Say No to Aristide
The fact that the Clinton Administration's foreign policy lacks any direction or purpose should not be news to anyone. Our Fearless leader's record has been criticized for being one long succession of bumbling and general incompetence in Somalia, Bosnia, North Korea and Haiti.
In the last case, it seems that the president is building up the resolve and the backbone to send in the Marines to "restore democracy" and return Jean Bertrand Aristide to the presidency from which he was so rudely ejected in September 1991.
But invading Haiti would be a big mistake. And it would be an even worse move if the U.S. government were to restore Aristide to power.
The single most important reason for rejecting an invasion of Haiti is that it does not further any discernible interest of the United States.
The current regime in Haiti does not pose even a potential threat to this country or its citizens. The U.S. does not have any economic or political interests within Haiti it self that are threatened.
Some will argue that it is in the interest of the U.S. to promote democracy and human rights everywhere. According to this logic, we should invade every country that does not pass democratic muster.
Shall we then invade Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), where the military toppled a civilian regime? What about Gambia, the West African nation whose democratic leader was overthrown in a coup only two or three days ago? And let's not forget Saudi Arabia and Syria and Cuba and Zaire.
Haiti itself has a 300-year history of oppressive government, and supporter of the invasion can advance no reason for thinking that American military intervention will promote lasting democracy or respect for human rights there.
From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. occupied Haiti for strategic reasons connected with the route to the Panama Canal and attempted along the way to build up the economic and political infrastructure of Haiti.
That effort was a failure, and its only lasting effect was to renew strongly anti-American feelings in Haiti.
But even if it were in America's interest to invade Haiti, and even if the American government possessed the ability to remake Haiti in its own image (as it did so successfully in Somalia), the invasion would still be a bad idea because of President Clinton's determination to restore Aristide to power.
Many people in America seem to have acquired the nation that the struggle in Haiti is one of Good versus Evil, with Aristide in the vanguard of the forces of righteousness, facing the cruel overlords of the Haitian army.
Well, the Haitian army has killed a lot of people since 1991 (3,000 by some estimates) And it seems to have little interest in human rights and other such niceties.
But Aristide is no angel, although he was once a Catholic priest. In 1988 Pope John Paul II defrocked Aristide for preaching in favor of a class war in Haiti. Aristide has also made a point of repeatedly denounceing the U.S.
And Aristide's record during his seven months in office was one of corruption and abuses of political and human rights, as Christopher Caldwell so thoroughly documented in the July issue of The American Spectator.
Aristide won the 1990 election with 67 percent of the vote. Before he was even sworn in, the former head of the Duvalier regime's feared Tontons Macoute attempted to seize power in a coup that was suppressed by the army.
In response, Aristide supporters rioted in the streets, killing 100 and destroying the businesses of people who had not supported Aristide. The president-elect himself described the mob violence as "just."
The leader of the coup attempt was tried before the Supreme Court of Haiti in July 1991. Although the maximum sentence under law was 15 years in prison, Aristide demanded a life sentence.
To accomplish this, Aristide appealed to his supporters to surround the court building, which they did, not-so-subtly threatening to lynch the justices if they did not comply. Fearing for their lives, they did.
In Haiti, lynching is accomplished by placing a car tire around the lynchee's neck, filing it with gasoline, and setting it aflame. This is known colloquially as "Pere Lebrun" named after a Haitian tire manufacturer.
After his notable success in intimidating the Supreme Court, Aristide gave a speech to his supporters near the capital. Part of it is quoted in The American Spectator, and it is grisly reading:
"ARISTIDE: Does the Constitution tell people to forget their Pere Lebrun?
"ARISTIDE: The masses have their own little tool their own little secret, their own wisdom. When they were talking about 15 years inside the court, according to the law...outside the people began hitting their Pere Lebrun on the pavement, because the people's ire was swelling up. That's how the law became a sentence for life...Did the people give Pere Lebrun that day?
"ARISTIDE: But if things didn't go as they should, would the people have given Pere Lebrun?
"ARISTIDE: That is what you are learning...You will earn to write Pere Lebrun, you will learn to think about Pere Lebrun You will learn to use it when you must."
This is nothing short of incitement to violence. Aristide also employed the same tactics against the democratically elected Parliament when it tried to question Aristide's prime minister about allegations of corruption.
And numerous other abuses of power, ranging from intimidation to outright murder, were committed by Aristide's regime.
So, if the U.S. were to replace General Cedras with Aristide, it would only exchange on dictator for another. There is no point in asking any American soldier or sailor to risk his life for that.
Instead, the U.S. should seek some diplomatic settlement which will ameliorate the harshness of the military regime and keep Aristide far from the reigns of power.
Clinton should immediately lift the cruel embargo, which hurts the poor people that he claims to care about, and causes them to risk life and limb in desperate attempts to reach Florida.
And from now on, we should think of military action only when our national interest is threatened, as it currently is in North Korea.