Originally: The Menace That Is Haiti

By Raymond A. Joseph

Finally, major political players in and out of the United States recognize that Haiti is a source of instability in the Caribbean region in ways that could negatively affect its neighbors and the United States.

At a hearing last Tuesday to examine U.S. policy toward Haiti, Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, referred to “failed states and the risks they pose to U.S. national security” in his written opening statement on Haiti. “As we have seen in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone,” he said, “failed states usually lead to violence humanitarian crises, immigration and refugee flows and illicit economic activity.”

Then Senator Lugar said this, “Although Haiti is a small nation, its troubles have consequences for the United States. Corruption, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration are areas of deep concern for our two countries. Mass migration has the potential to create instability in the region and undermine efforts to improve border control.”

A week earlier, Dominican President Hipolito Mejia and Vice-President Milagros Ortiz Bosch inaugurated a three-day seminar in Santo Domingo to discuss “The border as a priority in the national agenda for the 21st century.” The seminar was sponsored by the Dominican armed forces whose secretary, Lieutenant-General Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez, said Haiti represents “a menace for the security” of his country which shares the island of Hispaniola with its western neighbor. “To say that the poorest nation in the hemisphere is a military menace would be absurd. But to think that Haiti doesn?t represent a menace for the security of our country is an inertia for which we could pay dearly.” The drug dealers, he said, use undocumented Haitians to cross the 200-mile border between the two countries with drugs, and “undocumented Dominican citizens take it to next island [Puerto Rico] in the same frail vessels they use for human traffic” ? that is illegal immigrants.

On July 14 for Bastille Day, French ambassador Yves Gaudeuil called on the Haitian officials to implement the demands of Resolution 822 approved by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States last September in an attempt to put an ene to the three-year crisis that originated in the flawed elections of summer 2000. Mr. Gaudeuil reminded the authorities that his country and the European Union fully backed that resolution, whose “re-evaluation” would come up September 4.( That is a reference to the warning early last month in Santiago, Chile, of Secretary of State Powell to the Port-au-Prince regime.)

The American Ambassador in Port-au-Prince joined the chorus of those who are warning about a catastrophe in the making. In what could be considered his farewell speech after a two-and-a-half year tour of duty, Brian Dean Curran said Haiti faces four major crises ? political, economic, humanitarian and moral. He castigated both Haitian society and the government for their failure to respond positively to these crises.

In my view, the American diplomat, who discarded diplomatic jargon, made the greatest impact when he questioned the “moral values” of the society and the government. Speaking in impeccable French, Mr. Curran said, “I do not understand what has become of moral values when a senator who has criticized some declarations of his colleagues is psychologically intimidated, is threatened with expulsion from his own party and is temporarily barred from traveling.” (He was referring to Prince Sonson Pierre, the Lavalas senator who had defended exiled Police chief Jean-Robert Faveur.)

In a litany of “I do not understand what has become of moral values,” the ambassador reviewed the major ills that buffet the society, such as elected officials who benefit from the sale of “basic commodities” intended for the Haitian people and those who encourage impoverished citizens to invest in “a swindle of bogus cooperatives where they lose all, or nearly all their money.” (He was referring to a major scandal in which Lavalas senators were assigned quotas of rice for sale to a public to which the rice belonged anyway. Also the failed “money cooperatives” which swallowed up more than $200 million of depositors? money were touted by President Aristide as “people capitalism.”)

Mr. Curran denounced the drug traffic and said he did not understand “what has become of moral values of the society when the drug traffic is tolerated.” As if he were pointing fingers at some in his audience, composed mainly of businessmen, he said, “The drug dealers are known. …Jacques Ketan was [known] before his arrest. They get their supplies at your stores, you either sell them homes or build new ones for them, you take their deposits, you teach their children, you elect them to posts in your chambers of commerce.” (The ambassador was addressing the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce.) He said the U.S. visas of several businessmen and government officials as well as of other politicians have been revoked.

Despite the warnings from all sides, the regime in Haiti has unleashed a campaign of repression that culminated in a major fracas last Saturday at Cite Soleil, the vast shanty town north of the Haitian capital. The civic “Group 184” had announced a visit at Cite Soleil to discus its far reaching “new social contract” with the citizens, as it has been doing with notable success in various parts of the country. But last Friday, a certain Noelsaint Elifaite, said to be the second in command of the mayoralty at Cite Soleil, appeared on the government controlled National Television to say, “Cite Soleil belongs to Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the presence of 184 won?t be tolerated.”

On Saturday, thugs protected by the police attacked the “Caravan of Hope,” breaking the windshields or puncturing the tires of 10 vehicles. They grievously wounded more than 40 individuals, including six journalists, and lightly wounded an equal number. Andre Apaid Jr., the businessman who coordinates “Group 184,” told me “Aristide is personally responsible for what happened. Money was distributed to that end and the thugs were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Aristide?s picture on their chests.”

Don?t tell that to Senator Christopher Dodd (D. Conn.), considered a “friend of Haiti,” rose to the defense of the Aristide regime. The ranking democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee asserted that the Cite Soleil meeting of the “Group 184” was a “provocation.” In other words, they got what they deserved. In that sense, Mr. Dodd is in conflict with the chief of the OAS?s special mission in Haiti, the Canadian diplomat David Lee who forcefully condemned the attack. “It is the right of all Haitians to demonstrate peacefully,” Mr. Lee said. And former Senator Paul Denis, a leading figure of the opposition, aptly asked, “How can elections take place under such a regime if a civil society group can?t even meet with the people to hold a discussion.”

And so, the international community, especially the United States, that brought Mr. Aristide back to Haiti, is faced with a major problem: to prop up a man who has proven to be a destabilizing force in the region or to facilitate his exit from the scene before more harm is done. To those who claim that Mr. Aristide was elected to a five-year term that began February 7, 2001, we would point out that in Liberia, Charles Taylor?s mandate won?t end until January. Yet, President Bush said Mr. Taylor must go for the sake of Liberia. And Haiti would have to suffer for the sake of Mr. Aristide?