Analysts Criticise US Approach to Haiti crisis

WASHINGTON: A decade after the United States restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power as Haiti?s president, the former priest is back in exile and America?s commitment to democracy there is under fire.

Despite spending $850 million in aid and twice committing troops in 10 years, the United States ?has never learned how to deal with Haiti and probably never will,? said Riordan Roett, director of Western Hemisphere programmes at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. ?The band-aid approach is what the United States likes. We love holding elections and then we come home and prepare for the next crisis,? he said.

Like many analysts, Roett believes the blame lies largely with Aristide, who fled to the Central African Republic two weeks ago after being chased from his country by an armed rebellion. The Americans encouraged him to leave.

Aristide, Haiti?s first democratically elected leader, returned to the region on Monday, arriving in Jamaica for a stay that the new Haitian government says will fan tensions. Roett faults the former priest for ?his intransigence, his inability to build coalitions and to deal with the violence? that increasingly characterised his political movement. Others accuse him of corruption.

Robert Pastor, the Carter administration?s Latin American expert, said the task was too great. ?He was not a great leader in a country that needed a (Nelson) Mandela to heal it.? Still, experts say President George W Bush and former President Bill Clinton share some responsibility for the chaos that recently forced the deployment of 2,650 US Marines at the head of an international force to keep order in Haiti.

Failed promise: Aristide, Haiti?s first freely elected president took office in December 1990 but was overthrown by the military nine months later and went into exile in Washington.

But in returning Aristide to power by force in 1994, the Clinton administration made a ?critical mistake? because its aim was restoring Aristide rather than a broader goal of bringing democracy to Haiti, said Robert Perito, author of a new book, ?Where is the Lone Ranger When We Need Him? America?s Search for a Post-Conflict Stability Force.?

Perito, of the United States Institute of Peace, said this was compounded when Aristide was forced prematurely to call new elections. Had he completed his five-year term, the political environment may have been more stable. In 2000, Bush took office determined to focus on major powers like Russia and China. His key advisers felt Clinton?s deployments to Haiti were of little value and they distrusted Aristide, who was re-elected to a second term in 2000.

In the latest crisis, the United States attempted to negotiate a political power-sharing settlement that might have averted the latest armed intervention, but the effort came too late, depended too much on other Caribbean states and lacked sufficient US muscle, critics said. Once in Africa, Aristide charged that the United States had kidnapped him ? an allegation dismissed by US officials ? and insisted he was still Haititi?s president.

It has prompted Democrats and members of the Congressional Black Caucus to question why the administration did not do more to save Aristide from being ousted. ?We have to make decisions about where we will put American lives at risk,? Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega recently told Congress. ?The erratic, irresponsible behaviour of Aristide … did mean he was not a sustainable political solution.?

While sympathetic to reluctance to use military force to keep Aristide in power, Pastor said Bush aggravated suspicions of the United States by handling the Haiti crisis in a ?non-constitutional way.? A provision in Haiti?s constitution could have allowed Aristide to step aside and cede powers to a council of ministers, but Aristide?s opponents opposed that unless the process was guaranteed by the United States, which was unwilling to trust Aristide, Pastor said. ?Reuters