The legacy of US, UN intervention in Haiti

Parliamentary and local elections have been postponed twice; still waiting for new date.

Like thousands of Haitian women living in the countryside, Yves Rose Jule is a single parent with little formal education. She sells used goods on the side of the road, for which she has no government permit. She pays no taxes, and has nothing but a birth certificate to show that she is a Haitian citizen.

Ms. Jules did not know that the last of the American troops who had intervened in Haiti in 1994 left this past January. Nor did she care. Like millions of other Haitians living hand to mouth, her energy is consumed with trying to make sure she has enough food to feed her family.

But she did know that despite numerous setbacks, the country should be holding elections sometime soon.

"I voted in 1990 and again in 1995," she says. "I'm going to register, but I'm not going to vote this time because nothing ever comes of elections. Just like nothing came of the US intervention."

This isn't to say that the US mission wasn't noticed or that it didn't accomplish anything. Fanfare, bravado, and open arms welcomed 20,000 American troops when they landed on Haitian soil to restore democracy in September 1994, ending three years of a repressive military regime. One month later, democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide returned from exile in the US to complete his five-year term after a bloody military coup d'tat.

But nearly six years later, many are asking how much was accomplished by the $2.2 billion US mission.

"Very little, as far as I can tell," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, earlier this month. "The poorest country in the hemisphere remains a place where the government is barely functioning, political reform has gotten nowhere, and democracy exists only in theory. the judicial system is in disarray, the police are politicized, and the average person lives from hand to mouth."

The US reduced its numbers, but remained a part of the mission when the United Nations took over in March 1995. The troops helped maintain order while the Aristide government dismantled the Haitian military and paramilitary. It also assisted in the formation and training of a new Haitian police force.

"The security the US provided was psychological," says Colin Granderson, former head of the United Nations mission. "For the elite and the government of Haiti, it was a form of reassurance. They never played a security role. Their absence has had little, if any impact. Since 1997, the security has been in the hands of the Haitian police 100 percent."

A 500-member technical and medical team that remained as part of the US Support Group until January concentrated its humanitarian efforts in the Port-au-Prince region. Among other things, the staff attended to 138,000 patients, built or renovated 50 schools, built 12 miles of new road, and repaired 170 wells.

The only presence remaining is a small, rotating US contingent, which has been based in Haiti's second-largest city, Cap Hatien. They are part of the New Horizons program, which deploys National Guard and Army Reserve troops for training rotations in Central America. In Haiti, their mandate is limited to civil-engineering projects, such as renovating orphanages and setting up medical units.

Such help is crucial to a population whose per capita income is less than $300, and whose government budget barely covers salaries.

There has been no approved budget since 1997. And there has been no government since current President Rene Preval, who was the country's second democratically elected president, dissolved parliament in January 1999.

According to US officials, drug trafficking is rampant, with an estimated 13 percent of all cocaine that enters the United States passing through Haiti.

"The US intervention, having destroyed the security structure, created a vacuum now being replaced by narcotraffickers," says Port-au-Prince businessman Georges Sassine. "Before, drug trafficking was institutionalized. Now it's pervasive."

The 6,200-strong police force is inexperienced. Some 400 officers already have been fired, 130 of them for human rights violations. Another 266 officers have abandoned their posts. The judicial system is a blend of inefficiency and corruption, while hundreds of prisoners have yet to be charged formally with a crime.

Meanwhile, as of March 15, the UN ended its three-year police-training mission, and instituted a technical assistance mission. Its emphasis will be on professionalizing the police and providing assistance to the judiciary.

The US hoped that, among other things, its presence would add strength and support to the Haitian government's democracy building. The upcoming elections, which were scheduled for December then postponed to March, were to have been a litmus test of Haiti's ability to stand on its own. But elections have been put off again - with no new date set.

"It's very troubling that elections have been postponed," says one senior US official, who requested anonymity. "Haiti's been in an extra-constitutional state since January 1999, and this is too long. Haiti really needs to understand that we can't move forward. Congress has a hold on aid and all new electoral support."

Congress put a hold on $2.75 million earmarked for Haiti on March 2. Another $1.3 million for electoral aid has been held since November. But the US has already invested $20 million in upcoming elections, where representatives from 33 political parties and dozens of independent candidates have registered for nearly 1,500 positions. Opposition parties accuse the president of delaying the elections so that they will be rolled into a presidential vote scheduled for the end of the year. President Preval was President Aristide's prime minister, and is still closely aligned with him.

Aristide, the country's first democratically elected president, was constitutionally barred from running for a consecutive term, but is now eligible and plans to run this December. He heads Family Lavalas, which hopes for a parliamentary majority.

While there are formidable problems to overcome in a country that held its first democratic election only 10 years ago, more than 3 million people registered to vote.

"I'm going to vote," says Raymund, an unemployed accountant. "The intervention did nothing for us, and things aren't any better. But I'm going to vote because vote is change."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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