On June 9, after a nasty, two-month diplomatic battle between the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the U.S. State Department, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution calling for a formal investigation into the removal of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Although the Bush administration attempted to keep the dubious conditions surrounding the ouster of Aristide from turning into another unsightly foreign policy pockmark, it found a surprisingly obdurate opponent in Caricom, a federation of 15 Caribbean nations.
The United States threatened to impose an arms embargo against Jamaica, the most outspoken member of Caricom. Condoleezza Rice warned of possible military recourse against Jamaica for harboring Aristide. And the United States withdrew in protest from a previously scheduled regional conference on terrorism and international security. Still, Caricom, while pledging its support for the people in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, refused to recognize the U.S.-backed régime of Gerard Latortue in Haiti.
After initially calling for a U.N. investigation, a call filibustered by Security Council members France and the United States, Caricom petitioned the OAS, where it had additional support from Venezuela.
In their request for the OAS investigation, Caricom invoked Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Signed by both the United States and Caricom, the charter calls for a “collective assessment” of the conditions “in the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional régime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a Member State.”
Despite getting the investigation it wanted, Caricom continues to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Latortue government.
After stints in the Central African Republic and Jamaica, on May 30 Aristide settled in South Africa, where he still maintains that he was forcefully and unwittingly removed by U.S. forces. “I didn’t resign. What some people call ‘resignation’ is a new coup d’etat, or modern kidnapping,” Aristide said in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. “They broke the constitutional order by using force to have me out of the country.”
The State Department denies all charges of wrongdoing, saying that the United States merely gave Aristide a free ride out of the country. U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, John Maisto, says the ouster of Aristide was constitutional and argues that Article 20 cannot be invoked. “If Aristide’s ouster was unconstitutional,” he said to The Associated Press on June 9, “how can you have a government in place that is constitutional and legal?”
When asked in March about the State Department’s hesitation to go along with the investigation, spokesman Richard Boucher said, “We just don’t think it’s necessary.”
Aristide, who has been accused of fostering corruption and human rights violations while serving as president, says he will return to Haiti in triumph. “Dialogue can be one of the best ways to pave the way for my return and to continue working with the Haitian people and the international community to make democracy flourish [in Haiti],” he said at a press conference in South Africa.
The Bush administration however has no intention of resuming any dialogue with Aristide. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega faults Aristide for failing to put an end to the process of “violence, authoritarianism and confrontation that has plagued that country since its independence 200 years ago.”