Friday, March 19, 2004

Hti: Can Jamaica afford the price of Aristide

Apparently, the U.S. government is making a distinction between Jamaica and the rest of Caricom on the Aristide matter. Is that why PM Patterson is urging member countries to hold ranks on the Haiti issue? Is Patterson trying to cover his arse against U.S. sanction by using the other countries as a buffer, thus putting their economies at risk?

Jamaica's decision to welcome former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has infuriated Bush administration officials, who say U.S. relations with English-speaking Caribbean countries have reached a new low.

Senior U.S. officials refuse to speculate whether Washington will retaliate against Jamaica, which currently presides over the Caribbean Community(CARICOM) regional bloc.

But other U.S. officials say that if Aristide's return from Africa to the Caribbean triggers new bloodshed in Haiti and U.S. troops get in harm's way, there would be congressional calls for a strong U.S. reaction against Jamaica.

Asked whether the United States will take any concrete measures against Jamaica, U.S. officials say the Bush Administration will not cut aid to fight AIDS in the region or reduce other kinds of humanitarian assistance. But they hint that other non-humanitarian bilateral programs could be slowed down.

''We are reviewing the relationship to see what is the appropriate reaction,'' said one of the officials, who asked for anonymity.
True, Jamaica has a history of providing refuge to those in flight, and that is commendable. True, Jamaica is generously making it possible for Aristide to be reconciled with his daughters. However, let's take a closer look at those arguments.

When Aristide voluntarily left Haiti aboard a plane provided by the U.S., it is questionable whether he knew his intended destination because his arrangements with South Africa appeared to have fallen through. Thus, Bangui was, at best, a poor alternative to his first choice, South Africa, which was willing to and did send arms to help him defend against the rebels. Once in Bangui, the South African government appeared to be dithering about whether Aristide would be welcome; eventually, they decided that he would. Moreover, Aristide declared that he'd been kidnapped, and he proclaimed his intention to return to Haiti with South Africa as a stopping off point. From Bangui, Aristide went not to South Africa, but to Jamaica, instead. In effect, he eliminated South Africa as a jumping off point for the revolution that would propel him back into power, and he opted for Jamaica instead. There, Aristide promised that he would not do to Jamaica what he did to Bangui, which is create diplomatic problems by his false assertions nor would he foment revolution in Haiti. So far, Aristide has kept his promises.

However, Chavez of Venezuela has extended an offer of asylum for Aristide, and that makes on wonder with whom else did Aristide speak while he was in Bangui? Was Venezuela's Chavez one of the parties with whom he had had contact? Was the plan, then, for Aristide to use Jamaica as a stopping off point to Venezuela where, with the vigorously anti-American Chavez, he would not only hurl accusations that would further poison U.S.-Caricom and OAS relationships, but he would also stir up rebellion in Haiti which would result in further destabilization of that country? Logic dictates that this must be the case, and that Aristide is using Jamaica as a point of transit to the one country in the western hemisphere -- Venezuela -- that would entertain and aid his ambition to return to Haiti. Therefore, Aristide in Jamaica may not be not in flight from Haiti, but is instead on his way to reclaiming his position in that country. Therefore, the idea that Jamaica is a place of refuge for him lacks merit.

As to the notion that Jamaica is the place of reunion for Aristide and his daughters, well, modern aviation reveals the absurdity of that argument. For, there are regular flights to Bangui or South Africa, if Aristide had truly intended to either remain in the first or move on to the second.

Therefore, what ground is there for Aristide's presence in Jamaica? What remains is compassion and fellowship. However, what about compassion and fellowship for the average Haitian? Do they not deserve to live in relative peace, with expectation of economic and social advancement for themselves and their country, in homes that are better than hovels with amenities that many in the Caribbean take for granted? Compassion and fellowship for the average Haitian would dictate that Aristide, in spite of all his claims to having been kidnapped, would not be welcome in any Caricom country; for, his very presence gives hope to his chimeres who then use it as reason to trouble and kill their opponents and their countrymen who are living lives of quiet desperation.

Does this mean that change of government by coup is sanctioned? No, because there was no coup inasmuch as Aristide resigned; that he withdrew his resignation once ensconced safely in Bangui does not negate the fact that he wrote it and tendered it.

So, then, what happens if this analysis is proven to be true, Aristide winds up in Venezuela, and Chavez and the Colombians fund a revolution in Haiti? What happens not just to Haiti but to Jamaica, who will have facilitated Aristide's return to the Caribbean, and, in this way, may have inadvertently helped to mask Chavez's role in bringing Aristide back to the Caribbean? Well, this says it all: "if Aristide's return from Africa to the Caribbean triggers new bloodshed in Haiti and U.S. troops get in harm's way, there would be congressional calls for a strong U.S. reaction against Jamaica."

The question Patterson has to answer to all Jamaicans is this: in a time of economic hardship in Jamaica, is Aristide worth the further hardship that may come?

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