Sunday :: Feb 29, 2004

Haiti Teeters on Anarchy

by Mary

Posted by Mary
Bush's stated aim to oust Aristide from Haiti has succeeded and a small contingent of American Marines are already onsite to protect the American embassy. Other Marines are preparing to head into Haiti as part of an international force. What this means for the individual Haitian is still very much up in the air. Although Aristide is gone, the so-called political opponents that created the crisis that lead to his resignation are continuing to wreck havoc in Haiti.

With Aristide's departure, the head of Haiti's supreme court said he was taking charge. One U.S. concern, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was that the rebels who forced Aristide to flee might demand a role in the new government. The United States considers many members of these groups to be committed to violence and undeserving of any political role.

And what will the Marines be doing? Their role will be to protect the American interests and to help keep frightened Haitians from washing up on our shores.

One of the Marine task force's first missions was to help the U.S. Coast Guard repatriate Haitian migrants who are about Coast Guard vessels. The task force has the flexibility to switch from humanitarian to security missions, according to several defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The task force being sent was likely to number at least a few hundred Marines from Camp Lejeune, where an infantry battalion is always on alert for potential short-notice deployments. They are in addition to 50 members of a Marine anti-terrorism security team that has been in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, for several days to help secure the U.S. Embassy.

Haiti is a country on the edge of anarchy. Why nothing was done to address the problems there earlier will be another question to ask the Bush administration. As this report says, this is again an example of the Bush administration blindly ignoring something that was right under its nose.

"The crisis in Haiti didn't just pop up on the radar screen yesterday or last week," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., pointing to a bitter and long political dispute over Haiti's flawed elections in 2000 and alleged misrule by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "And it is not as though some of us - my colleague Bob Graham and others - haven't been warning this administration that they are ignoring this problem at their own peril."

Haiti's problems certainly cannot be separated from US policy. Much of the blame is due to lack of follow through in building a stable and democratic nation.

The United States had periodically made enormous efforts to build democratic institutions in the country, most recently after the 1994 invasion when U.S. troops intervened to restore Aristide to power. At other times, Washington had "left the country to rot," he said.

Now it appears the rot has truly set in. As senior administration officials continued to hold meetings over the weekend to find a way out of the current crisis - including the possibility of military intervention again - there are no easy answers. With the country teetering on the brink of a kind of anarchy unprecedented even by the standards of Haiti's turbulent history, observers warn that it is time for Washington - and the rest of the world - to realize a quick fix will not suffice.

"This is the latest example of the need for a U.S. or international capacity to respond effectively in nation-sustaining - even nation-building - after our military has successfully secured the territory," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla. "The failure to have such a capacity after the 1994 invasion is a primary reason why we are on the edge of the volcano in Haiti again - just 10 short years later."

Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged as much Thursday in comments about the post-1994 attempt to build democratic institutions in which he was deeply involved as part of a delegation led by former President Jimmy Carter.

"But unfortunately, it didn't stay together," Powell said. "Corruption came into play, inefficiency came into play, cronyism came into play and the whole political tapestry of the country came apart."

Powell might also have mentioned the oft-criticized decision by the United States to cut off direct financial support - withholding $500-million - to the Haitian government after the flawed 2000 elections. The Clinton administration cut back aid to Haiti during its last days in office.

"Clinton just wanted to leave office before Haiti fell apart," said Carney, the former ambassador.

He complained that officials at the National Security Council went as far as requesting that he "tone down" embassy cables reporting on the situation in Haiti.

Carney was furious: "I began my career in Saigon in 1967 and there was no way I was going to let that happen." If Washington had been willing to listen, he said, it could have been better informed of the deteriorating situation.

"The Haitian situation is firmly grasped at the working level," he said, "but they are too many people at the higher levels who didn't want to hear bad news from Haiti."

As the country's economic situation deteriorated, the Bush administration continued to restrict aid, funneling money directly to AIDS projects and a large food-for-the-poor program administered by CARE.

This year the administration asked Congress for only $55-million in aid for Haiti. The country will receive only about one 100th of the aid Iraq is receiving, critics say, even though Iraq's average per capita income is about 10 times higher than the average Haitian's.

So what comes next? More anarchy and violence.

Early Sunday, police guarding Haiti's main prison in Port-au-Prince abandoned the jail, some changing from uniforms into street clothes to avoid detection. The jail emptied some 2,000 inmates into the streets, including murderers and other hard-core criminals.

And Haitians that try to flee the country will be repatriated. What a mess.

Mary :: 5:05 PM :: Comments (8) :: Digg It!