Aristide Asks U.S. Jewish Leaders to Help Restore Democracy to Haiti

Exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has asked Jewish organizational leaders to help rally the pressure needed to force out of power the military junta that overthrew him last fall.

“The more people who know what’s going on in our country, the easier it will be to change things,” he told representatives of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council’s constituent agencies in an address last Friday.

“Talk to friends and see how, together, we can put pressures on them,” he said. “Through peaceful resistance, let’s show how the power of ‘shalom’ is stronger than the power of war.

“We are stronger than one criminal and his thugs,” he added, referring to Gen. Raoul Cedras, who forced Aristide out of power on Sept. 30.

He urged wider adoption of the trade embargo against Haiti imposed by the United States and the Organization of American States. Other countries, including the 12 nations of the European Community, have declined to support the embargo.

“If we could stop the ships going to Haiti with oil, the coup would have been over long ago. Once they make the embargo a real one, it will be a matter of days” until it ends, he said.

Aristide, a Roman Catholic priest known to adhere to the political-religious philosophy known as “liberation theology,” spoke to the Jewish leaders in both English and Hebrew.

The ousted president studied theology at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem for three years, beginning in 1979, and is able to express himself in fluent Hebrew.

DOESN’T OBJECT TO REFUGEE POLICY

Though the exiled leader said that his countrymen are “fleeing political repression,” he stopped short of criticizing President Bush’s position that Haitians are simply running from economic distress.

Nor did Aristide attack the Bush policy of forcibly returning Haitian refugees back on the high seas each day, rather than allowing them to apply for political asylum from the safety of the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Jewish groups have been highly critical of the policy shift, which was announced May 24. But Aristide saw the matter differently.

Bush “wants to stop refugees from fleeing Haiti, and of course, I want that too,” he said. “We say let’s stop the flow of refugees by promoting democracy in Haiti today.”

When asked about a report that U.S. Navy commandos had rescued a small group of his followers from Haiti about two months ago, Aristide demurred. “I heard about the Navy Seals rumor, but I don’t know anything more than what I heard,” he said.

More than 2,000 people have been killed since the coup, according to Aristide, “even children. It’s not a war, it’s a massacre,” he said. “The very few people who have weapons and money are killing many with nothing.”

In Hebrew, he said to the Jewish leaders, “Alone, we can’t do it. But with you, always together, we have an excellent chance.

“I read in the Tanach (Bible), ‘Love your neighbor like yourself.’ Please speak with all our friends so that we can again be in a democratic Haiti,” he pleaded.

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