A large demonstration of thousands of people took the streets of Haiti's capital this last Sunday demanding the return of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Similar demonstrations took place in six other Haitian cities on July 15, the anniversary of Aristide's 54th birthday. Demonstrations were also reported to have taken place as far away as Miami Florida. Aristide was forced into exile on February 29, 2004 and has lived as a guest of the South African government for the past three years.
The circumstances of the ouster of the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide remain highly controversial to this day. Following an invasion of Haiti by paramilitary forces from the Dominican Republic in early February 2004, the governments of the US, France and Canada increased pressure on Aristide to resign. Former Haitian police commissioner and reputed drug trafficker Guy Philippe led the invasion. This past May, Philippe accused leading members of what was then called the "peaceful opposition" to Aristide of providing his paramilitary forces with funding and logistical support.
Aristide was taken from his residence in Haiti along with his wife by a contingent of US marines in the early morning hours of February 29, 2004. US Embassy officer Luis Moreno instructed the marines to put Aristide on a plane bound for the Central Africa Republic. Aristide said later that Moreno told him that Philippe's forces surrounded the capital and if he didn't leave Haiti there would be a bloodbath including his own execution.
The twice-elected president was allowed to leave the former French colony and flew to Jamaica after intense negotiations led by US Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Aristide finally accepted an invitation, reportedly made at the behest of Nelson Mandela and the highest authorities of the African National Congress, to reside in South Africa as a guest of the government. Aristide has lived in South Africa since June 2004 and recently received a doctoral degree in African Languages from the University of South Africa.
The large crowd, at Sunday's demonstration for Aristide, stood in contrast to recent statements made by UN Special Envoy to Haiti Edmond Mulet. The UN Envoy claimed that similar actions, organized by Aristide's Lavalas movement that translates from Haitian Creole into English as flashflood, "have only been able to turn out between 50 to 100 people." Renald Louis, who currently resides in Florida after being forced to flee the country while he was the former Director of the state-run Haitian National Television station in 2004 commented, "This was a very important moment because it shows the world that despite claims to the contrary, the Lavalas movement is very much alive and well." Pierre Antoine Lovinsky, founder of a victim's organization called the 30th of September Movement, was less generous in his comments while being interviewed during Sunday's demonstration, "The UN supported a murderous government that the US and international community imposed on Haiti after forcing Aristide out of the country. They participated in the attempt to destroy the movement of the majority of poor in Haiti for democracy, equal rights and justice." After shouts of "Aristide must return," that interrupted the interview had died down, Mr. Lovinsky continued, "We have shown them again today that we are not going away. We have always been here and we will be here long after they have left Haiti because we are Haitians and this movement represents the majority of the Haitian people. Those who were killed in the terror that forced our president into exile are honored today. Those of us who survived the terror are not ghosts and we will not be silenced."
A DEA raid on the home of paramilitary leader Guy Philippe has overshadowed the sparse international news reports of the demonstrations demanding Aristide's return that took place throughout Haiti on July 15. DEA agents also arrested Lavaud Francois, a local businessman in the town of Gonaives with close ties to Philippe. Francois has bragged publicly that he helped finance the rebellion against Aristide along with Andre Apaid of a civil society organization called the Group 184.
The DEA raids confirmed accusations made by Aristide before he was forced out of the country. Before his removal he held several press conferences in Haiti's National Palace where he said that drug traffickers led the paramilitary forces invading from the Dominican Republic in an effort to overthrow his government.
Posted July 24, 2023