No government should stand in the way of Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, from returning to Haiti, the Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Mark Weisbrot said today, following news that Aristide was en route to Haiti. (See Eurasia Review articles by Nicolas Rossier: Exclusive Interview With Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Former President Aristide Back In Haiti – Maybe A Great Opportunity To Reconcile Haitians For Once)
Weisbrot noted that there is still a chance that Washington could pressure the government of Haiti to not let Aristide’s plane land. “That would be even more outrageous, and would probably provoke a strong reaction within Haiti and from other governments.”
Weisbrot added, “President Zuma is to be commended for standing up to the United States government and the UN Secretary General, both of which have attempted to violate international law by preventing President Aristide from returning to his home country.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty that the United States has ratified, states that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
“This is another example of how most developing countries respect international law more than the United States does,” said Weisbrot. “How can our government preach to others about the rule of law? Or democracy in North Africa, when they do not respect democracy just a few hundred miles from our East Coast?
President Obama personally called South African president Jacob Zuma to urge him to delay Aristide’s travel for up to a month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a similar phone call.
It has been a long-standing policy of the U.S. government to maintain President Aristide in exile and lobby other governments to do the same. State Department documents released by Wikileaks reveal pressure by U.S. government officials for the governments of Brazil and South Africa to oppose Aristide’s return to Haiti as early as 2005. A Wikileaks cable from that year describes U.S. communications with high-level Brazilian officials: “Ambassador and PolCouns [Political Counselor] also stressed continued USG insistence that all efforts must be made to keep Aristide from returning to Haiti or influencing the political process, and asked whether the GOB also remains firm on that point.”
Weisbrot added that Aristide’s return has “historic significance not only for Haiti but for the entire Western Hemisphere.
“After the 2009 coup in Honduras, where the United States went against the rest of the hemisphere and successfully supported the coup government, Aristide’s return marks an end to the era when the United States gets to choose the political leaders of other countries. It is a historic victory for democracy and self-determination.”
Aristide was overthrown, for the second time, in a 2004 coup that was organized by the United States and its allies, who cut off international aid to Haiti in the preceding years in order to topple the democratically elected government.
In recent weeks French officials have also stated that Aristide’s return before the planned March 20 runoff elections would be “not a very good idea …we should not add problems to problems.”
The Haitian constitution forbids forced exile of Haitian citizens. Article 41 declares that “no individual of Haitian nationality can be deported or forced to leave the country for any reason whatsoever,” and Article 41-1 adds that “no Haitian needs a visa to leave the country or to return to it.” Despite this, Aristide has always maintained that he was kidnapped and flown out of Haiti by the U.S. government and France in 2004 and flown to the Central African Republic. Save for a brief exile in the Central African Republic, and a trip to Jamaica (which the U.S. government also opposed), he has lived in South Africa ever since.