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Aristide Is Playing With Fire : The president’s incendiary call to the public can do nothing but hurt Haiti

Whatever possessed Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to urge his followers to “go to the neighborhoods where there are big houses and heavy weapons” and “help the police disarm the big men”? At a time when a fragile order had settled on Haiti, his words were incendiary.

Aristide made the remark from a pulpit as he was eulogizing his cousin and political associate Jean-Hubert Feuille, who was shot to death by unknown assailants. The president, understandably, was upset, but he knew full well that Haiti was a tinderbox. The old-guard families, and the security agents who protect them and their assets, may have stepped into the shadows but they haven’t disappeared.

“Do not sit idly by. Do not wait,” the president said in his provocative eulogy. He was persuasive. Dozens of homes were looted and burned. A number of people were killed, some of them Aristide’s followers.

Members of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the poor Caribbean country faced off against the mobs. These were the troops that delivered the exiled Aristide back to the presidency in the summer of 1994, and with him, the world hoped, the rule of law and human rights. So far, obviously, that hope has not been fulfilled.

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An edgy Port-au-Prince was swept by a rumor that Aristide’s admonition was not spontaneous but a calculated move for political advantage. This seemed to be supported by the fact that the eulogy was broadcast repeatedly on government-controlled television and radio for several days after the funeral.

Present at the rites were U.S. Ambassador William L. Swing and U.N. Mission chief Lakhdar Brahimi. Haitians are asking whom but those two men could the president have been addressing when he declared, “I am reminding you that until further notice there are not two or three heads of state, but just one.”

Aristide should be setting a tone that will motivate all parties to participate in the December national elections and to ease his scheduled departure from office at the end of his term in early February.

The president, who along with his followers suffered greatly under the old regime, preached reconciliation when he returned to Haiti last October on the heels of the U.N. force. But now he is preaching vengeance and undisciplined retribution.

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President Aristide, you were restored to power by the United Nations and the United States to preach democracy. End your term on a positive note. Your country will be better for it.


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