Haiti’s bishops urge Aristide to fix problems or resign as president
By Catholic News Service
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNS) — Haiti’s bishops have suggested that President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide step down voluntarily, reduce his term of office
significantly, or carry out serious reforms to restore public confidence in
“You are at a rendezvous with history. Rise to the importance of your
mission,” the bishops told Aristide, a former Salesian priest.
Amid mounting pressure, some of which has come from sectors previously loyal
to Aristide, the president announced in a speech in the southern city of Les
Cayes that he intended to complete his five-year term, which ends in 2005.
In their Dec. 2 statement, the bishops used the image of a ship at sea to
describe the serious political and humanitarian crisis that has almost bled
dry the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere.
Alluding to an imminent shipwreck, and even to the possibility of a
“fratricidal civil war,” the bishops wrote, “Let us all join forces within
the ship, not to destroy it, but rather to save it.”
The bishops urged Haitians to “focus not on one man, but rather on the
entire nation,” in reference to Aristide’s charismatic personality, which
has won him the support of the poor majority of the Caribbean nation’s 7
However, the bishops also warned the opposition to resist the temptation to
destabilize the country even further.
“To throw out the captain of the ship is at the same time to expose all
those on board to the unfortunate consequences of one accident followed by
another,” they said, adding that opposition parties must propose
alternatives and consolidate the country’s weakened institutions, especially
the urgently needed Electoral Council.
Any transfer of power must be made in a peaceful and constitutional way, the
Their statement was issued as the Caribbean nation again hit headlines with
scenes of unrest in the streets as groups loyal to Aristide’s government
clashed with opposition groups.
In mid-November, 15,000 opposition supporters led by a former army officer
marched against the government in the northern city of Cap-Haitien; 48 hours
later, the streets of Port-au-Prince were blocked with burning tire
barricades, erected by Aristide supporters.
The crisis in Haiti has gradually worsened since a flawed vote count in the
May 2000 legislative elections and the government’s failure to correct it
resulted in the freezing of international aid worth $500 million. Since
then, the value of the local currency has decreased dramatically, and
inflation is running at more than 20 percent.
In a Nov. 22 meeting with the new Haitian ambassador to the Vatican, Pope
John Paul II urged the Haitian government to lead the country out of
“unbearable” poverty by extending social services to rural areas, respecting
democratic institutions and protecting the legal rights of the poor.
The Organization of American States attempted to broker a resolution to the
crisis last September with its Resolution 822, which urged the international
community to restore much-needed humanitarian aid, but on the condition that
the government disarm gangs and form a new Electoral Council. Compliance
with the former condition has been sporadic, and the government failed to
meet the latter condition by the required early November deadline.