To date, U.S.
interventions in Haiti have never been successful. The objective
has always been to stabilize an unstable nation with a poorly
educated populace and no social contract. The means of achieving
stability has either been to take over the state or to back a
popular leader-temporary fixes at best. If it is in America's
interest to become involved this time, the most durable solution
will lie between those extremes and will support the development of
public institutions and an educated citizenry to maintain them.
In two decades of
occupation from 1915 to 1934, the United States did virtually
everything in Haiti. Through a Marine general acting as High
Commissioner, it cleaned up foreign debts, built physical
infrastructure like roads and public sanitation, and trained a
professional security force. Meanwhile, Haitians served in
government as figureheads.
grew against U.S. occupation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
pulled back U.S. Marines without any provision to support what U.S.
forces had built. Infrastructure crumbled and, despite elections,
succeeding leaders became increasingly dictatorial in the absence
of institutions to support better governance. And when the Duvalier
Family came to power in 1957, they replaced the professional army
with loyalist bullies called the Tontons Macoutes.
President Bill Clinton took a different approach. His
administration put its faith in a charismatic but flawed leader and
pursued a quick exit strategy. Elected in 1990, deposed in 1991,
and then restored by the United States in 1994, Jean-Bertrand
Aristide was a fiery parish priest with little experience in
politics and none in government. He ruled by inciting street mobs
to attack his opponents and often worked against the U.S. and
international community's development agenda.
As he became
increasingly dictatorial and resistant to advice, the United States
and international partners began withholding assistance, which had
accounted for 70 percent of the government's budget. Increasing
violence and corruption repelled foreign investment, and Haiti's
wobbly economy shriveled.
advancing rebel groups he had helped create and denied another
bailout by the United States, France, and the Caribbean Community,
Aristide resigned on February 29, 2004, and accepted safe passage
for himself and his family to the Central African Republic.
Following an agenda recommended to Aristide by the 15-member
Caribbean Community, Haiti's leaders have been organizing an
interim government to manage national affairs until elections bring
in a new slate of public servants.
In advancing this
process, the United States and its international partners would do
well to consider lessons from past experience:
Haitians' jobs for them. The occupation begun under President
Wilson unraveled because few local leaders adopted democratic
ideals and were not prepared to maintain and defend them. Haitians
from all sectors and classes must be encouraged to become
stakeholders in a democratic society.
institutions, not personalities. Congress and lobbyists
pressured the Clinton Administration into backing the
controversial, undemocratic Aristide to the point of invading Haiti
in 1994 to restore him to office. Aristide interpreted this action
as a license to govern autocratically. His behavior blocked the
effective development of democratic institutions and squandered
hundreds of millions of dollars. Absent the rule of law and checks
and balances, an elected president does not constitute a democracy.
U.S. benefactors should have conditioned Aristide's return with
clear constraints on his authority. Future efforts in Haiti should
focus on clear goals, not charisma.
should disarm both sides. Haiti has always been an armed camp.
Today, weapons are in the hands of Aristide loyalists and the
rebels who pressured him to resign. For Haiti's police force to
keep peace in relative safety, they must not face threats from
large, armed crowds.
and assistance has to be focused and coordinated. During the
1990s, some 300 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operated in
Haiti, often at cross-purposes. Haiti can't absorb competing
recommendations from neighboring countries and multilateral
organizations until it can stand on its feet. The United States and
international community must develop a coordinating mechanism to
present a unified face to Haiti's interim and follow-on
and citizenship must be priorities. Political and economic
progress are not possible unless a broad range of citizens
understand their relation to the state and have minimal skills to
make a living. Without an understanding of their rights and
responsibilities, they will not know what to expect from public
servants nor be able to serve in office themselves. Support for
broad, public education must be ongoing.
efforts over a long period-at least a decade or two. An
educated democracy needs time to develop. Old habits need time to
be extinguished. For its part, the United States should not hand
over leadership of peacekeeping activities until after elections.
The Organization of American States should supervise those
elections and continue doing so until a durable electoral
infrastructure is established. A multilateral donor commission
should oversee financial support to ensure accountability and
consonance between donor and Haitian government goals.
more loans. For now, Haiti needs an allowance, not a credit
card. Grants would be better for a nation so impoverished and
unable to repay. At the same time, donors should enforce
accountability. They should audit the Lavalas Party government to
find out where money and resources disappeared and to avoid
repeating mistakes. U.S. law enforcement agencies should
investigate any links between Haiti's telecommunications industry,
money laundering, and Aristide's lobbying activities in
importance to the United States may be minimal compared to those of
major trading partners or those of countries that pose a
significant threat. Nevertheless, Haiti's stability is crucial to
the fragile Caribbean community of democracies, and Haiti should
not be home to a failed or hostile state. Modest, sustained
influence and support for democratic and market institutions make
more sense than periodic, costly bailouts.
Stephen Johnson is
Senior Policy Analyst in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.