Tuesday, April 14, 1998

Aristide, Campbell present visions for democracy, Chicago Maroon

Aristide, Campbell present visions for democracy
The Chicago Maroon
By Pamela Appea

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and former Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell were featured in the closing plenary session of The Challenge of Modern Democracy, last Saturday, April 11.

The two political figures discussed their respective visions of Democracy for the 21st Century. Campell spoke about her role as a first female prime minister. A true democracy, according to Campbel, must strive to include the opinions of women and men as well as people of all ethnicities.

“What is a democratic culture? It is a culture where the people are sovereign. Democracy has been a moral powerful force,” said Campbell.

Campbell referred to a comment made by Martha Nussbaum, professor of Law at the U of C, who spoke at a previous panel: “In ancient Athens, our first democracy, only 10 percent of people were considered citizens.” Campbell went on to contrast ancient Greece to modern day Canada.

“In Canada, the Chinese did not get the right to vote until 1949, Aboriginal people did not get the right until the late 1950s.” Campbell cautioned individuals to keep history in perspective when looking at the past events of a democratic society. Campbell commented that in the past certain ethnic, religious, cultural groups, and women have been denied their rights as citizens in democratic countries, including Canada and the United States.

During Campbell’s time as prime minister, she held conferences in order to hear diverse viewpoint and opinion of the Canadian people on issues as varied as cultural issues and gun laws.

“People are not abstractions. They are people of flesh-and-blood who have to live with the laws that I formulate. Democracy should be something they can believe in,” she said.

Campbell’s vision of democratic rule included a smaller government.

During her short tenure as Prime Minister, Campbell, a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, cut the size of the federal cabinet by one third and restructured government ministries to make them more responsive “to the policy needs of the 1990s,” as stated in a conference press release.

Campbell also expressed the importance of policy attention to issues of abortion, birth control, and sexual assault.

Following Campbell, Aristide discussed the challenges of ruling Haiti, being exiled during a coup d'├ętat and then returning to finish his five-year term as president of Haiti.

During Aristide’s first seven months in office his government pursued a program of change based on the principles of participation, transparence and justice.

Aristide discussed the importance of democracy in a country such as Haiti that has been afflicted by despotic rulers.” According to Aristide, Haitian citizens have an average 85 percent literacy rate and an average income is less than $1,000. At the same time, he does not feel that it these statistics are a reason to give up hope or believe that democracy cannot effect change.

“Our greatest challenge is to look objectively at the gap existing between the rich and the poor. Democracy is for the people. This means food, clean water, education and health care. These are basic human rights.”

After completing his five year term as President, Aristide founded the Aristide Foundation for Democracy. Under Aristide’s leadership the Foundation is dedicated to deepening the roots of Haiti’s democracy by opening avenues of participation to all Haitians. The foundation has three major program areas: sponsoring forums and public dialogues on the issues such as justice, land reform, and the economic future of the nation, supporting literacy programs in Haiti, and fostering community-based initiatives.

“I think Caribbean politicians should look towards Aristide as an example of the kind of politician that Caribbean countries need. He cares for the people and stands up for them. Aristide stands up for what he believes in,” said Sherlina Nageer, a fourth-year student in the College.

Another student felt disappointed with one of Aristide’s comments. “During the question and answer period, an audience member asked Aristide and Campbell what their greatest political wish was for their country, and Aristide wished that the U.S. would be ‘nice’ to Haiti.

“I think he depends too much on the U.S., but at the same time it is hard to criticize him for this economic dependence which is somewhat inevitable,” she said.

The two-and-a-half hour event drew hundreds of students. Many attendees commented they enjoyed the panel discussion.

Aristide has studied in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Israel. He completed a post-graduate degree in psychology at the State University in Haiti.

Kim Campbell was educated at the University of British Columbia and the London School of Economics. In 1996, Campbell was named Consul General for Canada in Los Angeles.
Photo Caption: Renato Mariotti (l). one of the organizers of the Challenge for Modern Democracy Conference, introduces the conference’s closing plenary session, featuring Kim Campbell (c), former Prime Minister of Canada, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide (r), former President of Haiti.

Originally published Tuesday, April 14, 1998