REVIEW: Article

Haiti - A Solution?

In his opening remarks at last month’s meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Lima, Peru, César Gaviria of Colombia, who serves as President of the OAS, described the current state of democracy in Latin America in unusually frank terms—Haiti providing the most recent case in point.

Mr. Gaviria said, “Democracy in Latin America has not brought…high levels of growth or the eradication of poverty or the greater equality we had all hoped for…furthermore, globalization has put enormous pressure on our political systems, exposing their shortcomings, their weaknesses, their failings.”

The goal of bringing democracy to the rest of the world has been the elusive underpinning of United States (US) foreign policy in both Democratic and Republican administrations. While it continues to be every administration’s top priority, it is not necessarily at the top of the list of priorities of the poor and oppressed peoples of our hemisphere who are much more concerned about matters of day-to-day survival such as hunger, housing, jobs, health care, and security. Simply stated, the boat people from Haiti who are trying to reach our country do not want to reach our shores in order to vote; they are coming here in order to eat.

In Haiti, the US restored President Jean Bertrand Aristide to power at a cost of some $23 billion to the American taxpayer. Yet despite the six-year presence of American troops from 1994 to 2000, as soon as those troops departed, Aristide led his country right back into the time-honored Haitian pattern of absolute rule through political oppression, intimidation, and assassination, as well as into dishonest elections, widespread government corruption, participation in the global drug trade, and failure to deliver the most basic of promised social services to his impoverished nation.

Haiti has already become a political football, like Iraq and Afghanistan, in the coming American presidential election. That football game counts as players such as John Kerry and the Congressional Black Caucus aligned against the Bush administration’s anti-Aristide stance. This knee-jerk liberal support of a tyrannical leader “elected” through a blatantly rigged electoral process perplexes and disappoints—especially since I otherwise admire these members of the liberal establishment.

CARICOM, the organization of Caribbean nations, finds itself without the full backing of the Organization of American States in giving its full support to Aristide. Apparently convinced that the Haitian President was forced into exile by the US, CARICOM condones Aristide’s temporary return to Jamaica ostensibly to be reunited with his young daughters. Notwithstanding the stated reason for his return, there is no doubt that Aristide will use the opportunity to further de-stabilize the already unsettled situation in Haiti.

For its part, the fragmented opposition to Aristide in Haiti has good reason not to trust the US to bring political, social, and economic stability to their country. The US record of success in this arena is not a good one. A 19-year US Marine occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934 (because of Haitian government indebtedness to American banks) and the most recent six-year (1994 to 2000) military “intervention” have served only to confirm in Haiti’s national psyche that government by military rule or force is most effective. There is nothing in Haiti’s history, from its days as France’s richest colony to the present, on which to base the creation of a responsible, honest, functioning representative government. Indeed, such is the case with quite a few other Third World nations as well.

Further deepening the Haitian opposition’s distaste for the US taking the lead in restoring peace and security in Haiti is the US record of support for such hemispheric dictators as Pinochet in Chile, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, and Batista in Cuba—not to mention Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Add to this the US policy of repatriating all Haitian boat people while allowing escaping Cubans who set foot on US land to remain in our country. This policy certainly does not endear us to Haitians at home or abroad.

Such is the climate in which the tragedy of modern-day Haiti is being played out. What about a solution to this mess?

I advocate the immediate creation of a multinational United Nations peacekeeping force (with only minimal American participation, if at all) of at least 10,000 soldiers/ policemen to restore and maintain law, order, and security in Haiti. Such a force must be committed to remain in Haiti for an open-ended period of time. The precedent for such a force is the UN peacekeepers who have been in Cyprus for nearly 40 years while that nation works on proving to the world community of nations that it has genuinely replaced aggression with collaboration.

Simultaneous with the establishment of a peacekeeping force should be the re-constitution by the United Nations of the United Nations Technical Assistance Bureau (UNTAB). During the 1960s, UNTAB provided the newly independent nations of Africa with experts in all aspects of governmental administration from developed member states to train and sometimes assume the reins of administration for a new country’s executive, judicial, and legislative functions. UNTAB’s aim was to quickly develop a nation’s cadre of civil servants to support the government of their country as soon as possible. In the case of Haiti, no time limit should be imposed on this process. Most important, the skills of the now tens of thousands of Haitians of the Diaspora—Haitians educated, trained, and living abroad—should be drawn upon to hasten, expedite, and facilitate the process.

Any other attempted solution to Haiti’s problems in which the US takes the lead is doomed to failure in today’s global climate of international relations.

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United States Ambassador to Algeria, 1977-1981