Originally: In End, a Figure of Unity Falls Alone
WASHINGTON — He was supposed to be the Nelson Mandela of the Caribbean. Many Haitians cried with joy when US troops returned him to power in 1994 after a military coup. But as negotiations with American officials dragged into the night on Saturday and Haiti unraveled in a frenzy of violence, Jean-Bertrand Aristide stood virtually alone, abandoned by his allies.
By dawn yesterday, Aristide had signed a letter of resignation and was escorted by US Marines to a plane that whisked him away to an undisclosed foreign location.
“He realized that his isolation was increasing and it was in his best interest and in Haiti’s best interest that he leave,” said a US official.
Three weeks into a rebellion that had unleashed looters and anarchy on the streets, rumors began to circulate among Haiti’s democratic opposition at about 7:30 on Saturday night that the American and French ambassadors had asked to meet with Aristide and were trying to negotiate his exit. Word spread that a plane or two had landed and that the lights were on at the airport, which had been closed two days earlier.
Around that time, Ira Kurzban, Aristide’s Miami-based lawyer, called his home but was told that Aristide was too busy to speak to him. White House spokesman Scott McClellan had just issued a blistering statement against Aristide, blaming him for the violence that was enveloping the country.
At one point in the evening, the American security company hired to protect Aristide told him they could not be responsible for his safety, according to a close Aristide associate.
Between the early evening — when Aristide first indicated his willingness to step down — and sunrise, US Secretary of State Colin Powell made 38 phone calls to negotiate Aristide’s departure, a US official said.
Just a week ago, US officials, along with an international delegation, obtained an agreement with Aristide that would have kept him in the presidency until his term ends in 2006 but forced him to appoint a prime minister from the opposition. But the opposition refused to accept the deal.
“What tipped the balance was we saw Aristide was using people loyal to him to incite violence and stay in power,” said the US official.
Aristide’s departure to a secret location — so soon after vowing on state television to serve out his term — prompted rumors that he was forced to leave.
“This was negotiations with a gun to his head. They obviously said, `We’re not going to protect you. They are going to come in and kill you,’ ” said Kurzban. “The US officials have given so many inconsistent stories about where the president was going to go that it raises questions about whether he’s alive, the circumstances under which he was taken out of his home, and whether or not any of this was done voluntarily.”
His departure brought a disillusioned end to an era of unbridled hope for Haiti.
“It’s the collapse of the revolution that was won when we put him in power,” said Clotilde Charlot, a Washington-based Haitian activist who worked closely with Aristide trying to restore him after the 1991 coup, but later devoted even more years lobbying for his departure. “That guy had so much support nationally, internationally. It could have been such a beautiful story.”
Although his presidency unraveled in the span of 24 hours, his support has been eroding for years. And perhaps the most striking aspect of his departure was how many of those celebrating it, such as Charlot, had once been his supporters. Many of the rebel fighters who had taken control of more than half the country had once been among his fiercest backers. Many of the democratic opposition leaders who were demanding that he leave office had once been among his most trusted aides.
One by one, those who helped bring Aristide to power have fallen away, into exile or into the opposition. Evans Paul, now a key figure in the democratic opposition, was once an adviser to Aristide whose ribs were broken by thugs in the early 1990s for supporting Aristide’s return to the presidency. Robert Manuel, who was in charge of Aristide’s security and who later was appointed to oversee the reform of the country’s corrupt police force, fled the country in 1999 after his life was threatened for trying to carry out those reforms. Leon Manus, the retired lawyer appointed to oversee Haiti’s elections, fled in 2000 — to Nashua, N.H. — when his life was threatened for refusing to certify false election results.
Even Rene Preval, onetime prime minister and president of Haiti who was so loyal to Aristide that he was called “the twin,” became disillusioned with the regime when a good friend, an outspoken journalist, was murdered in 2000. Preval was shocked and called the assassination an “act of state,” according to James Morrell, executive director of Haiti Democracy Project, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington. Morrell, himself a onetime adviser of Aristide, now supports the democratic opposition.
Michael D. Barnes, a former US representative from Maryland who helped negotiate the agreement that returned Aristide to power, was so close to Aristide that newspapers at the time called him the de facto foreign affairs minister of Haiti. He attended Aristide’s wedding to a Haitian-American lawyer on the team working to restore his presidency. Barnes stopped speaking to his former friend a few years ago because of disappointment.
“The most amazing day of my life was the day we went back to Haiti with him, and literally millions of people dancing and celebrating in the streets,” Barnes said in a recent interview. “I cried many times that day. The hopes were so high. . . . It is an absolute nightmare to see now what is going on.”
Farah Stockman can be reached at email@example.com