After two months of opposition protests in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Haitian rebel forces have recently taken over 18 towns and cities, including Saint Marc, Grand Goave and Gonaives. The political and social turmoil has left over 45 dead.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere; 80 percent of its population lives in poverty.
After years of dictatorial rule, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in democratically held elections in 1990. Nine months later, he was ousted by a military coup d’tat. A military junta took over power until 1994, when U.S. forces went into the island and restored power to Aristide. He was re-elected in 2000, but the Organization of American States [OAS] and other international observers claim that those elections were flawed.
Upon returning to power in 1994, Aristide disbanded the military. The government today relies solely on its police force of 5,000 to restore peace.
According to several media sources, Aristide’s police force had already retaken control of Saint Marc and Grand Goave. However, Gonaives, a city of historical importance that saw the slaves declare independence in 1804 and held student uprisings against the Duvalier dictatorship in 1985, remains under rebel control.
The rebels have also created roadblocks that are threatening the distribution of food and medical supplies, according to the Associated Press.
“There are no institutional structures strong enough to deal with issues like this [in Haiti],” Dr. Irwin Stotzky, a UM law professor and former chief human rights investigator in Haiti, told The Washington Times.
In the article, Stotzky says that, were there to be a regime change in Haiti, there is no real leader to take his place.
“If the U.S. goes in with the mentality to keep the president in power, it’s not going to work.”
CASSANDRA JEAN-BAPTISTE, Junior
“[The two main opposition groups] seem to have thrown their lot in with former army members,” Stotzky said. “They don’t have a lot in common; it’s all about power.”
Stotzky, who wrote the book Silencing the Guns in Haiti: The Promise of Deliberative Democracy, says Aristide is still popular in Haiti.
“Believe it or not, if a vote was taken now, Aristide would get 85 percent,” Stotzky said.
UM freshman Christele Francois agrees.
“He still has a lot of followers,” Francois said.
However, she does not count herself as one.
“My uncle has been in prison [in Haiti]for two years for something he didn’t do,” Francois said. “People have tried to release him, but then [Aristide] asks, ‘Who wants to take his place?'”
Like Francois, many other UM students are international students from Haiti or have family still on the island. Although it does not include all students with Haitian ties, Planet Kreyol, the Haitian Student Organization on campus, has around 40 members.
“I think [this situation]makes it more difficult for us Haitian immigrants in the U.S.,” David Pierlus, freshman, said.
“[The situation] is really sad. This might end up in civil war,” Arabelle Abellard, junior, said. “[The Haitian people] should try to come together. They don’t have to be violent.”
“People from outside the country don’t understand the struggle,” Cassandra Jean-Baptiste, junior and international student, said.
Jean-Baptiste believes the solution is for the president to leave or to open up to elections, but the United States should know that Haiti is not a democracy.
“It’s not in our culture, and we are not ready for it yet,” Jean-Baptiste said. “If the U.S. goes in with the mentality to keep the president in power, it’s not going to work.”
The Bush administration has not mentioned sending in forces to Haiti as the Clinton administration did in 1994. Yet, on Feb. 10, the State Department said that reaching a political settlement will require some fairly thorough changes in the way Haiti is governed.
However, The New York Times reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell made clear on Feb. 12 that the government was not looking to oust Aristide.
“The policy of the administration is not regime change,” Powell said.
Patricia Mazzei can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.