[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
#356: Shacochis Op-Ed NYTimes 083099 from Slavin (fwd)
From: Patrick Slavin <email@example.com>
August 30, 1999
Only Haiti Can Save Haiti
By BOB SHACOCHIS
[I] n 1995, I spoke with a
Haitian-American woman in Miami who
had recently enjoyed a lucrative tenure
as translator for the American high
command in Port-au-Prince during the
early months of its military
intervention, which had restored Haiti's
first democratically elected President to
the national palace.
"What will happen when the American
troops finally go home?" I wondered out
loud to the well-educated linguist, the
daughter of one of Haiti's elite
Her horrific vision of the future, which
she seemed to energetically embrace,
"Everything will be fire, ashes and
blood," she said, because the Haitian
people would at long last be free to
unleash the revolution that she believed
the Americans had denied them throughout
the 20th century.
The woman's prophecy echoed in my ears
last week when it was reported that the
Clinton Administration plans to withdraw
the last American troops from Haiti at
the end of this year.
At a dinner at the United States
Ambassador's residence in Port-au-Prince
last winter, I listened to matter-of-fact
table chatter about how the
Administration had ceased calling Haiti a
foreign policy success.
True, as President Clinton has asserted,
Haiti saw its first peaceful democratic
transition of power from one chief of
state to another in 1996, when President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, unable to succeed
himself, passed power to Ren, Pr,val. And
although sporadic political violence
continues, the Haitian people are free of
the state-sponsored terrorism that
visited such misery on them for decades.
But by virtually every other measure,
Haiti is far worse off than it was before
the 1994 intervention. The country has
stumbled backward into a vacuum,
virtually without a functioning
President Pr,val dissolved an intractable
Parliament in January at the end of its
constitutional term. Lavalas, the loose
grass-roots coalition that brought Mr.
Aristide to power in 1990, has broken up
into several groups warring over every
Wealth was not redistributed during the
chaotic early months of the invasion, but
weapons were. Street crime is
commonplace. Cocaine flows into the
United States through the island's covert
pipelines. The Haitian national police
are better known for corruption, civil
rights violations and trigger-happy
tactics than preserving law and order.
The justice system is as defunct now as
it was in the days of the tyrants.
The destruction of Haiti's ecology has
only gotten worse, its mountains eroded
to bedrock, its coral reefs suffocated
with topsoil, its aquifer on the verge of
Its economy is moribund, an endless line
of old women on the side of the road
hawking identical pyramids of oranges to
customers who never come.
What went wrong? Setting aside for the
moment the culpability of the Haitian
leadership, Washington's policymakers
might acknowledge that in vitro
democratization is a risky procedure.
Haitian democracy, born prematurely, will
not survive without a genuine multiparty
system, which won't exist without a
secure middle class, which can't evolve
without a viable economy, which won't
exist without credible leadership strong
and wise enough to wrench the country out
of its tailspin.
The transition to mature democracy can't
be effected overnight, and perhaps not
even in a single generation. But Haiti's
transition to democracy has been
especially rocky. Mr. Aristide was on the
job only seven months after his 1990
election. Overthrown in a coup, he spent
the next three years in exile. The United
States restored him to office, on the
condition that he serve only the rest of
his five-year term, a mere 14 months.
Mr. Aristide returned to a debilitated
administrative and physical
infrastructure -- even the toilet in his
office had been smashed by the previous
regime. His Government was so unorganized
that it could barely spend the emergency
aid donated by the United States, France
and other countries.
To make matters worse, in the months
after the United States invasion of
Haiti, the American military was ordered
to tell its troops that Fraph, the
country's most dreaded paramilitary
group, was actually a legitimate
political opposition party.
Now, the United States Government is
almost certainly going to have to
accommodate itself to five more years of
the mercurial Mr. Aristide, whom voters
will almost certainly return to power in
elections in 2000.
Whether Mr. Aristide might be a great
leader of his people is yet to be
determined. But Haiti, which seems to
have no bottom to its troubles, cannot be
ruled by a weak leader. If the United
States maneuvers, as it has in the past,
to undermine the Haitian President's
power in the wrongheaded belief that a
multiparty system is indeed just around
the corner, then Mr. Aristide is doomed
-- again -- to failure.
The American Government and the Haitian
people need to grant Mr. Aristide the
ideological space to make hard decisions.
Haiti is going nowhere without skilled,
conscientious and trustworthy dealmakers.
Mistakes will be made, but it's time to
stop the petulant, hypocritical
handwringing about what Mr. Aristide does
or doesn't do. Perhaps Mr. Aristide will
engineer a confluence of selfless
patriotism among the country's bickering
factions, and Haiti will inch forward
into the light. Perhaps not.
But now that the Clinton Administration
has decided to recall the troops before
the country's elections, Haitians and
Americans alike should brace themselves
for the fire and ashes scenario -- three
parts anarchy and one part civil war --
in which Haiti may well find its bottom.
I f that happens, I doubt Americans will
have the will to stop it. Nor should we.
Haiti, Graham Greene wrote, deserves a
chance to be ruled by its heroes. That
chance has come, and it is fast
dwindling. Given the breach of faith, the
heroes must step forward.
Bob Shacochis is the author of the
"Immaculate Invasion," an account of
American military intervention in Haiti.
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company