April 13, 2004 | Executive Memorandum on Latin America
The United States is neither capable of fixing every problem in the world, nor is it obligated to ensure that all countries have good governments. Troubles are too numerous, the U.S. treasury is limited, and other societies must learn to pull their own weight. Nevertheless, Haiti's stability is critical to the economies of neighboring Caribbean islands. Additionally, the U.S. has an economic and strategic interest in helping Haiti to become self-sufficient and self-governing.
Past U.S. interventions have produced little success. Current efforts to bring peace and stability to the island nation will fare no better unless the United States and its international partners--Canada, France, the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United Nations--encourage Haitians to do more for themselves, to build durable institutions, and to maintain consistent policies over time.
From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. Marines ran Haiti. They paid foreign debts, constructed roads, and built hospitals. However, because most local politicians were figureheads, the U.S. occupation left behind no durable institutions except for a security force. Despite follow-on elections, Haiti descended into a series of dictatorships.
In 1986, the ouster of president-for-life Jean-Claude Duvalier cleared the way for a new democratic constitution, and Jean-Bertrand Aristide--a politically inexperienced former priest with ties to street gangs--won the 1990 presidential election. Within months, the Aristide government lapsed into chaos, and his security chief overthrew him. Exiled to the United States, he obtained access to frozen Haitian bank accounts and lobbied Congress and the White House to return him to power.
In 1994, the Clinton Administration sent U.S. troops to force the ruling military officers to leave, and restore Aristide as president. In so doing, it invested as much political capital in Aristide's personal success as it did in rebuilding Haiti. Interpreting U.S. actions as a license, Aristide undercut development efforts, politicized the police, and incited mobs to threaten and murder opponents. He also broke numerous promises to assistance donors and the OAS, and his actions sowed distrust both at home and internationally.
By February 2004, armed mobs, once loyal to Aristide, joined thugs from previous governments in a revolt against him. On February 29, with the rebels controlling most of Haiti, Aristide resigned. Unwilling to bail out his presidency a second time, the Bush Administration flew Aristide and his wife to the Central African Republic--the only country willing to accept them.
In accordance with Haiti's constitution, Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre assumed the presidency and appointed a new prime minister and cabinet. Meanwhile, the United States, France, Chile, and Canada have sent 3,300 peacekeepers to protect the government, help reconstruct Haiti's tiny police force, collect weapons, and secure humanitarian aid.
So far, the Bush Administration has helped Haiti salvage constitutional order from a crumbling autocracy. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) has called for sustained U.S. leadership to promote a new, broad-based democratic Haitian government. Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) has asked Haitian-Americans to participate in the rebuilding process. However, nothing will work unless Haitians help themselves, shun demagogues, and build durable institutions. U.S. leadership in maintaining international support is key to helping them succeed.
Stephen Johnson is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.