MIAMI, Nov 27 (Reuters) – A wave of unrest in Haiti has exposed
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s shaky rule and if the situation unravels
further could pose an unwelcome problem for U.S. President George W. Bush.
At a time when Washington’s focus abroad is on its continuing drive
against terrorism and possible war in Iraq, the prospect of turmoil in the
Caribbean and a flow of boat people would be awkward for the United States,
analysts said .
Over the past week, dissatisfaction with Aristide and with a worsening
economy has flared, with thousands of people calling for the president’s
ouster in rallies in several cities across the impoverished Caribbean
nation. Counter-protesters have turned out, and violence has erupted
“The big question is whether Aristide is going to understand that he
has no future,” said Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
“Without massive reform, Haiti is once again headed for kind of chaos that
has intermittently dogged its history.”
Henry Carey, a political science professor at Georgia State
University, said he did not think Aristide’s rule was threatened for the
moment, but added the government had again shown it had to use force to
Eight years after sending in troops to invade Haiti and restore
Aristide to power, U.S. policy on Haiti revolved largely on avoiding avoid
a mass influx of refugees, Carey said. Washington can ensure this as long
as the Coast Guard continues to intercept and repatriate boat people trying
to get to Florida, he said.
“The Bush administration is not going to get involved (in an
intervention) in Haiti,” Carey added.
However, some analysts say the United States would be rattled by a
possible boat people exodus. The Coast Guard, which intercepted some 25,000
Haitians at sea during an exodus in 1994, has a new focus on security after
the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba — used in the past as a
staging post for Haitian boat people — currently serves as a prison for
Taliban and al Qaeda suspects from the Afghan war.
After years of bloody dictatorships, Haiti’s fragile democracy was
barely taking root when Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who had
been elected on a wave of grass-roots support, was ousted in a military
coup just seven months into his first term in 1991.
President Bill Clinton sent in 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994 to reinstate
Aristide. But Washington’s relations with Aristide have soured as critics
contend he has used a heavy hand with political opponents and the country
has failed to hold credible elections.
Some argue the U.S. invasion should have been followed up with more
“nation building” — both to work on reforming the economy and solidifying
“We shouldn’t have just upped and left,” said James Morrell, an
advisor to Aristide while in exile and now head of a policy group called
the Haiti Democracy Project. “We should have stayed to ensure good
institutions were established.”
Morrell said the current situation in Haiti “has the look of the
beginning of the unraveling, but that’s as far as you could go. I don’t see
any evidence Aristide is going to leave or be pushed out.”
Aristide stepped aside as constitutionally mandated in 1996, his place
taken by protege Rene Preval. He was re-elected in 2000 for a second term
that has been marked by a bitter feud with the main political opposition
over the results of parliamentary elections in 2000 and increasing
disillusion among many of the country’s 8 million inhabitants as living
conditions worsen in the poorest country in the Americas.
Foreign donor countries have withheld aid worth hundreds of millions
of dollars because of the stalemate over the elections. Aristide’s
government has blamed this for many of the country’s current woes.
Washington has been strongly critical of Aristide.
“On virtually all fronts, from the timely accounting of its actions
taken with respect to the political violence of last December, to ending
impunity, to disarmament, to reparations, to counternarcotics, to election
security, the government has simply not moved with enough purpose or
effectiveness,” said then-assistant secretary of state for the western
hemisphere Otto Reich in October.
For Lawrence Pezzullo, a retired ambassador who was special envoy to
Haiti under Clinton and is a stern critic of Aristide, the 1994 invasion
showed military action was not a ticket to democracy. He said the
experience could be a lesson for Washington if it is to seek to replace
Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein.
“I don’t think using troops creates democracy,” Pezzullo said. “Before
you go talking about knocking over somebody, you had better think where
you’re going to go with it.”