Big Stick and Soft Voice: US Delves in Haiti Politics
Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
NOW, the hard part in Haiti.
The United States is moving from the military to the political phase of its occupation here. This shift will be far more prolonged and far more difficult than the projection of military force, US and Haitian political analysts say. It involves a delicate balance.
On the one hand, a big stick to restore order; on the other, a soft voice to nurture and hasten the time when Haitians take back control of their own country.
"We're entering the political phase, and this becomes tricky," says Georges Fauriol, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign-policy think tank based in Washington. "It depends not so much on our ability, but the ability of Haitians. In the final analysis, some of this is out of our hands."
The first test came this week with the return of several Haitian legislators and the reconvening of parliament.
The US was careful about the symbolism in returning 11 legislators who had fled Haiti after the 1991 military coup. The legislators flew to Haiti on a privately chartered jet rather than on US military transport planes.
The US Army was also careful to emphasize that it was securing the area around the Haitian parliament and not the building itself. "It's a Haitian institution," says US Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager. Its security is being left to Haitian forces.
Yet there is no denying who is in charge. The overwhelming power of the US military carries great political weight. That fact is lost on no one.
"They say it's cooperation," says Haitian Senator Rony Mondestin, standing on the Tarmac of Port-au-Prince's international airport, waiting for his colleagues-in-exile to return. And there is cooperation from the Americans, he adds, but "it's cooperation with muscle."
US muscle appears in several subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of Haitians gathered on the open terrace of the Haitian Red Cross building to catch a glimpse of their returning legislators. Blue posters in Creole appeared for the television cameras focused on the crowd. But the posters did not come from the Haitians. They were being handed out by US troops. The message: Work well together so your future generations can have a better life.
But the crowd soon ignored the posters and sent its own messages. Supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide sang a rhythmic protest song against the triumvirate of military men who overthrew him: Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, and Army Chief of Staff Philippe Biamby.
"Mwen pap pale, Mwen pap pale, Michel Francois, ki limin yon lamp, nan mouda Aristide. …