Once again, the U.S. is manipulating Haiti.

On Feb. 29, 2004, the U.S. forcibly removed President Aristide, then maintained that he voluntarily resign. Aristide had been elected with 80 percent of the vote. True to form, the Bush administration, which claims to love democracy, engineered a coup d’etat and removed a democratically elected
leader of another country.

Aristide and his wife Mildred are now in South Africa, which granted them asylum. On Aug. 31, President Aristide issued a statement cautioning that free and fair elections could not take place in Haiti until the thousands of Lavalas (the pro-Aristide party comprised mostly of Haiti’s poor) who are in jail and in exile are free to return home, the repression that has already killed over 10,000 people ends, and a national dialogue begins.

Aristide asked, "In 1994, who could have expected free, fair and democratic elections in South Africa with Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Oliver Tambo and other leaders and members of the African National Congress in jail, exile or in hiding?”

Two prominent Lavalas leaders are in jail. Rev. Father Gérard Jean Juste, who has been in custody for two months, was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. More than 400 interfaith religious leaders have signed a letter asking for Fr. Jean Juste’s release. Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has been jailed for 16 months with no charges against him. Both men are in frail health.

The United Nations maintains a peacekeeping force of 8,000 in Haiti. I asked Mildred Aristide what role the U.N. has
played in Haiti’s problems. She told me: “Before the coup in February 2004 – up until the very day – the constitutional government requested assistance from the U.N. to help defend Haitians from the murderous band of former soldiers, drug dealers and thugs who were set on destabilizing the country and killing innocent people.”

How did the U.N. respond? It “stood by and allowed a democratically elected President, along with nearly 7,000 elected officials, to be removed from office,” Mrs. Aristide said. Only then, she added, did the U.N. vote to send an intervention force to Haiti.

“Credible reports of U.N. complicity in human rights abuses have surfaced,” Mrs. Aristide noted. “The U.N. has been forced to investigate the allegations. The Haitian police distribute machetes to hooded attachés, gun down innocent demonstrators, systematically raid poor slums, disappear prisoners turned over to them by the U.N. – all under the official sanction of the U.N., which had voted to exercise control over the police.”

Both Haiti’s police and the U.N. force are sustained by U.S. political and economic clout.

When Rice was in Haiti, she made clear that the U.S. does not want Aristide to return to Haiti. “The Haitian people are
moving on,” Rice said.

But things in Haiti are not going according to “script,” says Mrs. Aristide. Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere affairs in the State Department, has resigned. In August, Haiti’s interim government released the imprisoned Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a leader of the vicious Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), a paramilitary group blamed for thousands of killings during the military dictatorship that ruled Haiti after forcing Aristide from power in 1991. Also in August, James B. Foley, the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, left his post for unknown reasons. Foley called Chamblain’s release a “sham,” especially in light of Neptune’s continued incarceration with no evidence against him. He characterized Neptune’s detention as “a violation of human rights, an injustice and an abuse of power.”

Since Aristide’s ouster, thousands of people have demonstrated to protest horrific conditions, and the interim government has responded with violence. Spurred by the U.S. to take a more “proactive role” in going after armed pro-Aristide gangs, U.N. troops have engaged in “a wave of Fallujah-like collective punishment inflicted on neighborhoods known for supporting Aristide,” according to Naomi Klein.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has documented that 18 months after Aristide was forced out of the country, Haiti remains insecure and volatile. Much of the population displays “disenchantment, apathy and ignorance about the electoral process,” the ICG found.

The IGC reported that “a week before the scheduled close of registration, only 870,000 of four million potential voters had registered, and none had yet received the new national identity card required to vote.”

Although Rice tried to put a positive gloss on Haiti’s prospects for fair and free elections, “Haiti is in the midst of a comprehensive program of electoral cleansing,” said Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “Its ballots are being cleansed of political dissidents, its voting rolls cleansed of the urban and
rural poor. The streets are being cleansed of anti-government political activity,” he said.

Lavalas supporters have said they will not participate in the elections unless political prisoners are released, political
persecutions are ended and Aristide is returned to Haiti.

Senior officials at Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department admit that Lavalas remains Haiti’s most popular party. Thus, an election without Lavalas will be a sham.

Marjorie Cohn is the executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. This is excerpted from an article that originally appeared on truthout.org.