Doing Something Right in Haiti

October 08, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

In all its years of supporting Haitian dictatorships and training their military, the United States did one thing right: We never armed them to repel a U.S. invasion.

Compared with the missiles, tanks and planes we pushed on others, our weapons policy for Haiti was brilliant. Haiti's army lacks the firepower to take on a lesser Somalian clan. Brutalizing the population was all it could ever do.

Disarmament of the police, FRAPH, attaches, ''black ninjas'' and goon squads is the proper mission of U.S. troops in Haiti.

Whether the U.S. should have invaded, whether more backbone in the administration earlier would have obviated the need, whether Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide is everything we wish for in a client (name one who was) are moot questions.

The U.S. did invade. The Clinton administration did stake national prestige on the resurrection of the Haitian democracy that the Bush administration midwifed. Young American professional soldiers have put their lives on the line for it.

To make their risks meaningful, the United States must finish the job it began. It should use its domination of the multinational police force to insure the permanent change in Haiti that President Aristide was elected in December 1990 to bring about.

This means a permanent end to the rule of terror and to the armed politics of redistribution of wealth from the many poor to the few rich.

We've gone this far, let's not blow it now. Blowing it is what congressional mandates to pull the troops out by an arbitrary date would guarantee.

The deal that Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras made with Jimmy Carter might have meant that he could remain influential in the country until the United States left, then oust the elected government and take over as he did in September 1991. U.S. action on the ground indicates that won't happen now.

To set an arbitrary date for U.S. departure is to give aid and comfort to General Cedras' cronies. It would tell them to wait this out.

Rather, what the United States must do in concert with the great array of well-meaning countries that have signed on (Argentina and Britain; Jordan and Israel; it's worth it for that alone) is to establish a preponderance of power in a professional police force and token army that will be loyal not to General Cedras or to President Aristide or to their commander, but to the system and the constitution.

Thanks to the previous far-sighted weapons policy, they won't need much firepower.

Former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who went to Port-au-Prince last weekend to set up the interim international police force, is more important for the success of the mission in Haiti than Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, the temporary U.S. commander.

There ought to be a major Canadian role, and not just because French is one of Canada's languages as well as one of Haiti's.

Montreal is a major home of the Haitian diaspora, now numbering from 60,000 to 70,000. Quebec Province is where Haitian immigrants have proved remarkably successful moving up the professional ladder in one or two generations.

Talented Haitian-Quebecers could play constructive roles in the

establishment of legitimacy and civil society -- such as a professional police force -- in the land of their own or their parents' birth.

This is not something most Americans could do well.

The immediate job is a little easier than might seem apparent. The end of sanctions means that factories can start up and some people can earn income and dollars can flow into the island very rapidly.

Over the longer haul, more economic development and ecological revival of the depleted land will be daunting challenges for President Aristide's successor after next year.

Haiti has no tradition of democracy. It does have able, oppressed and very poor people who welcomed U.S. troops as liberators and hate and fear the thug oppressors.

What they want from President Aristide, and what he says he wants, is not a charismatic dictatorship in the name of the oppressed, but a free regime in which people may speak out and rulers will be replaced by free elections on schedule.

Now that U.S. troops are there, they should help achieve that, without being undercut in Washington by politicians who think the 1 percent at the top of Haitian society are more important than the 99 percent who suffer.

F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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