“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
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
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
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