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#379: This Week in Haiti 17:24 9/1/99 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
September 1 - 7, 1999
Vol. 17, No. 24
THE PENTAGON'S NEW "CONFIGURATION" IN HAITI
The most amazing thing about the various official announcements last week
that the U.S. military will close down its 500-soldier permanent base in
Haiti was that the wrong government was announcing the news.
In the past, even in Haiti, officials of the occupied nation have been the
first to approach the microphone to explain how they have "requested" the
foreign military force to come to the aid of the nation. Even in 1915,
during the heady days of "Manifest Destiny," Washington made sure that then
President Sudre Dartiguenave and a renegade parliament issued them an
official invitation to occupy Haiti for the first time, even though the
Marines had already invaded the country five months earlier.
But now, in the fifth year of the second U.S. occupation, all such pretense
has been dropped. Haitian officials have made no statements at all about
whether or how U.S. troops are to be deployed in Haiti in the future. All of
that was explained by U.S. officials with dumb-founding presumptuousness.
"We will move the focus of our assistance now to the outlying regions of
Haiti where assistance is now needed most, and ensure our military
assistance teams are more mobile," said U.S. State Department spokesman
James Foley last week.
"The U.S. military is not withdrawing from Haiti," insisted White House
spokesman Joe Lockhart. "We are enhancing our military engagement with Haiti
to provide a stronger presence through better assistance and training
throughout the island and beyond the capital."
In recent weeks, numerous reports and rumors have alleged that small U.S.
military bases are being built around the country, including areas like the
Central Plateau, the tip of the southwestern peninsula, the northern city of
Cap Haïtien, and the long-coveted deep water port of Môle St. Nicolas on
Haiti's northwestern tip.
Lockhart says that the U.S. is just "changing the configuration" of its
forces in Haiti by replacing the permanent base "with rotational assistance
teams under the auspices of the Southern Command's Operation New Horizons."
Operation New Horizons is a Pentagon program, in effect for the past 15
years, which uses other countries as training grounds for U.S. troops.
Engineers and medics are usually deployed to provide disaster relief, not to
mention some much needed Pentagon public relations fodder.
As Lockhart explained, troops are assigned to "specific projects... that the
U.S. military believes we both can get some training assets from and can
help the people of Haiti."
Of course, Operation New Horizon's "humanitarian" component is just
window-dressing, as the Central American victims of Hurricane Mitch found
out last fall. For example, as the Operation was being belatedly deployed in
Central America with great fanfare, two and a half million pounds of relief
supplies sat in a pier-side warehouse in San Francisco for two months
because the Pentagon refused to provide ships to carry it to the starving
nations. Bay Area relief coordinator Veronica Sanchez and local politicians
"tried to persuade the military to let them use one of the 20 'ready reserve
' ships kept in San Francisco Bay," according to the San Francisco Chronicle
of Dec. 30, 1998. "The Department of Defense refused, [Sanchez] said,
because using a military ship was too expensive." Eventually the Pentagon
agreed to pay for a commercial shipper, "but only if everything was
inventoried according to military specifications." The demand greatly taxed
the volunteers who took part in the community relief effort.
Even the Pentagon admits that Operation New Horizon is mainly about
training. Raul Duany, spokesman for the Pentagon's Southern Command, told
the Miami Herald that the purpose of the "humanitarian assistance" program
is to train troops and by "sending reservists or national guardsmen to
remote areas instead of to a permanent established camp, they get the full
extent of the training."
Of course, all such deployments are illegal. Last August, the Haitian
parliament passed a law explicitly ordering the Haitian government to
immediately "obtain the departure of all foreign armed forces... so that
there exists on national territory no other armed forces parallel to the
National Police (PNH)."
Even before the law, the basis for the Pentagon's presence was shadowy. If
there is an agreement that allows U.S. troops to be deployed in Haiti, it
remains a secret along with the identity of its signers.
There has been talk of the U.S. pulling out since last March when Gen.
Charles E. Wilhelm, the commander of U.S. military forces in Latin America
and the Caribbean told a House subcommittee that the "unrest generated by
political instability requires us to constantly reassess the safety and
security environment... I have recommended that we terminate our permanent
military presence in Haiti and conduct routine periodic engagement
It also seems that the Pentagon is having difficulty protecting far-flung
"U.S. interests" in a world wracked by hunger and economic crisis. According
the Aug. 26 New York Times, "senior commanders have begun warning that the
number of operations - from South Korea to Kosovo - is stretching the
military thin. 'There's a concerted effort all over the world to look at our
commitments and ask ourselves, 'Do we still need to be there?'' said Rear
Adm. Craig R. Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman." This may be particularly true
with increased U.S. interventions looming in Colombia, Venezuela, and
The Pentagon also points to cost saving. The fixed-base U.S. Support Group
operation in Haiti cost $22 million last year, as opposed to $38 million for
Operation New Horizons hurricane relief training missions, which took place
in five countries.
The actual dismantling of the U.S. base may still be a long way off. Some
officials have spoken of December or January. A draft amendment working its
way to passage in the U.S. Congress this fall had planned to cut-off all
funding for "continuous deployment" of U.S. troops in Haiti on Dec. 31. But
"before going on summer recess, House and Senate conferees agreed to extend
the deadline to May 31," the Herald reported.
Perhaps in preparation for the departure, the Haitian government scooped
money from the treasury to purchase 100 new vehicles and two new helicopters
for the police. The U.S., France, Canada, and Japan will collectively
contribute between 10 and 15 million to this purchase.
Meanwhile, U.N. bureaucrats are working feverishly to subvert the U.N.
Charter by thrusting peace-keeping authority on a long dormant office called
the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), "a maneuver [which] would
circumvent the Security Council," according to the Aug. 27 New York Times
(see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 20, 8/4/99). A 300-member U.N. police
advisory force is supposed to pull out of Haiti on Nov. 31, when its
Security Council mandate ends. In the event that the U.N. force does have to
leave, the Pentagon may be planning its withdrawal shortly thereafter so
that it is not left with the only military base at the Port-au-Prince
But despite the U.S. military's new "configuration," the same questions
about its presence in Haiti remain: Who has given the Pentagon the right to
deploy its forces in Haiti? Who allows them to set up bases in the country?
Who allows them to come and go as they please? Will the U.S. government, and
the Haitian executive, continue to flaunt Haitian law?
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