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Aristide's Kidnapping: A Repeat Of History
Posted: Wednesday, March 3, 2004

By George Alleyne
Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The reported kidnapping by the United States of America military of Haitian President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family and their being spirited out ot Haiti, is an uncanny and shameful repeat of history. It followed by a little more than 200 years the kidnapping of Toussaint L'Ouverture who had led the world's only successful slave revolution. Then Haiti was known as Saint Dominique or San Domingo. It was Toussaint L'Ouverture who would change the name to that which had been given it by its indigenous people - Haiti! And as in the case of Aristide, L'Ouverture's wife and family had also been abducted and removed from Haiti. Perhaps CARICOM countries will issue travel advisories against the United States with appropriate warnings.

Aristide, in telephone conversations with highly respected United States political figures Charles Rangel, Randall Robinson and Maxine Waters, made from the Central African Republic (Chad) to where he was flown on Sunday, insisted that he was forced to resign the Haitian Presidency by the United States and taken to Chad against his will, and is under guard by French and African soldiers. Of interest was the choice of words by the US authorities in releasing information on Aristide. They said that he had "fled" Haiti, fully realising the implication that the word "fled" would convey. Aristide was Haiti's first constitutionally elected President and as such should only have been removed from office by constitutional means. Instead, for the past several weeks his Administration had been under threat by armed uprising by Haitians led by several and among them a man who had been notorious for having had thousands of Aristide's supporters murdered and maimed during the period 1991-1994, when Aristide had been ousted from office.

Some people tend to say, somewhat glibly, that it was the United States that had brought Aristide back in 1994, citing this as evidence of US concern, even today. They fail to point out that it was the Bill Clinton Administration which had actively supported his return, an Administration whose policies were clearly far removed from those of the present Republican Government. When Aristide returned to office he made the grave error of disbanding the Haitian Army, leaving thousands of men who had been trained to fight, not only out of jobs and disaffected, but leaderless and open to blandishments. In turn, it would have been unreasonable to have expected them to have been loyal to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the man they would have considered responsible for whatever uncomfortable social situation in which they may have found themselves.

For the most part they were a gaggle of loose cannons whose loyalty, to use a cliche, was up for grabs. Haiti has been a poor country for most of its history. Its poverty was not self induced, clearly not the result of people not wishing to work and improve their lot. But Haiti, following on its slave revolt and the defeat of the French troops which had sought to reimpose French Imperial rule, had been the victim of economic blockades which prevented it from selling its sugar and other produce, and from purchasing goods and services, including equipment and spares, to keep its factories and plants going. In addition, France had demanded of and forced reparations payments on Haiti, claiming that former French land and slave owners in Haiti were entitled to reparations for the property (include in this slaves) which they had lost. Either the reparations or the economic blockade would have been crippling. The British Government, when it abolished slavery in its colonial possessions had been more "charitable." It had given the former slave owners 20 million pounds sterling as payment for the slave property they had lost, while allowing them to keep the lands which they owned.

When the Aristide Administration lost Gonaives, Haiti's second largest city, its days were literally over and all that remained if the Government was to live out its term would have been United Nations intervention in the form of peace keeping forces. The rebels were clearly being supplied from overseas with arms and ammunition, and Haiti's Police Service, trained to maintain law and order, had been no match for them. Interestingly, L'Ouverture had been at Gonaives when he was requested to attend a meeting with a French General, which would lead to his seizure and exile to France. In much the same manner that Toussaint L'Ouverture had agreed to meet at his house with Ferrari, Aide-de-Camp to General Leclerc, then Commander in Chief of the French troops in Haiti, Aristide had met with US soldiers at the Presidential Palace. The US soldiers, perhaps, like the French 201 years plus earlier, were there simply to "secure his person."

The world may never know the details for some time to come of what transpired at the Presidential Palace on Sunday, but it does know what happened when Toussaint L'Ouverture was kidnapped. Aristide was taken out of Haiti by plane, and Toussaint by ship. As he boarded the French vessel, which was to take him to France, exile and prison, he said to the ship's captain: "In overthrowing me you have cut down in San Domingo only the trunk of the tree of liberty. It will spring up again by the roots for they are numerous and deep." CARICOM must seek to persuade the United Nations to draw up and implement a plan for the social, educational, industrial and agricultural reconstruction of Haiti, and be prepared to be part of the rebuilding process of a CARICOM Member State.

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