Aristide's Fall: The Undemocratic
U.S. Policy in Haiti
Interview by IRC's Policy Director
Tom Barry with Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti Program at
Trinity College in Washington, DC., February 27, 2004
Interhemispheric Resource Center
What should be U.S. policy with respect
to Jean-Bertrand Aristide's future as Haiti's president?
I strongly believe that U.S. policy should
support a government that won power in a legitimate election and
which is recognized as a democracy throughout the hemisphere.
Mr. Aristide should be permitted to finish his five-year term.
Washington should strongly declare its support for this democratically
elected president, and should not be equivocating about this.
But the Bush administration has been equivocating.
It took some time for the Bush administration
to state that it recognized Aristide as the legitimate president
of Haiti. It adopted this position because it feared that Aristide
might be cooking the books, changing the law so that he could
run for another term. The Haitian constitution permits two terms
but only if they are nonconsecutive. So, the Bush administration
decided to back Aristide, but in doing so warned him that he had
only his five-year term, not a day longer.
Recently, the whole calculus has changed.
Aristide supporters hold up one hand, with their fingers extended,
and say "Five Years." No longer is there any talk about
Aristide continuing beyond five years. But as the calculus has
changed, the administration's recognition of the legitimacy of
that five-year term has also changed.
What is the role of the political aid
programs of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the political
process in Haiti?
NED and USAID are important, but actually
the main actor is the International Republican Institute on International
Affairs (IRI), which has been very active in Haiti for many years
but particularly in the past three years. IRI has been working
with the opposition groups. IRI insisted, through the administration,
that USAID give it funding for its work in Haiti . And USAID has
done so--but kicking and screaming all the way. IRI has worked
exclusively with the Democratic Convergence groups in its party-building
exercises and support.
The IRI point person is Stanley Lucas,
who historically has had close ties with the Haitian military.
All of the IRI-sponsored meetings with the opposition have occurred
outside Haiti, either in the DR or in the United States. The IRI
ran afoul of Aristide right from the beginning since it has only
worked with opposition groups that have challenged legitimacy
of the Aristide government.
Mr. Lucas is a lightning rod of the IRI
in Haiti. The U.S. could not have chosen a more problematic character
through which to channel its aid.
Recently, NED has apparently distanced
itself from the IRI's programs in Haiti.
CIPE [Center for International Private
Enterprise] is involved in Haiti, and worked with the De Soto
development groups, among other groups.
To what degree is U.S. policy responsible
for the current situation?
First, it should be recognized that there
has been a lot of miscalculation, bad judgment by Aristide, who
is in many ways his own worst enemy. But on the other hand, he
has faced a chorus of criticism from the U.S. and a lack of cooperation--and
stridently so, both from Washington and the political opposition.
We should remember that from the first
day of Aristide's term, the opposition set up a provisional government.
My own observation then was that things in Haiti had changed.
This never would have been permitted before. It was a sign that
Haiti seemed to be becoming a more tolerant place.
One of the major voices of the administration
has been Roger Noriega, who has always talked at the Aristide
government not with it--constantly disparaging and criticizing
Haiti in the OAS. Noriega has always refused to comment on the
work of the IRI in Haiti .
This is not a U.S.-led coup. But if you
ask who's to blame and what led up to this, then you need to cast
blame on the Bush administration for its failed policy, for its
It has not been very constructive. Policy
has been run by subordinates like Noriega. When you engage, you
have much more influence than when you disengage, as the U.S.
has during the Bush administration.
What about France, which first called
for Aristide to step aside?
France was never enamored with Aristide,
mainly because France has always followed the lead of the Socialist
International representative--a member of the political elite
in Haiti--who is very anti-Aristide. Over the last year Aristide
has made a big issue of reparations from France, which upon Haiti's
independence demanded and got 150 million francs from the new
government to gain France's recognition. Aristide has said that
this should be returned by France with interest--some 21 billion
francs. Aristide did this as part of the run-up to the bicentennial.
This really tweaked the French in the wrong way, and they wanted
Aristide gone, as an annoyance. The French government sent Regis
DeBray to meet with Aristide--hoping to talk him to death on the
issue. Basically, France wanted to get rid of Aristide.
Why do popular organizations seem to want
Aristide to resign as president?
There are two main sectors known as popular
First, there are the so-called popular
organizations that are neither popular nor organized. These are
basically urban youth and street gangs. It has long been the practice
in Haiti to win their support through political bidding. Aristide
felt compelled to do the same, which was one of his main mistakes.
He fell into the pattern, when he could have broken with it. For
them, politics means access to resources and power. The gang leaders--the
chimeres--would have loved a job, but there were no jobs because
Aristide was put under sanctions, and ostracized from international
aid and support after the flawed parliamentary election of May
2000. Aristide was forced to manage scarcity, and managing scarcity
means managing the powers that be. When you depend on street gangs
for hire, allegiance can shift easily, as it has in the past several
months. One reason for the shift last year was that Aristide was
pressured by the U.S. to go after the drug leaders and rein in
the street gangs. This happened after a September 19 meeting with
the U.S. ambassador in which the U.S. put new pressure on. Gangs
felt betrayed at the hands of the government.
Then, there are the peasant organizations.
They became disaffected for two reasons. One, the Lavalas or their
underlings often turned to intimidation as part of this effort
to manage scarcity, particularly in rural areas. The second reason
is the Aristide government's inability to deliver projects and
jobs. It faced sanctions, with no resources. But there was hope
that this was beginning to change late last year when IDB [Interamerican
Development Bank] and World Bank signaled that they would renew
aid. The government was on the verge of getting money, which would
have fortified Aristide because of the ability to provide jobs
and projects. You could argue that's why things suddenly got hot.
Opposition wanted to get rid of Aristide before this happened.
The opposition was scared to death of foreign aid, which would
have resulted in renewed support for Aristide. His popularity
would have spiked enormously.