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What U.S. Humanitarian invasion did to Haiti

By G. Dunkel, Workers World, 10 June 1999

Since a UN/NATO occupation of Kosovo is under active diplomatic discussion and many so-called progressives are pushing it as a diplomatic solution, it would be useful to recall some features of the U.S./UN occupation of Haiti.

U.S. troops, acting under a UN mandate, invaded Haiti in September 1994. The first time the U.S. invaded Haiti was in 1915, during World War I, in a more open takeover of that Caribbean country. The overall U.S. commander in 1994 was Gen. Henry H. Shelton, currently chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In November 1994, the U.S. troops changed their helmets and officially became part of a UN command, although a U.S. officer was still in charge.

The change in helmets was part of the arrangement involving the return of the popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been elected by a landslide in 1990 and then disposed of by a right-wing military coup in 1991.

At the peak of the U.S. occupation, there were 22,000 U.S. troops in Haiti. There still are a few hundred at the U.S. base near the airport at Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

The administration spokesperson on Haitian affairs, Joseph G. Sullivan, told a House committee in 1997 that the U.S. goal was to promote stability, democracy and economic growth in Haiti. It did none of the above.

Even the economic growth that did take place is distorted. The gross domestic product has gone from $1.6 billion in 1994 to $3.2 billion in 1998. But according to the UN Human Development Project, which looks at living standards rather than economic output, Haiti has become much poorer in the past four years.

Fewer people in 1998 had access to safe water and effective sewage systems, electricity, health care, public education, roads and transportation than in 1994. It is not uncommon to see potholes in Port-au-Prince big enough to swallow a small car. The condition of the roads, the absence of traffic lights and electricity have led to mammoth traffic jams in Port-au- Prince that generally last from 7 a.m. to after midnight.


The first thing the U.S. Army did when it occupied Haiti was to seize the records of the military and the paramilitary group called the FRAPH (a blow in Creole) to keep them out of the hands of any of the Haitian popular organizations. FRAPH had done most of the killing and torturing during the coup.

According to Haitian activists, besides detailing the crimes committed during the coup, these records showed U.S. complicity with the coup leaders. Many popular organizations, like the National Popular Assembly (APN), believe that the U.S. government was behind the 1991 coup and that U.S. operatives set up FRAPH. FRAPH leader Toto Constant has effectively gotten political asylum in the United States and is running a chain of dry-cleaning stores in Queens, N.Y.

The U.S. Army then destroyed the Haitian Army's heavy weapons, like armored personnel carriers and artillery. This meant the Haitian Army could not effectively resist U.S. troops. The U.S. occupation force left the Haitian Army and FRAPH their rifles and side-arms because they were still in charge of security and internal policing of the population.

One U.S. counter-intelligence officer, Capt. Lawrence Rockwood, had gone into Haiti believing the U.S. government's goal was to restore democracy and promote justice. Pursuing this goal, Rockwood discovered that 30 emaciated men had been jammed into a cell in the prison called Les Cayes. One of them had been in chains so long that the skin had rotted off his back.

Rockwell was concerned that Raoul Cedras, a coup leader still in charge of the prisons, was plotting to eliminate all his political opponents by killing them. Rockwood tricked his way into the national penitentiary and discovered a number of prisoners in conditions as well as a large number of amputees in the infirmary.

The U.S. military discovered what Rockwell was doing, arrested him and court-martialed him for disobeying orders. Rockwell later won a civil liberties prize for preventing a human rights disaster in Haiti.

The U.S. intervention in Haiti in 1994, although presented as humanitarian, also did not produce justice, since the evidence needed to prosecute crimes during the coup is still under control of the U.S. government. According to Rockwell, the U.S. occupation allowed human rights violations to go unchecked. According to the UN itself, the occupation has not improved the living standards of the majority of the people.