I had the privilege of visiting Haiti in July 1991. I was inspired by and amazed at the fresh sense of empowerment and pride in the budding democracy of the "new Haiti." A 60-year-old woman, a street vendor for more than 40 years, told us: "I am still poor, but, with Aristide, the police don't beat us up."
The illegal military coup in Haiti threatens a fragile democracy and the freedoms won after three decades of struggle against dictators who terrorized with violence and promoted the systemic violence of poverty. The coup leaders represent a return to the reign of terror.
European and U.S. citizens in Haiti have reported massacres in the worst slum of Port-au-Prince. One saw the army load up trucks of corpses and cart them away to be burned. Others report random shooting by the military of anyone on the streets. The only vehicles seen on the streets during the first days of the coup brandished flags of the Tontons Macoute, the brutal Haitian death squads.
If there were any doubts of the illegitimacy of the coup, they were dispelled as the military stormed the legislative building and forced the Haitian congress at gunpoint to appoint an interim president. The world watched as the diplomatic mission from the Organization of American States was evicted from Haiti by armed soldiers.
The U.S. government, originally very supportive of restoring President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, now appears to be distancing itself from him. Images of President Bush sitting on the same couch as Aristide have been replaced by vague references from Marlin Fitzwater that favoring a restoration of democracy does not mean restoring a particular individual.