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
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. …