The Philadelphia Inquirer
February 22, 2004
Haiti's leader but didn't protect its investment, some say.
There was a certain sad predictability to the
chaos that broke out in
the Caribbean nation of Haiti this month.
Ever since the United States briefly occupied Haiti in 1994 to restore
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, experts had been warning that
was only a matter of time before the former French colony, bereft of
natural resources, viable institutions and democratic traditions,
"While nothing is inevitable, there is a very real danger that,
later, the situation will fall apart and Haiti will return to its
traditional pattern of dictatorship and chaos," Donald E. Schulz, a
professor at the U.S. Army War College, wrote in 1996 as the U.S. military
prepared to complete its mission in Haiti.
Although the 1994 U.S. invasion reinstalled the democratically elected
Aristide, a former priest who had been ousted in a coup, it did little to
establish institutions such as an independent judiciary or well-trained
uncorrupt security forces. Aristide, who was immensely popular with
impoverished millions, increasingly resorted to dictatorial tactics to
consolidate power, antagonizing rather than accommodating the opposition.
"No one is innocent in this thing," said Jocelyn McCalla,
director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights in New York.
as the refugees don't show up on the shores of the United States, the
Clinton administration was not going to concern itself with the long-term
consequences or underlying conditions that caused the refugees to flee.
That's the failure of U.S. policy."
The consequences of the United States' abbreviated experience in Haiti
offers a lesson for current policy-makers as the United States wrestles to
rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq - and considers whether to become engaged
again in Haiti. There are no quick fixes when it comes to nation-building.
"It's very difficult to go into a nation where there isn't a
settlement ahead of time," said retired diplomat Lawrence Pezzullo.
served in Vietnam and Nicaragua, and as then-President Bill Clinton's
special envoy to Haiti in 1994 - until he stepped down after disagreeing
with the decision to invade.
"You walk right into a clash of cultures you don't understand.
. . .
Iraq may be a mess for the next 30 or 40 years."
Pezzullo is not surprised by the decay of order in Haiti. "This
of the endgame of (Aristide's) abuse of power."
It was probably wishful thinking to hope that democracy would take root
in Haiti after the 1986 departure of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc"
last in a long line of dictators in Haiti.
Two hundred years ago, Haiti, inspired by what happened in the American
colonies, became the second nation in the hemisphere to win its
independence. But democracy never took root in the nation of freed slaves.
France imposed a huge debt on Haiti in exchange for recognition, absorbing
resources for generations. The United States, uncomfortable with a nation
of former slaves, waited nearly 60 years before formally recognizing
Meanwhile, a caste system became entrenched, with light-skinned mulatto
elite raking off the wealth at the expense of the impoverished majority.
Duvalier fled in 1986, and Haiti rewrote its constitution a year later
to establish a parliamentary system and to diminish the power of the
executive. But Aristide, a fiery leftist who had been kicked out of the
clergy for advocating violence, quickly moved to abrogate the constitution
after he was elected in 1990. He lasted seven months before the military
In exile in the United States, Aristide skillfully organized the Haitian
community, Congress, and celebrities to lobby the Clinton administration
"We used 20,000 troops to restore a president and left the rebuilding
aid agencies," said James Morell, the director of the Haiti Democracy
Project in Washington. "We needed to stay and protect the
Aristide reluctantly agreed to step down at the end of his term in 1995
to his handpicked successor, Rene Preval. But Aristide had dismantled the
military, perhaps Haiti's only functioning institution. Public security
left to the ill-trained Haitian National Police.
Aristide had also created a network of armed gangs to enforce public
order, particularly in the nation's vast slums. It was the foundation of
authoritarian regime that human-rights organizations say harshly dealt
Aristide returned to power in 2001. International observers castigated
him for skewing parliamentary elections in which his Lavalas party would
have won a majority anyway. Aristide clearly wanted overwhelming
"He wanted a coronation," Morell said. "He represents the
traditional thinking that you have to have it all, that you can't share
The opposition boycotted the 2000 elections, international donors
withdrew their support, and Aristide became more inflexible. After his
government was blamed for assassinating the leader of one of his
enforcement gangs last year, the gangs rose up, seizing several cities
the often outgunned and beleaguered police force and triggering the
Artistide's supporters view the crisis in the prism of the class
struggle. Frantz Latour, director of the Haitian Community Center of
Philadelphia, says the violence is orchestrated by right-wing elements
linked to powerful international interests, including the U.S. government.
"The final result the international community wants is the departure
Aristide, one way or another," Latour said. "They can't stand a
that represents the masses of Haiti."
U.S., French and regional diplomats are mobilizing to devise a political
settlement, though Aristide's nonviolent opponents have not clearly
enunciated an alternative program. It would not surprise many if a
political settlement involved one of Haiti's traditional solutions - a
quick exit by the head of state. In almost any settlement, international
peacekeepers would be called in to establish order.
Aristide appears to be growing increasingly unpopular at home, and his
international support is vanishing. He has vowed to stay in power until he
finishes his term or dies, which is everyone's gravest fear.
"The worst possibility is that the people who have the guns - the
disaffected Lavalas thugs and former military - will take over,"
said. "They don't have a political philosophy. It would be a pretty
horrible situation. I don't know where that will take you, but it could be
very, very ugly."