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Haiti After Aristide

CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.

In the decade following the last American intervention there, American taxpayers poured more than $800 million into Haiti. What they got in return, it now turns out, is another trip to the starting line.

In 1994, the generals who had assumed power by coup d'etat were convinced it was time to go by a high-powered delegation from Washington including former President Carter, former Sen. Sam Nunn and a former Army general by the name of Colin Powell, then in the private sector.

The leaders of the Haitian coup fled, U.S. troops landed in Haiti and brought security to the country as the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was restored to power.

But ten years of Aristide's rule, it now appears, merely repeated Haiti's tragic historical cycle: the inability and/or unwillingness of its leaders to put the desperate needs of the Haitian people at the top of their agenda.

Thus, in 2004, Powell, now secretary of state, after trying to broker a compromise between Aristide and his political opposition, sent the message to Port-au-Prince from Washington that the U.S. this time would not defend Aristide from those who were trying to force him from office.

Powell was joined by the French and Canadian foreign ministers, who sent their own political and diplomatic signals to Aristide, indicating a united front.

Aristide departed Haiti on a plane chartered by the State department and flew into exile in Africa. Reminded of his role in 1994, Powell told reporters he watched Aristide govern over the last decade, "and I saw a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern or govern well, and he has to bear a large burden, if not the major burden, for what has happened."

Powell and others in the Bush administration have been attacked by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, several of whom have spoken directly with Aristide, who say the Bush administration removed Aristide from office in a coup d'etat. Some even charging the former Haitian leader was kidnapped by U.S. military forces. Powell dismissed the notion, saying it was "baseless, absurd."

"He was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth," Powell said.

Whether Aristide was pushed, shoved, urged, nudged or tricked into leaving, he did write a letter of resignation, thus keeping the political transition within the framework of Haiti's constitution.
Thus, a growing international crisis with potentially disastrous political consequences was defused by the Bush administration.

Just before his departure from the presidential residence, a senior State Department official said Aristide was speaking with Luis Moreno, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, who was there in 1994 when Aristide was restored to power.

According to the senior official, Moreno recalled with Aristide how "hopeful" he was at the time for Haiti and said to Aristide he was "sorry to see how it all worked out." Aristide's reply, in English, was "that's life, sometimes."

Life for Aristide now is in the Central African Republic. Perhaps soon it will be in South Africa. The good news for him is he has choices, if not power.

Not so for the people of Haiti, who have neither.

After the last ten years and almost a billion dollars — and that's just the American aid that has flowed to Haiti — there's not a lot of progress to see.

Anyone with power seems to exercise it only with his own best interests in mind. Those with guns use them to intimidate, rob and kill. Those with political power take care of themselves and their followers, plundering what few resources Haiti offers to those in control.

Haiti remains the poorest country in the region, a hemispheric basket case. It's a safe bet it won't be long before hundreds of millions more in American tax dollars will be asked for, appropriated and spent.

One wonders whether ten years from now there will be any discernable benefit for the Haitian people.

By Charles M. Wolfson

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