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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 18:20 GMT
Analysis: Unease over Aristide fall
By James Painter
BBC regional analyst

Rebels and police laugh as they patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince in Haiti
Some see the rebels' actions as an illegal power grab

France, the United States and most of the international community have welcomed the departure of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

US President George W Bush stressed that Mr Aristide's departure would help Haiti break from the past and begin a new chapter.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said the vote to send troops to Haiti showed that the international community was standing by Haitians in their hour of need.

But not everyone is comfortable with the way President Aristide - who won disputed elections in 2000 - was pressurised to step down.

'Dangerous precedent'

PJ Patterson, chairman of the Caribbean regional group, Caricom, has been the most outspoken critic of what he described as the removal of Mr Aristide.

If you're elected as president of a country, don't depend on the US to respect the rule of law
US Democratic congressman Charles Rangel
Mr Patterson, who is also prime minister of Jamaica, said people were "bound to question whether the resignation of Mr Aristide was truly voluntary".

He added that his "removal" could set "a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments everywhere".

Caricom had been trying to find a solution to Haiti's political crisis for several weeks, which involved a power-sharing agreement between Mr Aristide and the opposition.

Not surprisingly, President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela - who was also democratically elected, but faces strong internal opposition - denounced President Aristide's removal as "a tragedy".

Mr Chavez has faced strong criticism from Washington and survived a coup attempt in 2002.

Changing tack

Some critics of the Bush administration, within the US Democratic Party, say Washington should have done more to support President Aristide for his remaining term in office.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
The US role in Aristide's departure is under scrutiny
They say the Bush administration should not have effectively forced him to resign in the face of what some see as an illegal power grab by rebels with, at best, dubious democratic credentials.

After all, they point out, until Thursday last week US Secretary of State Colin Powell was saying that, although Mr Aristide was incompetent and corrupt, he was democratically elected and should not be forced to leave.

He then changed tack and decided to abandon President Aristide.

Charles Rangel, a Democratic congressman and supporter of President Aristide, said one thing was clear: "If you're elected as president of a country, don't depend on the US to respect the rule of law".

Washington's role

Other opponents of President Bush have gone even further.

They say many Republicans never liked Mr Aristide because of his left-wing background and were keen to undermine him.

For example, they point to the freezing of foreign aid worth $500m, money which Haiti desperately needed to ease its status as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Writing in the Financial Times newspaper, Jeffrey Sachs says the crisis in Haiti is "another case of brazen US manipulation of a small, impoverished country".

He questions how much money went from US-funded institutions and government agencies to help the opposition.

The French and US governments argue that Mr Aristide had lost so much legitimacy with his own people that he had no option but to leave.

But the debate about Washington's role in his removal is unlikely to subside in a region very sensitive to US involvement.

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