Originally: Haiti Faces Daunting Task

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


WASHINGTON ? The U.S. Marines had been on Haiti’s beaches
for just a few days and the American secretary of state
told the president he didn’t know what to do.

The year was 1915 and the president was Woodrow Wilson.
Now, almost 90 years later, America will try to buck the
trend of two centuries of unsteady governance and the need
for international intervention in Haiti.

“This is perhaps the last time to get it right. We have to
make sure that past is not prologue and that Haiti’s future
is not like its past and is not written in blood,” said
Michael Heinl, author of “Written in Blood: A Story of the
Haitian People.”

Michael Heinl, independent author

After a 10-year absence, American troops have returned to
Haiti to try to restore order following the rebellion that
led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It
is a heavy task that they have for the island nation, which
has suffered under dictatorship, political anarchy and
misrule for much of its history.

Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with
the Dominican Republic, is the poorest nation in the
Western hemisphere, and worldwide it is the third most
dependent nation on foreign food sources.

“This situation in Haiti is, as it has been for some time,
extremely challenging. The needs of the Haitian people for
democracy, jobs, education, healthcare and for such basics
as food and clean water are as great as they have ever
been,” said Rep. Cass Ballenger R-N.C., chairman of the
House International Relations subcommittee on the Western

Washington has long had to deal with Haiti’s problems. From
1843 to 1915, American ships were dispatched to Haiti’s
waters 28 times. From 1915 to 1934, the United States
effectively ran the country, a period many observers call
the best time in Haitian history. Just 10 years ago, 23,000
mostly American troops entered the country to restore

During America’s 19-year occupation, “America rebuilt
Haiti’s infrastructure but didn’t stay long enough to
create durable political institutions,” said Heinl.

The 1994 intervention was also too short, according to

“We tried to do what the British call the ‘cheap and
cheerful’ model of intervention and scuttle as quickly as
we could. This time we need to stay longer,” he said. To
build Haiti into a stable country, Heinl added that America
would have to stay there for at least 25 years.

Similarly, Arielle Jean-Baptiste, project assistant at the
Haiti Democracy Project, said, “Nation-building has to be a
long term commitment. It can’t be two years. It has to be
10 years. Without that, Haiti will keep coming back in the

Arielle Jean-Baptiste, associate, Haiti Democracy Project

When American soldiers arrived in 1994, Haitians wanted
them to stay for the long term, and some scrawled in
graffiti, “America: Stay here for 50 years.”

Upcoming Challenges for Haiti, U.S.

As he outlined the most urgent tasks ahead, Ernest Preeg,
former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, called himself “a relative

Amb. Ernest H. Preeg, founding board member, Haiti Democracy Project


Preeg cited three immediate challenges: first, stop the
killing and disarm both sides. Second, distribute
humanitarian assistance. Finally, have free and open

The 1990 election in which Aristide came to power was
widely considered fair by international observers, but the
2000 elections in which Aristide won a second term were
judged to be fraudulent.

However, Preeg said in nine to 12 months, a free election
“will occur because it occurred before in 1990. I’m quite
hopeful that there will be a second successful election.”

For any of these efforts to have a lasting impact, Haiti
needs to build durable political institutions, said
Lawrence Pezzullo, who served as a special envoy to Haiti
under former President Bill Clinton.

Amb. Lawrence A. Pezzullo, founding board member, Haiti Democracy Project

“The most urgent task will be preparing the ground for
elections and that will require the most urgent assistance,
the most talented people from the international community
and Haiti. The people who come into government should be
very accountable, very tied to a constitutional process and
without that old habits will return,” Pezzullo said.

After requiring international forces to repeatedly bail
them out, Haitians’ pride is bruised. For Haitian civil
society to be reconstructed, “It’s absolutely vital that
Haitians have ownership of this process,” Heinl said. “We
can provide all kinds of support, but at the end of the day
if Haitians don’t have the feeling of ownership, we’ll be
back in 25 or 30 years.”

To underpin the construction of political institutions,
jobs must be created and money circulated through a public
works program. “If not, institution-building is not going
to have the room to breathe,” Heinl said.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Haiti’s manufacturing was expanding
and its infrastructure improving.

However, Haiti has fallen behind competitors like Central
America, the Dominican Republic and Africa, not only
because of bad governance, but also because those countries
and regions have benefited from trade agreements with the
United States.

To avoid falling further behind, Haiti must negotiate its
own free trade agreement  with the United States, Preeg

Despite Haiti’s tortured history, the outlook is not all
bad, as the nation does have some resources to marshal.

“I think there are enough human resources out there that if
they’re brought in there it might be a relatively effective
government we have in the next year or so,” Preeg said. He
added that the 1 million Haitians in the United States can
play a major role in helping to modernize the country.

With the attention of the United States and the
international community focused on the country, the Haitian
people have a valuable opportunity. “The Haitians need to
take this chance to build a nation,” Jean-Baptiste said.