Haiti Liberte: Wikileaks unmask role of US, Vatican and others in Haiti

A powerful expose below revealing how the US bent over backwards to get and keep Aristide out of Haiti. The most damning passage - in an article filled with damning passages - is the following:

Aristide’s exclusion from Haiti during post-coup elections was
essential, because Washington was fully aware of his continuing
popularity. U.S. Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential
Mar. 22, 2005 cable that an August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was
still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%”
and thus “Aristide's shadow continues to hang over the movement.”

But please read the whole article.

The Vatican's enthusiastic support for the coup will raise some eyebrows – though it should be recalled that the Vatican dared to support the first coup that ousted Aristide in 1991 despite near univerasl condemnation of it. Some CARICOM leaders' cowardly grovelling before the US is also noteworthy. Some will recall that CARICOM's public stance against the 2004 coup was impresive. However, behind the scenes, some CARICOM leaders were quite a bit less than inspiring.  

by Ansel Herz & Kim Ives (Haiti Liberte)

Konplo Aristid la (The plot against Aristide)
Li soti Washington (It came out of Washington)
Li pase Vatikan (It passed through the Vatican)
Se Bondye ki voye-l (It was sent by God)
Manno Charlemagne

On Jul. 15, 2011, former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide
turned 58. His birthday was marked in Haiti and its diaspora by
scattered celebrations of militants and sympathizers of the Lavalas
Family (Fanmi Lavalas), the party he founded in 1996.

During the seven years he spent exiled in South Africa after the 2004
coup d’etat against him, Aristide’s birthday was commemorated by large
demonstrations in the streets of Port-au-Prince calling for his
return. Over the past 25 years, first as a liberation
theology-inspired Salesian priest in the 1980s and then as Haiti’s
twice elected (1990, 2000), twice deposed (1991, 2004) President,
Aristide had become a symbol of the Haitian people’s demands for
justice, democracy and sovereignty. He received a spontaneous hero’s
welcome from thousands when he finally returned to Haiti on Mar. 18
aboard a private South African jet. Much to the dismay of the Haitian
elite and foreign powers which overthrew him, he remained then, and
remains now, enduringly popular.

But Aristide is now also under the threat of imminent attack. Since
returning, he has ventured out from his home in Tabarre only once, due
to security concerns.

Newly installed right-wing president Michel Martelly has, in the past,
made no secret of his antipathy for Aristide. He recently cut back
Aristide’s security detail and took back the government vehicle which
former President Rene Preval had provided Aristide on his return.

In a falsely magnanimous gesture, Martelly recently suggested he would
grant Aristide an “amnesty” (which he proposed also for recently
returned former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier), although Aristide has
never been charged, much less convicted, of any crimes whatsoever.

That may soon change. Right-wing mouthpieces like former International
Republican Institute (IRI) agent Stanley Lucas, pro-coup historian
Michel Soukar, and former anti-Aristide opposition spokesman Sauveur
Pierre Etienne have all recently taken to the airwaves in Haiti and
its diaspora to call for Aristide’s prosecution with lurid and
far-fetched charges of corruption and political murder.

Haiti Liberte has also learned from protected sources that a U.S.
government team is investigating Aristide (not for the first time) to
see if it can concoct a credible human-rights case against him.

This comes as no surprise. In reviewing some 1,918 secret Embassy
cables from April 2003 to February 2010 procured by the media
organization WikiLeaks, Haiti Liberte unearthed a behind-the-scenes
look at how the U.S. State Department was pushing for Aristide’s
removal from power in February 2004 and strongly opposed his eventual
return in March 2011.

But Washington feigns neutrality. A U.S. Embassy spokesman in Haiti
told Haiti Liberte after a press briefing last Nov. 23 that Washington
had no position on Aristide’s return to his country. “Aristide’s
return? That’s a Haitian question, that’s a Haitian decision,” said
Jon Piechowski.

“So the U.S. would have no say in that. . .”

“No,” Piechowski responded, “I think whether Aristide stays where he
is or comes back to Haiti, that's between him and the people of

The secret U.S. diplomatic cables show those statements are
unequivocally false. The cables not only bolster existing evidence of
U.S. involvement in the 2004 coup, but portray a sophisticated,
globe-spanning campaign afterwards to marginalize Aristide and
imprison him in exile.

When Aristide himself or officials from Caribbean nations like the
Bahamas talked of his rights, the United States flexed its diplomatic
muscles to oppose them. On one occasion, a U.S. ambassador went so far
as to angrily “pull aside” and scold the Dominican Republic’s

The cables show how Washington actively colluded with the United
Nations leadership, France, and Canada to discourage or physically
prevent Aristide’s return to Haiti. The Vatican was a reliable
partner, blessing the coup and assisting in prolonging Aristide’s

The cables also show continuity between the policies of the Bush and
Obama administrations toward Aristide. Under Bush in 2004, a U.S. Navy
SEAL team escorted Aristide on a jet into exile in what Aristide
called a “a modern-day kidnapping.” Six years later, when Aristide
announced his desire to return and help after the devastating 2010
earthquake, Obama’s diplomatic corps mobilized to block him. Obama
himself called South Africa’s President in a desperate failed attempt
to keep Aristide off the jet that finally flew him home.

More than two decades after Aristide first became President,
Washington’s campaign against him continues. Its last big victory was
the 2004 coup d’etat, where we begin with the intimately detailed
information contained in the WikiLeaks cables.

Bahamas shows “sympathy” and complains U.S. is “hard-minded”

The trove of Embassy communications obtained by WikiLeaks
unfortunately does not include many cables from the Port-au-Prince
embassy until March 2005. However, secret cables from the neighboring
archipelago nation of the Bahamas during 2003 and 2004 clearly show
Washington’s hostility toward Aristide.

The very first cable of those which WikiLeaks provided to Haiti
Liberte is one from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau on Apr. 17, 2003. In
it, U.S. Ambassador J. Richard Blankenship reports about a meeting
where Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell “described the U.S.
position on Haiti as ‘hard-minded’ , and called for continued

Washington, at the time, had sought to invoke a clause of the
Organization of American States’ interventionist “Inter-American
Democratic Charter” in an attempt to find some pseudo-legal leverage
to remove Aristide. But “Mitchell was dismissive of the possibility of
invoking the democracy provisions of the OAS Charter, saying that
although ‘Some people argue that's the case in Haiti … I think that
is taking it a little bit too far,’” the cable said.

Washington was aware that the government of Bahamian Prime Minister
Perry Christie was working to shore up the besieged Aristide
government, and Blankenship sarcastically concluded his message:
“While The Bahamas will remain engaged on Haiti, the Christie
government will resist any effort to put real teeth into any
diplomatic effort to pressure President Aristide, preferring (endless)
conversation and dialogue to the alternative.”

There is another cable from the Nassau Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires
Robert M. Witajewski dated Feb. 23, 2004, about a year later and one
week before the coup. At a Feb. 19 event, “Prime Minister Christie
twice came to the Charge's table to request an ‘urgent’ meeting,”
Witajewski wrote. After the meeting which was held the next day,
Witajewski notes that the Bahamian Prime Minister “sympathizes with
Aristide's concerns.”

Christie reviewed with Witajewski how at the United Nations days
before Foreign Minister Mitchell “called for the international
community to ‘provide immediate security assistance to bring stability
to Haiti, including helping the legitimate authority of Haiti to
restore law and order and disarm the elements that now seek to
violently overthrow the government, and who have interrupted
humanitarian assistance,” the Charge wrote. “Mitchell continued using
– for him — unusually strong language: ‘Those armed gangs who seek
now to overthrow the constitutional order should be urged to lay down
their arms and if not they should be disarmed.’”

Christie pleaded that Washington “reconsider its position against
supplying the Haitian police with lethal weapons, and at a minimum do
more to support the Haitian police with non-lethal support,” the cable
notes. The Bahamian “indicated some sympathy for Aristide's claimed
plight, telling Charge that ‘there is simply no way that a demoralized
police force of less than 5,000 can maintain law in order in a country
of more than 7 million.’”

Unfortunately, it seems that Christie was also hopelessly clueless
about the international forces backing the soon-to-be accomplished
coup, because in daily phone calls with President Aristide, the cable
says, “he had stressed the importance of Aristide appealing directly
to the U.S., France, or Canada for assistance in re-equipping Haitian
police so that law and order could be restored,” that is to the very
countries which were backing the coup.

Christie was apparently so unaware of the U.S. hand in the unfolding
coup that “he had been in contact with members of the U.S.
Congressional Black Caucus to allay their ‘deep concerns’ about the
‘good faith’ of the U.S. and others in seeking a resolution to Haiti's
crisis,” concerns that proved to be completely justified.

In perhaps his most naive assessment, Christie urged that U.S.
Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, one of Aristide’s most
bitter critics in the U.S. government, come to the embattled
president’s rescue in the face of calls for Aristide’s overthrow from
the IRI-concocted “Group of 184" front, headed by sweatshop magnate
Andy Apaid. “Christie said that he was confident that A/S Noriega ‘had
the clout’ to bring Haitian Opposition leader Apaid around, and that
once Apaid signed on to an agreement, the rest of the Opposition
‘would follow’ in permitting President Aristide to serve his term out
since they couldn't organize themselves to win an election now,”
Witajewski wrote.

Perhaps Christie was deluded into thinking that the U.S. would
recognize Aristide’s popularity. Christie had witnessed it first hand
as one of the few heads of government to attend Haiti’s Jan. 1, 2004
bicentennial celebrations, to which tens of thousands turned out
despite an opposition and international boycott. Christie “made clear
his position that President Aristide is Haiti's legitimately elected
constitutional leader,” Witajewski wrote, and also provided “an
evaluation of the state of the Haitian opposition from his position as
a practicing politician. ‘Even with a year to organize,’ he said, ‘the
opposition will not match Aristide's level of support, and would lose
if Aristide decided to run again, which he will not.’”

In a cable the very next day, Feb. 24, 2004, Witajewski reported that
“The Bahamas seeks the active support of the U.S. as the ‘most
important’ member of the Security Council as it engages on a full
scale diplomatic press to achieve peace in Haiti” and had “concluded
that a peaceful outcome without international intervention is
increasingly unlikely.”

In short, despite Christie’s sympathy for Aristide’s situation, he
“defers to [the] U.S. as ‘Top Dog’,” the Feb. 23 cable concluded.

Encouraging “asylum”

The U.S. also asked the former Haitian Ambassador to the Dominican
Republic if he wanted political asylum after he resigned his post on
Dec. 18, 2003.

In a Dec. 23, 2003 cable, U.S. Ambassador Hans Hertell reported about
his meeting with Ambassador Guy Alexandre who resigned “due to what he
described as ‘incompatible principles’ with Aristide's government”
following the Dec. 5, 2003 confrontation at the University of Haiti
where “[a]ccording to Alexandre, police officers broke both knees of
one of his friends, a vice-rector at a university.” (In fact, it was
the university's rector, Pierre Marie Paquiot, whose legs were injured
– not broken –  under murky circumstances during a melee between
anti-coup popular organizations and pro-coup university students,
while the vice-rector, Wilson Laleau, suffered head injuries.)

Prompted by Hertell, Alexandre said he would “not flee to the United
States” and “has no plans to seek asylum in the United States for now”
but rather “plans to reside in the Dominican Republic” and “get
involved in academia.”

“Requesting asylum, [Alexandre] explained, would ‘further complicate
Dominican-Haitian bilateral relations’ and would not be in his nor
Haiti's best interests,” Hertell reported.

Had Alexandre requested U.S. asylum, it would have helped Washington’s
project of painting Aristide as a political ogre. Instead, Alexandre
“criticized opposition groups' preoccupation with forcing Aristide's
departure without considering the consequences” and “emphasized that
Aristide's exit will not solve Haiti's socio-economic problems,”
Hertell wrote.

Alexandre also criticized the anti-Aristide opposition “for their
focus on grabbing power rather than tackling the difficult problems of
health, education and infrastructure,” the cable said.

Vatican: “no regret” about coup

However, U.S. diplomats found much more sympathetic ears at the Vatican.

In November 2003, a U.S. political officer from the U.S. Embassy there
met with the Vatican’s Caribbean Affairs Office Director Giorgio
Lingua, who said that “the Vatican had noticed signs of increased
discontent within the Lavalas party” which he felt could best be
fanned by “further international pressure, especially from the United
States, for increased democratic expression within the country  –
without directly challenging Aristide's legitimacy,” wrote U.S. Charge
d'Affaires Brent Hardt in a Nov. 14, 2003 cable.

“Increased democratic expression” was code for increased attacks on
Aristide’s constitutional government, which never once limited the
“democratic expression” of organizations or media openly calling for
its overthrow.

As this and later cables make clear, “challenging Aristide’s
legitimacy” and regime change in Haiti were, in fact, the Vatican’s
goals. Lingua told the Embassy officer that “effecting change in Haiti
should be easier than in Cuba,” wrote Hardt. “Unlike Castro, Lingua
observed, Aristide is not ideologically motivated. ‘This is one person
– not a system,’ he added.”

But despite U.S. prodding, the Vatican wanted to cloak its collusion.
“When asked if the October 16 incident [when anti-coup demonstrators
protested at a mass] might prompt the Holy See to raise its voice more
forcefully against Aristide's abuses, Lingua was noncommittal,” Hardt
wrote, “saying the Vatican needed to balance pressure on Aristide
against a delicate security situation on the ground.” Lingua said “the
Haitian bishops needed to tread lightly” because of “Aristide's
unpredictable nature,” according to Hardt.

But the real reason the Church hierarchy had to “balance’ and “tread
lightly,” the cable makes clear, is because Haiti’s Catholic Church
was “divided” between priests supporting Aristide and a hierarchy
which did not. (One exception was newly appointed Archbishop Serge
Miot, who Washington worried “was too close to the Aristide camp.”)
The result was “many people leaving the Church due to disillusionment
with its handling of the Aristide crisis,” the cable says.

Progressive liberation theologians, like Father Gerard Jean-Juste,
were effectively denouncing Washington’s growing destabilization
campaign against Aristide, and the Vatican’s supportive role, and
“[a]ccording to Lingua, Aristide’s exploitation of some clergy members
for propaganda purposes was taking its toll,” Hardt wrote. “Lingua
said Haitians see ‘a Church divided,’ with some clergy supporting the
Lavalas party and others against it. Lingua claimed this lack of
solidarity  fostered disillusionment to the point where people were
leaving the Church in increasing numbers.”

The problem was, in Lingua’s own words, “the presence – in fact the
omnipresence – of Aristide,” the cable said.

The Vatican came out of the shadows shortly after the coup was finally
consummated on Feb. 29, 2004. On Mar. 5, 2004, U.S. Ambassador to the
Vatican James Nicholson wrote a cable reporting that the Holy See had
“no regret at Aristide's departure, noting that the former priest had
been an active proponent of voodoo.”

Nicholson learned this from Embassy personnel who met with the
Vatican’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pietro Parolin, although “since
February 29, the Vatican has had no official public comment on
Aristide's resignation.”

Nonetheless, “even before Aristide's departure, Pope John Paul II had
appealed to Haitians ‘to make the courageous decisions their country
required,’ and had urged the international community and aid
organizations to do what they could to avert a greater crisis,”
Nicholson wrote. “This was seen as a veiled reference to Aristide's
leaving power.”

At that time, Lingua also told the Embassy that the Vatican “saw no
other way out of the crisis and thought the former priest had to go.”

The Vatican understood it had an important role to play in
consolidating the coup, saying it was “ready to work with a new
transitional Haitian administration to ensure a peaceful restoration
of order,” Nicholson wrote. Rome told its bishops “to exert a calming
influence on the populace,” which was outraged by the coup. But the
Pope also understood that his missionaries needed some steel behind
their gold crosses so called for “an international force [to] quickly
restore order in Haiti.”

Managing the backlash

In the days even before the coup was consummated, the governments
which backed it – the U.S., France and Canada – began to insert “an
international force” of several thousand soldiers. They militarily
occupied Haiti for the three months from March 1 until May 31, 2004,
and on June 1, the 9,000-strong Brazilian-led United Nations Mission
to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) took over “restoration of order."

But there was a backlash of indignation against the coup and
occupation from many Latin American and Caribbean nations. CARICOM
issued a Mar. 3 statement which expressed “dismay and alarm” about the
coup, noting the “public assertions made by President Aristide that he
had not demitted office voluntarily” and demanding “an investigation
under the auspices of the United Nations to clarify the circumstances
leading to his relinquishing the Presidency.” CARICOM, which had
proposed an international force to protect Aristide’s government from
“rebels” and “restore order,” refused to take part in the post-coup
Multilateral Interim Force and called for Aristide’s “immediate

CARICOM also “questioned the legality of the American-backed move to
install Mr [Boniface] Alexandre as president,” reported The Economist
on Mar. 4. CARICOM Chairman and Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson
said that the coup “sets a dangerous precedent for democratically
elected governments anywhere and everywhere, as it promotes the
removal of duly elected persons from office by the power of rebel

A Mar. 9 cable by Nassau’s Charge d’Affaires Witajewski provides a
glimpse of the damage control that Washington carried out in the face
of such outrage. Witajewski reports on a Mar. 8 meeting that he and
his Political Officer had with Dr. Eugene Newry, the Bahamian
Ambassador to Haiti.

Contrary to Prime Minister Christie and Foreign Minister Mitchell,
Ambassador Newry was favorably disposed toward the coup. Perhaps due
to his many “contacts with the opposition,” Newry was “pleasantly
surprised with the transition now occurring” in Haiti and thought “it
was a good sign that the Haitian people overall had focused their
mistrust and dislike on the ex-President,” although he did “fear [...]
that Aristide's support network would re-group in time for the next
set of elections while the Opposition coalition would fall apart fall
once the ‘negative force,’ i.e., Aristide, disappeared from the scene
as an effective player,” wrote Witajewski. (Newry also “did not think
that Aristide's attempts to regain support via press encounters in the
Central African Republic [where he was exiled at the time] would
impact on future Haiti developments.”)

Accordingly, Newry “downplayed incendiary phrases in Caricom's
statement on Haiti such as expressing ‘alarm and dismay’ as
matter-of-fact descriptions of members' disappointment” and “claimed
that Caricom is not ‘angry’ with the U.S. involvement in the departure
of Aristide, but rather was ‘surprised’ by the abrupt decision-making,
and Caricom's lack of involvement,” the cable said.

Newry also predicted “that Caricom will be satisfied as long as their
10-point action plan remains the basis for post-Aristide Haiti.”
(Washington set up a “Tripartite Commission” and a “Council of Wise
Persons” as earlier proposed by CARICOM.) Newry “concluded [that]
Caricom needs to get over its pique because ‘like a river, things must
move on’, and he understood that Haiti cannot advance without the help
that only the United States with the ancillary support of other ‘major
powers’ such as Canada and France could deliver,” the cable said.

Newry told the Embassy what it wanted to hear, but Witajewski, in his
comments, also was aware that the Bahamian “was perhaps overreaching
in trying to put a positive spin on Caricom's March 3 statement on
Haiti and reflecting more of the real politik position that The
Bahamas takes regarding Haitian migration than the more ideological
position of some of the other, less affected, Caricom members.”

CARICOM gets real

The Christie government’s “realism,” as Witajewski called it in this
cable, was apparent in another from Apr. 6, 2004, when the Ambassador
reported on Foreign Minister Mitchell’s backpedaling during a Mar. 29
lunch meeting.

Mitchell “pursued his agenda of downplaying the consequences of a
division between Caricom and the United States on Haiti,” Witajewski
wrote. “Underlying many of Mitchell's arguments was the premise that
Caricom/The Bahamas as small countries take (and are entitled to take)
principled stands while the United States necessarily engages in real

Mitchell said that northern Caribbean nations like the Bahamas are
“cognizant of the importance of their relations with the United States
and thus are more careful in balancing their interests with Caricom
and the U.S.” while southern Caribbean nations “are guided by
political agendas.”

Sensing he had his guest on the defensive, Witajewski asked Mitchell
“to clarify Caricom’s call for an investigation into the circumstances
of Aristide’s resignation, [and] Mitchell sought to downplay its
significance,” the cable said. Mitchell “said that he personally
envisioned the ‘investigation’ as equivalent to resolution of a
‘routine credentials challenge’ to a government such as occurs at the
UNGA [U.N. General Assembly] or another committee.”

However, Mitchell did have the temerity to say “that the United States
overreacted to Jamaica’s offer to let ex-President Aristide reside in
the country and to Caricom’s declarations,” Witajewski wrote. “He
appeared to be arguing that Caricom was entitled to express its views
and not necessarily be held accountable for them. Mitchell also
claimed that despite Caricom’s verbal shots at the United States over
recent events in Haiti, there would be little net impact on overall
U.S.-Caricom relations… as long as the United States didn't

Mitchell upped the ante when he “insisted that the United States
should not be concerned with, or opposed to, Aristide’s presence in
the Caribbean,” a reference to Bush administration officials’ remarks
that Aristide should get out of Jamaica and the hemisphere. Mitchell
“argued that a perceived ‘Banishing Policy’ has racial and historical
overtones in the Caribbean that reminds inhabitants of the region of
slavery and past abuse.”

Unfazed, Witajewski “inquired on what would happen if Aristide were to
meddle with Haitian internal affairs and give his supporters the
impression that he is still a player in the future of Haiti,” which he
had every right to do. But Mitchell immediately became defensive and
“was emphatic that Jamaica will not allow Aristide to play such an
intrusive role and would ‘deal’ with Aristide if such a situation were
to arise,” the cable said.

Keeping the pressure on

Perhaps also afflicted with the “realism” that governed Bahamian
policy, other countries offered their support to the U.S. campaign
against Aristide. For example, in a Nov. 22, 2004 cable, Guatemala’s
acting Foreign Minister Marta Altolaguirre told the Embassy there that
she “agreed wholeheartedly with [the] U.S. assessment” of Haiti and
“volunteered that her personal view was that Aristide had been a
‘disaster’ and could play no useful role in Haiti's future.”

Nigeria, after “consultations” with Washington, also “offered Haitian
ex-president Aristide refuge in Nigeria for a few weeks before moving
on to another destination,” a Mar. 23, 2004 cable from the U.S.
Embassy in Abuja explains. The cable notes that Nigeria “has a history
of offering asylum to fleeing leaders” from collapsed African
dictatorships (like Liberia’s fallen strongman Charles Taylor). This
was a transparent attempt to associate Aristide with such leaders.

After Aristide left Jamaica for exile in South Africa on May 30, 2004,
the US government worked overtime to keep him out of Haiti and even
the hemisphere, rendering him a virtual prisoner-in-exile, even though
the Haitian Constitution and international law stipulate that every
Haitian citizen has the right to be in his homeland.

When Dominican President Lionel Fernandez suggested in a statement at
a hemispheric conference nine months after the coup that Aristide
should return and play a role in Haiti’s democracy, the United States
reacted angrily, saying in a cable that Fernandez had “put a big front
wrong in advocating the inclusion in the process of former president
Jean Bertrand Aristide.”

The US Ambassador to the DR “admonished” Fernandez “in a pull-aside at
a social event.”

“Aristide had led a violent gang involved in narcotics trafficking and
had squandered any credibility he formerly may have had,” US
Ambassador Hertell told him, according to a Nov. 16, 2004 cable.

“Nobody has given me any information about that,” Fernandez replied.

No charges were ever filed against Aristide for drug trafficking,
although his lawyer Ira Kurzban asserts Washington has tried. “The
United States government has spent, literally, tens of millions of
taxpayer dollars trying to pin something, anything on President
Aristide,” Kurzban told Pacifica’s Flashpoints Radio earlier this
month. “They’ve had an ATF investigation, a tax investigation, a drug
investigation, and now apparently some kind of corruption
investigation. The reality is they’ve come up with nothing because
there is nothing.”

Under the heading “Aristide Movement Must Be Stopped” in an August
2006 cable, US Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described how
former Guatemalan diplomat Edmond Mulet, MINUSTAH’s head, “urged U.S.
legal action against Aristide to prevent the former president from
gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to

At Mulet’s request, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged South
Africa’s President “to ensure that Aristide remained in South Africa,”
where Aristide and his family were living under an arrangement with
the government there.

In 2005, the Lavalas Family planned large demonstrations to mark
Aristide’s birthday. The US Ambassador to France met with the French
diplomatic official Gilles Bienvenu in Paris to discuss the
possibility of Aristide’s return.

“Bienvenu stated that the GOF [Government of France] shared our
analysis of the implications of an Aristide return to Haiti, terming
the likely repercussions ‘catastrophic’,” wrote U.S. ambassador Craig
Stapleton. “Initially expressing caution when asked about France
demarching the SARG [conveying the message to the South African
government], Bienvenu noted that Aristide was not a prisoner in South
Africa and that such an action could ‘create difficulties.’”

Stapleton swiftly overcame Bienvenu’s reluctance. Bienvenu agreed to
relay U.S. and French “shared concerns” to the South African
government, under the “pretext” (i.e. veiled threat) 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.”

The Frenchman went even further, according to the Jul. 1, 2005 cable:
“Bienvenu speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, seeing a
possible opportunity to hinder him in the logistics of reaching
Haiti,” Stapleton wrote. “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 [Caribbean
Community] countries by the U.S. and EU to warn them against
facilitating any travel or other plans Aristide might have. He
specifically recommended speaking to the Dominican Republic, which
could be directly implicated in a return attempt.”

Five days later in Ottawa, two Canadian diplomatic officials met with
the U.S. Embassy personnel.  “‘We are on the same sheet’ with regards
to Aristide,” one Canadian affirmed, according to the Jul. 6, cable.
“Even before these recent rumors, she said, Canada had a clear
position in opposition to the return of Aristide.”

Canada shared the message with “all parties… especially the CARICOM
countries,” as well with South Africa.

But “the South Africans reportedly questioned whether it is fair to
encourage Lavalas to participate in the elections without their most
important leader being on the ground,” the cable said. “They are not
convinced of the good will of those who would exclude him being

Aristide’s exclusion from Haiti during post-coup elections was
essential, because Washington was fully aware of his continuing
popularity. U.S. Ambassador James Foley admitted in a confidential
Mar. 22, 2005 cable that an August 2004 poll “showed that Aristide was
still the only figure in Haiti with a favorability rating above 50%”
and thus “Aristide's shadow continues to hang over the movement.”

So the Embassy’s dilemma was how to keep Aristide in exile but still
mobilize the Lavalas base because, as Foley noted, the “degree to
which the Lavalas constituency participates in the election will be a
large factor in the legitimacy of the elections, and we are therefore
following developments inside the movement closely.” They found an
answer to their dilemma in the man once considered Aristide’s “twin,”
Rene Preval.

Preval remains bitter

The de facto post-coup Haitian government that followed Aristide and
persecuted his supporters resolutely opposed his return. Then Rene
Preval, formerly Prime Minister in 1991 under Aristide, emerged as the
frontrunner to become president (for the second time) in Haiti’s 2006
election. U.S. Ambassador Sanderson was reassured that “In all his
private dealings, Preval has consistently rejected any further
association with Aristide and Lavalas, and bitterly denounced Aristide
in conversations with the Charge and other Embassy officers.”

In her December 2005 profile of Preval, she commented “We see no
credible evidence that Preval is prepared to reconcile with Aristide
or Lavalas leaders.”

Publicly, Preval maintained that Aristide was free to exercise his
constitutional right to return to Haiti.  Lavalas supporters voted for
him in droves, expecting he would facilitate Aristide’s homecoming. He
did not.

The next year, Preval began to worry that Lavalas would dominate the
next legislative election, take control of the government, and pave
the way for Aristide’s return. He met with Marc Bazin, a former World
Bank economist, presidential candidate, and long-time reliable partner
of the U.S. Embassy, who relayed the conversation to the U.S.

“Preval seemed preoccupied with Aristide, asking Bazin for his
advice,” Sanderson wrote in a September 2006 cable. “(Bazin suggested
that Preval travel to South Africa to tell Aristide personally that
the political situation was too delicate for his return.  Preval
responded that ‘the foreigners’ would never stand for his visiting
Aristide.  This was, we trust, Preval's way of discounting a
monumentally bad piece of advice from Bazin.)”

When rumors swirled that Aristide would relocate to Venezuela, Preval
told the Ambassador “that he did not want Aristide ‘anywhere in the
hemisphere,’” Sanderson noted in an October 2008 cable. The US was
concerned but did not believe the rumors to be credible.

There was no change in Washington’s policy of blocking Aristide’s
return with the Obama administration’s arrival. Aristide himself held
a press conference the day after the January 12, 2010 earthquake
saying he wanted to return to help with Haiti’s recovery. “As far as
we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time
to join the people of Haiti, share in their suffering, help rebuild
the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity,” he said,
close to tears.

Vatican joins the fight

The U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) met with his
counterpart at the Vatican to discuss the earthquake and relief
efforts days later. A Jan. 20, 2010 cable reports, “In discussions
with DCM over the past few days, senior Vatican officials said they
were dismayed about media reports that deposed Haitian leader — and
former priest — Jean Bertrand Aristide wished to return to Haiti…
The Vatican's Assesor (deputy chief of staff equivalent), Msgr. Peter
Wells, said Aristide's presence would distract from the relief efforts
and could become destabilizing.”

Wells called Archbishop Bernardito Auza in Haiti, who “agreed
emphatically that Aristide's return would be a disaster.”  The Vatican
“then conveyed Auza's views to Archbishop Greene in South Africa, and
asked him also to look for ways to get this message convincingly to
Aristide. DCM suggested that Greene also convey this message to the
SAG [South African government].”

U.S. efforts to block Aristide from returning to Haiti continued up
until the day he was heading to the jet that would fly him back to
Port-au-Prince. UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon and President Obama both
phoned South African President Jacob Zuma asking that he stop Aristide
from leaving South Africa before the Mar. 20 run-off election,
according to the Miami Herald.

“Former President Aristide has chosen to remain outside of Haiti for
seven years,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters
days before Aristide boarded his plane, echoing the Bush
administration’s claim that Aristide had “chosen” to leave Haiti in
the first place.

“To return this week could only be seen as a conscious choice to
impact Haiti’s elections,” Toner said, as if Aristide did not have the
right to do so while the U.S., which virtually dictated the results,
did. “We would urge former President Aristide to delay his return
until after the electoral process has concluded, to permit the Haitian
people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere. Return prior to
the election may potentially be destabilizing to the political

A hero’s welcome

Aristide’s return on Mar. 18 did nothing of the sort. “The problem is
exclusion, the solution is inclusion,” Aristide said during a brief
return speech at the airport after landing. And then he made his only
reference, however oblique, to the election from which his party was
barred: “The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the

Two days later the second round of Haiti’s election went off without a
hitch, but with record low participation by Haitians. Some polling
stations in Port-au-Prince were empty, with stacks of ballot sheets
sitting around, hours before they closed. Less than 24% of registered
voters went to their polls.

As the tropical sun came out the morning of Aristide’s return in
Port-au-Prince, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A 42-year-old
mechanic, Toussaint Jean, had come from the opposite end of the city
with a few friends to stand outside the airport’s chain-link fence.

“The masses of people haven’t really mobilized,” he said, “because for
three days they’ve been saying he’s coming, but the Americans are
putting pressure, and we think he can’t return soon. Today you don’t
see very many people. The people are doubting – is he coming, is he
not coming?”

Nonetheless, by the time Aristide had touched down and finished his
speech, perhaps 10,000 people (estimates vary) had gathered outside
the airport in an exuberant demonstration. They jogged alongside his
motorcade waving Haitian flags and placards bearing Aristide’s visage,
then scaled the wall surrounding Aristide’s home and poured into its
grounds until there was no room left to move. The crowd even climbed
the house’s walls and covered the roof.

Sitting in an SUV just 20 feet from the door to his hastily repaired
but mostly empty house (“rebels” had ransacked it after the coup),
Aristide and his family waited until a crew of Haitian policeman
managed to clear what resembled a pathway through the crowd. First his
wife and two daughters emerged from the car and dashed inside the

Finally Aristide, diminutive in a sharp blue suit, stood up in the car
doorway and waved. The crowd roared in excitement and surged around
him. The path to the door vanished. His security grabbed him and
shouldered their way through the sea of humanity until they got him to
the house’s door, through which he popped like a cork, clutching his
glasses in his hands.

After a coup, kidnapping, exile, diplomatic intrigue, and his
rapturous welcome, Aristide was finally back home.

(Please consider making a contribution to Haiti Liberte, which is in
financial straits due, in part, to expenses incurred in obtaining the
WikiLeaks cables. You can donate on our website www.haitiliberte.com
or click on the link http://goo.gl/oY7ct .)


Leave a comment