Haiti: Call for Return of Aristide
by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
MITF Report, Marin Interfaith
Task Force on the Americas, Summer 2005
February 28, 2005 marked the first anniversary
of the forced removal of President John Bertrand Aristide from
office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In November of 2000 President
Aristide was overwhelmingly re-elected with 92 percent of the
vote. Local and international observers put voter turnout at 65
percent. Gallup polls conducted in Haiti before and after the
election, confirmed both the voter turnout and the numbers who
voted for President Aristide.
President Aristide was forced to leave
Haiti, a country he loves and has served well for many decades.
Even though the US Embassy insists that the US government had
nothing to do with his removal, it is not difficult to discover
Ambassador James Foley insists that he
came to Haiti two weeks before the coup to present to President
Aristide a final offer on how he could remain in power. However,
according to Ambassador Foley, President Aristide was adamant,
simply refused to cooperate and chose to leave. In fact, the "offer"
amounted to becoming the President in name only while others made
the real decisions.
Aristide was provided with conditions
that no legitimate president could accept. He would have to pretend
to be acting as president, when in fact his governing power was
almost totally removed, and was to be exercised under the guidance
of the United States. Obviously, President Aristide is too honest
a man to accept such a dishonest and evil solution to the problems
that were clearly present in Haiti. He was told if he did not
leave he would be killed together with thousands of Haitians.
Without a real choice he was put on a US military plane to the
Central African Republic, where he was to live quietly and be
totally removed from Haiti and its concerns. Subsequently, the
US removed all of his ministers and set up a new government.
Since that time the situation in Haiti
has deteriorated. Many delegations of human rights observers from
outside the country and human rights workers within Haiti have
documented what has happened since President Aristide was forcibly
removed from office. After 10 months under this interim government,
backed by the United States, Canada and France, and buttressed
now by a force from the United Nations, Haiti's people are caught
up in an extreme situation of violence. If you travel in the streets
of Port-au-Prince or other cities throughout the country, you
will hear gunfire breaking out at almost any moment, you will
sometimes discover bodies abandoned in the streets. You will see
whole neighborhoods, where support for President Aristide is very
high, cut off from the outside world. People live in fear especially
in the poorest areas of Haiti. Gangs, police, irregular soldiers
and even UN peacekeepers bring this fear. There is no investment
in dialogue to end the violence.
Haiti's security and justice institutions
fuel the cycle of violence. The police carry out summary executions.
In many poor neighborhoods even honest police officers feel they
must kill or be killed. When President Aristide was overthrown,
the members of the former army, which he had disbanded, returned
to the country, crossing the border from the Dominican Republic,
armed with weapons from the United States, even wearing U S military
uniforms. This restored army insists that it is the only legitimate,
constitutional entity in the country. The "army" acts
with brutality and complete disdain for the rights of the majority
of the people.
Many times I visited prisoners in Port-au-Prince
and found that the constitutional rights of these men and women
have been completely ignored. They are arrested without warrant,
imprisoned without charge and contrary to the law of Haiti, do
not appear before a judge within 48 hours. Many have been kept
in prison for weeks or months without any indication of why they
are there or what law they are alleged to have broken. Obviously,
they are simply people by whom the interim government feels threatened.
Among these political prisoners are Prime Minister Yvon Neptune
and Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert.
The situation reminds me of the situation
in El Salvador in the 1980's when Archbishop Oscar Romero declared
what it meant to be a poor person in El Salvador. "To be
a poor person," he said, "means to be disappeared, to
be tortured, to be murdered and to have your body found in the
gutter." This is what is happening to the poor of Haiti.
One of the most difficult things for the
poor is that when they are the objects of direct assassination
attempts or simply caught in the crossfire between the police
and some of the street gangs, they are not able to receive proper
medical care. They are afraid to go to a hospital because once
there, they would only lie in puddles of their own blood, ignored
by the medical personnel or they might even be killed by the police
who come into the hospital to finish the job.
What is even worse, when they die, their
bodies are trucked to the morgue where they are simply piled up.
According to the law, when a body is brought to the morgue, it
is to be left there for 22 days in order for families to try to
locate them. However, without any refrigeration, the bodies are
kept for only 5 days and are then thrown onto trucks, carried
out of the city and dumped. Families never find out what has happened
to a "disappeared" loved one.
The US government, some elements in Haiti,
and some former supporters of President Aristide insist that the
violence is a result of his encouraging his supporters to turn
to violence. Supposedly he is still doing this from South Africa.
But there is no evidence of this. From my knowledge of President
Aristide and his deep commitment to non-violence, I know that
this is not the case. At the present time there is a complete
breakdown of civil order in Haiti. The only hope of ending this
violence is to restore the constitutional government. This means
the return of President Aristide and his lawfully appointed ministers.
It is time for people of the United States
who care about justice, who care about non-violence, who care
about peace for the people of Haiti, to insist with ever greater
determination, that President Aristide be returned to his legitimate
office to complete his term. In the short time that would be left
for him, perhaps a new order of justice could begin.
Source: The Catholic Peace Voice, May/
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