A Case Against Invading: There's More than the Army to Fear An Invasion of Haiti: a Solution or a Quagmire?

September 18, 1994|By RAYMOND A. JOSEPH

President Clinton is running out of options to deal with the Haitian crisis. Either he invades, with all the risks involved, or he lifts the stringent sanctions that have wiped out jobs in Haiti, isolated the country from the rest of the world and caused the stampede out of the Caribbean island nation.

If President Clinton takes the plunge into Haiti, what should he expect? Undoubtedly, the United States would quickly win. The 7,500-man Haitian army/police is no match for U.S. Marines.

But in addition to fighting the Haitian military, who have started shedding their uniforms, the invaders will have to contend with ,, approximately 50,000 armed civilians throughout the country who have been trained by Haitians who either fought in the Vietnam War or who otherwise served in the U.S. armed services.

Moreover, the 81-year-old provisional Haitian president, former Supreme Court Judge Emile Jonassaint, has summoned Haitians use occult powers to face the foreign invaders.

Speaking at 2 o'clock on a Sunday morning several months ago, his radio and televised message was directed especially at Haiti's "secret societies" that come alive after midnight, and Saturday night is their biggest night. These societies have permeated Haitian culture through three centuries and have used poison against their foreign enemies.

When the United States intervened in Haiti in 1915, American soldiers faced the same sort of resistance. Although the Americans occupied all major Haitian cities within a week, it took five years and cost thousands of Haitian lives to pacify the country. In the process, many American occupiers died mysteriously, probably the victims of secret potions.

If the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide enjoys so much popular support, one might wonder why so much force is required to reinstate him.

During his seven months in office, Father Aristide ruled dictatorially, naming Supreme Court judges, ambassadors and consul generals without Senate approval, replacing elected mayors with "Lavalas," or "Flood" (as his movement is called) committees.

The president even condoned the use of "Pere Lebrun," or necklacing of his political opponents (a practice that consists of draping a gasoline-soaked tire around a victim's neck and setting it on fire).

Shortly after being elected, Father Aristide began feuding with the National Front for Democracy and Change (FNCD), under whose banner he ran. He discarded the FNCD candidate for prime minister and turned to a baker friend for the important post.

Not surprisingly, opposition to Father Aristide runs deeper than a handful of wealthy families and military officers; it includes a considerable portion of Haiti's people.

The United States has slapped a ceiling of $50 per month on those who want to send money to relatives in Haiti. Since Haitians in the United States represent a safety net for relatives back home, the restriction has caused an uproar, even among Father Aristide's followers.

Haiti en Marche, a pro-Aristide weekly based in Miami, wrote in its June 29 issue: "We have the impression that President Aristide is somewhat disconnected with the real country, including his own base, as if he were listening to only one drumbeat: sanctions, again sanctions, always sanctions. But can sanctions in themselves be a solution, especially when they result in drastic cuts among your own people, including a diaspora whose economic weight is a counterbalance against arbitrariness in Haiti? Don't these sanctions make your own people become more dependent, and don't they make the cause you are defending more vulnerable?"

All commercial flights between Haiti and the United States have been grounded, and the nonimmigrant U.S. visas held by Haitians have been canceled. According to William H. Gray III, President Clinton's chief adviser on Haiti, these measures are aimed at the wealthy. But the Haitian Chamber of Commerce in Port-au-Prince recently noted that, of the 700,000 passengers who flew between Haiti and the United States, only 100,000 could be considered wealthy or middle class.

The toughened sanctions and Mr. Clinton's invitation to refugees have caused the latest exodus from Haiti. The situation seems to have been purposely manufactured to give the U.S. commander-in-chief a pretext to prove his military resolve.

But when the body bags begin to arrive, Mr. Clinton will be hard pressed to explain to the American public that their sons and daughters died to return to power a "democratically elected" president who acted dictatorially during his seven months in office and whose return may trigger a civil war.

Raymond Joseph is co-publisher/editor of "The Haiti-Observateur," a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based weekly. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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