Originally: U.S. nation-building in Haiti founders amid turmoil
PORT-AU-PRINCE(Reuters) 05/19/03 – Shortly after the United States invaded Haiti in 1994, the U.S. military built Route 9, a highway intended to link the capital and the Cite Soleil slum with the North of the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Route 9 was the start of an ambitious U.S. plan for hundreds of miles of roads to help resurrect Haiti’s moribund economy and firmly establish democracy in a nation that had known only dictatorship and merciless military rule.
Today, many Haitians are afraid to use Route 9, an unfinished highway preyed upon by armed bandits. Not long ago, Haitian police stopped traffic on the road to allow a Colombian drug plane to land and unload a ton of cocaine, police officials said.
The decline of a road paved with good intentions typifies nation-building efforts in Haiti nine years after the United States restored exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office — long on ambition, short on stamina.
As the United States launches its nation-building project in Iraq, analysts say Haiti holds few lessons in success.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is stumbling toward its 200th anniversary of independence next year as troubled as ever, mired in political turmoil, burdened by poverty and unable to solve its own problems.
“Haiti is the perfect example of the failed state,” said Ken Boodhoo, a professor of international relations at Florida International University.
Hope was high when a popular uprising encouraged by then-Roman Catholic priest Aristide ousted the 30-year Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986. Five years later, Aristide became Haiti’s first freely elected president.
Though exiled by a military junta just seven months after taking office, Aristide and democratic rule returned to Haiti on the back of the U.S. military intervention in 1994.
Aristide scored a number of successes. He dismantled the thuggish army and banished the dreaded Ton Tons Macoute secret police that backed the Duvalier rule. With the help of trainers from the United States and Canada, he established the Haitian National Police, Haiti’s first civilian security force.
Declared a foreign policy success for the Clinton administration, Haiti made small but important strides,
improving health care and bolstering education in a country with an illiteracy rate of more than 50 percent.
In 1996, Aristide turned over power to his protégé René Préval, the first democratic transition between leaders.
But by the end of 1996 most of the 21,000 foreign troops had departed and by 1999 Haiti was, to a large extent, on its own, analysts said, leaving a country with no history and little understanding of democracy to figure it out on its own.
“If you’re going to be an imperialist, at least have a sense of how you’re going to run the thing,” said Lawrence Pezzullo, a Clinton envoy in the early 1990s. “To do it on the cheap and to do it oblivious to the cultural realities is an act of fantasy.”
Pezzullo and others say the United States has no stomach for long-term commitment and abandoned Haiti far too soon.
“They came in with a one-year strategy to a 10-year problem,” said James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project, a Washington think-tank.
Haiti fell afoul of international donors after national elections in May 2000, when officials improperly calculated the results of several Senate seats to favor Aristide’s party. Foreign agencies halted some $500 million in direct aid.
Aristide was returned to office in a November 2000 election boycotted by opposition parties, and Haiti has been mired in a political stalemate since.
Among outside observers and many Haitians, hopes for a successful democratic transition are waning. Life has become tougher in the teeming capital as the Haitian currency, the gourde, has lost over half its value in 18 months.
Many Port-au-Prince residents get only two or three hours of electricity a day. About two-thirds of Haiti’s 8 million people are considered malnourished.
The United States says Haiti has been corrupted by Colombian traffickers, who take advantage of its weak police force and poverty to move cocaine at will.
“The United States needed to stay here for 20 years,” said Richard Desorme, a Haitian who said he is unemployed and homeless. “Then maybe there is hope for Haiti.”