A View From In-Country: What's Needed in Haiti
THOSE of us involved in development projects in Haiti remain here to offer humanitarian assistance or to try to continue our projects. We stay to pick up the pieces in the wake of international political decisions that seem to lack compassion or consistency. Every day we receive more requests for aid: for food, for help getting out of Haiti, for assistance with medical care. Though the rains fell abundantly this spring, bringing a good corn and bean harvest, the majority of Haitian families are now reduced to bare subsistence - eating on days when a dollar or two is available, suffering and waiting on the other days. In Port-au-Prince one sees hundreds of people walking for miles rather than wasting 35 cents on a bus. In public places that once were filled with political discussion, Haitians remain silent out of fear.
Despite all the uproar over Haiti in the United States, it is still far from clear that the US government is on the side of the man on the street. One wonders whether Washington is still chumming with ``promising young military officers'' - such as one lieutenant in Les Cayes who, as recently as three months ago, told us he had just returned from military training in the US. Last December a US Marine colonel told me frankly that he trusted the Haitian military more than he trusted Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
By tolerating the Haitian military, the US also tolerates its thugs and ``attaches'' who perform the night raids, beating or killing activists and community leaders and terrorizing their families. Skimpy State Department human rights reports and Ambassador William Swing's leaked cable of April 12 have revealed how the US embassy downplays the significance and systematic nature of these acts. The US traditionally finds it easier to side with those who possess power, even those who torture and kill in secret military prisons, rather than with the less-predictable masses of people, those seeking to end the repression.
It is possible that the US government will side with the terrorized Haitian majority that still hopes for the return of freely-elected President Aristide. Yet from inside Haiti, the US-supported international embargo resembles a series of B-52 cluster bombs dropped from 30,000 feet that were somehow intended as a ``surgical strike.'' In their current form the sanctions are further destroying any possibility of dignified existence for the majority - no jobs, even for miserable wages; and no transfers of money from relatives abroad. Haitians who are desperate enough to take to the seas are sent without asylum interviews to camps on other Caribbean islands.
The sanctions affect the elite as much as the mosquitoes bother them in the rainy season. Wealthy business families, like the Acras and the Brandts, are still able to get American dollars through foreign relief organizations that run in-country feeding and medical programs. Relief workers, in their eagerness to cash personal checks, provide thousands of dollars in hard currency. The elite can cash the checks in the US and Europe as long as the word ``Haiti'' doesn't appear. Their businesses survive. Their solar panels and electrical inverters help them through the blackouts; gasoline stored in drums and cisterns keep their Land Cruisers and their children's sports cars on the streets. Servants are still paid $25 a month to do the laundry, feed the dogs, cook the food - and, if necessary, provide sexual favors.
The elite have thus found ways to survive and resist the sanctions, and are hardly likely to surrender this lifestyle. They have no reason to persuade the army to leave, even if they could convince them.
Stronger and more focused actions are needed. The transfer of hard currency checks to Haitian businesses must stop. The crimes of the Haitian military and their attaches - crimes against humanity including torture, rape of children, beatings, and involvement in the drug trade - can be addressed in US, Canadian, and European courts, particularly since many in the Haitian military carry US green cards and plan one day to settle in the US or Canada. They should at least be denied the option of moving here after pillaging their native country. They should face arrest and trial if they set foot in North America and face extradition from most countries of the world.
Any collaboration between the Central Intelligence Agency or Pentagon and the Haitian military must end. Focused humanitarian aid reaching the destitute must increase. A constant evaluation of the nutritional and health status of the Haitian populace needs to be implemented by the World Health Organization to prevent an even larger disaster than the one already in progress here. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.