Thursday, December 18, 2008

Demonstrations in Haiti

The Freeport News

Demonstrations in Haiti
December 18, 2008

Major demonstrations that took place in Haiti earlier this week could signal the beginning of another chapter in that troubled nation's history of political violence and instability.

Thousands of Haitians marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince and several other cities on Tuesday calling for the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from exile in South Africa and demanding that President Rene Preval keep a promise he supposedly made two years ago to let Aristide return to Haiti.

"We voted for Preval because he promised to bring back Aristide," one demonstrator shouted, according to one wire service report on the demonstration.

What is most significant about these demonstrations is that they come at a time when the United States is about to swear in a new president, and there is every reason for supporters of Aristide to believe that the new Democratic administration may not be as anti-Aristide as the former Republican administration headed by President George W. Bush. Indeed, Aristide supporters are convinced that the armed uprising that forced him to resign the presidency early in 2004 and leave Haiti was supported by President Bush's administration. They also strongly believe that the administration of George Bush Sr., 13 years earlier, supported the military coup that deposed Aristide in 1991, just eight months after he won election.

For most of the time between 1991 and 1994, Aristide lived in the United States and generated strong support among the Congressional Black Caucus, which wields tremendous power within the Democratic Party. It was, therefore, not surprising that his return to power in Haiti in 1994 with strong backing from the U.S. military was during the first term of Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Undoubtedly, this fact is what has Aristide supporters now believing that history may repeat itself under the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama, who will be sworn in on January 20. Their optimism may very well be buttressed by the fact that one of Aristide's strongest supporters during his tenure as president was Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a democratic representative from the state of California, who had very strong ties to President Clinton.

Waters was quite outspoken in denouncing reported U.S. involvement in the uprising that forced Aristide to flee Haiti on February 29, 2004, for the Central African Republic, and she was said to be instrumental in arranging for then Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson to invite Aristide in March of that year to spend some time in Jamaica. After spending several weeks in Jamaica, Aristide left for exile in South Africa.

Obviously, supporters of Aristide are hoping that Waters and the Congressional Black Caucus will have some influence on the first elected black President of the United States, and that influence will translate into support for Aristide's return to Haiti. But very little has changed in Haiti with regard to the seemingly equal amount of love and hate that Aristide generates among the Haitian people. Therefore, his return to Haiti could very well trigger a new round of violence in that country that would certainly not be in the best interest of The Bahamas, which has had a very serious illegal Haitian immigrant problem for decades.

Minister of State for Immigration Branville McCartney, who is doing a remarkable job addressing the illegal immigrant problem, should brace himself to deal with a substantially increased influx of illegal Haitians if sustained violence were to erupt in Haiti should Aristide be allowed to return.

Actually, he would be wise to start preparing for that eventuality because the possibility of that happening now appears to be quite likely.