Success Under Fire
by James Morrell
The liberation of Haiti by American troops, an operation that
was highly unnatural for Washington to begin with, is coming under
increasing pressure from both the Republicans in Congress and
right-wing paramilitary forces in Haiti. The Republicans seem
posed to pounce on any set back in an operation that has gone
flawlessly until now; the gunmen and former army men have emerged
from the shadows to stage a violent protest at army headquarters
and an increasingly bold series of armed robberies in Port-au-
The Clinton Administration, meanwhile, seems almost ashamed
of its success in Haiti. To avoid drawing Republican attention it
refrains from taking credit for its virtually casualty-free
restoration of democracy there, leaving the operation bereft of
supporters in the United States. Both the right and the left in
American politics scorn the operation, the right because in was an
intervention for the populist priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the
left because it was an intervention at all. The policy has been
unable to expand its constituency beyond the Congressional Black
Caucus and the Florida congressional delegation, which experienced
firsthand the impact of Haitians fleeing their homeland.
This lack of support for the operation increases its
vulnerability to the setbacks that are almost inevitable in the
hemisphere's poorest nation, which must build both economic
infrastructure and democratic institutions from the ground up.
Fairness calls for a far greater acknowledgment of President
Clinton's courage and leadership in attacking the Haitian problem
at its roots.
Clinton has succeeded in that most difficult of foreign-
policy tasks- the rescue of a failed policy bequeathed by a
previous administration. He has done so without the stigma of a
forcible invasion and with international endorsement and
participation. In the process, he has established two highly
- For the first time in the history of our relations with the
Caribbean and Central America, the United States has used armed
force clearly and unambiguously on the side of a democratically-
elected president. For the first time, America intervened on the
side of the poor and downtrodden against the elites and the
- For the first time in the hemisphere, the United States has
rejected unilateral intervention in favor of acting with the
United Nations. President Clinton set an important precedent by
taking his case to the Security Council. Once the Security
Council licensed the United States to lead a multilateral force to
restore democracy to Haiti, and after it became clear that the de
facto military regime had no intention of abiding by the Governors
Island agreement, the issue became one of enforcing the will of
the international community. In an ideal world a U.N. army would
do the enforcing, but until such an army is established, the
Security Council must rely on member nations to provide military
These are precedents worth establishing . They will act as a
deterrent against future administrations undertaking unilateral
action on behalf of military-dominated regimes.
The measure of Clinton's success in immediately evident to
the visitor to Haiti. One is struck by:
- The enormous popularity of the man restored. President Aristide
may enjoy the highest approval rating of any head of state. It is
hard to find a Haitian who will admit to being opposed to him.
Even the rich now say they always opposed the military government!
-The popularity of U.S. troops. Not since the liberation of Paris
during World War II have U.S. troops received such a warm welcome.
The great fear among Haitians is that they will leave too soon.
The United States has not suddenly embraced multilateralism
and the poor of the world. Indeed, under the flag of anti-
communism the United States in Central American and the Caribbean
was about to cross the line between republic and empire.
Remarkably, we see in Haiti the use of the tools of empire-the
Pentagon and the CIA-to reestablish Haiti as an independent state.
What has happened is a result of a unique set of events and
circumstances which we may never see again, particularly in light
of the U.S. elections which may presage a return to a more
militaristic foreign policy.
Understanding the unique circumstances of Haiti policy
In June and July of 1993 at Governors Island, the United
Nations presided over negotiations between Haiti's legitimate
government and the de facto regime. With the United States playing
the dominant role, the parties signed an agreement providing for
the prompt return of President Arisitde in exchange for
significant concessions to the coup-makers. Aristide fulfilled
his obligations; General Raoul Cedreas and the military high
command faithlessly violated theirs. The issue could not have
been more clearly drawn. Either Aristide returned or the armed
drug runners who controlled Haiti would have triumphed over the
United Nations and the Untied States. That outcome proved
ultimately unacceptable to President Clinton. And it should have
been unacceptable to as well to liberal internationalists whose
core beliefs include collective security, interdependence,
multilateralism, international law, democracy, pluralism, human
rights and the sanctity of treaties.
Certainly, few such internationalists favored the use of
military force to oust the Haitian military. Given the record of
past U.S. interventions, they had every reason to be skeptical
about the use of force in Haiti. Their view has been shaped by
U.S. intentions in Indochina, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Even though these interventions were highly anti-democratic,
the U.S. government never forsook at least the rhetoric of
democracy. In 1990, the Bush administration presided over an
unanimous vote at the General Assembly of the Organization of
American States making democracy the official governing doctrine
of foreign ministers to take action should any interruption of
constitutional government take place.
Haiti was the first test. Then-Secretary of State James
baker led the O.A.S. to the unanimous passage of a resolution
demanding the immediate reinstatement of President Aristide and
imposing an embargo until constitutional government was restored.
In order to make the embargo effective worldwide, President
Clinton took the Haiti case to the Security Council.
Rebellion of the cold warriors
The cold warriors who still retain too much influence at the
Pentagon and the CIA understood very well what was at stake.
After the Governors Island accord was signed, these agencies gave
public notice that the president's policy was not theirs, that
they were unwilling to abandon their longtime clients, the miliary
and economic elites of Haiti. The CIA fabricated an attack on
Aristide's character that fell apart when it came under public
scrutiny. The CIA director then revealed to a congressional
committee that his agency had retained on the payroll several
military officers who had overthrown the elected president.
Senior Pentagon officials said they were "unwilling to endanger
American troops lives for a leader they considered highly erratic
and unreliable" and they questioned the wisdom of putting American
troops into a "potentially dangerous, unpredictable and hostile
This public display of indiscipline culminated in the
shameful spectacle of a shipload of American troops turning tail
and running form a gang of dockside toughs. As the u.S. embassy
in Port-as-Prince reported in a classified telegram, the U.S.S.
Harlan County's "departure set the scene for the unraveling of the
Governors Island process when it was on the very verge of
The decision to intervene
The policy of dumping refugees back into Haiti or into
Guantanamo became untenable. Not only were more and more of them
truly eligible for political asylum, but there was a gross and
offensive racism in barring black refugees while letting in
whites. Randall Robinson's twenty-seven day hunger strike touched
a chord among millions of black Americans and indeed all fair-
minded Americans. Clinton himself had denounced he policy as
cruel during the campaign, then turned around and implemented it.
Had Clinton attempted to brazen out his failing policy and
callously leave Robinson to die, he would have faced real trouble
from the American black community and wide sectors of public
opinion. The waves of refugees would keep coming, seeking new
ways to break the rampart of ships. And for what gain would
Clinton persist with the policy? To spare the tiny clique in
Haiti which had dishonored a solemn international agreement? To
endlessly appease the cold warriors in the Pentagon, CIA, and
Congress who would always prefer a hard-line military officer to a
democratically-elected president with the support of the poor
Indeed, such class-based and ideological prejudices were
normally determining in U.S. policy toward Latin America, from the
CIA-instigated coup in Guatemala to the support for the Nicaraguan
contras and the Salvadoran death squads. But in Haiti's case, the
obstructionism of the clique in Port-au-Prince was beginning to
touch fundamental questions of governance in the United States.
There was a growing incongruity between the tininess of the group
atop Port-au-Prince and the enormous problems it was causing two
American presidents. In April, 1994, Clinton made up his mind.
All the other Washington power centers opposed him: the Pentagon,
CIA, Congress, and the press.
He answered them with the Carter mission- one last attempt to
reason with the ruling junta. He suspected by this time that no
reasoning would work until General Cedras knew that the planes
were in the air and the ships on the horizon. By hazard if not by
design, the combination of Clinton and Carter found a formula to
avoid invasion while still coming ashore with full force.
It is often said that it is easy to get into these situations
but almighty difficult to get out. This makes sense when U.S.
forces are attempting to shore up an unpopular regime. It makes
no sense in Haiti where the overwhelming majority of the country's
people wanted their president back and enthusiastically support he
U.S. presence. Now that the American forces have ousted Haiti's
military usurpers, they have easily been able to scale back from
twenty to six thousand troops. Those who remain are engaged in
routine patrols. They need to be doing more to disarm the
enforcers of the former regime, many of whom are unreconciled to
Aristide's return. Nevertheless, overall the American troops are
well on the way to establishing a secure and stable environment
that will allow them to leave and turn over the tasks of training
a new civilian force and shrinking the army to a U.N. military
contingent in which the United States will play only a lesser
While remarkably successful so far, the operation still faces
these stumbling blocks:
- The multinational force has long since stopped disarming the
right-wing paramilitary groups, who have been decapitated and
scattered, but not dismantled. The United States says it has
"broken the back" of the forces. However, security remains the
number-one concern of Haitians, coming ahead even of economic
- There have been some instances of the multinational force's
collaborating with the paramilitary front group FRAPH and there is
an ill-advised attempt to temporarily recycle some of the old
police and army.
Course correction needed
For the rest of the U.S. forces to exit soon and
successfully, the Clinton administration will need to make the
following course corrections:
- A more concerned effort at disarming rather than merely
scattering the enforcers of the former regime
- Faster training of new police, rather than the
questionable attempts to recycle the old
- Faster disbursement of emergency aid to create jobs and a
sense of economic revival. This would help keep the armed
remnants of the former at bay.
Most Haitians would endorse the proposal of visiting former
Costa Rican president Oscar Arias to abolish the army entirely.
But since the army's existence is written into a constitution that
was purposely made difficult to amend, this is a matter for the
Haitian leaders have hesitated raising the alarm over the
issue of disarmament or recycling for fear of appearing ungrateful
to Clinton. However, on November 2 Port-au-Prince mayor Evans
Paul said, "I am unsettled by the proposal to integrate elements
of the army into the new police. The Haitian army has had only
one function: to control the people.
"What is most important now is to avoid growing a new cancer
in Haiti...we must create a new police with a new people," he
"It's not a question of giving people new uniforms but of
finding people with a new mindset."
Hewing to his conciliatory line, President Aristide held his
silence longer, but on November 25 he said, "It is not enough to
just disarm some of them. We should be moving fast. This is the
cry of the Haitian people. It is the will of the Haitian people,
and I welcome this cry and I share it."
And on December 15 Aristide's justice minister Ernst
Malebranche complained of the U.S. military taking the wrong side
in some local disputes. "I do not understand at all the behavior
of the U.S. troops," Malebranche said.
The day after American troops landed and stood by idly while
Haitian policy continued to club people, public opinion forced an
immediate course correction. A similar correction is needed now.
The Republican majority in Congress may object, but they will have
a lot more to criticize if the whole operation is allowed to go
The American commander of the multinational force has
determined that a "secure, stable environment" has been
established, and the MNF will hand over to a six-thousand-person
U.N. peacekeeping force. But the United Nations does not want
this responsibility if the gunmen are still at large.
Establishment of civilian police
In the longer term the establishment of civilian police and a
judicial system will determine whether Haiti's experiment in
democracy can survive. Here President Aristide's success in
fostering reconciliation and forming a consensus government
improved the chances of eventually fielding a loyal army and
police. The chief concern of many Haitians is that the new police
will be corrupted by the economic powerhouses as all previous
forces have been.
The fragile consensus underlying this effort could be
severely tested by leaving for the fledgling police a tasks that
fully-equipped American troops have not done. Eventually, Haiti
must police itself, but in the meantime the multinational force
could do much more. It is less a question of house-to-house
searches than of letting the population serves as the force's eyes
These questions are further explored in "Warning Signs in
Haiti: The Multinational Force and Prospects for the Rule of
Law," Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, New York, December
1994. "Haitian officials and human rights groups agree that if
volent sectors are allowed to retain their weapons they will
continue to pose an unacceptable risk to the transition process."
(Page 6.) "Local MNF commanders gamble with the credibility of
their forced if they overlook the appalling human rights record of
the FAD'H [Armed forces of Haiti] and its reputation among the
civilian population. MNF personnel interviewed by the Lawyers
Committee acknowledged that local residents generally repudiate
the FAD'H and are suspicious of the MNF's collaboration with it."
(Page 13.) Amy Wilentz, writing in the December 26-January 3,
1995 "New Yorker", also stressed the population's disillusionment
at releases of terrorists by the multinational force.
That security remains the number-one concern of Haitians,
even after the landing of twenty thousand American troops, is
testimony to the degree of terror Haitians had been living under
and its potential to generate an endless torrent of refugees.
President Clinton deserves far more credit than he had got for
delivering both countries from the consequences to this terror.
He is indelibly the liberator of Haiti, and the liberator of
America too from the no-win policy inherited from President Bush.
But inattention to the consequences of collaboration between the
American military and the old regime its a grave thereat to all
that has been accomplished.
The challenge of development
In August, 1994, the Haitian government unveiled its
"Strategy of Social and Economic Reconstruction." The document
was filled with plans to establish a free market in Haiti with the
aid of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For those
hoping that Haiti could accomplish both economic recovery and
greater social equity,the reliance on the market was unnerving.
But in the body of the document were two measure that are in the
Haitian context revolutionary:
-Removal from the government ministries of half of the twenty-
seven thousand holdovers from the former regime, most of them
ghost workers or corrupt political appointees
-Sale of the thoroughly corrupted state enterprises and the
lifting of monopoly privileges
Both these measure will likely be resisted by a predatory
elite long accustomed to enrichment through the exploitation of
state privileges rather than reliance on the market.
The Haitian government's goal is to "transform the nature of
the Haitian state as the prerequisite for a sustainable
development anchored on social justice and the implementation of
an irreversible democratic order." The document foresees
devolution of executive powers to local government, parliament,
and the civil society.
Haiti's economy has been shrinking through the last twelve
years of political turmoil and declined almost 30 percent during
the three years of the coup and international embargo. In October
and November, 1994 U.S. AID coordinated an effort to assemble
donations to repay $82 million owed to Haiti's creditor
governments and banks. The day after this was paid, December 19,
the World Banks' International Development Association made a $40
million loan for urgently needed imports. Altogether, some twenty
donor nations and banks planned international emergency assistance
estimated at about $660 million during a twelve- to eighteen-month
Most foreign donors recognized the moment as a unique
opportunity to provide effective foreign aid to a country whose
political chaos has defeated all efforts to date. The president
to the Inter-American Development Bank resolved to "break the
rules" to aid Haiti.
The challenge to the Haitians. The able political scientist
Micah Gaillard stated it well:
We Haitians must not cross our arms and leave it to the
foreigners to carry out all the various political, economic,
social, and cultural projects that Haiti needs. Rather, we
must the different organizations of civil society- political
parties, trade unions, groups defending the interest of the
private sector, peasant movements, grassroots organizations,
professional organizations, women's groups, and local
associations. They must participate in the design, planning
and functioning of development projects in cooperation with
the government and foreign experts and money. This
contribution of society is fundamental. Otherwise we will
find ourselves in the same predicament as before, with
topdown development and no vice for the recipients...
We must take responsibility and come forward with our
own proposals. We have no right to protest our being
"marginalized" if we have not offered our own alternatives to
the international donors and foreign governments.
Development as well as politics abhors a vacuum. Rather than
blame others for displacing us, we must take the initiative
ourselves to offer proposals for designing, planning, and
If the Haitian legitimate authorities and various
sectors of civil society do not come forward with ideas for
resolving the crisis and establishing mid- and long-term
development programs, then the international community's
various donor agencies will do it for them. But the
international community will lack contact with the real
Haiti- from city to village- and will react more to the
exigency of the American military presence than to popular
needs. The international community may therefore, because of
our silence, end up implementing a model of development
inimical to our future.
Urgent Tasks- Leslie Voltaire
(At a Capitol Hill seminar sponsored by the Center for
International Policy, Haitian economic planners Leslie Voltaire
and Leslie Delatour presented their strategy for Haiti's recovery.
Raner Steckhan, director of the World Bank's Latin America
division, and Robert Maguire of the Inter-American Foundation
commented. The meeting was co-sponsored by Reps. Ron Dellums and
Lee Hamilton. Salient points of the Haitians presentation, drown
from their subsequent document, "The First 120 Days of
Government"; done by January, 1995, progress towards it: )
1. Professionalization of the army and transfer out of Port-au-
-Selection of the 150 officers to be trained for three to six
-Selection of 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers to maintain order and secur
-Their training by the multinational force
2. Police deployment
-Vote on the law for a decentralized police
-Creation of police academies; student recruitment
-Replacement of the group of soldiers charged with maintaining
order by the first contingent of police trained by the U.N.
mission to Haiti
-Vote on the decentralization law
-Selection of twenty local governments for the decentralization
4. Economic democracy
-Vote on the economic-reform laws
-Radical reform of the public sector in conjunction with the
anticipation retirement of its employees and the payment of their
salaries for the rest of the term
-Restructuring the state-owned enterprises by management
consultants including those drawn from the diaspora; refinancing
the pension fund; planning the conversion of assets of these
enterprises into a fund for compensation for victims of the coup
-New regulations for recovery of tax arrearages
5. Restructuring the public sector
-Vote on the public-sector law
-Transfer authority and funds to localities
-Forming a central elections commission
-Registration of candidates and voters for the CASECS (local
councils, communes, and parliament
7. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Planning to
Supervise the NGOs.
8. Private sector: forming a reconciliation commission
9. Role of external agents
-Paris Consultative Group to help the government. January 1995
-An act of the U.S. Congress to create special incentives for
investors in Haiti
-Disbursement of emergency bilateral aid pending the arrival of
multilateral bank aid
-Reinforcement of the independence of the judicial branch
(staffing, equipping, and renovation of the Supreme Court)
-Revision of the penal and commercial codes
-Replacement of the section chiefs with police or justices of the
-Formation of a truth commission