Aristide's ouster, African lessons.

Author:Brath, Elombe
Position:Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide - Cover Story

The African Union (AU) and the government of South Africa have added their voice to the demand by the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) for a UN investigation into the ouster of the Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "Aristide's removal from power is unconstitutional", said the AU. "It has serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over," added the South African government. But what can Africa learn from the Aristide saga? Elombe Brath in New York tells why Aristide was crushed.


The controversy over whether Jean-Bertrand Aristide left his post voluntarily or was "politically abducted" by the Americans (which they vehemently deny) reminds one of the statement attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte (sometime between 1769 and 1821): "It is not necessary to bury the truth. It is sufficient merely to delay it until nobody cares."

Napoleon was right. One does not have to bury the truth providing they can delay it from being discovered until nobody cares. This is especially true if the topic to be remembered has something to do with African people struggling to be free.

Napoleon didn't have to bury the truth; it was buried for him when information concerning his defeat in Haiti or Ayiti (or its colonial name, Saint-Domingue) was merely delayed until nobody seemed to care.

To make sure that Haiti's legacy is neither buried nor forgotten, it is important to erase the stain that France and the US, two of Haiti's major nemeses, defiled a cherished part of African history when they forcibly removed Aristide from not only his office but the land of his birth.

February 29, 2004, has now become an important date in Haitian history, but it is one of shame not glory. That it happened during the ongoing bicentennial celebrations when Haiti, although in the midst of an internal crisis, was still basking in the limelight of world acclaim for reaching its historic 200th anniversary, only to have its standards and banners torn down by France and the USA, is a very disturbing thing indeed.


In a certain sense, Aristide was probably lucky. The Haitian people have, unfortunately, established a pattern of giving their leaders rude treatment when they perceive things are not going well.

Aristide was overthrown twice in a nation that has now recorded 33 coups in two centuries. But, at least, he escaped with his life. He did not suffer the fate that befell the triumvirate of Haiti's revolutionary heroes: Toussaint L'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe.

Yet early in the Haitian struggle for independence, even though L'Ouverture had led them for years in wars against France, Spain and Britain combined, the Haitian people failed to protect him from being betrayed, kidnapped and imprisoned in France where he tragically starved to death one year before Haiti's independence. The Haitians did the same to Dessalines. A mob viciously assassinated him two years after he delivered to them a formidable independent state that sent shivers down the spines of the neighbouring slave-masters. And five years later, a rebellion among Haitians drove Henri Christophe to commit suicide, else he too might have been murdered. Today, all three men are venerated as Haiti's national heroes, their statues stand proudly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

As Selden Rodman writes in his standard guide to Haiti's history, Haiti: The Black Republic, Haitians blew up President Leconte in the National Palace in 1912, poisoned President Auguste in 1913, deposed Presidents Oreste, Zamor and Theodore in 1914 during a burst of short-lived revolutions, and tore President V. G. Sam to pieces in the town square on 18 July 1915.

This pattern of erratic government instability gave the US the excuse it needed to invade Haiti in 1915, invoking its Monroe Doctrine allegedly to stave off anxious European bankers from directly intervening themselves to collect debts they claimed the Haitian government owed them. This US intervention evolved into a 19-year occupation that left devastating consequences which practically mortgaged Haiti's future to foreign powers and economic underdevelopment, laying the foundation of the country's problems of instability today.

Another US socio-political legacy emanating from the 1915-34 occupation that would impact negatively on Haiti's civil society, was the establishment of a privileged mulatto elite in powerful positions, intensifying an old problem that had caused severe conflicts in the country.

Regarding the recent events, examining what occurred can be instructive to not only Haitians but to other people, particularly those in Africa. In spite of...

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