U.S., France Pushed Aristide Out

by Stewart Stogel

www.newsmax.com, Feb. 29, 2004


The surprise departure of embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Port-au-Prince on Sunday came after the Haitian leader lost critical support in Washington and Paris.

"He does not belong in office, he has no legitimacy," explained a senior French official in a phone interview with NewsMax from Paris on Saturday.

That decision was conveyed by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to a visiting Haitian government delegation in Paris on Friday, the official said.

Before Friday, French diplomats were "advising" Aristide to consider leaving but refrained from any formal call for his resignation.

That changed dramatically and left the embattled Haitian president with substantially fewer options to consider.

The French official claimed that since last week, when a proposal for a power sharing government of national unity was accepted by Aristide (but partially rejected by the rebels), the increase in violence in the impoverished Caribbean nation came more from supporters of the Haitian president than from rebel forces.

"Aristide was trying to use the agreement to force a contingent of international police to come to Haiti and save him from the rebels, it will not work," explained the French official. The official insisted that no police force would enter Haiti until Aristide is gone.

With Aristide gone, Washington and Paris are scrambling to send in an international poiice force to stabilize events on the ground.

On the issue of Aristide, the French official explained that "Paris and Washington were working from the same page."

The State Dept. confirmed that Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke with the Haitian president by phone on Saturday.

While Washington did not publicly call for Arisitde to leave, Powell, according to the State Dept., told the Haitian leader there were no other viable options left.

Flee or Die

With de Villepin withdrawing support on Friday and Powell on Saturday. Arisitfe faced two options: flee or die.

Now said to be in the neighboring Dominican Republic, Arisride is believed to be considering safe haven in Taiwan, Morocco or Panama. The embattled president officially ruled out Panama last week, but Paris insists that is where he will wind up.

It would be ironic because Panama is where former Haitian strongman General Raoul Cedras now resides. It was Cedras who originally toppled Aristide in a military coup in the early 1990's. Cedras in turn was booted out by the Clinton administration in the 1994 invasion which reinstalled the Haitian president.

Now, it seems both may live in comfortable exile in Panama, though probably not together.

The French official also believes that the chaos now on the ground in Haiti may force Washington to get more directly involved.

Some 20,000 US nationals are still in the country.

The State Dept. has advised those U.S. citizens "to take shelter" and stay off the streets.

With the airport in the capital of Port-au-Prince essentially closed and the border with neighboring Dominican Republic sealed, the only way out of Haiti is by sea. The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of sealing that exit option.

President George W. Bush has ordered the Navy to dispatch a three-ship task force carrying 2,000 Marines from its home port in Hampton Roads, VA to the Haitian coast to support Coast Guard efforts to enforce a sea embargo of Haitian boat people.

During the 1994 crisis, almost 40,000 Haitian refugees sailed into southern Florida, creating an enormous political firestorm in Washington and Miami.

In the event of a "bloodbath" in the Haitian capital, the French source says the White House is prepared to send the Marines ashore to "protect American interests."

With the departure of Aristide, an international presence backed by the U.S. military is expected by Tuesday.

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