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#613: 20,000 Troops Later


20,000 Troops Later By Porter Goss
Wednesday, September 29, 1999; Page A29 WASHINGTON POST

In 1994, the Clinton administration sent 20,000 U.S. combat troops to
Haiti to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Now, five
years and several billion dollars later, the administration has
announced the end of its policy of permanently stationing troops on this
small island. This is the right decision -- however belated -- for our
troops and, in the  end, it is right for Haiti. But what have we
actually accomplished there? The sad truth is that things in Haiti are
in many ways worse now than they  were before the U.S. intervention.
Arguably, that country has receded from the high-water mark of democracy
witnessed in the 1990 elections. In January of this year, Haitian
President Rene Preval effectively dissolved parliament and began ruling
by decree. The economy continues to decline. Haiti has never recovered
from the embargo imposed by the Clinton  administration in an effort to
punish the Cedras regime, which had toppled Aristide. Crime is on the
rise. Drive-by shootings and other dramatic politically motivated
murders and attacks are numerous. Parliamentary  elections in November
were expected to provide a road-map to resolve the steady flow of
crises, but now they have been canceled and it is at best  a hope that
they will be held next spring. In 1990 I observed the elections in which
Aristide was chosen as president. While there were irregularities, there
is no question the elections  were largely free, open and fair. These
elections stand out in my mind  because the Haitian people made an
earnest and sincere statement of hope in both the ballot box and in
democracy. During subsequent trips to Haiti, I have encountered a far
different attitude toward elections and democracy.  When I asked one
woman recently why she wasn't going to the polls she   replied, "why
bother -- democracy has not put food on my table."  From the military's
perspective, as testified to by the appropriate,responsible officers in
the Department of Defense, our permanent combat troops should be brought
out of Haiti. There are several good reasons  why:
 Haiti is not a combat situation. Our troops are digging ditches,
building   roads, dispensing medicine and carrying out other noncombat
tasks that   would better be performed by other organizations. We have
been asked to leave by the host country.  Our troops are a target. The
majority of our soldiers are guarding other soldiers who are carrying
out humanitarian tasks. Symbolically, U.S. troops appear to be propping
up an increasingly corrupt totalitarian government of elitists.     
Most of the responsibility for the pathetic state of affairs in Haiti
rests on the shoulders of the Haitian leaders who have put the pursuit
and  preservation of power above the needs of their own people. But the
current administration bears a heavy burden here as well. As Haiti has
slid  back toward a totalitarian government, the White House has looked
the other way. If the administration cannot put its Haiti policy back on
track,the very least it can do is provide the American people with a
full   accounting of what happened to their investment.

The writer is a Republican representative from Florida.