Originally: Haiti Needs Disarmament and the Three R’s: Reconciliation, Reconstitution, and Reconstruction, Says Rep. Gregory W. Meeks

On Friday, several colleagues and I visited Haiti. Our bipartisan delegation (three Democrats: Reps. Elijah Cummings, Kendrick Meek, and myself; and three Republicans: Reps. Cass Ballenger, Mark Foley, and Jeff Miller) was seeking out ways in which the United States could help Haiti to become a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous nation.

It became immediately clear from all our conversations and observations there that what Haiti needs more than anything else is disarmament. Too many civilians have guns. Too many groups use guns to resolve political disputes. Too many of Haiti’s police officers, many of which are little more than thugs in uniforms, use their guns to service the interests of this or that political faction. Peace and progress will not come to Haiti until Haitians themselves reject the politics of the gun and instead choose nonviolent conflict resolution. When this becomes their choice, the United States and the rest of international community can and should play a decisive role in helping to disarm civilians while creating professional nonpartisan police and defense forces.

What Haiti next needs the most is reconciliation, reconstitution, and reconstruction. Reconciliation of the various political factions. Reconciliation of the Haitian government and the Haitian people. Reconciliation of the United States and the people in Haiti, in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and throughout the world who believe that the Bush Administration engineered a coup to oust Haiti’s democratically elected president.

Reconciliation of these forces is a precondition for reconstitution — of Haiti’s fragile and deep-wounded democracy, and a balanced relationship between Haiti, the United States, the CARICOM countries, and the entire western hemisphere.

Reconciliation and reconstitution in turn are preconditions for the reconstruction of Haiti’s badly-damaged and grossly- distorted economy. For reconstruction of the basic conditions for a decent life, above all, food, clothing, shelter, electricity, clean water, and health care — things that most Americans take for granted but which have been long denied to the overwhelming majority of Haitians.

Going in, we knew that we would not have enough time to meet with everyone we wanted to involve in our dialogue. But, we felt an urgency to jump start a process. We had many questions. And we wanted to see as well how Congress could be helpful.

Several of us represent districts with a large number of Haitian and Haitian-American constituents who are themselves just as divided about the events that led to Aristide’s departure as they are about Haiti’s future. My view is that we cannot redo the past and the less time we spend rehashing it the better. The issue before us is how can Haiti move forward based on the situation that now exists on the ground. We had a frank exchange with President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, other officials, and, of course, our ambassador to Haiti, James Foley.

I wanted to make it crystal clear to the new president and prime minister, to officials responsible for the justice system, and to our ambassador, that I cannot and will not advocate for any Haitian government until I am assured that it has made a clean break from the past. This means a government that has a plan for building a new Haiti, that strengthens Haitian democracy, and that encourages Haitians themselves to take the lead in revitalizing the economy and civic life. To earn the support of the Congress and the American people, to foster reconciliation, reconstitution, and reconstruction, the new government must:

  • Move resolutely toward creating an inclusive political democracy, including the unencumbered participation of Lavalas, which still enjoys widespread support.

  • Place priority on providing for the most urgent needs of the vast majority of the Haitian people; namely: security, food, housing, electricity, clean water, and other basic necessities.

  • Reject in word and deed the persecution of critics and political opponents.

  • Prosecute murderers, thugs, and drug dealers, and in fact commit itself to denying a role for these criminals in government.

  • Commit to bringing to justice persons — whether they were part of the former government or are part of the present government — who have committed crimes against the Haitian people, including incarcerating persons who already have been convicted but are currently free, such as those who have been released by Guy Philippe’s men.

Mr. Latortue said his emphasis is on restoring security, achieving economic stability, and building up a viable legislative branch of government from the grassroots up to the national level prior to presidential elections. President Alexandre stressed two things: the restoration of security requires the long-term presence of U.S. and UN troops, and attaching priority to rebuilding an independent justice system.

We asked everyone we met whether the kind of a reconciliation process utilized in South Africa and Rwanda was being considered. We expressed concern about reports of the persecution and physical elimination of Lavalas members. We also raised the issue of involving Haitians living in economic revitalization and civic peace.

We spoke with Ambassador Foley about the safety of our troops. We wanted to know about the plans for their deployment outside of Port au-Prince and how they and the UN peacekeeping force would deal with the armed gangs that control much of the country outside of the capital and a few other cities.

I left Haiti convinced that American support and participation in Haiti’s disarmament, reconciliation, reconstruction, and reconstruction is essential. Without it, I seriously doubt whether the rule of law, a fair and impartial judiciary, a viable economy, durable civic peace, and free, fair, and transparent elections can be achieved in Haiti. I am also convinced that America must break with the ways in which it has related to Haiti in the past. We must make a long-term commitment to the economic revitalization and democratic well-being of our neighbor. We must strive to be an honest broker and not a power broker.