(IPS) MONTREAL -- As rebel leader Guy Philippe declared himself Haiti's "military chief" Tuesday, speculation continued to grow over the U.S. role in Jean-Bertrand Aristide's flight from power Sunday.
More than one observer suggested that now that the leader of the western hemisphere's poorest nation was gone, it was time to look ahead to rebuilding -- but first to disarming the various armed factions in Haiti.
On Monday, Aristide told Cable News Network (CNN) that U.S. soldiers forced him to board a plane that landed in Africa 20 hours later.
"I called this a coup d'etat the modern way, to have a modern kidnapping," said Aristide. "We had to leave and spent 20 hours in an American plane not knowing where they were going with us until they told us 20 minutes before we landed in the Central African Republic".
Secretary of State Colin Powell denied that version of events. Aristide "was not kidnapped", Powell said. "We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that's the truth," he told reporters Monday.
Hours after Aristide's flight, the United Nations Security Council authorized a multinational intervention force for the country.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he knew nothing more about Aristide's departure, adding, " I hope this time the international community will go in for the long haul and not a quick turn-around . It may take years and I hope we will have the patience to do it".
Tuesday morning a spokesman for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) he did not think the anti-Aristide rebels joined with Washington to depose the embattled leader.
"A lot of people are making the link from the rebels to the United States and saying the United States had a role in him being forced out. Do you make that link?" the CARICOM spokesman, Jamaican Foreign Minister KD Knight, was asked.
"No, I haven't made that link. I've heard that link being made but I haven't made it. We are just going on what's happened on the ground, what's evident to all onlookers, the behaviour of the rebels, the behaviour of the opposition," answered Knight.
CARICOM criticized the world community last week for not sending a military force to Haiti sooner, and Knight suggested Tuesday the group might not recognise a governing authority in Haiti -- one of 15 CARICOM members -- that included the rebels.
The regional body was to meet Tuesday to discuss how to officially react to the events in Haiti.
One non-governmental observer said the international community will likely make no meaningful contribution to the island country, even now that Philippe -- a former policeman and army cadet who fled the country after a failed coup attempt against Aristide in 2001 -- and other known human rights violators claim to have assumed power.
"The international community, by which we mean in the case of Haiti the United States, France and to a lesser extent Canada, have already made it absolutely clear that they're not going to intervene in any positive way in Haiti," said Charles Arthur, director of the UK organisation, Haiti Support Group.
Instead, the role of the international armed force "will be to protect whatever assets the international community believes it has, which in short will be the main infrastructure of the capital, the embassies, the big businesses, the areas where the rich people live, the basic infrastructure of the country", he added.
"The peacekeeping, the law and order, in a de facto fashion, will be the preserve of whoever is in charge of the Haitian police force, which it looks like is going to be Guy Philippe," said Arthur.
But Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher rejected Philippe's claim. "The rebels have to lay down their arms and go home," said Boucher, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Arthur argued the world should not mourn the departure of Aristide. "Clearly the United States is the main player in getting him to leave. Whether the left and progressive forces all over the world should be focussing on the issue of the Aristide presidency, I don't think so".
"In my opinion, based on working with grassroots organisations in Haiti over the last 12 years, Aristide hasn't been able to deliver on the demands and aspirations of the 85 percent of the people who are poor in Haiti. And this is one of the reasons why it was possible for the United States to remove him from power," according to Arthur.
Haitian politics has been blocked since the opposition parties refused to participate following 2000 elections that rights groups and bodies like the Organisation of American States (OAS) declared flawed.
But more than one week ago, and with Philippe and other heavily armed rebels advancing on the capital Port-au-Prince from the north, Aristide agreed to a CARICOM action plan that would see him stay in office until his term ended in 2006 as part of a power-sharing government with the opposition.
But his opponents refused to accept the strategy.
"I think the United States facilitated his leaving certainly, but I don't think the United States was responsible for his leaving," said Carolyn Fick, a professor of history at Montreal's Concordia University.
"There were negotiations and they put pressure on Aristide but so did the internal situation in Haiti put pressure on him, in spite of his declaration to the contrary," added Fick, author of 'The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution From Below'.
"He's gone but the point is now, where to go. I think that it has to be a civil and political solution. The rebels have not put down their arms. They promised to do so -- they haven't. I don't think they will until they get guarantees. My feeling is that they're going to negotiate for the restoration of the Haitian Army."
According to another observer, "I don't think anybody knows exactly what occurred. It's clear that there was a tremendous amount of international pressure put on Aristide and in the end I don't know what finally convinced him to leave; whether in fact he had been trapped or whether he was convinced simply to leave because his life was at stake and the lives of so many thousands of other people might have been at stake".
Added Leslie G. Desmangles, a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, "Aristide left and the question as to whether he was taken away or whether he left on his own I think at this point is rather moot, because what's important at the moment is that he's gone and that now we have to look forward to reshaping the politics and the government of the country".
That tremendous task will have to begin with basic services. For example, aid group Oxfam said Tuesday "at least 80,000 people in Port de Paix and 60,000 people in Cap Haitien, both in the country's north, have no access to clean water, many others are short of food and the threat of disease due to poor sanitation is growing".
Groups stopped delivering aid because of insecurity earlier this month, and "lack of access to sufficient quantities of clean water combined with the general lack of adequate sanitation could soon lead to disastrous outbreaks of water-related disease", added the Oxfam statement.
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