Not long after former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide landed in Haiti yesterday, ending an exile begun in 2004 by a US-backed coup d’etat, Kristoffer Rønneberg at the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten posted online 13 new private diplomatic cables from the US government relating to Aristide and Haiti, from the Wikileaks Cablegate set.
Taken together, they portray the United States as intractably, almost obsessively occupied with marginalizing Aristide and Lavalas, and making sure other nations fall in line. The French government conspired with the US to make his return near-impossible, discussing how to make the logistics of a return flight more difficult and making plain to S. Africa that he must be kept there. There’s also the news that in 2008 current President Rene Preval was trying “co-opt” the Fanmi Lavalas party into his ruling coalition and was flatly opposed to Aristide even being in the hemisphere. Below, a round-up of key passages from the cables…
Four days before Aristide was flown out of the country, the Dominican Ambassador to Haiti said he was “worried” about chaos in the North and but that Aristide was “very clever” and did not ask the Dominicans for any help or the use of a helicopter.
In October 2004, a confidante of the Bahamas Prime Minister said the United States owed the leader “a call from senior USG officials, or the White House, advising him ‘when the United States decided to change direction on Aristide’ and ‘remove him from power.’”
In November 2004, nine months after the coup, Dominican President Lionel Fernandez gave a speech in front of other regional leaders in which he said Aristide commanded “great popular support” within Haiti and called for his inclusion in the country’s democratic future. The US was shocked and outraged, commenting, “The Aristide comment appeared to come out of nowhere. Fernandez had not previously discussed Aristide by name in conversations with us, or with our French and Canadian counterparts…Perhaps the greatest surprise for us was the palace’s presumption that there would be no downside.
On November 6, during a pull-aside at a social event, the Ambassador admonished Fernandez that his reference to Aristide was a serious mistake, one that had the potential of further inflaming a situation already dangerous for the Haitian people and for the international peacekeeping force. Fernandez replied that given popular support for Lavalas, it would have to be part of the situation. The Ambassador was direct: Aristide had led a violent gang involved in narcotics trafficking and had squandered any credibility he formerly may have had. “Nobody has given me any information about that,” Fernandez replied. The Ambassador insisted that no supporter of human rights and democracy could in good conscience allow Aristide and his close supporters back into the situation in Haiti. Fernandez listened and eventually agreed to distinguish between Aristide and Lavalas. He asked for any information on Aristide that the United States might be able to share with him.
Two months later, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela told the US Ambassador there “he believes the USG is wrong on Haiti: “There is no long term solution that does not involve Aristide in some way.” Yesterday during his airport arrival, the Venezuelan Ambassador was the only foreign ambassador present with Aristide.
That same month, Jan. 2005, France and the United States discussed how to keep Aristide from returning home, planning to warn off Caribbean countries and tell S. Africa he must not be allowed to return “on the pretext” that it would hurt their chance for a UN Security Council:
Bienvenu later offered to express our shared concerns in Pretoria, perhaps under the pretext that as a country desiring to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, South Africa could not afford to be involved in any way with the destabilization of another country.. . .2. (S) Bienvenu speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, seeing a possible opportunity to hinder him in the logistics of reaching Haiti. If Aristide traveled commercially, Bienvenu reasoned, he would likely need to transit certain countries in order to reach Haiti. Bienvenu suggested a demarche to CARICOM countries by the U.S. and EU to warn them against facilitating any travel or other plans Aristide might have. . .Both Bienvenu and Barbier confided that South African mercenaries could be heading towards Haiti, with Bienvenu revealing the GOF had documented evidence that 10 South African citizens had come to Paris and requested Dominican visas between February and the present.
And seven months later, a South African official told the French that its government “would not support any effort by Aristide to return…Ntshinga told the French that he would share the French concern about Aristide´s activities with the National Intelligence Agency and ensure that President Mbeki was also informed.”
In August 2005, the Jamaican Labor Minister was chastised for describing Aristide “as a friend in need” after the coup. He said Washington was overreacting. Jamaica allowed him to pass through the country on his way into exile, and had offered the Aristides the option to stay there for a few weeks “for family reasons,” but on the condition that Aristide “keep a low profile” and refrain from making public statements. He stressed Jamaica wasn’t taking an adversarial position to the United States, but was “reminded that the [Jamaican government] acted unhelpfully” during the coup and its aftermath by the
Imperial Squire Ambassador.
In the fall of 2008, as rumors swirled that Aristide might leave S. Africa for Venezuela, Haitian President Rene Preval met with the US Ambassador:
President Rene Preval made reference to these rumors, telling the Ambassador that he did not want Aristide “anywhere in the hemisphere.” Subsequent to that, he remarked that he is concerned that Aristide will accept the Chavez offer but deflected any discussion of whether Preval himself was prepared to raise the matter with Chavez.
There is also further in-depth commentary on Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party, with various members (including Yves Cristalin, a presidential candidate in this election who claimed to represent Lavalas) informing the Embassy on what’s happening behind the scenes. Meanwhile Preval, the cable says, was trying to co-opt the party into his political coalition. I quote at length for close observers of Haitian politics:
Despite his disagreements with Aristide, Cristalin said he feels compelled to keep his opposition to Aristide´s return private due to the considerable support for the former President among many segments of the population. [TEXT REMOVED BY AFTENPOSTEN] echoed these sentiments in his October 1 meeting with Poloff, noting that he shared Cristalin´s belief that the Executive Committee appointed by Aristide was illegitimate. Like Cristalin, he made an impassioned plea for U.S. assistance so that factions of the party willing to renounce violent demonstrations and forego illicit financing would prevail against other factions of the party.
Embassy sources tell us that President Preval is also actively working to co-opt popular groups affiliated with Lavalas to shore up his support..[TEXT REMOVED BY AFTENPOSTEN] told Poloff on September 19 that Preval met “at least weekly” with the leaders of the “Reflection Cell,” including Jean-Marie Samdy, at the National Palace and that Preval had promised the group HTG 58 million (approximately USD 1.5 million) in funds from the PetroCaribe account to distribute to parents in poor neighborhoods for the beginning of the school year in early October. [TEXT REMOVED BY AFTENPOSTEN] provided a more plausible account of the agreement, saying that the Education Ministry had agreed to task Lavalas-affiliated “popular organizations” to identify needy families in poor neighborhoods, and that the Ministry would then pay their school fees directly to the school concerned.
Although Aristide is nominally the “National Representative” of Fanmi Lavalas, the party has essentially been leaderless since Aristide left Haiti in 2004, and any attempt to reassert control over Lavalas would be fiercely opposed (albeit privately) by one or another group within the party. From South Africa, Aristide has been either unable or unwilling to resolve disputes within his party or mobilize popular support for Lavalas.
Factions in the party have their reasons for opposing or supporting a greater political role for Aristide in Haiti and in the party. On one side of the divide are elected officials and former government officials who want to unify feuding groups into a disciplined party organization and have the leadership elected by and accountable to the party in Haiti rather than to Aristide. These individuals resent Aristide´s interventions in party matters from afar, and are critical of Aristide´s conduct during his two terms in office. On the other side lie leaders linked to popular organizations who hope that Aristide´s greater proximity will help them revive grassroots militancy, which would then propel them to positions of prominence.
The others cables: The Vatican agreed with the Embassy that Aristide shouldn’t return after the earthquake and said it would communicate that to him. The Dominican Republic was concerned about mass migration of Haitians and Bahamas not optimistic about a peaceful resolution without outside intervention during the last days of the 2004 crisis.