[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 09:40:39 -0700 (PDT)
From: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
To: Bob Corbett <bcorbett@crl.com>
Subject: Haiti depends on Washington 9-17-96
Message-Id: <Pine.SUN.3.91.960917093915.3704F-100000@crl9.crl.com>

Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 11:21:56 -0500 (EST)
From: GHI408@cnsvax.albany.edu

Most U.S. Troops Are Gone, But Haiti Still Depends on Washington

By Larry Rohter, 17 September 1996

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The 23,000 American troops who landed here two years ago this week to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and democracy in Haiti have long since gone. But the United States continues to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of this country -- and reliant on the unilateral application of force to achieve its objectives.

The dispatch over the weekend of a squad of State Department security agents to support and protect President Rene Preval during a purge of his personal security unit was a vivid reminder of the degree to which Washington remains embroiled in events here.

In July and August, a unit of the 82nd Airborne and a small detachment of Marines were quietly sent here for brief stays as part of what were officially called training exercises.

The deployments underline the Clinton administration's determination not to let the security situation here unravel, even if it means operating independently of its allies, or offending them.

Though a Canadian-led force under U.N. command remains officially in charge of maintaining a secure and stable environment here, the United States seems to be mounting a parallel security and support system, with Haiti's reluctant compliance.

Some people have called this a mini-coup d'etat, and that is what it is, a European diplomat here said on Monday. This is just too heavy-handed for Haiti, too motivated by Washington concerns, shows a deep disregard for the pride and opinion of Haitian and foreign partners, and sends all the wrong messages.

From Washington's point of view, the intervention that began on Sept. 19, 1994, has been a remarkable success. As the American ambassador here, William Swing, noted in an interview on Monday, the United States is no longer picking up thousands of refugees offshore or feeding 1.3 million Haitians a day, as was the case in the spring of 1994 at the height of the international embargo against the military dictatorship then in power here.

What problems have emerged are not unique to a society in transition such as Haiti, Swing said. What is unique is the speed and transparency with which the issue is being addressed.

The American military presence here has been reduced to a 500-man U.S. support group composed of military engineers and medical specialists, involved in road-building and health care projects and scheduled to remain here until June 1997. The last combat unit left in April, leaving the responsibility for Haiti's security in the hands of the 1,500-man U.N. force dominated by Canadian, French, and Pakistani troops and police officers.

On Monday, the U.N. mission here announced that it too was reinforcing its security detachment at the National Palace, by about 50 percent. Eric Falt, a spokesman for the mission, said the increase was intended to accompany the effort by the United States to work on the security of the president, a task that has various layers of responsibility.

But many Haitians, and some foreign diplomats, maintain that the United States has consistently misjudged the degree of muscle it needs to use here. They contend that Washington applied too little force in the initial 1994 phase of the intervention and is now overcompensating in an effort to hold things together and prevent Haiti from becoming an embarrassment during Clinton's campaign for a second term.

This place really is becoming more and more of an American protectorate, said a Latin American diplomat here. But the United States has consistently acted on the basis of whatever it sees as its interests at the moment, and not in terms of what Haiti really needs.

With the Clinton administration propping up Preval, who has no real power base of his own, the Haitian president has been reluctant to criticize his American allies and their policies. Cooperation with the United States government is excellent in all respects of our relationship, he said in an interview here late last month.

But freed from the need to be diplomatic since leaving office in February, Aristide, restored to power with the American intervention, has been more outspoken and critical.

Recent assassination threats against him and Preval, attacks on National Police headquarters and Parliament, and the killings of police officers might have been avoided, he asserted, if American troops had been more aggressive in fulfilling their original U.N. mandate.

I said a total disarmament is necessary, I kept saying this before leaving office, Aristide said in an interview late last month. The violence shows how right I was. The need to disarm criminals in a legal, non-violent way remains a must.

Also on the rise are concerns among Haitians and foreign diplomats here at what they see as America's tendency to act alone in foreign policy matters.

This happens every four years, said Frantz Voltaire, a book publisher and editor, who, as the chief aide to former Prime Minister Robert Malval, was involved in the unsuccessful 1993 negotiations to restore Aristide to office. Just look at Iraq.

Swing acknowledged that a U.N. representative was not present at an Aug. 30 meeting at his residence attended by Preval, the national security adviser, Anthony Lake, and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott to discuss the security situation here, but minimized the importance of that omission.

We attach importance to keeping the United Nations troops informed, Swing said. They, after all, have the mandate.

The likelihood that the United States will undertake additional ventures to protect its political investment here remains high, and so does the potential for divergences with the United Nations. The Haitian National Police remain a poorly trained and poorly led force, and the threat posed by former soldiers to the personal security of Preval and Aristide remains high, making an extension of the international presence into 1997 seemingly mandatory.

If we can equip the police and at the same time reduce the danger it is facing, then the necessity to have the United Nations force will be less evident, Preval acknowledged. But if we can't do that, then the necessity to have the United Nations forces present will be more evident.