Marty Logan

As rebel leader Guy Philippe declared himself Haiti’s “military chief” Tuesday, speculation continued to fly over the US role in deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s flight from power Sunday.

More than one observer suggested that now that the champion of the poor in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation was gone, it was time to look ahead to rebuilding — but first to disarming the various armed factions in Haiti.

On Monday, Aristide told CNN that US soldiers forced him to board a plane that landed in Africa 20 hours later. US Secretary of State Colin Powell denied that version of events.

Hours after Aristide’s flight, the UN Security Council authorised a multinational intervention force for the country. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he knew nothing more

about Aristide’s departure.

Tuesday morning a spokesman for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) he did not think the anti-Aristide rebels joined with Washington to depose the embattled leader. CARICOM criticised the world community last week for not sending a military force to Haiti sooner.

The regional body was to meet Tuesday to discuss how to officially react to the events in Haiti.

One non-governmental observer said the international community will likely make no meaningful contribution to the island country, even now that Philippe — a former policeman and army cadet who fled the country after a failed coup attempt against Aristide in 2001 — and other known human rights violators appear to have assumed some power.

“The international community, by which we mean in the case of Haiti the US, France and to a lesser extent Canada, have already made it absolutely clear that they’re not going to intervene in any positive way in Haiti,” said Charles Arthur, director of the UK organisation, Haiti Support Group.

Tuesday, US State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher rejected Philippe’s claim. “The rebels have to lay down their arms and go home,” said Boucher, according to Associated Press (AP). Arthur argued the world should not mourn the departure of Aristide.

“Clearly the US is the main player in getting him to leave. Whether the left and progressive forces all over the world should be focussing on the issue of the Aristide presidency, I don’t think so”.

Haitian politics has been blocked since the opposition parties refused to participate following 2000 elections that rights groups and bodies like the Organisation of American States (OAS) declared flawed.

But more than one week ago, and with Philippe and other heavily-armed rebels advancing on the capital Port-au-Prince from the north, Aristide agreed to a CARICOM action plan that would see him stay in office until his term ended in 2006 as part of a power-sharing government with the opposition. But his opponents refused to accept the strategy.

That tremendous task will have to begin with basic services. For example, aid group Oxfam said Tuesday “at least 80,000 people in Port de Paix and 60,000 people in Cap Haitien (both in the country’s north) have no access to clean water, many others are short of food and the threat of disease due to poor sanitation is growing”.

Groups stopped delivering aid because of insecurity earlier this month, and “lack of access to sufficient quantities of clean water combined with the general lack of adequate sanitation could soon lead to disastrous outbreaks of water-related disease”, added the Oxfam statement. — IPS