The Haiti Crisis: Aristide
Is Not the Issue
by Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Dollars and Sense magazine,
One of the biggest mistakes people have
made looking at the recent Haitian crisis has been to focus on
the person of President Bertrande Aristide. This may sound odd
since, after all, he is the one who was overthrown. What took
place this February was not simply the ouster of an individual,
however, but the termination of constitutional rule. Thus, whether
someone happens to oppose or support President Aristide is secondary.
The primary question is whether it is permissible to overthrow
a genuinely elected leader other than via legal and constitutional
Following the coup, many progressives
reacted, understandably, by defending President Aristide-the-person.
But this misses the point about the coup's upending of constitutional
rule. It also fails to address the complications that President
Aristide found himself facing as a result of the conditions that
he accepted when he was returned to power in 1994.
At that time, the U.S. government imposed
on President Aristide a set of conditions that were the equivalent
of handcuffing him. He was expected to adopt, almost wholesale,
the economic approach that has come to be known as the Washington
Consensus. This included the elimination of thousands of civil
service positions and the advancement of a privatization agenda.
The United States and multilateral lending institutions demanded
this approach of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,
one emerging from a history of political despotism and neo-colonialism.
For better or for worse, President Aristide accepted these parameters.
The difficulty for President Aristide,
however, is that sections of his base were unwilling to accept
such conditions. They were thirsting after the Aristide who, upon
his initial election in 1990, had promised a redistribution of
wealth and the articulation of a politics defined not by the Haitian
wealthy elite, but by the Haitian majority-its poor.
In some respects, then, it is appropriate
to see the post-1994 Aristide as a political character buffeted
by contending political waves. On the one hand, his bases among
the historically dispossessed protested against privatization
and demanded that Aristide carry forward his promised reforms-and
were in some cases able to halt neoliberal efforts. Sections of
this base became disenchanted, feeling that Aristide had either
gone back on his word or was not moving forward quickly enough.
In some cases there were more serious criticisms about alleged
human rights abuses by the government and its failure to investigate
them. Nevertheless, it appears that the bulk of his base remained
loyal to him and to his party, Famni Lavalas.
The other wave was from the political
right. It was a wave generated from both Washington and from the
Haitian elite. This wave saw in Aristide, even the new-and-improved
Aristide after 1994, a person too far to the left and an unstable
political element. Aristide's efforts to change the conditions
of the Haitian poor through improvements in health care, education,
and roads were viewed as a threat to the dominance of the rich
Thus, President Aristide went too far
to the right to satisfy important sections of his base (and in
some cases demoralizing them), but not far enough to the right
to satisfy the Bush administration and the Haitian elite.
The coup against Aristide, then, must
be understood not in isolation, but as the culmination of activities
that really began the minute he was re-elected in 2000. Destabilization
efforts by the U.S. government, active U.S. support for the creation
of a so-called civil-society opposition, and eventually the invasion
of Haiti by an armed band of criminals and murderers were all
part of a process designed to ensure that Haiti would return fully
to the fold of the U.S. empire and its minions in Haiti.
There are many lessons that we in the
United States must learn from this entire debacle, but perhaps
the most important one is that the actions of our citizenry, or
our inactions, help determine whether the space in which countries
of the global South operate is one in which dreams can be realized,
or one in which nightmares must be suffered.
Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the president of
TransAfrica Forum, a Washington, D. G-based nonprofit educational
and organizing center formed to raise awareness in the United
States regarding issues facing the nations and peoples of Africa,
the Caribbean, and Latin America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.