Archive for Monday, March 1, 2004

KU professor laments ruin of frequent coups d’etat

March 1, 2004


The director of the Kansas University Institute of Haitian Studies said Jean-Bertrand Aristide did the honorable thing by stepping down as the president of Haiti on Sunday.

"Aristide probably did the right thing," said Bryant Freeman. "There would have been a bloodbath. Whether his forces would have prevailed or not, I don't know. Aristide, I feel, did the honorable thing to avoid bloodshed of his people by leaving."

Aristide's location is unknown, but Freeman said he would not be surprised if Aristide went to South Africa. South African President Thabo Mbeki traveled to Haiti when the country celebrated its 200th birthday on Jan. 1. The two leaders may have formed some kind of bond at the celebration and that is why Aristide may be headed to South Africa, Freeman said.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre took over as president of the transitional government. The Haitian constitution calls for the head of the Supreme Court to organize elections as soon as possible.

French and American soldiers are being sent to Haiti to try to stop the violence that has gripped the country.

"All the foreign troops can do is stop people from shooting each other," Freeman said. "What else can we do? We can't set up their government. This is going to have to be done by Haitians."

Haiti, Freeman said, is famous for having "too many chiefs and not enough followers." There are 91 registered political parties in the country of 8 million people.

"There are a number of people who would like to be president," Freeman said. "It's the best job in the country."

Over the weekend Freeman talked to Mary Ellen Gilroy, the director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs at the U.S. State Department. Freeman has known Gilroy for years, primarily when she worked at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

"She said the current political upheaval in Haiti is the worst it has been since the 1800s," Freeman said. "That's saying a lot."

There have been 32 coups in Haiti over the past 200 years.

"She said it's more polarized and more violent than it ever has been before," Freeman said. "Hopefully that will stop now that we have sent troops."

Freeman said Aristide supporters had gutted the most prestigious hospital in the country, the Canape-Vert in Port-au-Prince. Freeman said the Canape-Vert was as good a hospital as any in the United States. His students at KU have had procedures done at the hospital while visiting Haiti.

"That just blows my mind," Freeman said. "It will have to be rebuilt. Haiti just destroys itself."

Freeman said he did not know of any KU students in Haiti right now. Two students, Renee Low, of Tonganoxie, and Chris Beyer were in the country as Peace Corps volunteers but left when tensions began to escalate.

Freeman spent time in June last year at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince. He said the country was already preparing itself for possible future problems.

"They have coup d'etat drills like we have fire drills," Freeman said.

Freeman has studied Haiti for 45 years. He trained U.S. and United Nations forces on Haitian language, history and culture in the 1990s.

American forces have requested copies of Freeman's handbook "Haitian Creole for Peace Support." The handbook gives a quick introduction to Haitian culture and useful English-to-Creole phrases, including "put down your gun." He originally wrote the book in 1995 at the request of Canadian Armed Forces.

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