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#1618: Time for Haitians to fix Haiti (fwd)
Time for Haitians to fix Haiti
Kathie Klarreich CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR______ December 29 1999
American troops based in Port-au-Prince are spending this holiday
season packing. In September 1994, 20,000 troops led a
multinational effort to restore President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who
was ousted in a 1991 military coup d'état. By February, the remaining
300 US soldiers should be gone.The legacy the Americans leave behind,
however, is being debated from the floor of the United States Senate to
the slums of Port-au-Prince. On this subject, everyone from American
politicians to Haitian peasants has an opinion, and they differ widely.
Republicans bemoan the $2 billion the US has invested to restore and
uphold democracy. They point to countless examples of a failed US
policy, not the least of which includes a Haitian government that has
been paralyzed for more than two years. State employees misuse
funds, the economy is back-pedaling, drug trafficking has increased -
and in too many instances been linked to members of Haiti's newly
created police force.
The Haitian National Police was in large part trained by the
Americans. This hastily formed institution replaced the Armed Forces
of Haiti, a brutal and lawless entity created during the American
occupation of 1915-1934 that terrorized the population until it was
disbanded by President Aristide in 1995.The same oligarchy that used the
Haitian military to protect its interests and helped finance the 1991
coup objected to the 1994 American intervention not because of the
presence of foreign troops on Haitian soil, but because of Aristide's
The oligarchy's greatest fear was that Aristide would topple the power
pyramid.To peasants, farmers, and urban slum-dwellers - frequent victims
of military repression and Aristide's most ardent supporters - the
American intervention was a singular relief to three years of
dictatorship, economic hardship due to an international embargo, and
lack of basic rights such as freedom of speech and movement.
The American troops were their heroes because they restored
Aristide, they provided security, and for a brief time, electricity.
When the American troops relinquished security control to the United
Nations in 1995, the population continued to benefit from a reduced
US presence as recipients of US humanitarian projects, such as new
bridges, roads, schools, and medical assistance.The departure of the US
troops means a loss of this assistance which,in a country where the
average person earns less than $1 a day, is no small matter. Foreign
aid, particularly US funding, is drying up due, in part, to incessant
in-fighting within the Haitian government that has caused the loss of
nearly $500 million over the last few years. There has been no
parliament since last January, when current President
René Préval dissolved it under politically ambiguous circumstances.
Symbolically, if nothing else, the American troops provided a sense of
security; their mandate prohibited them from interfering in Haiti's
internal security affairs.But their presence added a feeling of
confidence that as yet the Haitian National Police still doesn't enjoy.
Widespread fear and mistrust of the former Haitian Armed Forces has been
transferred to the fledgling new police, despite an honest, hardworking,
and competent police chief.
Midlevel management, an afterthought in creating the force, now has to
contend with a smattering of officers who extort and abuse the
population, and use their position to profit from illegal activities.
Many blame the US for not doing enough; others blame it for
interfering too much. Still, Haitians must acknowledge their own
participation in creating the bleak reality facing them today.
The Lavalas party, which solidified the majority of the population in
1990 and brought President Aristide to power in Haiti's first-ever
democratic election, is now splintered.Rather than uniting their efforts
to build a democratic foundation for the future, the fractured groups
engage in shortsighted battles,name-calling, and unsubstantiated
accusations. Their inability to work together has created an opening for
their former enemies, and fuels the fire for those who say that Haiti is
not ready for democracy.Legislative and municipal elections are slated
for March 2000, with presidential elections by the end of the year.
Aristide, who remains the country's most popular leader, has announced
his intention to run.December 2000 is still a year away, but
pre-electoral violence has started, with attacks against electoral
representatives, candidates, and regional offices.Haitians will
participate in elections only if they feel their vote counts,
and recent Haitian history has done little to reinforce that notion.
No amount of foreign aid, no quantity of foreign troops or international
observers will bring people to the polls if they don't have concrete
examples of what can be accomplished by competent, honest leaders
working for the benefit of the country. Without that, democracy in
Haiti doesn't have a chance.
Kathie Klarreich worked as a freelance writer in Haiti from 1988 to
1998. She lives in Miami.