Who Will Protect the Haitians?

Betrayal, a theme in the country's history, permeates the island's current conflict

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NEARLY 200 years ago, Toussaint L'Ouverture, dubbed the gilded African by Napoleon Bonaparte, helped the French Army defeat the British on the island then known as Hispaniola.

But L'Ouverture's bid to abolish slavery on what is today called Haiti posed a threat to Napoleon. The French general set a trap for L'Ouverture, and the father of the Haitian revolution eventually died in captivity.

Betrayals in Haitian history are as common as the flies swarming over the massive mounds of uncollected garbage currently blocking Haiti's streets.

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Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was betrayed by the Haitian military and sent into exile on Sept. 30, 1991. The international community has been integrally involved in the struggle to restore constitutional order, but many Haitians feel their country has been duped again.

First the Organization of American States championed Fr. Aristide's cause. One year and about 1,000 deaths later, the United Nations jumped in. Another year and at least another 1,000 deaths after, Aristide is still in exile. The population is terrorized by a military and their armed supporters.

On the surface, the international community remains committed to the transition of power from military to civilian rule. But the unraveling of a brokered UN agreement has an all-too-familiar taste of lip-service diplomacy with no effective policy.

On Oct. 12, a US naval vessel carrying 200 UN military advisers retreated from Haitian waters following threats from armed civilians waiting on shore. Having to defend themselves against the comparison of ``another Somalia,'' the US did not want to risk injury to a US soldier. They repositioned themselves at nearby Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following suit, the UN removed its support staff that had been working on the transition process from military to civilian rule ``...to reassess the security situation,'' they told some 270 UN civilian observers monitoring human rights. The observers are now sitting, frustrated and indignant, in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

Similarly, 51 Royal Canadian Mounted Police were told they are ``not able to successfully fill their mandate without the cooperation of the Haitian authorities.'' The Mounties, members of the UN technical police force, were sent home less than a week after they arrived.

The UN is replacing their support staff in Haiti with US destroyers and frigates offshore, to enforce the embargo imposed

Oct. 19. An emergency contingent of US troops has joined the naval ship on Guantanamo Bay. Thirty US Marines were sent in to fortify the US Embassy and protect the interests of approximately 1,000 US citizens.

But who will protect the Haitian people? This is, after all, the reason the international community got involved in the crisis.

Haitians feel betrayed. The choices facing them are bleak. Sanctions may indeed force the military's hand, but not for months, and not without a high price.

There's the possibility of military intervention, which they experienced when the US occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. The legacy the US left behind was the formation of a strong Haitian military - the root of Haiti's problems today. If there were an intervention, Aristide would return with foreign troops on his native soil, something he has desperately attempted to avoid.

What the Haitians are left with is the possibility that more lives will be lost before the crisis is resolved. And they point the finger at the US, whose policy may be more directed at keeping boat-people off their shores than at truly restoring democracy.

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