REVIEW: Article

Haiti: An Ongoing US Foreign Policy Challenge

No matter which party occupies the White House after our presidential elections, past experience indicates that United States (US) foreign policy is incapable of dealing with more than one or two of the myriad of critical global crises that simultaneously affect our national interest. This is all the more true in the context of the current presidential election campaign concentrating exclusively on terrorism and the war in Iraq. We remain in a “crisis of the day” mode.

Following the leads of both Bush and Kerry, our media coverage of global crises is similarly limited. As a result, ongoing crises in places like Haiti have disappeared from Washington’s foreign policy agenda, as well as from our television newscasts and news­paper headlines.

In Haiti, notwithstanding our military intervention and the US supported removal of the tyrannical ex-President Jean Bertrand Aristide, there has been very little change for the better. The multinational United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), with its Brazilian-led military contingent, is grossly undermanned with only about 2,750 of its authorized full complement of 6,000 troops on the ground. This leaves armed Haitian rebels in effective control of much of the country and in full control of the towns of Jacmel and Petit Goave.

Those armed rebels, many of whom were in the now demobilized Haitian army, are demanding ten years back pay and the reinstatement of the army. Currently, they are preventing the distribution of food, temporary shelter and medical aid to the needy thousands of flood victims. Periodically, armed supporters of Aristide succeed in shutting down all activity in Haiti’s capital despite the presence of United Nations (UN) troops.

In the face of this well-armed rebel threat, the Haitian national police force is powerless to enforce the law and provide the internal security so desperately needed in Haiti. Indeed, so great is the threat of violence that the State Department issued a travel warning on October 8 advising Americans to avoid non-emergency travel to Haiti. Random violent crime such as kidnapping, carjacking and assault is prevalent.

As for the Haitian judiciary, even under the US supported interim Haitian government, it continues to show itself as corrupt and incapable of administering justice and the rule of law. Proof of this major failure of Haiti’s judicial system are the recent sham trials and summary acquittals of the rebel leaders, Jackson Joanis and Jodel Chamblain. Both men had previously been convicted “in absentia” of the 1993 murder of the pro-Aristide Haitian businessman, Antoine Izmery. In this particularly gruesome incident, Izmery was dragged from worship in a Port-au-Prince church and shot to death in full view of the worshippers, including foreign diplomats.

In the case of Jodel Chamblain, he was also co-founder and chief of operations of the notorious and ruthless FRAPH organization (Front Republicain pour l’Avancement et le Progres Haitiens), an organization responsible for the murders of thousands of Haitians. The leader and other co-founder of FRAPH, Emmanuel (“Toto”) Constant, despite his conviction, has been granted residence in the US where he currently resides in New York City, claiming to have been in the employ and pay of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Further evidence of the breakdown in security are the recent assassination of the French director of Air France and the armed attempt on the life of the Secretary of State of the French Foreign Ministry during his courtesy visit to a Port-au-Prince hospital last month. In neither case have the assassins been apprehended.

Reminiscent of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Amnesty International and other human rights groups have visited Haitian prisons and found the condition of the prisoners to be deplorable and unacceptable.

With respect to the use of Haiti as a transit point for drug traffic from South America to the US, the personal involvement of President Aristide and other well-placed Haitians has emerged from the testimony of acknowledged Haitian drug dealers who have been tried and convicted in US courts. Yet, so far, neither the US nor Haitian governments had followed through on their allegations.

As for the so-called “democratic” elections scheduled to be held in Haiti next year as is the case with Iraq and Afghanistan, it is naïve in the extreme to think that elections can be held when most Haitians do not have ID cards, and there is no accurate election register. Further eroding the legitimacy of the interim Haitian government on a regional basis is the refusal of the 15-member organization of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM of which Haiti is a member) to recognize it.

The US government has committed $230 million for the rehabilitation of Haiti. But, this is a meaningless gesture when the governmental infrastructure does not exist in Haiti to receive such funds and spend them for their intended purpose.

The US government has committed $230 million for the rehabilitation of Haiti. But, this is a meaningless gesture when the governmental infrastructure does not exist in Haiti to receive such funds and spend them for their intended purpose.

All of the above is just the precursor to the tragic devastation that Haiti is currently suffering after widespread flooding by Hurricane Jeanne. As of this writing, there have been more than 700 deaths and over 1,000 missing and the numbers are rising.

Decomposing unclaimed and undiscovered bodies threaten epidemics of life threatening diseases. Food, water and shelter are not to be found. Ironically, never to be forgotten by this already impoverished nation are the already popular Cuban doctors staffing a field hospital set up by MINUSTAH in the main square of the flooded city of Gonaives.

On the positive side, Brazil has provided a respite from the chaotic situation in Haiti by sending its national soccer team to Haiti last month to play Haiti’s national team. This event was attended by the Brazilian President and brought a brief interlude from its problems to Haiti’s soccer-happy population, despite Haiti’s six to zero loss to Brazil. Even so, such was the lack of confidence in security in Haiti that the Brazilian soccer team trained and was lodged in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Schools and businesses are open again, some electricity has been restored, and the streets of the capital are no longer clogged with garbage. All of this has been accomplished thanks to the intervention of MINUSTAH troops. None of this could have been accomplished by Haiti’s interim government alone.

As the basis for US foreign policy in Haiti, the Monroe Doctrine is dead. The Caribbean basin and South America are no longer the exclusive province of the US. Indeed, France and Canada have announced that they will collaborate in Haiti’s rehabilitation. And even the People’s Republic of China is supplying 250 policemen to MINUSTAH.

The only hope for the successful rehabilitation of Haiti is for the US government to pay its outstanding debt of $1.2 billion in unpaid dues to the United Nations. This would permit the UN to reconstitute the United Nations Technical Assistance Bureau with its international teams of experts. Their mission should be to assume the administrative reins of government while training Haitians to govern themselves.

While US foreign policy in Haiti is at best “stalled” and at its worst “failed,” it is the Haitian people who continue to suffer just as they have throughout their country’s history.

The makers of American foreign policy must devote their attention and energy to effectively juggling the myriad of foreign policy crises that confront us not only in Haiti, but in such places as Darfur (Sudan), Burundi, Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Zimbabwe, and constitute a real and growing threat to American national security.

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United States Ambassador to Algeria, 1977-1981