Whether through enmity or in difference, U.S. fingerprints are all over the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When U.S. president Bill Clinton sent 20,000 American troops into Haiti to restore Aristide to the presidency in 1994, there was widespread support for a mission aimed at restoring democracy and relieving the misery of the Haitian people.
It also seemed to herald a new day in the post-Cold War world, when American invasions were not automatically synonymous with supporting some Latin American caudillo or Southeast Asian despot. The use of American power to make good things happen was a heady drug. Unfortunately, an addictive one.
Although there is no question that the 1994 action was good for Haiti, military intervention has turned out to be fraught with problems, particularly when it's wielded by one country. And seven weeks after the invasion of Haiti, the Republicans took control of Congress and systematically dismantled aid to the impoverished country.
These cuts meant there was no effort to rebuild roads, ports, airports or infrastructure. When Aristide's opposition cried foul over eight contested seats in the 2000 election, the U.S. froze the final $500 million in aid.
The aid was never very substantial. Per capita, the U.S. was giving Haiti one-fifth what it was spending in Bosnia, and one-tenth what it was distributing in Kosovo. After 1996, U.S. aid to Haiti was the same as it had given the dictatorship that deposed Aristide. Aid did flow, but not to Aristide. Instead, U.S. organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the opposition.
Shortly after the recent demonstrations and attacks on Aristide began, the U.S. State Department made it clear it would do nothing to impede his overthrow. There is no question that the Aristide government was a troubled one, and some of the opposition was composed of former supporters alienated by corruption, violent pro-Aristide gangs and the contested 2000 election. Most of this group was non-violent and based among the elites and business class.
But the forces that converged on Port au Prince are the very thugs and murderers the U.S. invaded to get rid of in 1994. Louis-Jodel Chamblain, one of the principal leaders of the armed opposition, is a former death-squad leader and one of the founders of the brutal Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti (FRAPH) that killed thousands of people in the 90s.
The shady history of people like Chamblain and André Apaid of Group 184 has human rights groups deeply worried and has generated some anger in Washington. There is certainly reason to suspect the two men in charge of diplomacy in the region. Otto Reich, U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), played an important role in the coup attempt against Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and U.S. assistant secretary of state Robert Noriega has been a long-time critic of Aristide.
If one could turn back the clock and transform the 20,000 U.S. troops into a UN peacekeeping force working from the beginning in close conjunction with the OAS and the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the outcome might have been different. The Republicans would still have sabotaged the U.S. part of the aid package, but a real regional and international commitment to an intervention would have kept international aid flowing.
For the Bush administration, international organizations - particularly the UN - are the Antichrist. It is interesting to note, however, that obituaries about the UN's imminent demise fall off in direct relationship to the number of American casualties and roadside bombs in Iraq.
The U.S. should immediately take the crisis in Haiti to the UN Security Council, with a parallel effort at the OAS and Caricom. The Haitian opposition should understand that they have no automatic claim to legitimacy.
The departure of the country's duly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was the sad result of the threat of massive political violence by feared former members of Haiti's security forces and intense U.S. pressure. Haiti's interim government should quickly call for new elections under multilateral supervision. What's more, all U.S. aid should be released immediately, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank should back off from their austerity prescriptions.
There are some who dismiss the OAS, and even the UN, as little more than cat's-paws for U.S. policy, and certainly both organizations have served as its handmaidens in the past. But both have independent streaks that appear to be strengthening. In any case, they are the only game in town.