Monday, July 16, 2007

Aristide departs, Marines move in

Aristide departs, Marines move in

UN approves U.S. - led mission to restore peace as fragmented opposition groups in Haiti battle for political influence


Tina Susman is a staff correspondent and Michael Deibert is a special correspondent.


March 1, 2004

(Read the original here)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide slipped into exile yesterday and left a capital in chaos. Shotgun-wielding loyalists overran the streets and fired at will, looters tore through businesses, and armed men claiming allegiance to a rebel army began marching through neighborhoods.

U.S. Marines took the lead in establishing a multinational force approved last night by the United Nations Security Council for a three-month mission to restore order. The first hundred of what were expected to be several hundred Marines left Camp Lejeune, N.C., yesterday evening and arrived in Port-au-Prince after dark, according to John Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the UN.

Hours earlier, Aristide's constitutional successor, Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre, was sworn into office and pleaded for calm. "We need all sons and daughters of the country to work for peace, justice and law," he read from a hand-written statement, a sign of the haste with which the transition was made.

Haiti's first democratically elected president, who in recent years had been accused of corruption, human rights abuses and ineptitude, apparently flew out of the capital undetected about 6:45 a.m. in a U.S.-provided jet after losing the support not only of many Haitians, but of his chief international backers. Once among Aristide's strongest supporters, both the United States and France, Haiti's former colonial ruler, praised his resignation and said it was the only way to halt the carnage.

"The government believes it is essential that Haiti have a hopeful future," President George W. Bush said at the White House as he announced the deployment of Marines, who join 50 sent here last week to protect the U.S. Embassy. France was also expected to contribute troops.

Rumors about the circumstances of Aristide's departure ran wild: that he was bundled onto the plane handcuffed because he refused to quit voluntarily; that Alexandre was roused from bed and informed he was president; that U.S. officials threatened to charge Aristide with drug-trafficking unless he resigned.

No matter what the true circumstances, once news of Aristide's departure spread at about 8 a.m., mania ensued. Some jails were emptied as police abandoned their posts, looters used machetes and sticks to break into shops, and black smoke from burning barricades and torched businesses billowed into the air downtown. Some revelers cheered Aristide's downfall with shouts of "Happy New Year!" Within hours, small groups of armed men claiming to be fighters of rebel leader Guy Philippe, whose insurrection began Feb. 5, appeared in Port-au-Prince.

"We are with Guy Philippe's team, and we are make sure that everything can function normally," said Fautsin Radeux as he marched through the Petionville neighborhood clutching an Uzi submachine gun. Small groups of residents clapped.

More often, though, the scene was ugly as armed gangs known as chimeres, who claimed loyalty to Aristide, unleashed their anger on passersby. "They stopped us. I got out of the car and raised my hands and said I work for a hospital, and if you hurt me you will be hurting a lot of people," said a hospital director stopped at a roadblock.

The gang let him pass, then opened fire and shot out his tires, said the man, who declined to give his name.

Across from his hospital, a group discussed the day's events and warily eyed the few vehicles that passed. "I'm happy, because it's a government of terror that has left the country," said Carl-Henri Dorsainville.

Samuel Pierre, though, said he expected only an increase in the turmoil that had left him unable to find work. "Aristide had been taking care of us....I'm just worried about how I'm going to eat."
Aristide, whose destination was not known, had insisted as late as Saturday that he would not resign, despite increased pressure and the encroaching rebel forces. Scores of people have died since the rebels took up arms, including several in the capital. A letter read by Prime Minister Yvon Neptune at a news conference announcing Aristide's departure said he decided to leave to "avert bloodshed."

"I know it is not what the vast majority of the people ... would have wished to happen," said Neptune, calling the resignation a "great sacrifice" that would let peace "truly blossom."

In Haiti's second-largest city, rebel-held Cap-Haitien, Philippe said his forces would stop fighting. "If we move in Port-au-Prince, it will be to impose security," he told CNN.

Political opposition leaders, meanwhile, who have always claimed to be independent of the armed opposition, gathered to plot strategy. One problem will be how to deal with the armed rebels should they demand roles in a new government. Some, like Louis-Jodel Chamblain, are linked to atrocities in the regimes that ruled Haiti before Aristide's 1990 election. Many are former members of the army, which Aristide disbanded in 1994, three years after a military coup drove him from power.

"These guys are basically military," said one opposition leader, Charles Baker, saying he doubted they would demand a governing role. However, Baker also admitted there was no plan for what to do with the armed resistance since Haiti lacked the money to re-form its army.

Politically, things were equally unclear. The constitution called for Alexandre to take over but said he must be approved by parliament. It was also unclear if Alexandre would serve the remainder of Aristide's term, which was to end in 2006, or if a transitional administration would take over. Whatever happens, "We have to have a government that belongs to the citizens of Haiti," said Baker, a member of the coalition of political groups making up the opposition.

It won't be the first try. The island nation, which became independent from France in 1804, has been ruled by military juntas and civilian dictatorships for most of its history. Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest, was expected to change that in 1990 when he ran for president in Haiti's first free elections. With backing from millions of poor Haitians inspired by his anti-government sermons, Aristide won the vote by a two-thirds majority. A few months later he was ousted and fled into exile, not returning until 1994 when President Bill Clinton flew him home under Marine guard.

After his return, opposition activists began accusing Aristide of having adopted the same dictatorial tendencies as his predecessors, culminating in election boycotts and a cutoff of most international aid following disputed elections in 2000. Human rights groups accused him of ordering killings of political opponents and of involvement in drug trafficking, charges that Aristide denied.

Despite those accusations, Aristide still had the support of many. "Aristide was voted into power. He was supposed to serve until 2006, and he should have had time," said Jean Thermogine, a barbershop owner. "We should have been able to organize a political solution."

In the United States, the Black Congressional Caucus also denounced the Bush administration's decision to press Aristide to resign. "We're just as much a part of this coup d'etat as the rebels, as the looters, or anyone else," said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem).

Tina Susman is a staff correspondent and Michael Deibert is a special correspondent. Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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