WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files
In 2005, the Fanmi Lavalas political party planned large demonstrations to mark Aristide’s July 15 birthday and call for his return. The US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, met with the French diplomatic official Gilles Bienvenu in Paris to discuss the issue.
“Bienvenu stated that the GOF [Government of France] shared our analysis of the implications of an Aristide return to Haiti, terming the likely repercussions ‘catastrophic,’ ” Stapleton wrote in a July 1, 2005, cable. “Initially expressing caution when asked about France demarching the SARG [conveying the message to the South African government], Bienvenu noted that Aristide was not a prisoner in South Africa and that such an action could ‘create difficulties.’ ”
Stapleton swiftly overcame Bienvenu’s reluctance. Bienvenu agreed to relay US and French “shared concerns” to the South African government, saying that “as a country desiring to secure a seat on the UN Security Council, South Africa could not afford to be involved in any way with the destabilization of another country.”
The Ambassador went even further: “Bienvenu speculated on exactly how Aristide might return, seeing a possible opportunity to hinder him in the logistics of reaching Haiti,” Stapleton wrote. “If Aristide traveled commercially, Bienvenu reasoned, he would likely need to transit certain countries in order to reach Haiti. Bienvenu suggested a demarche to Caricom [Caribbean Community] countries by the US and EU to warn them against facilitating any travel or other plans Aristide might have. He specifically recommended speaking to the Dominican Republic, which could be directly implicated in a return attempt.”
Five days later in Ottawa, two Canadian diplomatic officials met with the US Embassy personnel. “‘We are on the same sheet’ with regards to Aristide,” one Canadian affirmed, according to a July 6, 2005, cable. “Even before these recent rumors, she said, Canada had a clear position in opposition to the return of Aristide.”
Canada shared the message with “all parties...especially the Caricom countries,” as well with South Africa.
Vatican Blocks Post-Quake Return of Aristide
The earthquake that killed tens of thousands and destroyed many parts of the city also threatened to upend the established political order, worrying diplomats.
US Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) met with a Vatican official in the days after the earthquake to discuss Church losses and responses.
A January 20, 2010, cable reports, “In discussions with DCM over the past few days, senior Vatican officials said they were dismayed about media reports that deposed Haitian leader—and former priest—Jean Bertrand Aristide wished to return to Haiti.... The Vatican's Assesor (deputy chief of staff equivalent), Msgr. Peter Wells, said Aristide's presence would distract from the relief efforts and could become destabilizing.”
Then the Vatican’s Undersecretary for Relations with States, Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, conferred with Archbishop Bernardito Auza in Haiti, who “agreed emphatically that Aristide's return would be a disaster.” Balestrero “then conveyed Auza's views to Archbishop Greene in South Africa, and asked him also to look for ways to get this message convincingly to Aristide. DCM suggested that Greene also convey this message to the SAG [South African government].”
The Vatican’s position on Aristide’s return was augured in earlier cables. In November 2003, three months before the bloody February 2004 coup against Aristide, a US political officer met with the Vatican’s MFA Caribbean Affairs Office Director Giorgio Lingua. He said that “effecting change in Haiti should be easier than in Cuba,” reported US Chargé d'Affaires Brent Hardt in a November 14, 2003, cable. “Unlike Castro, Lingua observed, Aristide is not ideologically motivated. ‘This is one person—not a system,’ he added.”
Shortly after the coup, on March 5, 2004, US Ambassador to the Vatican James Nicholson wrote a cable reporting that the Holy See’s Deputy Foreign Minister had “no regret at Aristide's departure, noting that the former priest had been an active proponent of voodoo.”
A Hero’s Welcome
Aristide ultimately returned to Haiti on March 18, 2011, despite personal calls by President Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to stop him. They argued he would disrupt Haiti’s imminent elections.
“The problem is exclusion, and the solution is inclusion,” Aristide said during a brief return speech at the airport after landing. Then he made his only reference, however oblique, to that week’s elections from which his party was barred: “The exclusion of Fanmi Lavalas is the exclusion of the majority.”
Two days later, the second round of Haiti’s elections went off relatively smoothly, but with historically low voter participation. Some polling stations in Port-au-Prince were empty, with stacks of ballot sheets piled high, hours before they closed. Less than 24 percent of registered voters went to their polls, according to official statistics. Other observers say the turnout was much less.
On the morning of Aristide’s return in Port-au-Prince, thousands massed outside the airport in an exuberant, spontaneous demonstration. They jogged alongside his motorcade waving Haitian flags and placards bearing Aristide’s visage, then scaled the fence surrounding Aristide’s home and poured into its yard until there was no room left to move. The crowd even climbed the walls and covered the roof.
Sitting in an SUV just twenty feet from the door to his hastily repaired but mostly empty house, Aristide and his family waited until a crew of Haitian policeman managed to clear what resembled a pathway through the crowd. First his wife and two daughters emerged from the car and dashed inside the home.
Finally Aristide, diminutive in a sharp blue suit, stood up in the car doorway and waved. The crowd roared in excitement and surged around him. The path to the door vanished. His security grabbed him and shouldered their way through the sea of humanity until they got him to the house’s door, through which he popped like a cork, clutching his glasses in his hands.
After a coup, kidnapping, exile, diplomatic intrigue and his rapturous welcome, Aristide was finally home.