Time for Haitians to Fix Haiti

Article excerpt

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'tat. 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 restoration.

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. …