Aristide, a leading voice for Haiti’s poor majority

Then Jean-Bertrand Aristide came on the national stage. An educated former priest who was born into poverty, managed to inspire the people to participate in building a new democracy in Haiti. As a priest, Aristide began to recruit youths to attend church, so he organized weekly youth masses. In 1986, he founded an orphanage for urban street children called ‘Lafanmi Selavi’ or ‘Family is Life’.

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Aristide became a leading voice for Haiti’s poor majority and in 1990 announced his candidacy for the presidency. In a six-week campaign with his supporters forming a political party called the ‘Front National pour le Changement et la Démocratie’ or the ‘National Front for Change and Democracy’ (FNCD), Aristide was successful and was elected President with 67% of the Haitian vote defeating US-approved candidate Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official.
But just a few months after he had assumed the presidency, Aristide was overthrown by a coup d’etat hatched by the military officers on 29th September, 1991; he was sent into exile. First he lived in Venezuela and then went on to the United States. According to some observers the main reason behind the coup against Aristide was his strong opposition to drug smuggling and to neo-liberal policies. A few years later, Clinton was elected President of the United States. He promised the return of Aristide with a plan to re-introduce neoliberal policies that Aristide opposed. Under US and international pressure, along with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 940 on 31 July 1994, the military regime in power agreed to step-down as US troops were deployed to Haiti under Clinton’ s order. So on 15 October 1994, the Clinton administration permitted Aristide to return to Haiti to complete his term in office, but under the conditions that he would adopt the economic program of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) .

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Aristide had to accept the terms and returned to Haiti with 20,000 US troops on stand-by for the transition. He remained in power until 1996 when René Préval won the presidential election. Aristide was re-elected in 2000 and resumed his presidency in 2001. Then in February 2004, a new coup forced him out of public office once again and he was sent to exile in South Africa.
It is evident that Aristide was removed from power for several geo-politic, strategic and economic reasons. He, in fact, although initially he accepted the IMF conditions, later refused to privatize State owned enterprises, and what was even worse in the eyes of Washington, he tried to shift the geopolitical centre of gravity not only to the south, weaving a web of relationships with Chavez and Castro’ s governments, but beyond the continent. Aristide, in fact tried to build ties with emerging powers, the economic partnership with India (considered a real economic threat by the US establishment) was an example of his foreign and economic policy that pointed out the transition that was taking place in that crucial moment, from US-led monopolarism to multipolarism.

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A leader country in the ‘Asian low cost production’ such as India, getting in the USA’ s way, was considered as a threat by Washington. All actions taken by Aristide were, in fact, designed to regain Haitian sovereignty and political independence, starting from the protection and strengthening of the major national strategic sectors and trying to safeguard and promote the interests of small farmers crushed by the competition with U.S. agribusiness company.
Following the coup, on 29 February 2004, having determined that the situation in Haiti constituted a threat to international peace and security, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1529 authorizing the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) and declaring the Council’s readiness to establish a follow-on United Nations stabilization force to support continuation of a peaceful and constitutional political process and the maintenance of a secure and stable environment. On 30 April 2004, acting on the recommendations of the Secretary-General, the Security Council adopted resolution 1542 of 30 April 2004, establishing the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), which took over from the MIF on 1 June 2004. MINUSTAH was set up to assist with the restoration and maintenance of law, public safety and public order in Haiti; to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence; to support the constitutional and political processes.

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The Mission was authorized to include approximately 7,000 military personnel, the military staff came from 19 countries, mainly Latin American (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, United States, Philippines, France, Guatemala, Jordan, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, Sri Lanka and Uruguay). The U.S., though still committed, reduced its contribution to the Mission, since it was currently involved in several other battlefronts.
After the 2004 coup, two presidents took office in Haiti, René Préval (2006-2011) and current President Michel Martelly. (F.R.)


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