Another thing to watch for during Obama’s visit in Brazil is if Jean-Bertrand Aristide manages to return to Haiti. If Aristide does land in Port-au-Prince while the first family is in Rio, it would be further indication of the United States’s waning influence in the region. As Wikileaks cables reveal, the US Department of State has been intensely lobbying Brazil to use its influence in South Africa, where Aristide resides in exile, to prevent his departure. Unfortunately, the strong independent streak Lula exhibited in other areas of foreign policy didn’t extend to Haiti, where Brazil has largely supported efforts by the “international community,” led by the United States, Canada and France, to place the island country in receivership after having drove Aristide out in 2004. Now, though, Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, seems to have declined to press South Africa to bend to Washington’s will, and Aristide is expected to return home (Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is in South Africa to cover events).

By the way, Amy Wilentz had an interesting, long op-ed in the New York Times yesterday on Haitian opinion regarding Aristide, suggesting that the only domestic opposition to his return comes from the country’s microscopic, perversely rich elite. The essay was a little personalistic for my taste, holding Aristide responsible for not reversing the country’s deep structural inequalities (Haitians, Wilentz writes, “poured their love onto him and he has repaired them with nothing but dreams”). She also suggested that he was a hypocrite for allowing the United States, in exchange for supporting his return to power following the coup that interrupted his first presidency, to impose extreme neoliberal policies on Haiti (which Bill Clinton apologized for in the wake of the Haitian earthquake: “I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did”). And she didn’t make mention of Washington’s direct role in driving Aristide from office the second time. This omission might have been the price of entry to the paper’s op-ed pages, even though it was the New York Times itself that did good reporting on the shenanigans of the International Republican Institute, as cover for the old Iran/Contra gang, in destabilizing the country in 2004.

In the past, Jeffrey Sachs has been coruscatingly clear in his denunciation of Washington for the economic stranglehold it placed on Haiti. As he wrote in March 2004, with a clarity that seems to escape most US commentators when they consider Aristide: “Haiti, once again, is ablaze. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is widely blamed, and he may be toppled soon. Almost nobody, however, understands that today’s chaos was made in Washington—deliberately, cynically and steadfastly. History will bear this out. In the meantime, political, social, and economic chaos will deepen, and Haiti’s impoverished people will suffer.”

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