Rejecting a direct personal appeal from Barack Obama, South Africa has allowed exiled Haitian president Jean- Bertrand Aristide's plane to take off. Obama told South African President Jacob Zuma that he had "deep concerns" that Aristide's return to Haiti will disrupt the country's presidential runoff, scheduled to take place this Sunday. But his plane took off yesterday and, after a stop in Dakar to refuel, is expected to arrive in Port-au-Prince later today, just a few hours before Obama will leave DC for Brazil. Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! will have on-the-spot coverage.
Meanwhile, in Haiti, a video has surfaced that shows one of the two neo-Duvalierist frontrunners, Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, threatening a bar patron: "All those shits were Aristide's faggots," he says. "I would kill Aristide to stick a dick up your ass." It shouldn't be taken as an idle threat. As Kim Ives points out, Martelly is close to Colonel Michel François, a mass murderer and one of the plotters of Aristide's 1991 overthrow.
So, what does Aristide's return mean in relation to Obama's Latin American bid?
The mainstream media is heavily spinning Obama's trip to Brazil as a rapprochement between Washington and Brasilia. Exhibiting a myopia typical of US reporters who can't seem to shift the focus, when it comes to locating the sources of diplomatic obstruction, back to the US, the New York Times's Alexei Barrionuevo today placed blame for the bad blood squarely on Brazil: "After a year of strain between Brazil and the United States-mostly because of Mr. da Silva's efforts to wade into the contentious standoff between the West and Iran over its nuclear program by seeking to avoid further sanctions when the United States was pushing for them."
Needless to say, there's no worse sin than the presumption that someone not from the "West"-a former metal worker and trade unionist no less-have a say in how the "West" wages its conflicts. Expectedly, Barrionuevo ignores the problems within the United States, which I touched on here, that prevent movement on issues from tariffs to climate change, Palestine to immigration.
But so far, the heralded "mending of fences" isn't panning out in any substantive sense.
Yesterday, Brazil, as a non-permanent member of the US Security Council, ignored heavy lobbying by Washington and abstained from the vote authorizing the bombing of Libya. Dilma's ambassador to the UN, Maria Luiza Riberio Viotti, must not have gotten the memo that Brazil would be cooperating more closely with Washington. Yesterday, she warned that military action would "exacerbate tensions on the ground and cause more harm than good to the same civilians we are committed to protect." And, judging from Aristide's impending return, Brazil likewise rebuffed US requests to pressure South Africa not to let Aristide head home. Zero for two, and Air Force One hasn't yet left the tarmac for Brazil.
Greg Grandin teaches history at New York University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.