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Aristide exit a lesson for failed leaders-US
Updated: 2004-03-05 09:32

The United States on Thursday rejected pressure for an investigation into whether it pushed former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign and said it would not prop up "failed" elected leaders.

After days of criticism that Aristide was ousted in a U.S.-assisted coup, the Bush administration's new defense of his "rescue" stoked fears its Haiti policy set a precedent for other leftists in Latin America, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that even if the United States "recognized a leader had been elected," he could not rely on U.S. support against an armed revolt if America considered he had misgoverned.

"We can't be called upon, expected or required to intervene every time there is violence against a failed leader," Boucher told reporters. "We can't spend our time running around the world and the hemisphere saving people who botched their chance at leadership."

"I do not think that's something the American government and the American people want, nor do I think it's ultimately good for democracy in the hemisphere," he said.

The new U.S. defense shifted from denying it forced Aristide out to explaining why the administration allowed him to fall as rebels were closing in on the capital.

Washington blamed the crisis on Aristide, whom it restored to power a decade ago with an invasion. After failing to mediate a settlement with the opposition, the United States rejected his pleas for police reinforcements, questioned his ability to govern and finally warned him U.S. Marines sent to Haiti would not protect him.


On Thursday, South Africa joined Caribbean nations as well as black activists and Democrats in calling for an investigation into how the United States flew Aristide to exile in Africa early on Sunday in what he has called a kidnapping.

"We certainly don't encourage or believe there is any need for an investigation," Boucher said. "We ended up rescuing him by taking him out of the country in the face of almost certain violence."

Larry Birns, of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, blamed the Bush administration for Aristide's exit. With a tilt to the left in Latin America in recent years, he worried it would encourage right-wing U.S. officials to go after leaders such as Chavez.

"Haiti was not about a flawed president but about a flawed (U.S.) foreign policy," said the director of the liberal think tank. "The Haiti pattern shows this administration is capable of anything. It will have an enormous negative reaction throughout Latin America and Chavez has cause to lose sleep."

U.S. officials have struggled this week to stave off concerns Chavez could meet Aristide's fate. In 2002, the Bush administration initially appeared to welcome a short-lived coup against the friend of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and has persistently criticized him while backing opposition demands for a recall vote against him.

Boucher singled out Venezuela as an example of how Washington has supported democracy in the region. "We've stood up for threats to democracy in Venezuela, whatever side they might be coming from," he said.

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