Regime Change in Haiti

The violent overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in late February should be cause of great concern-not because Aristide was any longer a friend of the poor or a bright shining hope for the people of Haiti. His own arrogant, corrupt, and autocratic ways had pushed him to the brink. But that's not why the Bush administration was happy to push him the rest of the way over the edge.

U.S. forces may not have literally "kidnapped" Aristide and forced him to leave the country at gunpoint, as he claimed. But "call it what you will. The fact is the administration did nothing to save democracy in Haiti," Rep. William D. Delahunt told The Washington Post. And in that, U.S. authorities sent a "dangerous and irresponsible" message to the region that "this administration will not stand up for a democratically elected head of state they do not like," argued Rep. Robert Menendez.

The coup in Haiti, the world's first black independent state, may have been more artfully engineered than the regime change in Iraq, but the Bush team's fingerprints are equally all over it. You don't even have to follow the money. Many of those responsible for Aristide's overthrow have blood splashed all across their résumés, back to the death squads of the 1980s and '90s and the brutal, U.S. backed dictatorships of Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier.

That history goes a long way to explaining Aristide's failure to solidify democracy or bring about economic development. Even if Aristide had had the stature and moral rectitude of a Nelson Mandela, success would still have been unlikely, given what he faced-U.S. financial and political support for an armed, unprincipled opposition; economic sanctions; a curtailment of much-needed humanitarian aid. It's not hard for an economic behemoth like the United States to ruin the economy of the hemisphere's poorest country.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2004
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