PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki has an uncanny knack of dabbling with what is taboo, and then trying to give it respectability to suit his often inexplicable agendas.

To be sure, if a constituency that Mbeki does not like condemns someone, that person automatically becomes sanctified in his eyes. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the new Minster of Environment and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, are two good examples of this.

Very much in the same mould, is his welcome to our shores of a much-despised dictator, former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is hardly in our best interests to make SA a safe haven for this despot.

But why does Mbeki do so? Why does he risk international disdain for foreign “policies” that make no sense?

Kader Asmal’s argument (Sun day Independent, May 23) along with many other mindless editorials, that Aristide should get refugee status as someone driven out of his country, holds no water. Presenting Aristide as a victim of foreign unilateral interventions, and a symbol of resistance thereof, is a load of hogwash in the guise of rational argument.

Here is the truth about Aristide according to the Haitian Democracy Project and my own friends from Haiti:

Although Aristide was elected democratically as president in November 2000, the opposition boycotted the election for several reasons. Only 10% of eligible voters turned out to vote, in reaction to the growing authoritarianism and corruption of his government. The chimeres who operate much like Mugabe’s war veterans ruthlessly crushed Haitian dissent, with the support of Aristide’s government.

These marauding gangs, assisted by national police, and armed with pistols, clubs, whips, rocks and bottles went into State University, attacked the rector with iron bars, breaking his legs and wounding 30 students before setting the university on fire.

Under Aristide’s rule, Haiti became isolated from the world community through suspension of grants, loans and aid. Transparency International says Haiti is considered one of the most corrupt countries, surpassed only by Bangladesh and Nigeria.

People such as “the priests and laypersons of the liberation theology wing of the Haitian church, the network of grassroots organisations, peasant co-operatives and labour unions, and every single Haitian intellectual or artist of note” who all formerly supported Aristide’s rise to the presidency, now denounce him vehemently.

It is alleged that Aristide’s inner circle had drug connections with the Haitian national police, turning Haiti into a drug state comparable with Colombia.

It was against this background that Mbeki, one of only a few world leaders, decided to join Haiti in its 200th year celebrations. Ahead of him went the Drakensberg a South African naval ship, equipped with two helicopters, armoured vehicles, 133 military personnel to the besieged city of Gonaives where Haiti’s independence was declared 200 years ago.

During police raids in the city, more than 36 people were brutally murdered, and 85 wounded.

Knowing what we endured to gain our freedom fighting racist police and Casspirs Haitians could not believe Mbeki planned a visit to support their despised autocratic ruler, who respected neither human rights nor the rule of law.

Why would Mbeki, asked my friend, tarnish SA’s years of struggle for democracy by participating in festivities contested and vehemently opposed by Haitians themselves? Why did our helicopters, as reported by the local news, station themselves in Gonaives and unload South African soldiers who immediately took up combat positions?

When Mbeki knows he is wrong he finds ways to legitimise the wrong not least the R10m spent on the visit to Haiti and the millions that will be spent on Aristide’s stay here.

Knowing he will get the support from his cabinet and the majority in the National Assembly, no matter what, he invokes the language of racial oppression to justify his moves. He knows there is enough international guilt about colonialism and racial oppression about that will let him off the hook.

He also knows there are enough spin-doctors in the media and crackpot political analysts prepared to attribute noble motives to his bizarre actions. Not so, the 100 foreign ambassadors who refused to submit to Mbeki’s command to welcome Aristide.

And so the lies about Aristide will continue. Mrs Mbeki may accompany him to church amid great fanfare to make this unholy debacle more palatable, but let me remind readers Aristide left behind an almost irreparable mess, while he will enjoy the fat of our land at our expense.

Ger ard Latortue, the current Haitian leader, inherited a devastated country.

Kadalie is a human rights activist based in Cape Town.