Cost of Haitian rescue: over $1 billion

September 11, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A U.S.-led invasion of Haiti, perhaps before the end of this month, is expected to launch a transformation of that desperate nation at a cost of well over $1 billion, with a big chunk coming from the U.S. taxpayer.

What's envisioned by the United States, exiled Haitian leaders and international donors is nothing short of a reconstruction, almost from scratch, of Haiti's shattered economy, denuded agriculture, military, police, institutions, roads and bridges.

It would enlist U.S. soldiers, United Nations peacekeepers, private aid organizations and lending institutions, and would create tens of thousands of Haitian jobs.

Although the Clinton administration explicitly rejected any idea of nation-building in Somalia, an effort to do just that may be required to achieve lasting change in Haiti. The poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it experienced a fleeting seven months of democracy under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and has long been in the grip of a corrupt central government, violent security forces and a tiny economic elite.

"Haiti has never had a government that responds to the needs of the people," says Mark Schneider, assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), which distributes foreign aid. "There is a commitment from President Aristide and his people and from the various parts of the international community to try and help change that, and provide both an economic and a political recovery that's not just for the short term, but for the long term."

"Instead of [international agencies] feeding a million people a day with donated food," he said in an interview, "we would hope to see Haiti's agricultural system working to provide people with the food they need to eat on a sustainable basis. And we would hope to see a health and education system that would begin to provide services that would change an illiterate . . . and malnourished population to one that had a chance to see their children grow and develop."

But the ultimate success would depend on enduring cooperation from Haiti's now-exiled president, whose commitment to democratic ideals and ability to cooperate with deeply distrustful opponents in Haiti's middle and upper classes have been widely questioned.

The crisis in Haiti is already getting expensive for the United States. Enforcement of the economic embargo alone cost the Pentagon $63 million between October 1993 and August 1994. The handling of Haitian refugees in the same period cost $124 million.

But those costs would soon be dwarfed by an invasion costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars, led by an overwhelming force of more than 10,000 Americans. With the number of troops expected to be involved rising as preparations move forward, neither the Pentagon nor White House has released an official cost estimate.

Other variables would affect the cost, including how long the troops remain in Haiti and the intensity of the fighting. The private Defense Budget Project estimated the cost of

the U.S. military operation in Somalia at about $115,000 per soldier per year.

Initially, the costs are expected to be borne by the Defense Department's Operations and Maintenance account. But the administration is expected at some point to seek extra money from Congress, boosting the budget deficit unless offset by cuts elsewhere or taxes.

The Clinton administration has made clear that an invasion is likely; The questions now involve timing, tactics and whether Haiti's three-man military leadership still will be in power when the first wave of American soldiers lands.

Although President Clinton has refrained from setting a deadline, fTC officials have said an invasion could come this month. Besides toppling the de facto regime if necessary, the U.S. troops, with token help from Caribbean nations, Britain and Argentina, would seek to stabilize the country, probably repair electrical and water systems, and pave the way for a 6,000-troop U.N. peacekeeping force.

It is unclear how long the stabilization would take. The eventual peacekeeping phase, involving an uncertain number of U.S. soldiers, is projected to cost $215 million over 6 months, but could last into 1996 or beyond. Its mission would include shrinking and retraining Haiti's 7,000-man military and establishing a separate civilian police force. The United States pays 30 percent of U.N. peacekeeping costs.

With the first wave of U.S. soldiers, AID would dispatch a 10-person team to spearhead a five-year, $1 billion effort to redevelop Haiti as Father Aristide, who was ousted in a military coup nearly three years ago, reassumes the presidency.

AID officials have been working for months with Aristide representatives on a first-year, $550 million package that would:

* Pay off the $75 million that Haiti owes to international lenders.

* Begin an agricultural and economic recovery.

* Set up health clinics that would be run by private aid groups.

* Furnish school supplies.

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