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The International Wrong

BY Salim Muwakkil

How much trust can this administration inspire if it praises democracy in speech while trashing it in practice?

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) seems to be the only governmental body concerned about the Bush administration’s controversial role in the recent regime change in Haiti.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s duly elected president, charged he was the victim of a coup d’etat February 29 that was aided and abetted by U.S. forces. “One could say that it was a geo-political kidnapping,” he said, or “terrorism disguised as diplomacy.”

Aristide made these charges in a statement broadcast on Pacifica Radio’s “Flashpoints News” magazine following his arrival in the Central African Republic, after being spirited away from Haiti by gunpoint. He said U.S. officials in Port-au-Prince told him that he and his family were unlikely to survive attacks by armed rebels and that the Americans said “they will kill thousands of people and it will be a bloodbath,” unless the family quickly boarded a U.S.-chartered plane into exile.

In the statement, which was the only communication he was allowed, Aristide revealed that on the night of the coup, “the national palace was surrounded by white men armed to their teeth,” and it was clear to him that “we were already under an illegal foreign occupation [which was] ready to drop bodies on the ground, to spill blood and then kidnap me dead or alive.”

This is damning testimony. Bush administration officials dismiss Aristide’s charges, calling them “nonsense,” and claim he left Haiti voluntarily. Still, Aristide’s allegations seem increasingly credible as more information emerges about his abrupt exit and the odd location of his forced exile (the Central African Republic?). Except for the CBC, however, few in the United States seem interested.

And that’s odd. After all, shouldn’t all Americans care about charges that the Bush administration colluded with forces conspiring to overthrow a democratically elected leader? How much trust can this administration inspire if it praises democracy in speech while trashing it in practice?

“I demand that this administration explain how they allowed a democratically elected government to be overthrown by a group of heavily armed thugs,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) said during a March 3 hearing of the House International Relations subcommittee. Waters was addressing her remarks to Roger Noriega, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, a man long dedicated to Aristide’s removal.

“Roger Noriega has been dedicated to ousting Aristide for many, many years, and now he’s in a singularly powerful position to accomplish it,” Robert White, former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay, was quoted in New York Newsday. White—president of the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based group dedicated to promoting U.S. foreign policy based on international cooperation, demilitarization and respect for human rights—said Noriega’s rise was the result of ties to North Carolina Republican and former Senator Jesse Helms, an arch-conservative foe of Aristide.

Waters charged that Noriega pursued a policy that sought to undermine Aristide’s government for many years and blasted the Bush administration for encouraging ties to the Haitian opposition. “I am especially concerned by the possibility that the U.S. government may have armed and trained the former military officers and death squad leaders who carried out last Sunday’s coup.”

Several other CBC members took turns questioning Noriega, often in aggressive and abrasive ways. They were angered by the Bush administration’s seeming support for Aristide’s opposition, even though it includes many unsavory characters. Observers unfamiliar with Noriega’s history of hostility to Aristide may have felt a touch of sympathy for him. But Noriega’s diffident responses to urgent questions about the Bush administration’s Haiti policy were designed more to deflect controversy than provide real answers.

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), a founding member of the CBC, said the group of black legislators backs the call by CARICOM (the 15-member Caribbean Community) that an investigation into Aristide’s departure is conducted urgently by the United Nations. “We have made it known that we are of the view that the United States facilitated a coup d’etat and we want not just the U.N. to investigate but also the Congress,” Rangel told the Trinidad & Tobago Express.

Those circumstances would be farcical were they not so tragic—and so redolent of Western imperialism. The colonial scenario of masters banishing insurgent subjects to far-flung exile is etched into Western history; Aristide’s treatment is just a contemporary echo. There is little national concern being expressed about the Haitian situation because Aristide’s treatment conforms neatly to the Western narrative about unruly colonial subjects.

For those reasons and more, the CBC’s shrill objections to business as usual in Haiti are particularly welcomed and very long overdue.

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor of In These Times, where he has worked since 1983. He is the host of "The Salim Muwakkil" show on WVON, Chicago's historic black radio station, and he wrote the text for the book HAROLD: Photographs from the Harold Washington Years.

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