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#2083 Washington Post article - 1-30-00 (fwd)
From: John C. Kozyn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Washington Post (Outlook section)
The Roads Built in Haiti Only Go So Far
By Catherine Orenstein
Sunday, January 30, 2000; Page B05
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Sometime tomorrow, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Raymond
Duncan, his aide, his driver and a guard--the last four permanent
members of an American military mission that began in September 1994
as Operation Uphold Democracy--will leave Haiti. In the five years
since 20,000 U.S. troops arrived to end a military regime and
reinstate the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Americans
have not only patrolled the streets but also have helped build or
repair miles of roads, dozens of schools and hundreds of wells and
latrines, and U.S. medics have treated tens of thousands of Haiti's
poor. All told, the United States spent $2 billion in military and
economic aid for Haiti.
Yet today the democracy that the United States intervened to
reestablish lies in tatters. Haiti's government has been paralyzed
for nearly three years, since a 1997 dispute over flawed elections
resulted in the prime minister's resignation and, eventually, in
President Rene Preval's dismissal of the 46th legislature. Local and
municipal elections now scheduled for March 19 and April 30 have been
repeatedly postponed, leaving more than 10,000 offices to be filled.
Today, Preval is one of only nine elected officials in the entire
nation. He essentially rules by decree.
The official start of voter registration last week offered little
hope. Registration offices here in the capital never opened; several
that did elsewhere were vandalized, and election materials, including
blank voter identification cards paid for by the United States,
disappeared. Already people here are wondering if elections will be
postponed again--or will occur at all.
Many foreign analysts attribute this democratic collapse to Haiti's
internal problems--its volatile history and lack of experience with
elective democracy. After all, it might seem the United States and
the United Nations have done all they can to end violence, promote
elections, and build peace. But in fact, while helping to rebuild
Haiti's infrastructure and trying to promote a free-market economy,
they also pursued policies that sabotaged democracy.
Haiti held its first democratic vote in 1990. Aristide, then a parish
priest, was elected president by a wide margin under the slogan
"Alone, we are weak; together, we are strong; united, we are Lavalas"-
-Creole for a torrential flood. But his program of raising the
minimum wage, increasing the social safety net and taxing the wealthy
alarmed Haiti's powerful elite--the educated minority who comprise 5
to 10 percent of the population and own more than half of the
Aristide was overthrown after only seven months in office.
The United States officially denounced the coup that brought Gen.
Raoul Cedras to power in September 1991, but its actions behind the
scenes undermined that stance. One of Cedras's top allies, Emmanuel
"Toto" Constant--the leader of paramilitary death squads that
international human rights groups have accused of the rape, torture
or murder of thousands--openly admits he was on the CIA payroll.
Haiti's elite, who financed the coup, got favorable treatment from
Washington: Their U.S. bank accounts were not frozen until most had
been emptied. And the Bush and Clinton administrations allowed dozens
of Haitian factory owners to continue doing business with Americans
in spite of an international embargo.
Meanwhile, the exiled Aristide became the target of a CIA propaganda
campaign that cast him as a psychopath and undercut his efforts to
return to his country.
It was against this background that the Clinton administration
negotiated the conditions for returning Aristide to Haiti. The
Americans urged him to grant amnesty to the coup leaders and to
select a new prime minister from the business class. The United
States, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank also
demanded that Aristide agree to drastically reduce tariffs and
implement an economic austerity plan--measures that were opposed by
the impoverished majority, but were favored by Port-au-Prince
After the 1994 intervention, the United States flew Haiti's dictators
abroad to join their bank accounts. Cedras retired to a five-star
hotel in Panama. Col. Carl Dorelian, a member of the Haitian high
command, emigrated to Florida, where two summers ago he won $3.2
million in the state lottery. Constant struck a deal with the U.S.
Justice Department and now lives in New York. The military and
paramilitary rank and file stayed in Haiti, where they remained free--
and, often, armed, since the U.S. weapons buy-back program attracted
almost entirely outdated or broken guns.
Thus the government restored by Operation Uphold Democracy faced a
reality that made democracy all but impossible. Thousands had been
murdered, and many of the killers were out on the street. The grass-
roots movement was decapitated. Aristide's early efforts to provide
relief to the poor had been derailed--and by the time he regained
power, his term had nearly expired. And U.S. officials reminded him
that the Haitian constitution--written in reaction to the 30-year
Duvalier dictatorship--forbids consecutive presidential terms.
His successor, Preval, inherited an economy beholden to international
lenders. Under the agreements signed a month before the intervention,
Parliament was prevented from implementing Aristide's popular
socialist policies, but was unable to garner backing for the required
economic reforms. As parliamentary squabbles crowded out concerns
about poverty and justice, the government rapidly lost support. In
1990, 85 percent of eligible voters had turned out to elect Aristide
to the presidency. Less than half that percentage showed up for the
presidential elections in December 1995. In April 1997, Haiti's last
parliamentary poll, a mere 5 percent voted. This month, voter
registration offices are requiring Haitians to obtain photo IDs
intended to keep them from voting twice. The real problem will be
getting them to vote once.
Haitians call their system demokrasi pepe--"secondhand democracy,"
from the Creole word for the barrels of used American clothes that
are sold on the street here.
Despite the disbanding of Haiti's infamous military in 1995, violence
continues. A highlight of the past year was the arrest of the Port-au-
Prince police chief, Jean Coles Rameau, in connection with the deaths
of 11 slum dwellers--10 of them killed with a bullet to the back of
The U.S. government could do something about this: Shortly after the
intervention, American troops confiscated about 160,000 documents
from the regime's headquarters--a paper trail of tortures and
massacres that could help Haitian authorities identify coup
criminals, says New York-based Human Rights Watch. But the United
States refuses to return these documents without first blacking out
the names of any American citizens that appear in them. And the
Haitian government, maintaining that the documents are Haitian
property and aware of their potential to reveal American collusion
with the illegal regime, has refused to accept a redacted set. U.S.
officials say the documents remain in the embassy here.
Certainly a few things are better than they used to be. The airport
is clean and the beggars are gone. Instead, licensed porters hover
alongside a line of shiny new taxicabs. Many roads have been repaved.
At night some are even well-lighted--an improvement which, along with
increased policing, has somewhat revived neighborhood nightlife.
There are new schools. There is an air-conditioned public bus that
runs from Port-au-Prince to the swank hills of Petionville--the route
a maid or cook might take to work each day.
Haiti's dismal economy has actually shown some growth in the past two
years--but the population has grown even faster, and most Haitians
are poorer today than they were during the coup years. And,
unfortunately, they have little faith in the future of their
Certainly Haiti's leaders made their share of mistakes. Aristide was
confrontational in his efforts to redistribute wealth. He did not
balance his bold advocacy for the poor with reassurances to Haiti's
business class, and he burned bridges with potential foreign allies
when he failed to address the economic concerns of the United States,
the World Bank and the IMF. Since he left office, unruly protests by
his followers have further exacerbated hostilities between rich and
poor, compromising democratic processes and undermining Preval's
And while Preval has overseen many significant improvements, he has
been unable to assemble a fully functional government. Equally
important, he has not created a judicial system capable of restoring
faith in the rule of law--a prerequisite to any real democracy.
Yet it must be acknowledged that some responsibility for Haiti's
democratic collapse lies, ironically, with her would-be saviors--
those who ended Haiti's military regime but let the killers get away
with murder. The lesson to be drawn is that international commitment
to peace and democracy must go beyond roads and latrines. If, in
practice, the U.S. government flouts the standards of justice and
accountability it preaches, and fails to support democracy
effectively, the point of interventions in troubled places like Haiti
will be moot.
Catherine Orenstein, a New-York based writer, has visited Haiti many
times since 1991. She was a member of the International Civilian
Mission in Haiti in 1995 and has investigated human rights and coup-
related crimes for a team of international lawyers assisting Haitian