Haiti’s deposed president, Jean Bertrand-Aristide, appears poised to return to Haiti after a seven-year forced exile. Undoubtedly his presence in Port-au-Prince will change the dynamics of Haitian politics, despite any protestations he will stay on the sideline.
Aristide, the former priest who twice was elected president of his country, was essentially tricked out of office in 2004 by U.S. operatives during the George W. Bush administration and flown out of the country.
I accompanied him with a group of his supporters — including Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Randall Robinson, the founder of TransAfrica–who helped negotiate his release from virtual house arrest in the Central African Republic. I spoke with Aristide for hours in Africa and on the cross-Atlantic journey; he was cordial, considerate, intelligent, empathetic, yet at the same time enigmatic at every turn, never absolutely clear on his analysis of Haiti and his role there.
The Bush administration blocked Aristide’s return to Haiti and convinced the South African government to take him in. There he has been ever since, and the U.S. government again has been setting up roadblocks to his return to Port-au-Prince, where he says he will stay out of politics.
Amy Wilentz — there is no better analyst of Haiti that I know of — has written an analysis of Aristide and what he means to Haiti on the NY Times op-ed page.
In two lines, she encapsulates the problem:
Finding himself alone in a political sea of the entitled and the empowered, Mr. Aristide believed that all he could trust in the end was the brute power of the street — the “rouleau compresseur,” as it is called in Haitian politics, or the steamroller.
He was almost pathologically reluctant to work toward agreement among his advisers, among equals. He shares this distaste with many Haitians, who believe that theirs is a fatally polarized society and that consensus-building here almost inevitably leads to capitulation to the elite, and by extension to the international community.
Haiti has elections this weekend, which may be beside the point: ongoing inequity and suffering. More than a year after the Haitian earthquake, the situation for hundreds of thousands there remains dire. Track the non-profit medical-relief organization, Partners in Health, for Haiti and its needs.