JUST MORE THAN a year after U.S. forces escorted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile, Haiti remains in crisis. Heavily armed gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide or to drug traffickers roam urban neighborhoods; former army and security forces of the military dictatorships that preceded him control much of the countryside. More than 400 people have died in political violence just since September, ranking Haiti with Iraq as a zone of debilitating insecurity. A timid U.N. peacekeeping force has been as ineffectual as the politically isolated interim government. Economic reconstruction from last year’s warfare and subsequent natural disasters has barely begun: International donors failed to deliver 80 percent of the aid they pledged last year.
In short, Haiti remains what it was a year ago: a quasi-failed state 600 miles from the United States. Sadly, U.S. policy hasn’t changed much either. The Bush administration still aspires to delegate Haiti’s troubles to other countries or international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. One direct result of this policy is the continued insecurity, since the Brazilian-led U.N. force of 7,400 has lacked the capability or willpower to disarm the thugs. It has never reached its mandated strength, and until recently its commander equated the use of force with “repression” and refused to employ it. Last month it finally launched a couple of raids on armed gangs, taking and inflicting several casualties. But few Haitians believe that the U.N. force or the national police, who number just 4,000 and are themselves infiltrated by criminals, will be able to restore security.
U.S. disengagement has contributed to a similar lack of progress on the political front. The interim government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has been aggressive in rounding up and jailing, usually without charge, former officials of the Aristide government, but it has done little to forge the political climate that will be needed to hold successful legislative and presidential elections later this year. The U.N. special representative in the country is a Chilean diplomat with little influence over the country’s feuding political forces. Administration officials boast of the $230 million in aid they say has been provided to Haiti in the last year; but when Congress recently considered a trade measure that could have created tens of thousands of desperately needed textile jobs, the administration stood by while a couple of Republican senators blocked it.
Some policymakers appear to be slowly awakening to the possibility that Haiti is once again headed toward catastrophe. France recently sponsored a new pledging conference and assigned donor governments specific projects, in the hope that this would prompt them to deliver on their commitments. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld discussed the peacekeeping mission during visits to Argentina and Brazil, perhaps inspiring its belated show of muscle. Yet the Bush administration still resists accepting the obvious: that deeper U.S. involvement in Haiti is inevitable. Better that it happen sooner — when there is an international force that can be bolstered, and political solutions that can be brokered — than later, when the only recourse, as so often before in Haiti’s history, may be the Marines.