreputable leaders of minor factions who are heavily tainted with their past support of the military junta which ruled the country from 1991-1994, as well as conniving with previous dictators. For example, the Government of Haiti was ready to name a new CEP (electoral council) by the agreed-upon-date called for in the OAS resolution of June 5, 2001.  The composition of a new CEP was being balanced by Haiti's civil society, the religious community, political parties as well as the
government. Because the Convergence refused to submit names for the new CEP, the OAS asked Haitian authorities to hold off on launching the new body.

The OAS's Draft Resolution also calls for investigations of some high profile killings including that of Brignol Lindor, an opposition figure, it
fails however, to use equal zeal to seek an  investigation into the incident that precipitated that assault, the earlier machete attack against a Fanmi
Lavalas supporter. The OAS's actions also fail to call for an investigation into the highly provocative statements made on December 13th by a
Convergence figure (whose main platform is bringing back the country's harsh military to rule) which announced that his group was heavily armed and was
prepared to imminently launch an offensive to force the government from office. This was in line with past statements made by some Convergence officials calling for the return of Haiti's brutal military and for its
armed force, if necessary, to overthrow the democratic government.

Haiti is Vulnerable to outside manipulations

Haiti is in a unique situation in that 60% of its economy is based on foreign aid. The US however, has temporarily embargoed its non-food assistance to the country until the problems involving the make-up of the
Haitian senate (which Aristide already has moved to resolve), are dealt with. Desperately needed loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IABD) have also been blocked by Washington with such sanctions further
undermining the country's democratically-elected government. The growing mobilization against anti-Aristide measures on Haiti led by the Congressional Black Caucus and other legislators, as well as respected
religious leaders and grassroots groups including Detroit's Bishop Gumbleton may be picking up tempo-perhaps helping to explain the actions of the U.S.
to officially turn to the OAS to justify and reinforce the U.S.-prompted embargo against Haiti by invoking the latter's new Declaration-but there may not be enough. On the other hand, Aristide's enemies in the U.S. are many, ranging in intensity and ideological direction, from the International Republican Institute to the Center for International Policy.

One could argue that it is essential that Aristide's government be allowed to resolve the current domestic discord by itself. As manifested by the massive street demonstrations triggered by each coup attempt, the Haitian people are solidly behind their elected leader. Though there were scattered incidents of violence committed by members of the Lavalas party that must be
condemned, the demonstration itself was overwhelmingly peaceful. Hundreds shouted, "We'll never accept another coup d'etat" in front of the palace gates. Aristide knows he and his government are in life-threatening danger and yet the Haitian president continues to call for a peaceful settlement. A solution imposed on the country from the outside could be foredoomed to not
connect with the important political, social, economic factors with which Haitian officials have dealt with for years.

Washington has chosen sides

        Another problem with OAS intervention is that it will weaken the country's democratic fabric and will most likely further alienate the Haitian electorate. Most Haitians are already deeply embittered that the US
favors the Convergence coalition, and its ending of direct aid, as well as and by imposing a "semi-blockade " on the country which further impoverishes
its impoverished population.

After the December 17 failed coup attempt, many Haitians living in Miami carried signs declaring, "Aristide is the people's choice-not President Bush." If the OAS is allowed to intervene in this domestic situation on entirely spurious grounds, it could set a dangerous precedent for other
member states. As can be witnessed in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere in the region, civil unrest and street protests are a part of the
Latin American political landscape regardless of the maturity of a country's particular democracy. If the OAS were to apply the Lima Declaration to the
common crimes committed in a politically charged atmosphere, many of its other members could be similarly implicated. As Haiti doesn't have the
highest crime rate in the hemisphere, it must be given time, help and the solicitude of the inter-American community before the OAS rushes to impose its diktat on the country.

COHA Research Group
with Marcela Sabino, Lead Researcher

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers."