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Aristide Leaves…The Challenges Mount

February 2004

Jean-Bertrand Aristide is no longer the issue in Haiti. Under intense international pressure and threat of a rebel attack on the capital, Aristide left Haiti today. While many will celebrate his departure, the failure of the Aristide experiment cannot be cause for celebration for any supporter of the Haitian people. There will be ample time to debate his legacy, but now is not that time.

Many observers have noted that the possibility of even greater violence is very real now in the presence of a power vacuum that many will move to fill. That the armed rebels have not yet consolidated control over the entire country is positive from this perspective. It is now the responsibility of the U.S. and the international community, in general, to do whatever they can to support the formation of a stable transitional government leading to new elections as soon as possible.

As Grassroots International, we will make every effort to step up our support for those social organizations that we have been supporting since 1991.

In that context, several principles bear mention:

1. Notwithstanding its obvious limitations, the United Nations is an appropriate mechanism for international support for a stable transition in Haiti. The UN Security Council should move quickly to take action to avoid the very real potential for increased violence. US direct military intervention has never been a force for democracy in Haiti, and it will not become one in this instance.

2. The United States should fully recognize all conventions around the rights of individuals seeking political asylum in a situation in which they fear persecution in their own country. The practice of intercepting asylum seekers at sea and returning them to their country is not in accordance with international law. One hopes that Haiti’s transition will be such that the flow of asylum seekers will not dramatically increase. The US should observe international conventions regarding refugees, in any case.

3. Economic aid will be an important aspect of a stable transition in Haiti, but such aid must be given from a perspective of re-activating the Haitian economy rather than undermining and distorting it through massive amounts of food aid distributed without regard for the impact on local production and markets. International actors should reconsider economic conditionalities on aid to Haiti. They should end pressure on Haiti to continue to open its markets and limit social expenditures by the state.

4. This is an historic moment for that broad sector of Haitian civil society actors that has worked for the departure of Aristide, but does not support the armed rebel forces now in control of key population areas. Those civil society actors are a key force for economic stabilization and democratization in Haiti and will require the moral, political and financial support of the international community to carry out their role.

5. All international supporters of democracy in Haiti must put behind us differences in approach to the Aristide presidency and work together to support those in Haiti working for democracy and progress. The international human rights community agrees with Haitian social organizations that neither the armed groups that supported the president nor those that opposed him are likely to make a positive contribution in post-Aristide Haiti. We must support efforts to make those groups only passing echoes of the country’s past, rather than harbingers of a painful future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The next post on the Weblog is a follow-up on Nisrin Elamin’s trip to the Word Social Forum. The Haiti series continues below.

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