Haiti's Chance for Peace begins with the Restoration of President Aristide

by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
May/June 2005 Issue

"The situation reminds me of the situation in El Salvador in the 1980's
when Archbishop Oscar Romero declared what it meant to be a poor person
in El Salvador. "To be a poor person," he said, "means to be disappeared, to be tortured, to be murdered and to have your body found in the gutter." This is what is happening to the poor of Haiti."
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton


February 28, 2005 marked the first anniversary of the forced removal of
President John Bertrand Aristide from office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

In November of 2000 President Aristide was overwhelmingly re-elected
with 92 percent of the vote. Local and international observers put
voter turnout at 65 percent. Gallup polls conducted in Haiti before and
after the election, confirmed both the voter turnout and the numbers
who voted for President Aristide.

President Aristide was forced to leave Haiti, a country he loves and
has served well for many decades. Even though the U.S. Embassy insists
that the U.S. government had nothing to do with his removal, it is not
difficult to discover U.S. involvement.

Ambassador James Foley insists that he came to Haiti two weeks before
the coup to present to President Aristide a final offer on how he could
remain in power. However, according to Ambassador Foley, President
Aristide was adamant, simply refused to cooperate and chose to leave.
In fact, the "offer" amounted to becoming the President in name only
while others made the real decisions.

This account reminds me of what happened in the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops a couple of decades ago, when Archbishop
Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, was told that he had received a
auxiliary bishop who would assume full responsibility in three areas of
the Archbishop's authority. Archbishop Hunthausen was given the
"choice" to accept this arrangement. It would be kept secret and he
would continue to appear to have full authority. However, Archbishop
Hunthausen determined that his responsibility was to let the people of
Seattle know who, in fact, was making decisions for them and on their
behalf. He went public and insisted that he would retain his full
authority. Of course, this brought on a crisis and eventually he was
forced to accept a compromise solution. The compromise allowed him to
have a veto over the nomination of the auxiliary. In this way he could
have some assurance of compatibility. In no way could it be called a
"free" choice.

What happened to President Aristide is very similar to that. He was
provided with conditions that no legitimate president could accept. He
would pretend to be acting as president, when in fact, his governing
power was almost totally removed, and was to be exercised under the
guidance of the United States. Obviously, President Aristide is too
honest a man to accept such a dishonest and evil solution to the
problems that were clearly present in Haiti. He was told if he did not
leave he would be killed together with thousands of Haitians. Without a
real choice he was put on a U.S. military plane to the Central African Republic, where he was to live quietly and be totally removed from Haiti and its concerns. Subsequently, the U.S. removed all of his ministers and set up a new government.

Since that time the situation in Haiti has deteriorated. Many
delegations of human rights observers from outside the country and
human rights workers within Haiti have documented what has happened
since President Aristide was forcibly removed from office. After 10
months under this interim government, backed by the United States,
Canada and France, and buttressed now by a force from the United
Nations, Haiti's people are caught up in an extreme situation of
violence. If you travel in the streets of Port-au-Prince or other
cities throughout the country, you will hear gunfire breaking out at
almost any moment, you will sometimes discover bodies abandoned in the
streets. You will see whole neighborhoods, where support for President
Aristide is very high, cut off from the outside world.People live in
fear especially in the poorest areas of Haiti. Gangs, police, irregular
soldiers and even U.N. Peacekeepers bring this fear. There is no
investment in dialogue to end the violence.

Haiti's security and justice institutions fuel the cycle of violence.
The police carry out summary executions. In many poor neighborhoods
even honest police officers feel they must kill or be killed. When
President Aristide was overthrown, the members of the former army which
he had disbanded, returned to the country, crossing the border from the
Dominican Republic, armed with weapons from the United States, even
wearing U. S. military uniforms. This restored army insists that it is
the only legitimate, constitutional entity in the country. The "army"
acts with brutality and complete disdain for the rights of the majority
of the people.

Many times I visited prisoners in Port-au-Prince and found that the
constitutional rights of these men and women have been completely
ignored. They are arrested without warrant, imprisoned without charge
and contrary to the law of Haiti, do not appear before a judge within
48 hours. Many have been kept in prison for weeks or months without any
indication of why they are there or what law they are alleged to have
broken. Obviously, they are simply people by whom the interim
government feels threatened. Among these political prisoners are Prime
Minister Yvon Neptune and Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert.

The situation reminds me of the situation in El Salvador in the 1980's
when Archbishop Oscar Romero declared what it meant to be a poor person
in El Salvador. "To be a poor person," he said, "means to be disappeared, to be tortured, to be murdered and to have your body found in the gutter." This is what is happening to the poor of Haiti.

One of the most difficult things for the poor is that when they are the
object of direct assassination attempts or simply caught in the
crossfire between the police and some of the street gangs, they are not
able to receive proper medical care. They are afraid to go to a
hospital because once there, they would only lie in puddles of their
own blood, ignored by the medical personnel, or they might even be
killed by the police who come into the hospital to finish the job.
What is even worse, when they die, their bodies are trucked to the
morgue where they are simply piled up. According to the law, when a
body is brought to the morgue, it is to be left there for 22 days in
order for families to try to locate them. However, without any
refrigeration, the bodies are kept for only 5 days and are then thrown
onto trucks, carried out of the city and dumped. Families never find
out what has happened to a "disappeared" loved one.

The U.S. government, some elements in Haiti, and some former supporters
of President Aristide insist that the violence is a result of his
encouraging his supporters to turn to violence. Supposedly he is still
doing this from South Africa. But there is no evidence of this. From my
knowledge of President Aristide and his deep commitment to
non-violence, I know that this is not the case. At the present time
there is a complete breakdown of civil order in
Haiti. The only hope of ending this violence is to restore the
constitutional government. This means the return of President Aristide
and his lawfully appointed ministers.

It is time for people of the United States who care about justice, who
care about non-violence, who care about peace for the people of Haiti,
to insist with ever greater determination, that President Aristide be
returned to his legitimate office to complete his term. In the short
time that would be left for him, perhaps a new order of justice could

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
February 2005

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