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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March 2004, 15:36 GMT
Q&A: Crisis in Haiti
BBC News Online explains the issues behind the unrest in the Caribbean state of Haiti, which led to the resignation and departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The president has gone - what happens next?

The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to send in a multinational military force to restore law and order. That will be followed by a stabilisation mission to support a peaceful transfer of power.

Police fire to disperse demonstrators on 1 January 2004
Street protests led to a rebellion which forced President Aristide out
Soldiers from the US, Canada and France are already in Haiti and are expected to form the heart of the UN operation.

Armed gangs still roam the streets of Haiti's cities - some saying they are rebels and others who support former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But observers believe that an international force can control the security situation relatively easily as the different rebel groups have few arms and would be no match for a trained, organised, efficient security force.

The future remains uncertain both for who may take political power and for Mr Aristide. He has fled to the Central African Republic, but it is unclear where he will seek to settle.

Does democracy have a chance?

Achieving lasting democracy will be far harder restoring order. Elections in 1994 and 2000 did not break the political polarisation between Aristide supporters and armed thugs often representing elite interests.

Many Haiti experts say elections are in themselves not enough to guarantee democracy.

As in Iraq, creating a solid democratic system requires a sustained commitment from the international community of money and time to build up an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a transparent executive and a de-politicised military and police force.

Critics of Washington say Haiti will need a lot more than the several kilometres of paved roads the US marines left 10 years ago. The current freeze on aid worth $500m will have to be lifted as soon as possible.

How bad is the situation?

Chief Justice Alexandre Boniface has taken over as interim leader in a process laid out in the Haitian constitution, but there remain fears of a political vacuum.

The political opposition, which is not linked to the rebels, has tried to present itself as a viable alternative to Mr Aristide.

They are concerned that the rebels who forced Mr Aristide to go are little more than armed gangs without any defined political beliefs.

Amid the confusion as the rebels increased their pressure on Mr Aristide to go, there were scenes of panic among civilians. In one reported case, 200 people tried to board a nine-seat plane headed for neighbouring Dominican Republic. France, Brazil, Canada and the United States sent military aircraft to evacuate their nationals.

Law and order broke down in many places, with looters ransacking stores, businesses, government buildings and hospitals.

What have the protests been about?

The unrest of recent months stemmed from disputed elections in 2000 and flared as Haiti celebrated 200 years of independence.

Map showing Haiti and its two main cities - Cap Haitien and Port-au-Prince
The political opposition feared Mr Aristide would rig legislative elections due in 2004 and seek to stand for a third term in 2005.

They boycotted the Congress, and refused to co-operate in any government initiatives.

They also refused to participate in new elections unless Mr Aristide resigned.

The demonstrations became increasingly violent over recent weeks, especially in northern cities such as Gonaives and Cap-Haitien.

Opposition groups and government supporters were involved in violent clashes. Both sides blame each other for the violence, and it seems that groups of the poorest shanty-town dwellers are willing to support whoever pays them.

Who are the opposition?

The main political opposition, which has distanced itself from the armed gangs, formed a coalition known as the "Group of 184", said to comprise that number of political parties, civil societies, trade unions, and business associations.

It has no obvious leader, although businessman Andre Apaid has emerged as a spokesman.

The armed rebels are a disparate group of former gang members and disgruntled ex-soldiers.

The leader of the initial uprising in Gonaives is 33-year-old Butteur Metayer - a prominent member of a formerly pro-Aristide gang originally called the "Cannibal Army" and renamed the Resistance Front.

Another group comprises former exiled soldiers of the old Haitian army, which was disbanded in 1995 after US forces returned Mr Aristide to power.

The group, which calls itself the New Army, is led by 36-year-old Guy Philippe, who has emerged as the leader of the rebellion.

Was President Aristide a failure then?

Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been the dominant political figure in Haiti for the past 15 years.

Haitian president
Aristide dominated Haitian politics for 15 years
Before the current unrest, he brought some political stability to the island.

But he disappointed many of his more radical supporters by not pursuing a clear agenda for change; he and his supporters claim he was blocked in this by opposition from the United States and lack of support from the international community.

Haiti's economic situation has worsened still further in the past few years. There is very little left of the formal economy, with traditional exports of coffee, rum and other agricultural products having diminished almost to zero.

The small assembly industries for the United States have also almost entirely folded. Tourism, which thrived in the 1970s, has dried to a trickle.

The only growth area is drug trafficking: Haiti makes an ideal staging post for shipments from Latin America to the United States, and US Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently complained of lack of support in the anti-drugs effort from the Haitian authorities.

Because of the Aids epidemic and other health crises, the average life expectancy in Haiti has now gone down to 49 years.


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