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#2051: Leaving Haiti: The lights are already off (THE PHRASE & MORE...) (fwd)


Leaving Haiti: The lights are already off
This article was published on Friday, January 28, 2000
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

THE LAST American troops are leaving Haiti. But if history is any guide,
and it is, they'll be back another day, to intervene again in the
catastrophe that is the Haitian half of the isle of Hispaniola. For it
is a mistake to call Haiti a country, a nation, a government. Haiti is a
disheveled state of mind, a chaotic racket, the sick man of the
Caribbean. Haiti's most distinguishing characteristic is its poverty.
Its main export is its own people, large numbers of whom are always
trying to get to the United States on leaky boats. In their place, we
would, too. But the risk of drowning in the attempt is only one obstacle
these would-be immigrants face. Even if they reach Florida, they can
expect deportation right back to Haiti. One of the first campaign
promises Bill Clinton broke--even before he took the oath of office as
president--was his pledge to consider political asylum for more of
Haiti's boat people. They haven't stood much of a chance since. Still,
almost anything is preferable to staying in Haiti, so the Haitians
continue to brave the long odds against making it to the States.       
It was to mend this hopelessness that the United States conducted its
  Immaculate Invasion of Haiti in 1994. It was another of those
bloodless military actions--bloodless on our side, anyway--that now
routinely precedes Peacekeeping and Nation Building, grand terms for
trying to cope  with the corruption and brutality that define places
like Haiti.It's been this way for most of the century. Our previous
interventions in Haiti were undisguised military takeovers to deal with
governments we didn't like. Which is also what happened in 1994. But
we're more uneasy now with the idea of policing the hemisphere by overt
force, and we need names like Peacekeeping and Nation Building to remind
ourselves that we mean well.AT LEAST we're no longer as openly
insufferable as we were in the '20s, when an unsuccessful vice
presidential candidate would boast that this country controlled 12 Latin
American votes at the League of Nations, and that he himself had written
the Haitian constitution. A decade later, a chastened Franklin Roosevelt
would make a much better presidential  candidate--and good neighbor.  
It's become a cycle by now: Americans shy at exercising our power over
a wretched neighbor like Haiti, and then grow guilty at having left its
people to still another vicious dictator-for-life. It's part of the
human condition: Not using our power can have even more disastrous
consequences than using it.So as the last few hundred American troops
pull out of Haiti, it's only fair to ask how we did this time.          
The short answer is this: Not too well. There have been elections and
there is a government in place. But the government of Haiti remains as
ineffective as ever. It is still unable to break the cycle of execution
and assassination that passes for political discourse among Haitians of
different factions/gangs.Talk about naive idealism: During our latest
occupation, we created a new police force, trained its officers, then
blithely sent them out to bring some order out of chaos. But the new
policemen couldn't even establish order among themselves. So far some
900 officers have been dismissed for corruption and human rights
violations. Talk about par for the sordid course. On balance, our last
occupation (1915-34) may have left Haiti in better shape, but it was so
much longer, and occupations were simpler before the drug wars enveloped
the Caribbean basin, including the American shore. Gang warfare is on
the rise in Haiti, too. Colombian drug cartels use the island as a way
station for the cocaine they ship to their lucrative markets in      
the United States. The drugs get through so much more easily than the 
refugees. All the drug money in turn finances Haiti's gangs, and the
gangs  battle over their turf in the shanty towns and city streets. In
short, Haiti is not a nice place, or a safe one. Its non-drug economy is
essentially non-existent. Sixty percent of its anemic factories have
closed.  Unemployment is the normal condition. The United States tried
to put a real judicial system into place in  Haiti, and that's been a
failure, too. Court records aren't kept. Eighty percent of the prisoners
in Haiti's jails are there awaiting trials that may never take
place--ever. Meanwhile, the prisoners languish, with little hope of    
release. In Haiti, to be arrested can be the equivalent of a life
sentence.TO SUM up our Haitian sojourn, we did not keep the peace and we
did not build a nation. Of course there will be some bold talk about how
much  we accomplished as our troops pull out. And they did accomplish
something:They replaced a vicious dictator with a weaker one, and in
Haiti almost any  change can be viewed as an improvement. Meanwhile, the
Haitian boat people will keep fleeing, the thuggery will  continue, and
a few years from now, when its troubles grow even more intolerable, or
just make the evening news with some frequency, the  Americans doubtless
will be back. And once again U.S. troops will find  themselves befuddled
in Haiti. A great power, and one with a nagging conscience at that, will
tolerate suffering and chaos in the neighborhood, but only to a point.  
At least Haiti's people got to change dictators. And because we haven't
 done what we hoped to do doesn't mean we shouldn't have done anything.
 Something tells us we'll feel obliged to try again someday. This isn't 
Goodbye, just So Long.