- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

Embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and left the country Sunday after bringing it to the edge of a perilous and bloody civil war.

But the pertinent question here is if his departure into exile will help avert the worst and set Haiti — a country plagued with political instability and rampant poverty — on the track to recovery?

“This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s history,” said President George W. Bush Sunday, commenting on the Haitian president’s departure from power. Indeed, a new page has been turned and is ready for history to begin writing its course.

Mr. Aristide’s sudden exit for the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, in an unmarked white jet after a three-week armed rebellion against his rule came after much prodding from France, the former colonial power, and from the United States, Haiti’s powerful neighbor.

Mr. Aristide’s departure came none too soon, as rebels in control of much of the country were closing in on the capital, Port-au-Prince, amid rising violence that has claimed more than 100 lives.

President Bush, confirming Mr. Aristide’s departure also said U.S. Marines would be dispatched to Haiti as part of an international force to help bring stability to the country. “I have ordered the deployment of Marines, as the leading element of an interim international force, to help bring order and stability to Haiti,” said Mr. Bush. “I have done so in working with the international community.”

Earlier the White House press secretary had said: “This long-simmering crisis is largely of Mr. Aristide’s making. His failure to adhere to democratic principles has contributed to the deep polarization and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today.”

Haitian rebel leader Guy Philippe, speaking by telephone to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, said he welcomed Mr. Aristide’s exile and the arrival of foreign troops. Mr. Philippe said his forces would be glad to cooperate with the Marines. “They will be welcome,” said Mr. Philippe.

This recent unrest which has gathered pace in the last few weeks finds its roots in the disputed 2000 presidential elections, which opposition leaders claim were rigged in Mr. Aristide’s favor.

This is not the first time Mr. Aristide is forced to abandon power. In 1994, the former priest turned politician was restored to power during his first run at the presidency with the help of 20,000 U.S. troops dispatched to Haiti by U.S. President Bill Clinton. This time, though, Mr. Aristide lost international support with the United States, France and other countries calling for him to step down. In the end, Mr. Aristide realized he was left with no options but to leave.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was reported to have been instrumental in convincing the Haitian president to relinquish power and leave before the situation got completely out of hand. By Sunday, rebel troops were in control of most major cities and said to be tightening their grip around the capital.

Haiti has been troubled by political instability since the late 18th century when nearly half a million slaves, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, revolted after a long, prolonged struggle, becoming the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804.

Political turmoil has practically continued unabated since then, making Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. More than three decades of dictatorship and military rule came to an end in 1990 when Mr. Aristide was elected to the presidency, but a military takeover forced him to flee, until his return in 1994. His second term in 2000 was supposed to see him through a five-year term, but allegations of fraudulent electioneering procedures and allegations of corruption and human rights abuses resulted in the recent wave of unrest that eventually led to his second exodus.

What will need to happen now, once the Marines and other international troops arrive and the current unrest subsides, is the introduction of a substantial economic initiative to help lift the island out of its misery.

To avoid future calamities the world community — and particularly the United States and France, the countries the most concerned by Haiti’s well being — need to plan out an aggressive economic recovery plan for Haiti. Only jobs, economic stability and raising the island’s standard of living will help avert future political crisis in Haiti and prevent mass immigration attempts for the Florida shores. Failing that, history in Haiti could easily repeat itself.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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