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Haiti: Success Under Fire

January 2, 1995 | Policy Brief

By James Morrell

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The liberation of Haiti by American troops, an operation that was highly unnatural for Washington to begin with, is coming under increasing pressure from both the Republicans in Congress and right-wing paramilitary forces in Haiti. The Republicans seem posed to pounce on any set back in an operation that has gone flawlessly until now; the gunmen and former army men have emerged from the shadows to stage a violent protest at army headquarters and an increasingly bold series of armed robberies in Port-au- Prince.

The Clinton Administration, meanwhile, seems almost ashamed of its success in Haiti. To avoid drawing Republican attention it refrains from taking credit for its virtually casualty-free restoration of democracy there, leaving the operation bereft of supporters in the United States. Both the right and the left in American politics scorn the operation, the right because in was an intervention for the populist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the left because it was an intervention at all. The policy has been unable to expand its constituency beyond the Congressional Black Caucus and the Florida congressional delegation, which experienced firsthand the impact of Haitians fleeing their homeland. This lack of support for the operation increases its vulnerability to the setbacks that are almost inevitable in the hemisphere's poorest nation, which must build both economic infrastructure and democratic institutions from the ground up. Fairness calls for a far greater acknowledgment of President Clinton's courage and leadership in attacking the Haitian problem at its roots.

Clinton has succeeded in that most difficult of foreign- policy tasks- the rescue of a failed policy bequeathed by a previous administration. He has done so without the stigma of a forcible invasion and with international endorsement and participation. In the process, he has established two highly significant precedents:

- For the first time in the history of our relations with the Caribbean and Central America, the United States has used armed force clearly and unambiguously on the side of a democratically- elected president. For the first time, America intervened on the side of the poor and downtrodden against the elites and the military.

- For the first time in the hemisphere, the United States has rejected unilateral intervention in favor of acting with the United Nations. President Clinton set an important precedent by taking his case to the Security Council. Once the Security Council licensed the United States to lead a multilateral force to restore democracy to Haiti, and after it became clear that the de facto military regime had no intention of abiding by the Governors Island agreement, the issue became one of enforcing the will of the international community. In an ideal world a U.N. army would do the enforcing, but until such an army is established, the Security Council must rely on member nations to provide military muscle.

These are precedents worth establishing . They will act as a deterrent against future administrations undertaking unilateral action on behalf of military-dominated regimes. The measure of Clinton's success in immediately evident to the visitor to Haiti. One is struck by:

- The enormous popularity of the man restored. President Aristide may enjoy the highest approval rating of any head of state. It is hard to find a Haitian who will admit to being opposed to him. Even the rich now say they always opposed the military government!

-The popularity of U.S. troops. Not since the liberation of Paris during World War II have U.S. troops received such a warm welcome. The great fear among Haitians is that they will leave too soon.

The United States has not suddenly embraced multilateralism and the poor of the world. Indeed, under the flag of anti- communism the United States in Central American and the Caribbean was about to cross the line between republic and empire. Remarkably, we see in Haiti the use of the tools of empire-the Pentagon and the CIA-to reestablish Haiti as an independent state. What has happened is a result of a unique set of events and circumstances which we may never see again, particularly in light of the U.S. elections which may presage a return to a more militaristic foreign policy.

Understanding the unique circumstances of Haiti policy

In June and July of 1993 at Governors Island, the United Nations presided over negotiations between Haiti's legitimate government and the de facto regime. With the United States playing the dominant role, the parties signed an agreement providing for the prompt return of President Arisitde in exchange for significant concessions to the coup-makers. Aristide fulfilled his obligations; General Raoul Cedreas and the military high command faithlessly violated theirs. The issue could not have been more clearly drawn. Either Aristide returned or the armed drug runners who controlled Haiti would have triumphed over the United Nations and the Untied States. That outcome proved ultimately unacceptable to President Clinton. And it should have been unacceptable to as well to liberal internationalists whose core beliefs include collective security, interdependence, multilateralism, international law, democracy, pluralism, human rights and the sanctity of treaties.

Certainly, few such internationalists favored the use of military force to oust the Haitian military. Given the record of past U.S. interventions, they had every reason to be skeptical about the use of force in Haiti. Their view has been shaped by U.S. intentions in Indochina, Central America, and the Caribbean. Even though these interventions were highly anti-democratic, the U.S. government never forsook at least the rhetoric of democracy. In 1990, the Bush administration presided over an unanimous vote at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States making democracy the official governing doctrine of foreign ministers to take action should any interruption of constitutional government take place. Haiti was the first test. Then-Secretary of State James baker led the O.A.S. to the unanimous passage of a resolution demanding the immediate reinstatement of President Aristide and imposing an embargo until constitutional government was restored. In order to make the embargo effective worldwide, President Clinton took the Haiti case to the Security Council.

Rebellion of the cold warriors The cold warriors who still retain too much influence at the Pentagon and the CIA understood very well what was at stake. After the Governors Island accord was signed, these agencies gave public notice that the president's policy was not theirs, that they were unwilling to abandon their longtime clients, the miliary and economic elites of Haiti. The CIA fabricated an attack on Aristide's character that fell apart when it came under public scrutiny. The CIA director then revealed to a congressional committee that his agency had retained on the payroll several military officers who had overthrown the elected president. Senior Pentagon officials said they were "unwilling to endanger American troops lives for a leader they considered highly erratic and unreliable" and they questioned the wisdom of putting American troops into a "potentially dangerous, unpredictable and hostile environment."

This public display of indiscipline culminated in the shameful spectacle of a shipload of American troops turning tail and running form a gang of dockside toughs. As the u.S. embassy in Port-as-Prince reported in a classified telegram, the U.S.S. Harlan County's "departure set the scene for the unraveling of the Governors Island process when it was on the very verge of success."

The decision to intervene The policy of dumping refugees back into Haiti or into Guantanamo became untenable. Not only were more and more of them truly eligible for political asylum, but there was a gross and offensive racism in barring black refugees while letting in whites. Randall Robinson's twenty-seven day hunger strike touched a chord among millions of black Americans and indeed all fair- minded Americans. Clinton himself had denounced he policy as cruel during the campaign, then turned around and implemented it. Had Clinton attempted to brazen out his failing policy and callously leave Robinson to die, he would have faced real trouble from the American black community and wide sectors of public opinion. The waves of refugees would keep coming, seeking new ways to break the rampart of ships. And for what gain would Clinton persist with the policy? To spare the tiny clique in Haiti which had dishonored a solemn international agreement? To endlessly appease the cold warriors in the Pentagon, CIA, and Congress who would always prefer a hard-line military officer to a democratically-elected president with the support of the poor majority?

Indeed, such class-based and ideological prejudices were normally determining in U.S. policy toward Latin America, from the CIA-instigated coup in Guatemala to the support for the Nicaraguan contras and the Salvadoran death squads. But in Haiti's case, the obstructionism of the clique in Port-au-Prince was beginning to touch fundamental questions of governance in the United States. There was a growing incongruity between the tininess of the group atop Port-au-Prince and the enormous problems it was causing two American presidents. In April, 1994, Clinton made up his mind. All the other Washington power centers opposed him: the Pentagon, CIA, Congress, and the press.

He answered them with the Carter mission- one last attempt to reason with the ruling junta. He suspected by this time that no reasoning would work until General Cedras knew that the planes were in the air and the ships on the horizon. By hazard if not by design, the combination of Clinton and Carter found a formula to avoid invasion while still coming ashore with full force.

Exit strategy It is often said that it is easy to get into these situations but almighty difficult to get out. This makes sense when U.S. forces are attempting to shore up an unpopular regime. It makes no sense in Haiti where the overwhelming majority of the country's people wanted their president back and enthusiastically support he U.S. presence. Now that the American forces have ousted Haiti's military usurpers, they have easily been able to scale back from twenty to six thousand troops. Those who remain are engaged in routine patrols. They need to be doing more to disarm the enforcers of the former regime, many of whom are unreconciled to Aristide's return. Nevertheless, overall the American troops are well on the way to establishing a secure and stable environment that will allow them to leave and turn over the tasks of training a new civilian force and shrinking the army to a U.N. military contingent in which the United States will play only a lesser role.

While remarkably successful so far, the operation still faces these stumbling blocks:

- The multinational force has long since stopped disarming the right-wing paramilitary groups, who have been decapitated and scattered, but not dismantled. The United States says it has "broken the back" of the forces. However, security remains the number-one concern of Haitians, coming ahead even of economic development.

- There have been some instances of the multinational force's collaborating with the paramilitary front group FRAPH and there is an ill-advised attempt to temporarily recycle some of the old police and army.

Course correction needed For the rest of the U.S. forces to exit soon and successfully, the Clinton administration will need to make the following course corrections:

- A more concerned effort at disarming rather than merely scattering the enforcers of the former regime - Faster training of new police, rather than the questionable attempts to recycle the old - Faster disbursement of emergency aid to create jobs and a sense of economic revival. This would help keep the armed remnants of the former at bay.

Most Haitians would endorse the proposal of visiting former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to abolish the army entirely. But since the army's existence is written into a constitution that was purposely made difficult to amend, this is a matter for the future. Haitian leaders have hesitated raising the alarm over the issue of disarmament or recycling for fear of appearing ungrateful to Clinton. However, on November 2 Port-au-Prince mayor Evans Paul said, "I am unsettled by the proposal to integrate elements of the army into the new police. The Haitian army has had only one function: to control the people. "What is most important now is to avoid growing a new cancer in Haiti...we must create a new police with a new people," he said. "It's not a question of giving people new uniforms but of finding people with a new mindset." Hewing to his conciliatory line, President Aristide held his silence longer, but on November 25 he said, "It is not enough to just disarm some of them. We should be moving fast. This is the cry of the Haitian people. It is the will of the Haitian people, and I welcome this cry and I share it." And on December 15 Aristide's justice minister Ernst Malebranche complained of the U.S. military taking the wrong side in some local disputes. "I do not understand at all the behavior of the U.S. troops," Malebranche said. The day after American troops landed and stood by idly while Haitian policy continued to club people, public opinion forced an immediate course correction. A similar correction is needed now. The Republican majority in Congress may object, but they will have a lot more to criticize if the whole operation is allowed to go awry. The American commander of the multinational force has determined that a "secure, stable environment" has been established, and the MNF will hand over to a six-thousand-person U.N. peacekeeping force. But the United Nations does not want this responsibility if the gunmen are still at large.

Establishment of civilian police In the longer term the establishment of civilian police and a judicial system will determine whether Haiti's experiment in democracy can survive. Here President Aristide's success in fostering reconciliation and forming a consensus government improved the chances of eventually fielding a loyal army and police. The chief concern of many Haitians is that the new police will be corrupted by the economic powerhouses as all previous forces have been. The fragile consensus underlying this effort could be severely tested by leaving for the fledgling police a tasks that fully-equipped American troops have not done. Eventually, Haiti must police itself, but in the meantime the multinational force could do much more. It is less a question of house-to-house searches than of letting the population serves as the force's eyes and ears. These questions are further explored in "Warning Signs in Haiti: The Multinational Force and Prospects for the Rule of Law," Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, New York, December 1994. "Haitian officials and human rights groups agree that if volent sectors are allowed to retain their weapons they will continue to pose an unacceptable risk to the transition process." (Page 6.) "Local MNF commanders gamble with the credibility of their forced if they overlook the appalling human rights record of the FAD'H [Armed forces of Haiti] and its reputation among the civilian population. MNF personnel interviewed by the Lawyers Committee acknowledged that local residents generally repudiate the FAD'H and are suspicious of the MNF's collaboration with it." (Page 13.) Amy Wilentz, writing in the December 26-January 3, 1995 "New Yorker", also stressed the population's disillusionment at releases of terrorists by the multinational force. That security remains the number-one concern of Haitians, even after the landing of twenty thousand American troops, is testimony to the degree of terror Haitians had been living under and its potential to generate an endless torrent of refugees. President Clinton deserves far more credit than he had got for delivering both countries from the consequences to this terror. He is indelibly the liberator of Haiti, and the liberator of America too from the no-win policy inherited from President Bush. But inattention to the consequences of collaboration between the American military and the old regime its a grave thereat to all that has been accomplished.

The challenge of development In August, 1994, the Haitian government unveiled its "Strategy of Social and Economic Reconstruction." The document was filled with plans to establish a free market in Haiti with the aid of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For those hoping that Haiti could accomplish both economic recovery and greater social equity,the reliance on the market was unnerving. But in the body of the document were two measure that are in the Haitian context revolutionary:

-Removal from the government ministries of half of the twenty- seven thousand holdovers from the former regime, most of them ghost workers or corrupt political appointees -Sale of the thoroughly corrupted state enterprises and the lifting of monopoly privileges

Both these measure will likely be resisted by a predatory elite long accustomed to enrichment through the exploitation of state privileges rather than reliance on the market. The Haitian government's goal is to "transform the nature of the Haitian state as the prerequisite for a sustainable development anchored on social justice and the implementation of an irreversible democratic order." The document foresees devolution of executive powers to local government, parliament, and the civil society. Haiti's economy has been shrinking through the last twelve years of political turmoil and declined almost 30 percent during the three years of the coup and international embargo. In October and November, 1994 U.S. AID coordinated an effort to assemble donations to repay $82 million owed to Haiti's creditor governments and banks. The day after this was paid, December 19, the World Banks' International Development Association made a $40 million loan for urgently needed imports. Altogether, some twenty donor nations and banks planned international emergency assistance estimated at about $660 million during a twelve- to eighteen-month period. Most foreign donors recognized the moment as a unique opportunity to provide effective foreign aid to a country whose political chaos has defeated all efforts to date. The president to the Inter-American Development Bank resolved to "break the rules" to aid Haiti. The challenge to the Haitians. The able political scientist Micah Gaillard stated it well:

We Haitians must not cross our arms and leave it to the foreigners to carry out all the various political, economic, social, and cultural projects that Haiti needs. Rather, we must the different organizations of civil society- political parties, trade unions, groups defending the interest of the private sector, peasant movements, grassroots organizations, professional organizations, women's groups, and local associations. They must participate in the design, planning and functioning of development projects in cooperation with the government and foreign experts and money. This contribution of society is fundamental. Otherwise we will find ourselves in the same predicament as before, with topdown development and no vice for the recipients... We must take responsibility and come forward with our own proposals. We have no right to protest our being "marginalized" if we have not offered our own alternatives to the international donors and foreign governments. Development as well as politics abhors a vacuum. Rather than blame others for displacing us, we must take the initiative ourselves to offer proposals for designing, planning, and implementing projects. If the Haitian legitimate authorities and various sectors of civil society do not come forward with ideas for resolving the crisis and establishing mid- and long-term development programs, then the international community's various donor agencies will do it for them. But the international community will lack contact with the real Haiti- from city to village- and will react more to the exigency of the American military presence than to popular needs. The international community may therefore, because of our silence, end up implementing a model of development inimical to our future.

Urgent Tasks- Leslie Voltaire

(At a Capitol Hill seminar sponsored by the Center for International Policy, Haitian economic planners Leslie Voltaire and Leslie Delatour presented their strategy for Haiti's recovery. Raner Steckhan, director of the World Bank's Latin America division, and Robert Maguire of the Inter-American Foundation commented. The meeting was co-sponsored by Reps. Ron Dellums and Lee Hamilton. Salient points of the Haitians presentation, drown from their subsequent document, "The First 120 Days of Government"; done by January, 1995, progress towards it: )

1. Professionalization of the army and transfer out of Port-au- Prince -Selection of the 150 officers to be trained for three to six months -Selection of 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers to maintain order and secur ity -Their training by the multinational force

2. Police deployment -Vote on the law for a decentralized police -Creation of police academies; student recruitment -Replacement of the group of soldiers charged with maintaining order by the first contingent of police trained by the U.N. mission to Haiti

3. Decentralization -Vote on the decentralization law -Selection of twenty local governments for the decentralization pilot project

4. Economic democracy -Vote on the economic-reform laws -Radical reform of the public sector in conjunction with the anticipation retirement of its employees and the payment of their salaries for the rest of the term

-Restructuring the state-owned enterprises by management consultants including those drawn from the diaspora; refinancing the pension fund; planning the conversion of assets of these enterprises into a fund for compensation for victims of the coup regime -New regulations for recovery of tax arrearages

5. Restructuring the public sector -Vote on the public-sector law -Transfer authority and funds to localities

6. Elections -Forming a central elections commission -Registration of candidates and voters for the CASECS (local councils, communes, and parliament

7. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Planning to Supervise the NGOs.

8. Private sector: forming a reconciliation commission

9. Role of external agents -Paris Consultative Group to help the government. January 1995 -An act of the U.S. Congress to create special incentives for investors in Haiti -Disbursement of emergency bilateral aid pending the arrival of multilateral bank aid

10. Justice -Reinforcement of the independence of the judicial branch (staffing, equipping, and renovation of the Supreme Court) -Revision of the penal and commercial codes -Replacement of the section chiefs with police or justices of the peace -Formation of a truth commission

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