By the time you read this column, Haiti will likely have vanished once again from the front page of your local newspaper. And the Bush administration hopes it stays that way.
For four months after Jean-Bertrand Aristide - the first democratically elected president of Haiti - was ousted in a military coup d'etat on September 29, 1991, this poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere received sparse coverage in most national media. But that changed dramatically on January 31, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted (in a 6-3 vote) a lower court's injunction against forced repatriation of Haitian refugees.
Haitians started fleeing in droves after the return of military dictatorship in their country - nearly 15,000 in the four months after the coup, compared with the 1,334 who fled during the eight months that Aristide was in office.
There is no doubt that the deteriorating human rights situation inside Haiti since the coup contributed to the exodus. More than 1,500 people have been killed in a systematic campaign of political repression since the coup, according to international human rights observers, including Amnesty International. Yet U.S. officials have steadfastly maintained that most Haitian refugees do not present a "well-founded fear of persecution" - the international standard for political asylum.
When U.S. authorities began forcibly returning Haitian boat refugees in mid-November, refugee and human rights advocates took their case to the courts and eventually secured the injunction. Thousands of Haitians were left in limbo at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba - until the repatriation ban was lifted by the Supreme Court.
As Sojourners went to press, hundreds of Haitians were being forcibly returned each day, despite a loud outcry of opposition from a growing coalition of church leaders, human rights observers, and refugee advocates.