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 US involvement.

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/ June 2005

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