Originally: Bush seeks fresh start with black leaders

Note by James Morrell, executive director of Haiti Democracy Project, January 25, 2005

The Boston Globe today carried a revealing item, namely that the Congressional Black Caucus met with President Bush only twice during his entire first term.

“The first meeting with the caucus came days after Bush’s first inauguration in January 2001, when the president said it would ‘be the beginning of, hopefully, a lot of meetings.’ But the next one didn’t come until three years later when members of the caucus showed up at the White House to pressure the administration to preserve beleaguered President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s rule in Haiti.” Read entire article.

When one considers the enormous range of issues impacting African-Americans from executive-branch policy, this prioritizing of the Haiti issue, and within it of Aristide, is striking. In 2003 and early 2004, as the Haitian liberation movement of civic organizations, students, and political parties picked up steam, an American caucus representing a tenth of the American population used its one working meeting with the president to intervene for this particular Haitian personality.

Its call to send the Marines to keep Aristide in power would have been a disaster for both Haiti and the United States.

Again the Boston Globe:

Exit polls showed that Bush received just 11 percent of the black vote in November’s election, a slight increase over the 9 percent he received four years earlier . . .

During last year’s political campaigns, Republican officials said they were making a more concerted effort to reach out to blacks through religious leaders. Bush campaign aides cited issues such as school vouchers and the president’s support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that could help him gain more support among blacks.

Bush’s efforts to steer more federal dollars to social programs conducted by so-called faith-based groups also has been received favorably by church leaders.

During 2001-2003, much of the Bush administration’s Haiti policy was impacted, if not dictated, by these sorts of electoral considerations, namely that some fraction of the African-American vote in key swing states might be swayed against it by the Haiti issue.

Haiti’s problems, already made difficult by its own baleful historical legacy, were thus compounded by the internal politics of a superpower. Recovering from the wrong turn with Aristide would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. But when a domestic U.S. caucus prioritized this cause even above the bread-and-butter issues of twenty-six million American citizens, the burden on Haiti became all but insuperable.

The larger fault here was not the Congressional Black Caucus’s, it was with much of the liberal and left community which failed to ascertain the facts in Haiti and react accordingly. Leading Democratic senators such as Chris Dodd and Tom Harkin also called for dispatch of the Marines to save Aristide.

All the more impressive, then, the Haitians’ success in liberating themselves in 2004, the two-hundredth anniversary of their original liberation.