Who is grounding Aristide?

March 5, 2011 - 0:0

As Haiti prepares for an election run-off on March 20, ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's continued presence in South Africa has generated speculation that Pretoria has succumbed to pressure from the United States to keep Aristide from leaving the country before election time.

On February 24 American actor Danny Glover, Reverend Jesse Jackson, African-American lawyer and author Randall Robinson, as well as several prominent figures from the American anti-apartheid movement, addressed an appeal to South African President Jacob Zuma, regarding the return of Aristide.
“Many in Haiti have been greatly inspired by the news of the issuance of president Aristide's passport, some even travelling miles to the airport to greet his return,” they wrote in the appeal. “Any delay to the Aristides' prompt travel to Haiti would be yet another disappointment to a people that have already experienced a long list of tragedies, disasters and heartbreak,” runs a portion of the appeal.
A diplomatic passport was handed to Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, on February 7. In January Aristide expressed his readiness to return: “Today, tomorrow, at any time.”
The U.S. government, however, has made no secret of its opposition to Aristide's intended return. During a February 9 press briefing, U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Philip Crowley, was tackled on the issue of Aristide's return:
Asked: “Are you discouraging him from returning? Is he a prisoner of South Africa?” Crowley replied: “We would be concerned that if former president Aristide returned to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction. The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the run-off.”
Wikileaks cables
Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said that the apparent pressure on Pretoria in regard to Aristide's return was underscored by a series of Wikileaks cables, one of which suggests that the South African government has been under pressure from Brazil to curtail Aristide's activities, and several others that indicate that Brazil has in turn been under much pressure from the U.S. about Haiti, particularly in regard to maintaining its role as head of the United Nation's “stabilization” mission there.
The South African department of international relations and cooperation has denied any co-option on the Aristide matter, however. “Aristide has asked to go back home; we've agreed with him. We are consulting all the role-players to work out the ideal conditions for him to go back. We can't keep him here against his will,” said International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Sources close to the matter say Aristide's safety is a consideration. The department would not confirm or deny the belief of a number of civil society organizations that Aristide is being held back until after the March 20 elections at the U.S.'s behest.
Sources close to the Aristide affair indicated that the role of the French in his return was worrying. “Given France's interest in Haiti's affairs, there is concern that the French remain unconvinced that Aristide must be allowed to go back,” said a source close to the issue. Kurzban said, however, that Aristide could leave the country only with the cooperation of the South African government and this had not been forthcoming.
“The longer the delay, the less of a possibility there is of president Aristide going back as the issue of his return will be up to whoever is the new president, and one candidate, the Duvalier, Michel Martell, has already qualified his position about Aristide coming back. He doesn't want it,” he said.
Kurzban said Aristide's safety would be in greater jeopardy after the March 20 elections than before. “This (concern for Aristide's safety) is just a ruse cooked up by the US to try to keep Aristide out of the country permanently, as it has attempted to do for the past seven years, because after March 20 there will be a new president and it can then claim new circumstances,” he said.
The U.S. government, with Brazil, which leads the UN peacekeeping force there, has been criticized for massaging Haiti's electoral process. Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from participation in the November 28 2010 elections by the electoral council. The results of the election were then modified according to the findings of a report made by an Organization of American States Expert Verification Mission, perceived by many as Washington-controlled.
Elizabeth Trudeau, the press attaché for the U.S. diplomatic mission in South Africa, said: “We are aware that former president Aristide has expressed a desire to return to Haiti. We are not aware of his travel plans. We would refer you to the government of Haiti for questions regarding his travel.”
(Source: Mail and Guardian Online)