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Duvalier, Aristide and the Crisis in Haiti - The African World - By Bill Fletcher, Jr. - Editorial Board

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Is it me or are events in Haiti taking a bizarre turn?

The arrival of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier defied the expectations of probably every observer of Haitian politics and history. This notorious monster who, along with his father “Papa Doc” Duvalier, presided over the rape of Haiti and the murder of thousands, returned to Haiti allegedly to help the people in their time of need.

There are many things about this turn of events that make it Twilight Zone-ish but one thing in particular struck me. How is it possible that an undisputed despot who was overthrown by the Haitian people has been permitted to return to Haiti from exile whereas the democratically elected president of Haiti, overthrown in a coup that had the blessing of the USA - but not the blessing of the Haitian people - has been refused reentry?

The answer to this question rests in the USA and France, rather than Haiti. The answer, also, presents a challenge, if not embarrassment, for the Obama administration. The evidence revealed this week demonstrates that Duvalier did not just appear unannounced in Haiti. He had the permission of France. This is of critical importance, given the collaboration between France and the USA in 2003/2004 in the overthrow Aristide. French antipathy to Aristide reached a crescendo when, in 2003, Aristide demanded that France repay Haiti for the millions extorted by France between the late 1820s and 1947. US antipathy towards Aristide went back to when he was first elected in 1990 under a progressive populist platform.

There never has been any French or US antipathy towards Duvalier. He was a good ally for both countries, irrespective of his crimes against the Haitian people.

So, while Duvalier was able, with French and, apparently US permission, to return to Haiti, President Aristide remains stuck in South Africa. He has no passport and no one can or will explain why he has been unable to return to his homeland. This past week Aristide issued a statement - printed in - clarifying his explicit desire to return to Haiti. There has, as yet, been no official response.

Supporters of democracy and national sovereignty for Haiti were not surprised when President George W. Bush permitted - or encouraged - the overthrow of President Jean Bertrand Aristide. What has been perplexing for many is why President Obama has done absolutely nothing to return President Aristide to his homeland.

The Obama administration’s attitude and actions toward Haiti are reminiscent of its approach towards the Honduran coup in 2009. When the democratically elected president of Honduras was overthrown, the Obama administration mouthed opposition to the coup, yet took no steps to frustrate, if not oust the “coup people.” In fact, the Obama administration permitted the “coup people” to solidify their control over the country. It has wanted everyone to forget that there was a democratically elected president of Honduras named Manual Zelaya.

Watching the inaction of the Obama administration in the face of the Duvalier embarrassment should remind us that what has been unfolding in Washington, DC has nothing to do with the personal feelings of President Obama. His feelings actually do not matter. What matters are his actions. His administration, instead of breaking with the past practice of the USA vis-ŕ-vis Haiti, continues the subordination of Haiti and the undermining of its efforts towards genuine democracy. The holding of a fraudulent election without the participation of the largest political party in Haiti - Aristide’s Famni Lavalas - is directly linked with the continued, silent exiling of President Aristide.

Now is the time to speak up in the face of this travesty. There are actually two demands. The first is that Duvalier should be jailed. In fact, he should never see the light of day again. His crimes are nearly indescribable. The notion that he has any popular support should be analogized with the popular support that Hitler and Mussolini had at the end of their lives: the support should not count and should not be counted.

On the other hand, the democratically elected president of Haiti must be permitted to return to Haiti immediately and with dignity. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus should demand that the Obama administration take immediate steps to make this so, and Black America should insist that both caucuses not remain silent or neutral on this matter.

Enough is enough! Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum and co-author of, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.

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Jan 27, 2011 - Issue 411
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