WASHINGTON — After US troops restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power a decade ago in Haiti, the United States
and its allies, locked in partisan political disputes and wary of nation-building, quickly lost interest and Haiti soon slid back into
Officials and former diplomats now acknowledge that Haiti is a prime example of an American military success that has turned
into a foreign-policy failure.
Aristide, who is being urged to resign in the face of a violent opposition, is accused of widespread corruption and squandering the
opportunity he was given in 1994 to transform Haiti’s government institutions and economy. But Washington’s role in Haiti’s
decline was almost as critical, the officials said, because more could have been done to foster needed reforms.
The result, specialists and other observers said this week, has been a failed state rife with a growing drug trade, political
paralysis, and widespread humanitarian suffering virtually next door to the United States at a time when the Bush administration
is loath to take on more security and rebuilding efforts beyond those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The United States in ’94 set too narrow objectives and too brief a timetable,” said James Dobbins, President Clinton’s special
envoy to Haiti from 1994 to 1996, when US and United Nations troops left the country. “There were too little resources even at
the peak of its interest. Longer, more sustained reforms when we had maximum leverage might have yielded a different result.”
After a military coup ousted Aristide in 1991, 68,500 Haitians fled the country in small boats over the next three years. Of these,
20,000 took to sea during June and July 1994 amid mounting repression by forces of military dictator Raul Cedras. About 30,000
others found refuge in neighboring Dominican Republic, and more than 300,000 people were displaced within Haiti.
Strained by the influx of refugees, the Clinton administration persuaded the UN Security Council to authorize an invasion, and
dispatched 20,000 troops. With an invasion imminent, Cedras agreed to step down after talks with a team including former
President Jimmy Carter and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin L. Powell.
After stabilizing the situation in Haiti, the US military later handed off control to a UN peacekeeping force.
There were high hopes that Aristide would seize the opportunity to establish a viable state. Instead, he resisted many of the
proposed economic and government reforms. In 2000, his Lavalas Party dominated parliamentary elections that were considered
fraudulent by international observers.
Specialists think that if Aristide had been a more trustworthy partner of the United States and taken greater advantage of
international aid, his country of 8 million people could have enjoyed a greater level of stability in the ensuing years.
“One of the reasons they pulled out was because Aristide was resistant,” said Robert Pastor, who participated in the 1994
transition and helped monitor Haitian elections in 1995, which he said were the most unfair he had ever witnessed. “After he was
overthrown, many of us thought he learned his lesson. He repeated the same mistakes.”
Back in 1994, the Clinton administration deemed the US-led peacekeeping mission a success because it restored a democratically
elected president and helped maintain order.
But Republicans in Congress decried the intervention as a common GOP refrain held that the United States could not afford to be
the world’s policeman. “There was partisan pressure in the Congress to cut short the support of Haiti and the mission,” said
retired Army General Wesley K. Clark, the former Democratic presidential candidate who was the head of the US Southern
Command responsible for operations in Haiti in 1996 and 1997.
Dobbins added: “All Republicans were on one side and the Democrats were on the other, with minor exceptions. We had a
conflicted policy toward Haiti, one in which the administration was always undercut by the opposition.”
Indeed, Senator Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader at the time, who would run against Clinton in 1996, said US forces had no
business in Haiti. As recently as 2000, when the United States cut off all aid to Haiti, then-candidate George W. Bush attacked
the Clinton administration for keeping even a small number of troops in Haiti, saying the 1994 mission unduly risked US soldiers
in an attempt at nation-building.
Washington and its allies also did not support long-term assistance to the country. Washington approved $200 million in aid, much
less than was required, specialists said.
“US assistance to Haiti was not generously funded, particularly compared with the reconstruction efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo,”
a 2003 report by the RAND Corporation, a public policy think tank, said. “Per capita, Bosnia received five times more
postconflict reconstruction assistance from the United States than did Haiti.
The senior US official said Haiti was a classic case of the United States not finishing what it started. “I think people bailed out of
Haiti,” the official said. “We didn’t stay the course.”
The RAND report said Haiti offers lessons for the future stabilization efforts: short deadlines diminish prospects for success;
international police must supplement peacekeepers; sustained justice reforms are critical; legitimate government institutions are
needed for long-term reconstruction; and economic growth must be a top priority.
As for the deteriorating situation in Haiti, “the United States and other foreign parties deserve credit for wanting to help resolve
the crisis,” said Stephen Johnson, a specialist on Latin America at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington and a
former State Department official. “But doing so will require long-term involvement, not a quick fix.”
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company