Originally: Before rushing to occupy Haiti, give it a fair chance
Would another occupation of Haiti produce better results than the first?
Certainly the Haitian leadership has been derelict of its duty over the years, but a recent suggestion in these pages favoring ”some form of international protectorate” for Haiti is not supported by the historical record.
From 1915 to 1934, the Americans occupied this Caribbean island nation. Although they built the infrastructure of the country, they didn’t change its social structure. In fact, they reinforced the cleavage in the society by favoring a small elite, for the most part of light skin. Americans organized a gendarmerie to keep order.
Eventually it became the coup-prone army. Above all, the occupiers collected taxes to repay loans made by an American bank in New York.
A fierce anti-American guerrilla movement was eventually crushed. However, the U.S. occupation spawned Haitian nationalism, giving rise to a rabidly anti-American movement. The ruthless dictator François ”Papa Doc” Duvalier (1957-1971) was a byproduct of that occupation. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, touted as Haiti’s ”first democratically elected” president, chose Charlemagne Péralte, the martyred hero of the American occupation, as his patron saint.
With help from the Clinton administration, Aristide disbanded the army in 1995. A new police force organized with U.S. help became more corrupt and more repressive than the army that it had replaced. From a high of 6,000 police in 1995, that force dwindled to about 2,500 when Aristide fled Haiti on Feb. 29.
Aristide depended on organized thugs, not unlike the Tontons-Macoute of the Duvalier era, to keep himself in power. Those heavily armed thugs, who supplanted the police, are causing most of the trouble in Haiti today under the watch of the MINUSTAH, as the ”U.N. Mission to Stabilize Haiti” is called.
For not applying the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force last February, the international community now bears great responsibility for a mini-Iraq at America’s doorstep. Nonetheless, the chaos in Haiti is circumscribed in few pockets in Port-au-Prince. With determination and the proper resources, it can be quickly controlled.
Would we be facing the current violence if the 8,000 troops and police that the United Nations had promised were in place last September? Despite a checkered human-rights record, the 7,000-member Haitian army maintained order in a land the size of Maryland with a population of 8 million. Compare that with the nearly 40,000 police officers in New York City, whose population is also about 8 million!
We would expect the Haiti’s U.N. force to have a broader mandate to help establish order until a new national force can replace it. That would be no different from what the U.S.-led force is doing in Iraq.
But how can we ask the government of Alexandre Latortue to establish order with so little resources at its disposal? Not much of the $1.1 billion pledged last July at a World Bank conference to rebuild Haiti has been disbursed.
When President Clinton contemplated change in Haiti, he dispatched more than 20,000 soldiers there in 1994 to restore President Aristide to power and provided ample financial support. Then, America looked the other way as Aristide armed his irregular army of thugs.
Before rushing to protectorate status or occupation, the international community should provide the personnel, training and proper financial package to a team of national professionals whose aim is to create a secure climate conducive to holding free democratic elections, leading to the economic development of a country too long neglected and ostracized.
Raymond A. Joseph is charge d’ affaires at the Haitian Embassy in Washington.