Friday, October 22, 2004

 

Haiti Primer #1

This is just about current events in Haiti, whose history is a snarled and tangled web of conflicts.

The current troubles of Haiti arose shortly after the devastating Hurricane Jeanne that destroyed a large chunk of the island's buildings (Haiti shares the island with the Dominican Republic). The storm left flooding in its wake, accompanied by rampant disease and starvation.

The slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, have been the center of the military struggle that has recently exploded into virtual warfare. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was exiled to South Africa on February 29th, and has recently come under scrutiny as the possible instigator, albeit a long-distance one, of the uprisings in Haiti. He has denied all allegations that he is behind said uprisings. He was removed from power in Haiti by a military coup on September 30, 2003.

The New York Times says that Haiti "has effectively been in international receivership" since Aristide's exile. The United Nations has backed the transitional government, led by Gerard Latortue who was picked to be Haiti's interim prime minister by--what else?--"an American-backed council of prominent Haitians..." Latortue recently pleaded with Colin Powell not to withdraw Marine forces en masse, but he was ignored. Apparently, the Marines were needed elsewhere--can we guess where?

Pro-Aristide militants have been making their voices heard since summer, but the violence escalated on September 30th, the anniversary of the coup that toppled Aristide from power. There are more than 90 political parties in Haiti, and the group known as the Lavalas--which means "cleansing flood"--is a populist movement amid this candy-store of political choices. The Lavalas are slum-based supporters of Aristide who wish to see him restored to power. The military, despite being disbanded in 1995, have taken up arms against the Lavalas and others who still support Aristide. Lavalas, it would appear, wants mainly for Aristide to be restored to his former office long enough for democratic elections to be held next year.

Gerard Latortue moved back to Haiti from Boca Raton in order to take up the reins of the American-built interim government until elections can be held in 2005. The New York Times reports that "the government has come to be seen by many here, including some international officials, as partial toward the former military and anti-Lavalas. Mr. Latortue himself saluted a former rebel leader [military--my brackets] as a 'freedom fighter,' and, in a hasty, overnight trial, his government exonerated another rebel leader of his notoriously violent past. Mr. Latortue's government has allowed former military officers and rebels to take charge or remain in charge of several towns...." The former military have pledged to give up their weapons in exchange for power, but have yet to make good on this promise.



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