Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s arrival in Jamaica this week, two weeks after he was kidnapped in Port-au-Prince and flown to the Central African Republic in a U.S.-engineered coup, has infuriated the Bush administration and Haiti’s wealthy elite. It has also buoyed the spirits of Aristide’s supporters.
“I am the elected president and I remain the elected president,” Aristide said a few days before his return to the region. “The fact is, there was a political abduction. This unfortunately paved the way for occupation and we launch an appeal for peaceful resistance.”
Aristide was accompanied on his chartered flight to Jamaica by his wife, Madame Mildred Aristide, and by a handful of others, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson, and Amy Goodman, host of the radio program “Democracy Now!” where the story of Aristide’s abduction first came to light.
Shortly before the Haitian president’s return to the Caribbean, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that he hoped “that he (Aristide) will not come back into this hemisphere and complicate the situation.”
Haiti’s newly-installed prime minister, Gerard Latortue, railed against Aristide’s return to the region, saying that it threatens a “fragile stability.” Speaking of Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s decision to let Aristide stay in his country for up to 10 weeks, Latortue said, “It’s very unfriendly on the part of Jamaica. We cannot accept this.”
He immediately withdrew Haiti’s ambassador to Jamaica in protest and said that he was suspending his country’s membership in the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), which Patterson currently heads.
Latortue, 69, an international business consultant and veteran diplomat living in Miami, was installed in office by a “Council of Sages” that was hastily set up by the U.S. occupation authorities. Like the newly-appointed president, Boniface Alexandre, Latortue lacks any legitimacy or constitutional approval. He replaces Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, a member of Aristide’s Lavalas movement, who has been the target of physical attacks and whose house was ransacked.
Meanwhile U.S. troops have been clashing daily with Aristide supporters, particularly in Port-au-Prince’s poorer neighborhoods, where support for the ousted president is strong. The U.S. heads a 2,650-member force that includes limited numbers of French, Canadian, and Chilean troops. The force is planned to grow to 5,000.
U.S. Marines have been shouting English-language commands at Creole- and French-speaking Haitians as they patrol the capital’s neighborhoods. They have killed at least six people and fought several battles with forces loyal to the democratically elected president.
Scores of Aristide supporters have been killed by right-wing vigilantes and paramilitary gangs, some under the command of the U.S.-trained former police official Guy Philippe. Philippe, who had announced plans to disarm his supporters and to leave the capital, appears to have done neither and continues to terrorize Lavalas supporters with impunity.
Union members at a Codevi plant in a “free trade zone” were attacked by armed “rebel soldiers” when they protested the firing of 34 workers on March 3. Several workers were roughed up, handcuffed, and forced back into the plant, according to a labor organizing group, Batay Ouvriye. The plant, near the border with the Dominican Republic, manufactures Levi Strauss jeans.
Supporters of President Aristide have courageously organized several marches calling for his restoration to office and an end to the U.S. occupation. A demonstration on March 11, conservatively estimated at 2,000 people, was attacked by police with tear gas and live ammunition. At least two people died and more were injured.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a brief stopover in the Haitian capital last week on his way back from a Latin American trip, long enough to threaten any who would resist the U.S. occupation by force. “The multilateral force will not tolerate violence against (itself),” he told reporters.
Calls continue to mount for a full investigation of the role of the Bush administration in deposing President Aristide. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who co-chairs the Haiti Task Force of the Congressional Black Caucus, has introduced the TRUTH (The Responsibility to Uncover the Truth About Haiti) Act, H.R. 3919. The bill calls for an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the Bush administration’s involvement in the coup d’etat. It is co-sponsored by task force co-chair Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and 23 others.
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