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Most Of Latin America Won't Call Aristide Overthrow A Coup

by Gustavo Gonzalez
Haiti Article Index

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(IPS) SANTIAGO -- With the sole exception of Venezuela, Latin American governments consider there was no coup d'etat in Haiti last weekend, and therefore it is not a case for invoking the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS).

In contrast, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), whose 15 members are also part of the OAS, on Wednesday, after a two-day emergency meeting in Kingston, demanded an independent international investigation into the circumstances surrounding the removal of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Sunday.

The OAS Democratic Charter establishes collective actions to be taken by its members if "there has been an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state."

But the argument is that this does not apply to Haiti because, in addition to the fact that Aristide supposedly resigned, Boniface Alexandre, head of the Supreme Court of Justice, has stepped up as interim president, ostensibly ensuring continuity of democratic institutions.

Aristide left Haiti by airplane on Sunday, Feb. 29, guarded by 60 U.S. marines. Upon arriving in exile in the Central African Republic, he announced that he had been kidnapped in a coup d'etat facilitated by the United States.

Ira Kurzban, Aristide's lawyer in the United States, said Wednesday that the overthrown president is under arrest and incommunicado in Bangui, after making his denunciations via telephone to his allies in the U.S. Congress.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell denied Aristide's coup claim, and stressed that the Haitian president "was not kidnapped... We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly."

But several members of Congress are backing Aristide, who was the first democratically elected president in the tormented history of Haiti as an independent nation.

The OAS is made up of 34 countries: 15 from CARICOM, 16 from South and Central America, plus Mexico, Canada and the United States. Cuba has been excluded from the organization since 1962.

In Chile, Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet gave little credence to Aristide's denunciations.

"We must have confidence in the international organizations," said Bachelet after meeting with President Ricardo Lagos, army commander Gen. Luis Emilio Chyre, and the three officials in charge of the 120-soldier contingent -- of a total 300 -- who left Wednesday for Haiti to join the international peace-keeping force there.

Lagos said that the Chilean soldiers were going to Haiti "to fight for peace, not for war." Sending troops "is a sacrifice we make for the good of those who today are suffering a heart-rending struggle," he said.

So far, the multinational force includes military contingents from the United States, France, Canada and Chile. Other Latin American governments are still considering sending forces.

Argentine Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa said the decision on whether to send troops will be taken by President Nestor Kirchner. Meanwhile, in Argentina's governmental and political circles, there has been little reaction to Aristide's denunciation that he was forced out of office.

In Brazil, which like Chile is a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, there have been no official comments on whether the OAS Democratic Charter is applicable in the Haitian case.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva confirmed that he will not be sending troops to the Caribbean country for now, but would participate in a so-called "stabilization force" to be installed in Haiti in late May.

Luis Ernesto Derbez, Mexico's foreign minister, said the Vicente Fox administration believes the version of events that Aristide resigned from the presidency of his own volition and that Haiti's constitutional procedures were respected in Alexandre's accession to the presidency.

In Venezuela, the Hugo Chavez government has broken from this apparent regional consensus and has stated, through its OAS ambassador Jorge Valero, that Aristide's fall from power must be examined "in light of the Democratic Charter" of the hemispheric organization.

In addition to giving credibility to Aristide's claims, Valero maintains that the Haitian crisis was made worse by the $500-million blocking of credits from the international financial community to the Aristide government.

The Cuban government, meanwhile, has not issued any recent political statements about the crisis in Haiti, though Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque says the country's problems lie in the structural causes associated with "hundreds of years of colonialism, with all its horrible consequences of misery."

Havana has said it will continue its humanitarian aid to Haiti, and will maintain the 500 medical professionals that have been working there, despite the presence of foreign troops.

In Argentina, noted political analysts Rosendo Fraga and Leandro Despouy urged greater leadership from the OAS and Latin America in acting on the Haiti crisis, warning that the key decisions so far have been taken by the United States, France and the UN Security Council.

The reactions in Latin America to date have not mentioned the leaders of the rebellion against Aristide, such as Guy Philippe, who proclaimed himself the leader of Haiti's military on Tuesday, and is a former member of the repressive forces of the Raoul Cedras dictatorship (1991-1994) and a convicted murderer.

Philippe made the surprise announcement Wednesday, apparently under U.S. pressure, that his men -- who controlled the centre of Port-au-Prince -- would put down their weapons if the foreign forces secured the streets.

According to the Haiti correspondent for the British daily The Guardian, the rebellion against Aristide is suspected to have been secretly financed by the United States, which ordered Philippe to keep quiet and withdraw his forces from the capital.

CARICOM chairman P.J. Patterson, said the organization is not willing to "deliberate in any of our meetings with thugs and anarchists." He described the rebels in Haiti as "persons who have a reputation which is contrary to the tenets of civil society to which we subscribe."

Marcela Valente from Argentina, Mario Osava from Brazil, Diego Cevallos from Mexico and Humberto Marquez from Venezuela contributed to this report

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Albion Monitor March 4, 2004 (

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