Haiti: Another Case Study.

A 10-year-old experiment by the United States in "nation-building" is unravelling rapidly at the very time it is engaged in another purported nation-building exercise of an awful kind. Haiti is not as far away from the U.S. as Iraq, or as big or as complex. It is a tiny country on an island off the Florida coast. In the last few days, Haiti has been tormented by internal violence with armed gangs taking over towns and opposition groups demanding the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide whose election in 2000 they refuse to recognise as legitimate. This is President Aristide's second term in office. His first, between 1990 and 1995, was interrupted by a military coup and he could reclaim office only after an armed intervention by U.S. forces removed the junta. He may get no such help this time, having fallen out with his patron in the intervening years. Without directly calling for the ouster of Mr. Aristide, the U.S. has sent out signals that have encouraged his opponents, rightly raising questions about the Bush administration's support for the removal of an elected leader. Even though there has been some erosion in support for the Haitian leader, he remains deeply popular among his people. Apart from the armed militias, the main opposition is a loose coalition called the Democratic Convergence that has links to a U.S. organisation representing Republican Party interests. Not surprisingly, comparisons are also being drawn with what was enacted in Venezuela two years ago. But more than anything else, Haiti's crisis has reinforced disturbing questions about the U.S. style of nation-building abroad and its motives behind such ventures.

Haiti is a classic case of the tension between the stated aim of the U.S. to build democracies around the world and its desire to ensure that such governments remain pliant and reflect its own policies. After nine decades of U.S. involvement, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. For 30 years from 1958, Washington nurtured the tyrannical regimes of the Duvaliers (father and son) so that they remained allies during the Cold War. After a popular revolt deposed Baby Doc Duvalier in 1986, U.S. policy towards Haiti has largely been determined by the thousands of illegal Haitian immigrants who wash up on American shores, fleeing the economic and political instability at home. This was one of the main reasons behind the Clinton administration's 1993 intervention to reinstall Mr. Aristide, and it definitely helped that he was democratically elected. But working to a quick "exit strategy," the U.S. then abandoned Haiti; the new Government found itself without either support structure or financial resources to enable it to revive the economy and restore political stability. Not enthused by President Aristide, the Bush administration has exacerbated Haiti's plight by blocking international aid, and with its recent calls for a "thorough change" in governance, is now seen as backing a dubious opposition. Naturally, Haitians who want to see a genuine democracy take root in their country fear a return to the free-for-all chaos that reigned in the late 1980s.

Haiti is a classic case of the tension between the In this election year for President George Bush, the course of his administration's policy towards Haiti is certain to be influenced by the presence of a sizeable Haitian migrant community in at least three States in the U.S. and the possibility of another surge of refugees and illegal immigrants should the impasse between President Aristide and his opponents continue. But as the Bush administration struggles to extricate itself from the horrible mess it has created in Iraq, the troubles in Haiti give Americans an opportunity to reflect on yet another of Washington's interventions in the name of freedom and democracy producing nothing but tragedy for the alleged beneficiaries.

[Source: Editorial The Hindu, India, 19Feb04]

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