Haiti: History Repeating Itself?

As the world debates how to oust a defiant Army, Haitians consider previous US interventions

WHEN the United States wanted Francois ``Papa Doc'' Duvalier to retire after his six-year term officially ended in May 1963, it deployed a US naval task force to pressure him. Two thousand US Marines were on stand-by.

Duvalier stonewalled, and within a month the US recalled its ships. Duvalier declared himself President-for-Life. His son, Jean Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier, inherited the dictatorship in 1971, and he remained in power until the US carried him into exile on Feb. 7, 1986, after popular resentment of 29 years of dictatorship threatened to turn into revolution.

Haiti again is at an impasse, and again outside forces are on the verge of interfering. This time, not only US naval ships but also an entire international flotilla patrols Haitian waters, and the US has gone so far as to hold mock invasions in the area. This time their target is Army Commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, mastermind of the 1991 coup that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has said, ``It is our intention to send a very clear signal to the military and police leadership in Port-au-Prince that this situation is urgent, and at the end of the day, they're going to be gone, and the end of that day is not that far off.''

But still the military stays, mocking the world. They have sidestepped a gasoline embargo so far by creating a lucrative black market through the Dominican Republic. The new military-backed president has frozen $12 million of US Agency for International Development funds earmarked for feeding 700,000 children. June 4, the government told the Haitian military to ``take all measures'' to combat the threat of invasion. There has been a revival of the Duvalier militia group, the Tonton Macoutes, who say they'll fight with sticks, stones, machetes, and even magical powder, if US Marines land in Haiti.

While the world community debates Haiti's future, similar conversations dominate small corridors, seaside hovels, and elegant living rooms here. General Cedras will be deposed, conversants surmise, but will it be the outcome of internal or international pressure? Nationalists who desperately want a Haitian solution know that their 7,000-man Army doesn't stand a chance against foreign troops. Supporters of ousted President Aristide who favor intervention wish it had happened long ago.

``Ninety percent of the population wants intervention,'' says Robert Malval, Aristide's prime minister who resigned in December but agreed to stay on until a new one could be ratified by parliament. ``This comes from my meetings with leaders of different groups among the population and unions. If you question the people, the masses, they don't care who runs the country as long as they're safe and have food on the table.''

No one locally or abroad advocates intervention outright, but political analysts say it is one of two options. The other is for the international community to look the other way, effectively abandoning Haiti, but chances for that seem slim.

President Clinton wants a victory without entangling himself tighter in Haitian politics. After changing his refugee repatriation policy, he asked almost every country in the Caribbean if processing centers could be set up on their land. ``They even pursued Nicaragua, which is only centimeters better off than us,'' laughs one Haitian. Jamaica and the Turk and Caicos Islands finally agreed, though not without generous compensation.

Still, the majority of Haitians feel they have no say in the situation. They fear a short-term solution may lead to long-term occupation. With a sad shrug of their shoulders, they say, ``Si Dieu vle - If God wants it.''

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