Sunday, March 07, 2004

Romanticizing Aristide

I find it hard to overstate how irritating it is for me to see so many Democrats level accusations about Bush's supposed "coup" in Haiti, as if Jean-Bertrand Aristide were some sort of blameless paragon of democracy deserving of American armed support. It's true enough that many of those who opposed Aristide were no better than the man himself, but if the choice in Haiti was only between one set of thugs and another, what justification can there for screaming blue murder when the leader of one party leaves the scene? This is a guy who first refused to hold parliamentary elections on schedule, then flagrantly rigged them when he was finally cajoled into doing so; to castigate Bush for not propping him up in the name of "democracy" is the height of cheek.

The fortune Aristide amassed for himself is unimaginable in a country where per capita income is less than $1 a day, a former admirer of the deposed President tells DAVID ADAMS

The young man led me down a rough track, through a dirt yard and into his humble cinderblock house on the western fringe of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. He ordered the women and children out of the main room and then fetched a black plastic bag from the bedroom.
Out of the bag he pulled $20,000 in $100 bills so rotten that some had crumbled like aged Stilton. Others were compressed so tightly that they were impossible to separate.
In a country where the average per capita income is barely $1 a day, this is a fortune. The man, who asked not to be identified, said that the money was part of a stash of approximately $350,000 that Jean-Bertand Aristide, the deposed Haitian President, left behind in his private home when he fled into exile last Sunday.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said as he described how he and other looters had discovered the money in one of four safes sealed behind a concrete-block wall in a secret underground compartment beneath the salon of Aristide’s house in the suburb of Tabarre. The looters used sledgehammers to break open the safe and found the money in five 3 inch-tall blocks wrapped in disintegrating elastic bands.
“It’s barbarism,” he said. “All the poor people suffered for him and he had all this money hidden under his house,” the man, who described himself as a long-time supporter of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, said. “Imagine what could have been done with this much money if it had been invested for the poor.”
The source of the money is anyone’s guess, although there have long been rumours that Aristide, a penniless former priest who rose to become the country’s most powerful politician, had amassed a sizeable fortune during a 14-year political career in which he was elected president twice.
Opponents have accused his wife, a US-educated lawyer, of setting up front companies to hide her husband’s investments in lucrative businesses, including several privatised former state companies.
Last week, the godfather of one of Aristide’s children, Beaudoin “Jacques” Ketant, told a court in Miami after receiving a 27-year jail sentence for drug trafficking that Aristide had turned Haiti into a “narco-country” and took pay-offs from the traffickers.

And here's a snippet from this week's edition of the Economist(sub. reqd.):

Establishing democracy in Haiti, the poorest and most misgoverned country in the Americas, was never going to be easy. The Americans and the United Nations quickly gave up. But Mr Aristide, too, carries much of the blame. The same dogmatic inflexibility that made him a brave opponent of dictatorship made him a poor democratic ruler.

Having installed an ally as president in 1995, Mr Aristide was complicit in delaying legislative elections for three years, with a consequent breakdown of government and the loss of several hundred million dollars of aid. When those elections were at last held in 2000, they were flawed. Several opposition candidates were murdered; the electoral court was browbeaten into awarding ten disputed Senate seats (and thus a majority) to Mr Aristide's party. Mr Aristide was then re-elected president in a poll boycotted by the opposition.

Ironically, Mr Aristide would almost certainly have won a free vote. But he was turning into another Haitian despot, wanting absolute control of his destitute country. He relied on gangs to enforce his rule. So reviled had this become that he was toppled by a rag-tag army of as few as 200 rebels.

Some paragon of responsibility, huh? If only more of those whining about Aristide's departure actually cared for the wellbeing of the people who had to suffer from the man's misrule.

Frankly, listening to the corrupt ingrate whining from his place of refuge in Bangui, without the slightest recognition that he's causing needless diplomatic difficulties for his hosts, I can't help thinking Bush ought to have left him to meet his attackers face to face - the Congressional Black Caucus would no doubt make a big to do about his "martyrdom", but at least we'd be spared the sight of this thug presenting himself as the democratic victim of evil American machinations.