The Passion of Jean-Bertrand Aristide

BY GARRY GRUNDY

“ART THOU NOT PRESIDENT of Haiti?”

And He said unto him “Thou sayest that I am.”

Then said Bush unto Him “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?”

So when the angry mob gathered, Bush asked: “What shall I do then with this Saint from the Slums called the President of Haiti?”

The loudest and most blood thirsty of them said unto him, “Let him be crucified!”

And the Governor from Texas said, “Why, what evil hath he done?” (Quietly realizing that his own government was responsible for much of the upheaval.) But they cried out more saying: “Let him be exiled!”

When Bush saw that he was getting nowhere – and since it was an election year and his job was in jeopardy – he took water and washed his hands in front of the international community, saying – “This crisis is not my fault and I am innocent of this blood; it’s your responsibility.”

And all the people of Haiti said: “Let his blood be on us and all our children.”

* * *

Possibly the only thing gorier than Mel Gibson’s Ash Wednesday spectacle was the anarchy that gripped the heart of Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince. The rebel leaders (two of which are convicted murderers who helped run an organization that killed thousands of Haitians during the last military government and a former police chief whom American officials suspect of cocaine trafficking) dissatisfied with the democratic process, decided that Haiti was ripe for its 33rd coup d’tat in its 200 year history.

Blessed as these rebels were to receive Dubya’s nod at a Romanesque revival, the president’s tactics were sadly crafted at undermining the only meaningful self-governing system to emerge from an African slave revolt in the Western Hemisphere; it would thus follow that the former governors of Texas and Judea boast similar public policies for handling disturbances in their empire’s own backyard.

Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea from 26 A.D. – 36 A.D. presided over the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. The Jewish authorities brought Jesus to Pilate because the Romans reserved the right to sentence someone to death by crucifixion. Although Jesus was charged with threatening Roman domination in the region of Palestine, the New Testament exculpates Pilate, saying that he recognized Jesus’ innocence – even though he had Jesus scourged and later handed him over to be crucified.

George W. Bush’s own politics are just as conflicted: “The Government believes it is essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the country’s history.”

Unfortunately, the beginning of Chapter Thirty-Three reads a bit like Chapters 1-32.

Like Jesus, Jean-Bertrand Aristide emerged from the fringes of an occupied empire, from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Versed in theology, sociology, and psychology, Aristide was ordained a Roman Catholic Priest in 1982. He won the love and affection of his countrymen by preaching liberation theology in the 1980s at La Saline, one of Haiti’s worst slums. His fiery sermons denouncing the dictatorship of Papa Doc, broadcast on Catholic Radio Soleil, made him a hero to millions in Haiti. Even up until the week of his flight into exile, Aristide was still the most popular politician in Haiti according to a poll performed by Gallup.

Like Bush, Pilate came from noble stock, the Pontii of Samnium, a mountainous region near Rome. Ann Wroe, author of “Pontius Pilate,” tells us that Pilate was enough of a city boy to conceal his country roots and play up to men of position. Petty army commissions and provincial postings dependant upon patronage allowed the self-entitled butcher to rise in the ranks. Notwithstanding his “noblesse oblig,” Pilate still came across as an oaf, a man out of his depth.

Sound familiar?

The threat of a parish priest preaching under such a massive wave of populism made the conservatives in Washington uneasy. Fearful that another Fidel Castro was being immaculately conceived, the conservatives’ policy became fueled by distrust and unease for a man many referred to as “The Saint from the Slums.” After repeated attacks on his life (many of them financed by foreign interests like the United States government), Mr. Aristide was expelled from his religious order for his political activities and later overwhelmingly won the nation’s first democratic election in 1990. After being re-installed by Clinton in 1994 on the heels of the 32nd coup d’tat, he was re-elected and inaugurated for a second term in February 2001. Aristide’s insufferable relationship with the U.S. Empire worsened after he and President Bush took office within weeks of each other, the Bush Administration actively undermining Aristide in a very personal about-face by instructing the IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and Organization of American States to suspend aid to Haiti because of “irregularities in the 2000 election.”

The blocking of international aid at the prompting of the Bush administration short-circuited any opportunities for success with this most colorful democracy in our hemisphere – mainly because it’s not in a desert 10,000 miles away and has no natural resources other than cocaine.

A resource the president claims to be no longer interested in.

What Bush does seem interested in is ignoring democratic legitimacy in favor of removing leaders he does not dislike.

Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, “This time I hope that the international community is not going to put a Band-Aid on, and that we are not only going to help stabilize the current situation but assist the Haitians over the long haul and really help them pick up the pieces and build a stable country.” But judging by our Empire’s long-standing “no-nation-building-in-Haiti” policy, the agony and suffering will continue as the likelihood of another dictatorship, greater instability, and more bloodshed pre-curse the pages of Haiti’s next chapter.

And this time, Pilate’s hands will be bloodier than ever.

Garry Grundy’s column appears bi-weekly.

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