I have so many mixed feelings for the nation of Haiti right now. Did you know that this earthquake has been the fifth in Haiti’s history since 1751? This people have faced unfathomable tumult physically, socially, and politically. I’m reading Jean Bertrand Aristide’s autobiography, written with Christophe Wargny. It follows his path to the Presidency and the hope for Haiti’s future following the dictatorships under the Duvaliers. First published in English in 1993 by Orbis, Mary Knoll books, churches in the US really had a lot of hope and expectation for Aristide. I remember the glowing attention he received from Sojourners magazine at the time. But then a few things happened that shifted international attention from Haiti. The fall of Apartheid and a new government in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda. Here’s a brief history from Wikipedia of the tumultuous period covering Aristide’s election, ousting and reinstatement:
In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a populist Roman Catholic (Salesian) priest, won 67% of the vote in elections that international observers deemed largely free and fair.
Aristide’s radical populist policies and the violence of his bands of supporters alarmed many of the country’s elite, and, in September 1991, he was overthrown in a violent coup that brought General Raoul Cédras to power. There was violent resistance to the coup, in which hundreds were killed, and Aristide was forced into exile. An estimated 3,000-5,000 Haitians were killed during the period of military rule. The coup created a large-scale exodus of refugees to the United States. The United States Coast Guard interdicted (in many cases, rescued) a total of 41,342 Haitians during 1991 and 1992. Most were denied entry to the United States and repatriated back to Haiti. Aristide has accused the United States of backing the 1991 coup.
The military regime governed Haiti until 1993. Various initiatives to end the political crisis through the peaceful restoration of the constitutionally elected government failed. In July 1994, as repression mounted in Haiti and a civilian human rights monitoring mission was expelled from the country, the United Nations Security Council adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 940, which authorized member states to use all necessary means to facilitate the departure of Haiti’s military leadership and to restore Haiti’s constitutionally elected government to power.
In mid-September 1994, with U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti by force for Operation Uphold Democracy, President Bill Clinton dispatched a negotiating team led by former President Jimmy Carter to persuade the authorities to step aside and allow for the return of constitutional rule. With intervening troops already airborne, Cédras and other top leaders agreed to step down. In October, Aristide was able to return. Elections were held in June 1995. Aristide’s coalition, the Lavalas (Waterfall) Political Organization, had a sweeping victory. When Aristide’s term ended in February 1996, René Préval, a prominent Aristide political ally, was elected President with 88% of the vote: this was Haiti’s first ever transition between two democratically elected presidents.
And I only wish things had gotten better since that time. Aristide was going to use his faith in God and in the people of Haiti to bring about a new hope, a land at peace with itself. But this is not what took place. Christophe Wargny, coauthor of Aristide’s autobiography did an interview that can still be found here online that describes what happened after the 2000 elections with Aristide’s new party the Fanmi Lavalas.
We need a clear discussion of the involvement of US church’s in Haiti’s political history. If churches got behind Aristide and are now giving in the relief efforts what are we to do now? There are clear ramifications here regarding Christians in power. Is Liberation Theology only good as a critique of power? When our heroes get the power and to some degree succumb or compromise what then should be said of it’s ideals? These are hard questions that will take some real digging. In the meantime, we must not stop praying and reaching out—but wisely. Where will Haiti be in the months to come? How will its government fair when the spotlight goes away?