March 7, 2004 - Alameda Times-Star: Barbados RPCV Bob Shacochis writes about Haiti and how the United States cannot afford to have a failed state on its doorstep

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Haiti: Feb, 2004: Peace Corps evacuates Volunteers from Haiti: March 7, 2004 - Alameda Times-Star: Barbados RPCV Bob Shacochis writes about Haiti and how the United States cannot afford to have a failed state on its doorstep

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Barbados RPCV Bob Shacochis writes about Haiti and how the United States cannot afford to have a failed state on its doorstep

Barbados RPCV Bob Shacochis writes about Haiti and how the United States cannot afford to have a failed state on its doorstep

Our military, Haiti's hope

ONCE again Haiti has become an object lesson on how to make a very bad omelet in the kitchen of democracy.

No matter how you dress it up in the finery of popular will, Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation has the unpleasant distinction of being Haitian Coup d'Etat No. 33, albeit a coup artfully finessed by the home team -- Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Roger Noriega et al. An elected head of state whom three American administrations could not abide has been removed. Perhaps the only mystery here is why it took so long.

Almost 10 years ago, during the first days of the military intervention, a piece of graffiti appeared on a ministry building in downtown Port-au-Prince that caught my eye with its ambiguity: "USA FOR 50 YEARS." Was this slogan, resonating with imperial portent, anti-American, I asked Haitian friends. On the contrary, they said: It was instead a plea that the Americans stick around long enough -- two generations -- to ensure that the seeds of democracy had a realistic opportunity to take root and bloom and thrive.

For several weeks now, in the best tradition of Maoist self-criticism, former Clinton administration officials have stepped forward to offer a belated but honest explanation for the current crisis: We didn't stay long enough. Yet one gets the sense, listening to the current administration, that our forthcoming commitment to digging the Haitians out of their deep, deep hole will have a very short shelf life.

Democracy doesn't need songbirds; it needs bricklayers. Tragically, the flaw that Aristide seemed to share most with Presidents Clinton and Bush was a disregard for nation building, a bipartisan reluctance to admit that the mechanisms of nation building and the mechanisms of democracy are one and the same. Free and fair elections, in the absence of any viable infrastructure that institutionalizes the virtues of democracy, will eventually prove meaningless.

In the spring of 1995, in the middle of the American occupation, Haitians were, in their own words, "suffering with hope," directed toward the only two entities that seemed worthy of it at the time -- the American military and, of course, Aristide. Aristide's great achievement was to convince the world that the Haitian masses -- the peasants and slum dwellers -- were a political force that could alter the landscape of power on the island. But what Aristide provided Haitians as an inspiration, he took away from them as an autocratic and increasingly corrupt leader: hope.

Similarly, the American military in Haiti, particularly the Special Forces, were in a sense defeated by hope -- their own desire to be part of an event that made the world a better place. They left after 18 months with a keen awareness and frustration that they were not allowed to do their job. Originally deployed with a list of bad guys to neutralize, capture or kill, the U.S. forces were soon given other guidance: They were told, through the National Security Council and the U.S. Embassy, that the terrorists they were rounding up were actually the "loyal opposition," a legitimate political counterweight to Aristide's Lavalas party.

Throughout the country, the Special Forces arrested an abundance of thugs (well-known murderers, torturers, death-squad gunmen and narcotraffickers), shipped them to Port-au-Prince and then watched in dismay as the detainees were, inexplicably, released, to make their return 10 years later as armed insurgents taking over the nation and boasting that they were the new Haitian army. Aristide was right to call them terrorists.

American soldiers invested sweat and blood in the most basic groundwork for democracy, organizing grass-roots elections for town councils and local police forces and coaching rural communities to be responsible for their own affairs, only to have their civic accomplishments swept away by politicians in both governments. Washington wanted to minimize involvement; Aristide wouldn't tolerate the decentralization of his power.

WE Americans ruined Haiti's economy in 1994 and again in 2000 with ill-conceived sanctions -- another version of destroying the village to save it. We whitewashed the bad guys and encouraged the decent men and women in our military to collaborate with monsters. We walked out on the mission, handing it off to another underfunded and disorganized U.N. task force. The $3.2 billion we spent there was the cost of the intervention and occupation, not the cost of democracy. We sent diplomats and bureaucrats who didn't genuinely believe in the fundamental goodness and potential of Haiti's suffering people, including an ambassador who once told me, "Haitians are maggots."

The United States cannot afford to have a failed state on its doorstep. This time, let the American military do the job we thought it was meant to do in 1994. In places without law or order, our servicemen and women provide not only security and breathing room for political reform ----they are democracy's best craftsmen, and proud of it. This time, walk away too soon and you can start printing the invitations for Coup No. 34.

Bob Shacochis is the author of "The Immaculate Invasion," a chronicle of the 1994-96 military intervention in Haiti.

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Story Source: Alameda Times-Star

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Haiti; Speaking Out



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