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Haiti's Aristide urges new U.S. policies on refugees, blockade
STANFORD -- Exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Monday, April 18, brought his fight for international allies to Stanford University, where he urged an audience of 1,400 to work for new U.S. policies toward his besieged half-island nation.
On a national tour of college campuses and churches, Haiti's first elected president called the current limited U.N. embargo of Haiti a "sham" that merely enriches leaders of the military coup that forced him into exile in 1991. He called the U.S. program of "in-country asylum" for Haitian political refugees a "cynical joke" based in part on racism.
"If Haiti were a country of white people, and not black people, U.S. policy would change," he said to a capacity crowd in Memorial Auditorium.
Amid increasing press reports of murders, rapes and disappearances in Haiti, Aristide earlier this month announced that he was abrogating a 1981 treaty that allowed the United States to board Haitian ships and to turn back their passengers immediately.
Aristide, who was elected by 67 percent of the voters in 1990, compared Haiti's current situation under a dictatorship led by General Raoul Cedras to a house on fire. "When those inside somehow find a way to escape, the U.S. Coast Guard throws them back into the burning house."
Since the September 1991 coup toppled Aristide's 7-month-old government, he said an estimated 5,000 Haitians have been murdered by Haiti's corrupt military police and its civilian allies. About 300,000 Haitians are living in hiding, he said, and there are about 40,000 political refugees who have run mostly from a group calling itself the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH.
The organization is widely believed by U.N. officials, diplomats and human rights organizations to be a civilian squad organized by the military to intimidate and terrorize anyone thought to support Aristide.
"We are not alone in condemning this immoral policy" on the return of refugees, Aristide said. He pointed to the hunger strike begun April 12 by Randall Robinson, director of Trans-Africa, and a group of U.S. celebrities who hope to persuade the Clinton administration to change its refugee policy. (A decade ago, Robinson was instrumental in reviving international pressure on South Africa, pressure that led to international sanctions against Pretoria.) Recently, more U.S. Congress members also have been criticizing the Clinton administration's policies on Haiti.
Aristide urged Stanford faculty, staff and students to follow the "objective line of thinking" employed by philosophers Hegel, Husserl and Sartre in analyzing what they read and hear about Haiti. "We cannot say that red is blue because of the guns or the economic interests and lies. . . . Our challenge is to demonstrate with the pen, through the strategy of nonviolence, that red is red. We must reject irrational conclusions."
Aristide wants the United States and its allies who were involved last summer in negotiating an agreement with Cedras for Aristide's return to Haiti to implement a tighter blockade of the country, as they threatened but failed to do when Cedras and other Haitian military leaders reneged on the agreement.
"The international community still continues using statements instead of moving from statements to actions," Aristide said. "The Haitian people, of course, continue to lose faith in the international community," he said, while maintaining a belief in themselves.
Asked why he was not asking for U.S. military intervention, Aristide said that "we don't want to give any green light for military intervention when we don't see any political will . . . to help us, not the will to take the country."
Haiti, which became the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804, also has memories of an occupation by the U.S. Marines that began in 1915, an occupation that, Aristide said, is partly responsible for the nation's current problems with a corrupt combined military-police force. The Marines developed and trained an integrated military-police force in Haiti, which political scholars say, wields absolute power that invites corruption and leads to the political instability of any government there.
The result is that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with an 85 percent illiteracy rate, Aristide said, and 10 soldiers compared with 1.8 doctors for every 10,000 citizens. If the will of the majority is not restored, he said, "we have to think about what will happen [to democracy] in other countries."
Aristide's strategy for restoring democracy, he said, is to use "the pen" against "the gun" of his enemies. His supporters, he said, speak of moving Haiti "from misery to poverty with dignity," and they reject vengeance.
But he did not rule out the possibility of a violent rebellion by his supporters, and, when asked, laid out the Christian theological justification for using violence against violence, as Nicaraguan rebels did in 1979.
Practically speaking, however, he said, democracy advocates within Haiti have no way of getting weapons or finances to support an armed rebellion, whereas the limited embargo allows the coup leaders to make money from drug trafficking and to get supplies into the country through the border it controls with the Dominican Republic.
"We have a so-called army of 7,000 officials and soldiers having 40 percent of the national budget and deeply involved in drug traffic," he said. "Since the coup, Haiti is the second-largest country in the hemisphere dealing with drug trafficking, which means close to 50 tons of cocaine going to Haiti each year, which brings $1.2 billion to them."
In introducing Aristide to the Stanford audience, Terry Karl, a political scientist who directs Stanford's Center for Latin American Studies, criticized the United States for being "remarkably effective" at finding Haitian refugee boats at sea while it "misses large tankers" and airplanes that allow the Haitian military to traffic in drugs.
A recent bill proposed in Congress by Representative Ron Dellums, Oakland, urges President Clinton to call for a multilateral border patrol between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as well as a freeze on all foreign assets of Haitian military leaders, the denial of visas to them and a severing of air links to Haiti. Students handed out fliers before Aristide's speech that urged attendees to contact their congressional representatives on behalf of the Dellums bill.
Asked about the role of churches in his cause, the former Catholic priest praised U.S. churches for building a network to support restoration of Haitian democracy. Aristide, who was removed from the priesthood for his involvement in "liberation theology," noted, however, that the Vatican is the only state not to recognize him as the legitimate leader of Haiti. Priests and nuns in Haiti, however, have been supportive and have "suffered with the people of God," he said, as "the people of God" were defined by church leaders at the Second Vatican Council.
If returned to office, Aristide said, he will continue with plans for land ownership reform, but tackling illiteracy must go hand in hand in order to "raise consciousness" about the environment.
"We face an almost total ecological disaster," he said, with about 7,500 trees being cut down per month since the coup began and the loss of 36 million metric tons of soil annually.
"The same way our refugees are going to the sea, [that] they are dying, the land is going to the sea, and we need the reform to save the land, to save human beings."
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