The Washington Times
Commentary, 29 December, 1995

Andy Messing Jr. / Daniel Keelean

Lessons Overlooked in Haiti

The Dec. 17 elections are over, and the Haitian people have spoken. With a 15-30 percent turnout, the question remains how can the administration claim success for democracy in Haiti? The international effort will go for naught because of the failure to build a strong socio-economic foundation for the people of Haiti. Efforts to feed, heal, employ and educate the Haitian people have fallen short, and an overemphasized security effort is still in place, verging on repression.

In contrast, the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, was also the target of a coup--in April, 1965. A contingent of 28,000 US Marines and paratroopers was sent in, in conjunction with an Organization of American States force, to restore order and ensure a peaceful transition to democracy. A new president was inaugurated by July 1, 1966, and the US-OAS forces quickly left the country after only a 16-month period. It is because of the successful intervention effort, which included an aggressive infrastructure and education effort, that the Dominican Republic today remains an example of stability in the Caribbean.

However, with the US intervention into Haiti in 1994, there was a minimum of rebuilding of that infrastructure by the initial 20,000-plus US troops. Now, with the remaining 6,000 U.N. troops (2,000 are US troops) help is hardly noticeable in a country of 7 million. Since 1994, $2 billion has been spent on Haiti ($264 million in fiscal 1995), yet little action has been taken in Haiti to pour concrete under the foundation built on sand. Even the US and U.N. actions now are a drop in the bucket, thus not affecting change in a country where the inflation rate has been exploding ever since Jean-Bertrand Aristide first took power in 1991. Intervention forces in Haiti never understood the need to sling their rifles and pick up shovels, as was done in the Dominican Republic.

It was US, and later U.N., short-sightedness to not concentrate on things like education and health once security was restored. Accordingly, the late Maj. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale commented, "that without literacy, there can be no democracy." Haiti cannot develop with an 80 percent illiteracy rate (contrasted with an 80 percent literacy rate in the Dominican Republic) and an infant mortality rate around 50 percent. Nor can it develop when an estimated 80 percent of its people are unemployed. As long as these problems remain unchanged, the relative quiet of Haiti today will be replaced with the shouts of rioters and the smell of burning tires following the U.N. pullout in late February 1996.

The U.N. presence in the country has done nothing to resolve any of these problems. Very few of the peacekeepers speak any of the three main languages of Haiti. Furthermore, they have not been instructed in civic action programs or instilling democratic principles in the people, nor do they show any interest or ability to do so. The OAS, which is comprised of the very nations that have a vested interest in peace and prosperity in Haiti, is not playing a role like it did in the Dominican Republic. Trust between a Haitian and a Jamaican soldier is more quickly built than between a Haitian and a Russian, a Jordanian or a Nepalese. Nonregional multinational forces are only a hindrance to progress if they do not understand the people they are sent to help.

For the Haitian people to understand the ethereal concepts of democracy, freedom and justice, they first need to have a solid basis from which to grow. Without food, medicines, jobs and schools, the three previous rounds of elections will only produce pseudo-democracy to the people. As one US soldier put it best after an earlier election, "It's a waste of time for these few to vote when they can't read and can't get clean water." The Cubans were able to make inroads with the people following the 1960 revolution because they understood this concept.

The successful lessons of the 1965 Dominican Republic intervention have escaped the Clinton administration when dealing with the present Haitian escapade. Now, when the U.N. finally leaves, the Haitian people will, too. The boats are starting to come to the United States, souring what could have been President Clinton's only foreign policy victory.

F. Andy Messing Jr. is the executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation. He is a former special forces officer and has visited Haiti five times in the past two years. Daniel Keelean is a research assistant for the foundation.