Bits and Pieces

Wednesday, March 03, 2004


I find myself unable to decide who to side with in the Haiti affair. That's not to say that my opinion matters in the slightest to the people of Haiti, but I have an uncontrollable urge to form an opinion on any subject.

Haiti is a nation with a troubled history. The US invaded twice (first in 1915 by Wilson, and again in the 90's by Clinton). It has proved difficult to maintain a stable democracy in the country, a problem most countries have had to deal with at one point or another. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected in 1990, but soon proved that he had little interest in the good of the country. He encouraged street gangs to silence his critics and soon fell into disfavour. After a few short months in power he was ousted by General Raoul Cedras.

Aristide fled to the US, where he stayed until Clinton invaded Haiti to reinstall him as president, ostensibly to safeguard democracy in the country. He stayed in power until the end of his term in 1995, at which point his protege Rene Preval was elected. Aristide ruled through Preval until 2000, when Aristide was re-elected in suspect elections.

And so to the present. Aristide has been forced out of power by the rebels led by Guy Philippe, who has claimed the role of military chief. It seems unlikely that he will be allowed to retain any power as the country finds a new leader.

The question that arises in this situation is, 'How far do we go to protect democracy?' Aristide was democratically elected, suspect or not. Phillipe led a ragtag group of armed men to overthrow the president, and yet we stand idly by (or, as Aristide claims, we actually assisted in his overthrow).

Now I realise that Aristide was anything but popular in Haiti, and I have little sympathy for him. However, this brings up an interesting question about our own democracy. The US Constitution gives citizens the right to rise up and overthrow a tyrannical government. But what are the circumstances in which this would be acceptable? Do you have to have a majority in favour of revolution, or can you form a militia with, say, 10% and stage a coup?

And what about Haiti? Did we poll the electorate before we gave Phillipe our tentative support? Should we not support democracy in whatever form it comes? I don't support Aristide, but it seems hypocritical that we should champion democracy in one nation and support its destruction in another. What kind of message does this send?
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