By: Moyiga Nduru
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled a rebel onslaught on Sunday, is searching for a new home — and it appears that he may take up exile in South Africa. Aristide arrived in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), on Monday along with a small entourage that included his wife.
He resigned his post over the weekend to avoid what he called a “bloodbath”, this after months of political tension that began in the western town of Gonaives. The rebels took control of Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, a week ago. As Aristide left under a heavy US marine escort, rebel forces were closing in on the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Reports from Bangui said Aristide had been offered temporary asylum in the CAR, but that he would continue his journey to South Africa after a few days. Morocco and Taiwan have both turned down Aristide’s request for political asylum.
However, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad, told journalists on Monday that Pretoria had not yet received any request for asylum from the former Haitian leader. “Such a request, if received, would have to be approved by cabinet,” he said.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it would oppose any move to shelter Aristide.
“We don’t have any real interest in Haiti,” said Douglas Gibson of the DA on Monday. “The United States, France and all the countries in the Caribbean, which border Haiti, have interests there.”
“What is happening in Haiti is none of our business. We should keep out of it,” Gibson added.
But Pallo Jordan of the ruling African National Congress disagreed.
“In principle, I have no problem granting Aristide political asylum. He is the democratically elected president of Haiti. He is not ‘Papa Doc’ or ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier (the father and son dictators who ruled Haiti before Aristide took power). He might have behaved thuggishly while in office. But so many presidents do that,” he told a news briefing in Johannesburg on Monday.
Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc) died in office in 1971 after naming his 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude (Baby-Doc) Duvalier, as his successor. Following a bloody uprising in 1986, the younger Duvalier fled into exile in France.
“What I gather is that the rebels are supporters of Duvalier. We know the track record of the people who are trying to overthrow Aristide,” Jordan said. “It would have been necessary for the international community to support the elected government in Haiti.”
But, when asked whether he would have endorsed a decision for South Africa to send arms and soldiers to prop up the government of Aristide, Jordan said, “No. I will not support it.”
South Africa’s links with the Caribbean state were strengthened last year when President Thabo Mbeki attended the anniversary celebrations marking 200 years of independence in Haiti. Under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the island became the world’s first independent black republic, following a slave revolt.
Mbeki also donated about R10-million to the impoverished island.
Ronnie Mamoepa, South African foreign affairs spokesperson, urged the international community on Sunday not to allow the rebels to seize power in Port-au-Prince.
“The international community must not allow ‘rebels’, many of whose leaders are notorious criminals responsible for gross human rights violations, to determine the future of Haiti,” he said in a statement.
“The international community must act decisively to arrest the situation from a further decline into lawlessness and disorder, with a view to creating a climate conducive for a dialogue among Haitians to find a lasting resolution to challenges facing their country.”
The 53-nation African Union has also called for a peaceful political settlement in Haiti.
As part of its efforts to restore order, the United States says it will send up to 500 troops to Haiti. France has agreed to deploy 300 soldiers — while Brazil and Canada have indicated that they will also contribute troops to the peace-keeping effort.
The deployment of the troops comes just 10 years after former US President Bill Clinton sent 20 000 marines to restore Aristide to power. The former Haitian leader first became president in December 1990, but was deposed in a military coup the following year.
Heeding a constitutional ban on serving two consecutive terms in office, Aristide left office in 1995, but contested the presidency again in a 2000 poll — which he won under dubious circumstances. The opposition did not recognise the results of this election, something that led to anti-government protests which grew more vocal last year.
The worsening political and economic crises in Haiti prompted the U.S. and former colonial power France to bring pressure on Aristide to resign. — IPS