Haitian Presidents: When In Doubt, Fly 'Em Out?

January 03, 2011

Ricardo Seitenfus, the Organization of American States’ Special Representative in Haiti, seems to have lost his job after an interview in which he sharply criticized the role of MINUSTAH, and NGO’s, in Haiti (in a December 29 interview he said he had received no official word of his status).

The story of Seitenfus’ controversial comments has gone all but completely unnoticed by the U.S. media, and one remark in particular has been completely ignored. In an interview with BBC Brasil, Seitenfus revealed that diplomats proposed Preval’s forced removal – a suggestion that Seitenfus says he found shocking (Google translation):

In addition, on November 28, election day, was discussed at the meeting of Core Group (donor countries, UN and OAS), something that seemed just creepy. Some representatives suggested that President Rene Preval should leave the country and we should think of an airplane for that. I heard it and was appalled.

The prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive, and soon arrived said he did not count on any solution to the margins of the Constitution and asked if the term of President Preval was being negotiated. It was a silence in the room.

Seitenfus seemed especially shocked by the reaction of his superiors at the OAS to this proposal of what would be a clear violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and of Haiti’s sovereignty (Google translation):

Beside me was [Albert Ramdin], deputy secretary of the OAS, ie I could not speak, as the OAS was being represented by him. But face to silence him and the rest, I asked to speak and remembered the existence of the Democratic Charter and that any discussion on the mandate of President Preval, to me it would be a coup. I was very surprised with the fact that Deputy Secretary of the OAS to remain silent before the possibility of shortening the term of a legitimately elected president.

Preval’s predecessor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was flown out of Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. airplane and taken to the Central African Republic in what he described as a “kidnapping” and “coup d’etat.” He has remained in exile in Africa since, claiming his return to Haiti is prevented by the Haitian government’s declination to issue him a new passport.

The removal of democratically elected presidents by flying them out of the country hasn’t been confined to Haiti; Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was flown out of Honduras in that country’s June 2009 coup d’etat. In that case, the plane stopped at a U.S. military base at Palmerola before departing for Costa Rica. In response to the coup, the Obama administration – which legally was supposed to cut off aid to the new Honduran regime – dithered, while secretly affirming that an illegal coup had taken place, as we now know from State Department cables made available by Wikileaks.

Seitenfus made some strong comments regarding MINUSTAH, becoming the latest high profile voice to talk of a near future end to the UN Mission. As the Latin American Herald Tribune reported, regarding Seitenfus’ interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps:

Seitenfus said in the interview published Dec. 20 that the U.N. had “imposed” the presence of its troops in Haiti despite the fact that the country was not involved in a civil war.

“Haiti is not an international threat. We’re not in a situation of civil war. Haiti is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan. However, the (U.N.) Security Council, given the lack of any alternative, has imposed the blue helmets since 2004, after the exit of the president (Jean-Bertrand Aristide),” the OAS diplomat told Switzerland’s Le Temps.

And also (translation courtesy of David Holmes Morris):

“But it seems to me that essentially, on the international scene, Haiti is paying for its close proximity to the United States. Haiti has been the object of negative attention on the part of the international system. For the UN it was a question of blocking power and turning Haitians into prisoners on their own island. For many, the anxiety of the boat people explains the international community’s decisions concerning Haiti. One wants them, at all costs, to stay home.”

In the BBC Brasil interview, he also said:

Brazil should take advantage that there will be a new government in Haiti and a new government in Brazil and make a swing of six and a half years of MINUSTAH. I am not claiming that Brazil should gather [its] troops tomorrow. This is done after a long discussion, including the Haitian government and the United Nations.

The discussion is not what is the big mistake. MINUSTAH was as if a divine truth, a light from heaven, as if it could not be subject to reservations. I have a perception that the quality of a peace operation is inversely proportional to the time of your life. The more a peacekeeping mission is extended in time, the less quality it has. Good peacekeeping missions are short peacekeeping missions.

Seitenfus also slammed NGO’s operating in Haiti:

“the cooperative (organizations) that arrived after the quake are not very old; they came to Haiti without any experience … (and) after the earthquake, the professional quality fell a great deal. There exists a maleficent or perverse relationship between the NGOs’ strength and the Haitian state’s weakness.”

The full Latin American Herald Tribune article is here. The BBC Brasil interview is here, the Le Temps interview is here (subscription required), and an unofficial translation of the Le Temps interview is here. Analysis from Georgianne Nienaber here, and by Roger Annis here.

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