Luxurious exile won’t do for Aristide

Rather than ferrying him off, some form of justice must investigate his actions.

Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is not the first dictator to flee his country with political opponents in hot pursuit and will not be the last. On Sunday, the democratic activist-turned-dictator boarded a plane bound for the Central African Republic, leaving the palace he lived in and the gangs of thugs he controlled behind.

Aristide made his decision after not-so-subtle hints from President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell that remaining in power would only lead to more violence. While there is little reason to mourn his departure from Haiti, there is ample cause to question the life of comfort that awaits him.

Idi Amin might be the most celebrated example of rewarding dictators with luxurious exile. The former British officer kidnapped and murdered more than 500,000 people during eight years of military rule in Uganda. Ousted from power in 1979, Amin – an Islamic convert – spent the next 24 years lounging in Libyan and Saudi palaces before a peaceful death last August.

Aristide is no Amin. But that does not make him any more deserving of a new life of luxury in exile. Aristide has spent the last decade squandering his reputation as a democratic activist. Reporters Sans Frontieres, the journalist advocacy group based in France, placed the Haitian president on its list of “predators of press freedom” in 1999 after a rash of firebombings and political assassinations by Aristide-backed partisans.

The national elections that returned Aristide to power in 2000 were condemned by much of the world for extensive fraud and a voter participation rate of only 5 percent. As his grip on power grew increasingly tenuous in 2003, Aristide relied heavily on a ragtag band of thugs roaming the streets of Port-au-Prince in search of political opponents.

Allowing Aristide to live out his days in the lap of luxury would be no less tragic than his betrayal of Haitian democracy. Rather than ferrying Aristide off to exile, some form of justice must investigate his actions. The Haitian courts would be preferable, because they offer closure to the Haitian people and have unquestionable jurisdiction. If this does not work, the international community should take responsibility for bringing Aristide to justice.