[Documents menu] Documents menu

The Symbolism of a Visit: Amidst Growing Crime and Disillusion, U.S. Quickly Passes the Baton

From Haiti Info, 25 March 1995

PORT-AU-PRINCE, March 25 - In a climate of growing violence and increasing disillusionment from the population, the U.S. is rushing to pass the baton to the U.N. and thus avoid the deterioration inevitable due to its failure to carry out disarmament and the Haitian government's failure to meet demands for justice, food and work.

The climate in the U.S. is not much better, with the Democratic president under fire from a Republican Congress which would love to catch him botching up the Haiti mission. As the crime rate rises here, the U.S. public could quickly sour on the presence of U.S. troops. So, despite the obvious lack of the sure and stable environment the U.S. and U.N. claim reigns, the U.S. is ending its part of Operation Uphold Democracy, and, before it is too late, President William Jefferson Clinton will make a triumphal visit, the first one from a U.S. president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1934.

Violence and Disillusionment

The country is currently held hostage by armed thugs and gangs, often recogizable former soldiers or members of paramilitary units, with no protection from the occupation troops and very little from the interim police, the majority of whom are unarmed.

But the violence does not bother the occupants much. On the contrary, they tolerate it because of its negative consequences on the democratic and popular sectors, who cannot under such conditions completely deploy themselves to fully take advantage of certain democratic liberties to accumulate strength and reorganize themselves.

Business people, retired officers, children and even a police commander have been shot down in broad daylight. Car-jackers roam the streets at night and multiple rapes are not uncommon. Last night, thugs attacked and burned houses in Cite Soleil. In the countryside the situation is little different, with section chiefs still active in some regions.

The crime wave, continued high prices, lack of jobs and especially the complete lack of any justice or reparations for the repression of the coup d'etat era has led to increasing disillusionment. Yesterday, hundreds took to the streets to protest against the Smarck Michel government, lavi che (high cost of living) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies. The band Zap-Zap led the march and rally. Today, Cite Soleil residents burned tires and demonstrated against the occupation troops, who they say protect the Tonton Macoutes and other thugs.

The U.S.-to-U.N. handoff, little more than a cosmetic change since almost 2,500 of the 7,000 soldiers and police are from U.S., as is the commander, will not change the situation. With a less aggressive mandate than the U.S. mission, the U.N. troops will be left holding the bag. They will undoubtedly do the bare minimum to defend Haitian citizens, and may even find themselves in a situation similar to that of Somalia, where they sometimes could not even defend themselves.

Clinton Claims Victory

No doubt aware time is running out, Clinton is coming for a triumphal eight-hour stopover so he can avoid any of the messiness of later instability and capitalize on a foreign policy victory.

When Clinton and the Democrats delivered President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the National Palace (and, along the way, to the IMF and World Bank and a host of other institutions now implanted here), they achieved a long sought after goal.

Haiti is now a full subscriber to the neoliberal economic model, the influence of France and Canada have been seriously eroded by the coup and U.S. maneuvering afterwards and, astoundingly, the firebrand radical Aristide is even joining in the victory party. The National Palace is being re- painted and re-curtained, the government has announced celebrations throughout the country and Aristide said he expects the Haitian people to dance with joy.

After failing with generals Henri Namphy and Prosper Avril, puppet presidents Leslie Manigat and Ertha Pascal-Trouillot and its own, World-Bank-trained Marc L. Bazin as presidential candidate and then the second de facto prime minister, the U.S. has finally succeeded, paradoxically, with a priest who built his influence and popularity on an anti-U.S. imperialist rhetoric.

The historical parallel to the last U.S. president's visit is inescapable. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Cap-Haitien at the end of the 29-year U.S. military occupation to assure that the neocolonial apparatus was firmly in place. One month later, on Aug. 21, 1934, the last U.S. Marine contingent left Port-au- Prince.

In a different context, William Jefferson Clinton is coming to make sure that during the six-month occupation, everything was set up to retake absolute control of Haiti and that the much-needed reform of the neocolonial order was completed. Now he can pass the baton.

Although Clinton's visit may not take him outside the sparkling palace into neighborhoods like La Saline where the women work in factories for US$0.15 per hour and children gnaw sugarcane for dinner, it will be long enough to say what another victorious leader said many centuries ago: Vini, Vidi, Vinci. I came, I saw, I conquered.