AN AMERICAN airforce plane flew Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile last weekend as US troops landed in the Caribbean state for the fourth time in 125 years. The White House said Aristide had resigned. Aristide now says he was forcibly removed.
The US landing came just four days after the French government said he should go and two days after the US's Colin Powell had made the same call. It made no difference to them that Aristide was elected president at the same time as Bush, but in his case with a massive majority. Every previous US intervention in Haiti has left the country poor and politically unstable, creating conditions where dictators have seized power, usually with US backing.
There are fears now that power will fall into the hands of insurgents led by death squad leaders who worked for previous dictatorships, and that the Bush White House will welcome such a development providing it can give it some 'democratic' camouflage.
Aristide himself was reinstated in power by the last US intervention ten years ago. He was massively popular. He had been overthrown by a military coup and the mass of poor people expected him to improve conditions. Ideal situation
But he accepted US instructions to follow a neo-liberal policy of accommodation with the International Monetary Fund and Haiti's own economic oligarchy. Aristide, who had once been an austere liberation theology priest, enriched himself and his close political supporters. The poverty of the mass of people got worse.
There was growing discontent. The Communist and Social Democratic parties, which had been part of Aristide's government, moved into opposition. Sections of the economic oligarchy climbed on the bandwagon. A textile industrialist of US nationality, Andre Apaid, became leader of the opposition Group of 184 alliance.
Aristide's response was to finance armed groups of thugs, the Chimera, to attack peaceful opposition protests. The bitterness this created provided an ideal situation for the thugs and murderers who worked for the dictatorial regimes that preceded Aristide's rule. They entered the country from the neighbouring Dominican Republic to seize control of key towns with the help of splits from Aristide's own Chimera groups. The US government at first followed a policy of exploiting the opposition protests as a way of making Aristide toe its line.
It did not want to send troops to Haiti when its priority was trying to crush the resistance in Iraq. So it exerted pressure through an agreement between him and the civilian opposition, with the hope of a pro-US politician sweeping to power in the next presidential election. This suited the hard right wingers around Bush who wanted complete control of Haiti at no cost to the US military.
It also made sure that the US had someone it could rely on among the armed groups seizing control of cities. This was Guy Philippe, the former chief of police, who trained with the US military in Ecuador before going to the Dominican Republic. He could not have re-entered Haiti without the say-so of the Dominican government and, almost certainly, the CIA.
Interviewed by the Miami Herald on Saturday 28 February, Philippe said that the man he most admires is former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. 'Pinochet made Chile what it is,'' gushed Philippe. When France threatened to intervene from its nearby colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe last week, the US finally decided it had no choice. If it did not get rid of Aristide, forces it could not control might do so.
It also saw the chance for a 'humanitarian' intervention that it can use as a precedent if it decides to intervene elsewhere. But it could well go wrong for the new occupiers. The US and much of the international media are presenting Philippe as the great saviour.
But a section of the Haitian poor remain loyal to Aristide. And many want more than just a change in the person who imposes policies of mass impoverishment, especially if there is a return of old dictators' death squads.