The US and Haiti

THERE can be little doubt about what the US must now do for Haiti. It has to put an end to the rule by a military junta; by savaging the Nov. 29 elections, the junta destroyed the island's best chance in 30 years to find a decent government. Generally speaking, interference in the internal affairs of other countries is a mistake. It should be avoided whenever there is a tolerable alternative. The very horror that turned the high hopes of Haiti's election morning into a shambles is itself a product of original United States intervention in that country.

Haiti once was a French colony. It became an independent black republic. It was not successful on its own in establishing a competent and stable government. The US walked in, during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson in 1915, and ran the country until Franklin Delano Roosevelt pulled the US Marines out in 1934 in a well-intentioned effort to allow the Haitians to learn how to govern themselves.

For a while the experiment seemed to be working. But in the end it worked in the way that has so often happened in the wake of a US intervention.

As usual during the years of US intervention, the US trained a local constabulary and trained it well. When the Marines left, that force became the dominant political force. Whoever managed to gain control of it became master of the country.

Control over the Haitian Army fell into the hands of Dr. Fran,cois Duvalier in 1957. By 1964, he had so consolidated his control over the Army, and therefore the country, that he could declare himself President-for-Life. He ran the country for the benefit of himself and his family, friends, and followers until his death in 1971. He was succeeded according to family plan by his son, ``Baby Doc,'' who ran the country in the same manner his father did. It was tyranny by a clique. It was brutal and corrupt. It had to go.

On Feb. 7, 1986, a US Air Force plane took ``Baby Doc'' and his immediate family away through an arrangement with the Haitian Army. Most higher officers are products of the US military training system. Since they receive their weapons largely from the US, they can be counted on to respond to US wishes - some of the time and on some occasions.

Nov. 29 was not an occasion when they did what the US wanted them to do. The US Embassy thought the Army leaders were going to protect the election process and allow free elections. It didn't work.

Why is still something of a mystery. One version is that the State Department was too preoccupied with Nicaragua to have time to worry about Haiti. The US Embassy in Haiti is said to have been taken by surprise. Its staff apparently assumed that the generals would protect the polls.

Complicating the problem of bringing democracy to Haiti is the fact that Haitians, 95 percent of whom are black, are a long-exploited people. The mixed-blood mulattoes, who make up the other 5 percent, are the ruling upper class; they hold the top jobs in government and have largely kept the blacks an underclass.

What is to be done about the Haitian situation?

The State Department has halted military aid.

But will this induce the generals who now run the country to mend their manners and allow a fair and free election? One has now been scheduled for January 17, but the generals have now put in place their own rather than an independent electoral commission and four of the top candidates threaten to boycott the election.

In the long run the same thing will happen in Haiti that has happened in other Latin countries where a corrupt and exploitive oligarchy has dominated the scene for too long. Either someone intervenes and expels the exploiters, or the mass of the people will tend to look toward communism for relief.

It does not necessarily mean sending back the US Marines. It would be better to have the other neighboring countries manage to arrange for a transition to new hands in Haiti. But it must be done, one way or another, to avert another situation like Nicaragua or El Salvador.

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