Originally: Analysis: Latest development in the political crisis in Haiti

Analysis: Latest development in the political crisis in Haiti

February 18, 2004

BOB EDWARDS, host: Haiti’s government has requested international help for its poorly equipped police force following two weeks of anti-government rebellions. Ten years ago, the US landed 20,000 troops in Haiti to restore democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Since then, Aristide has been accused of election fraud and corruption. Many Haitians wonder if the current trouble can be traced back to the US involvement in the 1990s. NPR’s Martin Kaste reports from Port-au-Prince.

(Soundbite of demonstration)

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

Haitians are beginning to talk about the possibility of another foreign intervention. Jean Maison(ph), a member of a street gang that supports President Aristide, says he’d welcome a foreign presence.

Mr. JEAN MAISON: (Foreign language spoken)

KASTE: `If we have an external police force here, we’ll see peace,’ Maison says. On the other side of the political spectrum, many members of the anti-Aristide opposition also say they’d welcome intervention as long as the aim would be to remove Aristide, but the US has clearly stated that it will not aid the toppling of a duly elected president. Opposition leader Andre Apaid says Washington is reluctant to turn against the man that US troops restored to office.

Mr. ANDRE APAID (Opposition Leader): For a long time, they were in denial because it is under their clock that Mr. Aristide took the monopolies of force, violence and corrupted the judicial system.

KASTE: It’s not just the opposition that’s come to see Aristide is an autocrat. James Morrell was once adviser to Aristide. These days, as director of the Washington-based Haiti Democracy Project, Morrell looks back and admits that he and other Americans were too quick to assume Aristide was a democrat.

Mr. JAMES MORRELL (Haiti Democracy Project): We had not done our homework properly. All that we were thinking of was that the man had been overwhelmingly elected in a country that hasn’t had many good elections. And then he had been ousted by a military coup. So his personal foibles were just not a big item.

KASTE: Morrell says Aristide’s undemocratic tendencies became clear to him only after the US had put him back in office. Antoine Joseph, who was the speaker of the Haitian house of representatives during Aristide’s exile, says the president’s true nature was obvious to everybody but the Americans.

Mr. ANTOINE JOSEPH: (Through Translator) I can tell you frankly up until now I’ve never understood what the American Army was looking for in Haiti. The paradox is is that it’s an American army, the army of the capitalist empire, and here you have a Communist who’s attacking the forces of the right.

KASTE: Joseph freely acknowledges that the military regime that exiled Aristide was hardly democratic either, but he says the Americans were too quick to see the situation as black and white.

Mr. JOSEPH: (Through Translator) The correct thing to have done during the intervention would have been to talk to everyone, to ask questions concerning the grievances that people had against Aristide.

KASTE: At the Haiti Democracy Project in Washington, Morrell agrees that the US didn’t do enough to strengthen democratic institutions and he says the real mistake was the rush to pull out the troops less than two years after they’d landed.

Mr. MORRELL: You’ve got to stick with it. When you look at some of the more successful cases, you see that the commitment was long for many years and deep and the idea that a country can be as stricken as Haiti and require 20,000 troops to straighten out its politics and then you can just up and leave in a couple of years is, of course, untenable.

KASTE: But 10 years on, the US seems reluctant to try again in Haiti. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there is, in his words, “no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces.”

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.