Do We Really Want to Send Troops to Haiti? the Last `Temporary' Assignment for Americans in Port-Au-Prince Turned into a 19-Year Stay

By Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 7, 1993 | Go to article overview

Do We Really Want to Send Troops to Haiti? the Last `Temporary' Assignment for Americans in Port-Au-Prince Turned into a 19-Year Stay


Pat M. Holt. Pat M. Holt, former chief of of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writes on foreign affairs from Washington., The Christian Science Monitor


IF you like the United States-United Nations policy in Somalia and Bosnia, you'll love it in Haiti.

At a time when Washington is trying to formulate criteria for participation in multilateral military interventions, the UN Security Council, with US support, has voted unanimously to send a force to Haiti.

French, Canadians, and Algerians will train the Haitian police and provide a presence that, if all goes well, will discourage police mistreatment of the local population. Five hundred US military personnel will train the Haitian Army in roadbuilding, civic action, and other activities designed to steer them away from staging coups dtat, repressing dissent, and generally brutalizing civilians. Or so it is hoped. The council projects that this will take six months.

All of this is directed to implementing an agreement for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti; he is expected to do so by the end of October.

That will be a little more than two years since he was sent into exile after serving less than a year of the term to which he was elected in 1990. But last month a bunch of thugs disguised as plainclothes policemen would not even let the elected mayor of Port-au-Prince reclaim city hall. And the UN troops will not be authorized to use force.

We've been through all this before. In 1915, President Wilson was worried that Germany might acquire a naval base in Haiti (sound familiar?), and he sent the marines and the Navy to keep watch offshore. The marines landed when a civil conflict degenerated into barbarism. There was a mass murder of 167 political prisoners. The then-president (who probably ordered the executions) took refuge in the French embassy, where a mob found him hiding under a bed and murdered him.

The marines stayed for 19 years. They gave Port-au-Prince Latin America's first dial telephone system, which was still in place, though dysfunctional, in the 1960s. But they did nothing to encourage the development of political institutions.

The marines did organize the Gardi d'Haiti. This time, under UN auspices, the US is going back to train the guard again.

Civic action for the Latin American military is an idea that came to the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara during the Kennedy administration. …

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