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Why C.A.R.?

Anyone looking at a map might wonder why President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, fleeing political violence in Haiti, would choose to flee to the Central African Republic. Colin Powell had one explanation: the first nation Aristide chose wouldn’t receive him. He may have been referring to Antigua, where the aircraft carrying Aristide refueled, or to Morocco, which refused the request for asylum. He might also have been referring to South Africa, expected to be Aristide’s final destination. However, Mbeki, who recieved a great deal of public criticism for being the only African leader to attend the bicentenial of Haitian independence, is likely receiving too much political heat for his support of Mugabe to take in another unpopular public figure.

Even with Morocco and South Africa’s refusals, C.A.R. seems like an odd choice for a place to leave Aristide. The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with C.A.R. in late 2002, when Francis Bozize seized power from Ange-Felix Patasse, the country’s democractically elected president. The U.S. State Department maintains a travel warning, strongly discouraging Americans from traveling to C.A.R.

C.A.R.’s foreign minister, Charles Wenezoui, has another explanation for hosting Aristide: “…the Central African Republic had taken him in because of its legendary hospitality…”.

That’s odd. I’d always thought of C.A.R. as legendary for political chaos and surreally bad government. For more than three quarters of its independence from France, CAR has been governed by military governments. The most memorable of these was that of President, later Emperor, then Apostle Bokassa who, when he was finally overthrown in 1979 was tried for corruption, treason, murder… and cannibalism. (He was acquitted of cannibalism charges, despite the discovery of body parts of children killed in a protest over the high cost of school uniforms, in the freezer in his kitchen.)

So why did the State department deposit a deposed, democractically-elected leader in a far-off nation ruled by the deposers of a democratically-elected government, leaving observers to ponder the irony? UN IRIN offers speculation that C.A.R. offered refuge to help improve its’ own standing in the international community. Given the difficulty the U.S. and France had in finding refuge for Aristide, they now end up owing Bozize a favor, perhaps recognition of his government.

Robert White, a former U.S. ambassador has a more sinister take on the situation. He tells Newsday: Why would Aristide go to Bangui? I have to believe that getting Aristide to the most remote spot in the world was a way of controlling him.” White goes on to speculate that Aristide would never willingly surrendered power: “I truly believe he would have rather met death than to go out and resign.” Is it possible that Aristide was taken to Bangui, instead of Panama, which also offered asylum, because the U.S. was afraid he might try to retake power? Or did the wonderfully-named (Colonel?) Kenn Kurtz, CEO of the “risk management company” that accompanied Aristide to C.A.R. simply want an excuse to find himself back in the Heart of Darkness?