Mar 022004
Authors: Meg Burd

“Only by learning from the mistakes of the multinational

intervention of 10 years ago can the international community

effectively protect human rights in Haiti today,” Amnesty

International cautioned early this year.

With U.S. Marines and French troops now in Haiti as part of an

international peace keeping force attempting to add some measure of

security to the nation in upheaval, Haitians and the international

forces have not only the mistakes of 10 years ago, but also many

mistakes spanning the course of Haiti’s troubled history from which

to learn.

The Caribbean island with a history of political unrest that has

spanned 200 years – since it gained independence from France in

1804 — has seen more than 30 armed coups since its independence.

The nation has faced a series of dictators who exercised, often

violent, control over the nation, in many cases draining the

nation’s funds into their own coffers. Even America got into the

act of running Haiti, occupying the nation in 1915-1934,

controlling much of the country’s financial and political aspects.

Under the subsequent dictatorships of the infamous Francois “Papa

Doc” Duvalier and his son “Baby Doc” (who fled Haiti in 1986),

Haiti found itself slipping further into poverty and corruption.

“It’s been a sad story for almost 200 years,” Secretary of State

Colin Powell said.

Even with Jean-Bertrand Aristide being elected in 1990 (in the

first democratic elections, according to CNN), the turbulence has

continued. Initially imagined as a hope for the nation, a former

priest who “came to prominence preaching a radical message from the

pulpit in the poor slums of Port-au-Prince,” says Mike Lanchin of

the BBC, hope for Aristide seems to now have faded for many in

Haiti. Forced into exile by an army coup in 1991, Lanchin says

that, when returned to power in 1994 under U.S. pressure, Aristide

seemed more focused on staying in power and allowed those in his

inner circle to use “privileges of office to amass personal

fortunes.” With accusations of corruption surrounding his 2000

re-election, the rebels who have been storming the streets in

recent weeks supposedly feared that this corruption would carry

over into the 2004 elections.

With Aristide now in exile, there is a chance that the rebel

violence in which, since February, more than 70 people have been

killed may end.

Today’s crises are one more addition to the legacy of concerns:

with less than 70 percent of Haiti’s children receiving education,

terrible health conditions, a horrible wealth gap between the elite

mulatto population and the poor Creole-speaking Black population

(according to the BBC) and no functioning police or army, many in

the international community are worried that repeating past

mistakes could plunge the country deeper into these troubles.

The immediate concern for the nation is seeing that a

governmental body is lawfully and peacefully organized in a timely

fashion. With Boniface Alexandre (Chief Justice of Haiti’s Supreme

Court) agreed upon as interim president, this first step toward

quelling the violence seems to be at hand. However, as Amnesty

International cautions, the international community must “ensure

that under no circumstances are those convicted of or implicated in

serious human rights abuses given any position of authority” in the

new government.

Longer term, analysts Michaels, Nichols and Keen call for an

indefinite and extended commitment by the international

peacekeeping community so that elections may be ensured and

institutions such as “courts, penal institutions and tax

collectors” and a lawful police force will be established.

Important as well will be a commitment of financial aid by the

United States and others in the international community. Likewise,

involving the Haitians themselves to create a working society on

their own terms seems an essential step, something that is often

overlooked when countries such as the United States step in to

“nation build.”

This is a long list of tasks to accomplish and with many

officials sounding doubtful of the success of these programs,

stability and prosperity for Haiti seem a long way off. However, if

but a few steps toward any of these goals can be achieved we may

see that there is hope at the end of the 200 years of troubled

history for the nation of Haiti.

Meg is a graduate student studying anthropology. Her column runs

every Wednesday.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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