Four months after the return of President Aristide, there is both good and not so good news. The fact that the elected President of Haiti was able to return on October 15 without bloodshed (made possible by the "permissive entry" of US troops in September), and the fact that there is a peace of sorts (guaranteed mainly by the presence of the US/UN forces), are both positive developments. So also the passage by Parliament of a law enabling legislative and local elections for some 2,000 officials to be held in June.
Problems continue, especially with an economy that has not yet improved, and a level of violence that, while much lower than during the three years of military rule, is still worrisome. The US troops will hand off to UN forces next month and all are to be gone next year. Most of the ex-military simply disappeared last fall, but most with their weapons. Little effort has been made to disarm them, the FRAPH, or other para-military groups.
So, a guarded optimism is still in order. Pres. Aristide's repeated "no to violence, no to vengeance, yes to reconciliation" has become a virtual mantra and is apparently having some impact. The generals are gone and many of the other hard-line officers have been sent into isolation as military attachιs abroad, and Aristide has brought into his government people representing varying positions.
USCC Position: The present moment presents something of a policy hiatus, except for the issue of refugees (most of whom held at Guantαnamo having been returned to Haiti), and the matter of foreign aid. USCC has been explicit on a number of the Haitian issues over the past three years, and this quote from an earlier Update is still relevant in parts:
From the beginning of the present crisis, the USCC has made clear its repudiation of the violent coup that overthrew the elected government and called for the restoration of President Aristide. We have criticized the violence and violations of human rights committed both by the supporters and opponents of Aristide, before, during, and after his time in office. We have repeatedly insisted on the need for a more compassionate US response to the Haitian refugees, strongly opposing the policy of interdiction and automatic return. And we have advocated generous economic aid to this poorest of hemispheric nations upon the restoration of the constitutional order. To review recent USCC/NCCB involvement:
Catholic Relief Services, which has been operational in Haiti for years, continues to provide needed medicine, food, and training to several hundreds of thousands of the poorest, especially women, children and the aged.
Migration and Refugee Services, plays a major role in the reception and resettlement of the refugees who have been able to come to the US, and in advocating for immigration policies characterized by generosity and compassion as well as realism.
Secretariat for Latin America provides funding for church-related development and training projects in Haiti.
International Justice and Peace, in monitoring US policy, assisted with the following Conference statements last Fall:
- An August 30 denunciation of the killing of Fr. Jean-Marie Vincent, praying that the death of this well-known associate of Fr. Aristide "not portend an escalation of the repression, especially against the followers of the deposed president."
- A September 13 tri-conference statement of the presidents of CELAM, the Canadian Conference and USCC urging all factions in Haiti "to come together in courageous and frank dialogue" to find a nonviolent political solution to restore democratic order to Haiti.
- A September 16 statement after President Clinton's broadcast that an invasion would take place, calling the proposed military intervention a "tragic failure of policy, dialogue and diplomacy" and urging the de facto government in Haiti to step down, "not only to end an unlawful usurpation of power, but also to avoid massive military intervention; the statement again called on all parties "to find effective ways, short of military intervention, to ensure respect for democratic values and human rights" and concluded that "No opportunity to negotiate a peaceful solution should be missed."
- A September 19 comment on the previous day's agreement by Cedras et al. to step down, negotiated by the Carter delegation, commending President Clinton for "walking the extra mile by commissioning these eleventh hour negotiations to avert the shedding of blood."
- And finally, an October 14 comment on Aristide's return, expressing the hope that it signals "a genuine new beginning for justice, peace and reconciliation...Great efforts at tolerance, cooperation and good faith will be demanded of every institution and sector in Haiti. For true democracy to take hold, and for all to benefit from a restored and newly reinvigorated economy, the violence, mistrust and animosities of the past must give way to a sense of common purpose and shared destiny."