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Possible Aristide return increases Haiti's political drama

By Saeed Shabazz -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Feb 21, 2011 - 6:54:28 PM

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Former Hatian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
( - The latest news coming out of Haiti at press time concerned the possible return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the country.

After seven years in exile, the 57-year-old who left office as a result of what is often called a U.S./UN-led coup in 2004 had been granted permission to return home, media reports said.

The U.S. State Department, however, continued to say the popular ex-priest's return before a March 20 presidential run-off “would prove to be an unfortunate distraction.”

Reporters asked a State Dept. spokesperson if Washington “pressured” the Haitian government or the South African government, where Mr. Aristide has lived since his exile, to prevent his return to Haiti. Journalists have said no definitive answer was given and some said the spokesperson refused to answer the question.

“Aristide cannot be denied the right to return to his country, Washington has to live with a new reality,” argued Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. In a piece carried on and in the UK-based Guardian online, Mr. Weisbrot said Feb. 11 the will of the Haitian people could win out if Mr. Aristide returns and is allowed to participate in the political process.

“The United States has been the prime cause of instability in Haiti, not only over the last two centuries, but the last two decades. Although Haiti is a small and poor country, Washington still cares very much about who is running it—and as leaked WikiLeaks cables recently demonstrated, they want a government that is in line with their overall foreign policy for the region,” he said.

“In 1991, Aristide Haiti's first democratically elected president was overthrown after just seven months in office. The officers who carried out the coup and established the military government, killing thousands of innocent Haitians, were subsequently found by the New York Times to be in the pay of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”

Mr. Weisbot continued, “When Aristide was elected to a second term, in 2000, the United States and its allies destroyed the economy through an economic aid cutoff. Together with aid to the Haitian opposition and an armed insurrection, Washington's effort succeeded in overthrowing the government four years later.”

Mr. Aristide remains deeply popular in Haiti and controversial to the U.S. government. His call for France to repay Haiti for reparations surrendered over decades and challenges to businesses over their operations and payments to Haitian workers made him a problem.

Mr. Aristide was also an enemy of the elite that has ruled Haiti with support from America.

Last November's controversial presidential elections for president, which included allegations of serious fraud, have created a political problem. The U.S. and the Organization of American States support a March run-off between candidates Michel Martelly, an entertainer, and Mirlande Manigat, a former first lady.

Others, however, want new elections and have called the vote a sham, even charging Haiti's election council did not properly approve the run-off.

Mr. Aristide's political party Fanmi Lavalas, despite major political support, was not allowed to participate in the November 2010 elections. His potential return raises serious questions about what will happen among his supporters and his opponents, who tried to kill him before he was elected to office.

Observers, analysts and supporters like rzili Danto, author/activist and founder of the Conn.-based Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network, argue under Haiti's constitution Mr. Aristide has every right to return.

“He is the most popular leader of the Haitian people. However, I am concerned for his safety,” Ms. Danto said.

Some say an Aristide return could be the political equivalent of a second earthquake striking the country.

President René Preval, who once served as Mr. Aristide's prime minister has reportedly said the former president's presence in Haiti could “destabilize the nation.” Mr. Preval had been due to leave office on Feb. 7, but plans to stay until May 14 to facilitate a smooth post-election transfer of power.

On Feb. 7, some 200 people reportedly demonstrated against the unpopular current president in Port-au-Prince, demanding that he step down.

Reuter's news service said the State Dept. wants a new partner in Port-au-Prince to move reconstruction forward after the devastating earthquake in January 2009.

Alongside questions about what Mr. Aristide's return would mean for Haitian politics lies the presence of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, a U.S. patron and opponent of Mr. Aristide, after 25 years of exile. Mr. Duvalier left Haiti in 1986 amid major unrest and mobilizations by Mr. Aristide and his followers. He returned weeks ago.

John Perkins, author of books such as “The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hitman, Jackals, and the Truth” and the “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” told The Final Call there is a clear reason why the West fears an Aristide return: Mr. Aristide and the minimum wage issue in Haiti are still quite prominent in the consciousness of Western nations, he said.

“We look at Haiti as setting the minimum wage standard in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Latin America,” Mr. Perkins explained.

The International Labor Organization Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2006, the last year that minimum wage data was made available, said the minimum wage question affected approximately 10 million wage and salary workers in 16 Latin American nations. The ILO said that 11.3 percent of salaried workers had earnings below the minimum wage, a third of which were women.

Ms. Danto said Mr. Aristide's move to raise the minimum wage in 2004 was the last straw for American corporations doing business in Haiti. “He was also removed from office in 1991, becoming then the first president to take on the minimum wage issue,” she said.

In 1991, Mr. Aristide proposed raising minimum wages from $1.76-a-day to $2.94-a-day. At the time the U.S. Agency for International Development, in a position paper, said Haiti should not jeopardize its main “comparative advantage,” which was a “highly productive, low-cost labor force.”

“Just look at what really was behind the coup against the former president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, it was that he dared to raise the minimum wage,” Mr. Perkins said. Haiti is in a very difficult position, he said.

Analysts say Mr. Zelaya was ousted in a 2009 coup after raising the minimum wage by 60 percent, which won him the loyalty of poor Hondurans; but angered the business elite of his nation. According to the World Bank, the minimum wage in Latin America has a greater impact on those societies than industrialized nations.

In 2007, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez raised the minimum wage by 20 percent, which saw monthly salaries rise from $250 to $290 a month; while in Bolivia and Ecuador monthly wages were $60 a month, according to the Bloomberg Financial news service.

Ms. Danto agrees with Mr. Perkins' theory that a fear factor is helping to fuel U.S. resistance to the return of Mr. Aristide to his homeland.

“The U.S. has an economic and geopolitical interest in Haiti which is masked with calls for humanitarian aid and democracy,” Ms. Danto said.

It has been 25 years of neo-political genocide that has made Haitians poorer than they want to be, she said.

“Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state, and Barack Obama do not want to see Aristide back in Haiti, because America is fearful of the people of Haiti gaining a political voice,” she said.

Related news:

A Voice For Haiti, A Voice For All Our Rise (FCN, Min. Farrakhan, 08-10-2010)

Why Haiti? Why now? (FCN, 03-14-2004)

Aristide's Call for Reparations From France Unlikely to Die (IPS, 03/12/2004)

Haiti makes its case for reparations: The meter is running at $34 per second (FCN, 02-20-2004)

How the U.S. impoverished Haiti (FCN, 09-10-2003)