Powell’s stance is completely devoid of credibility since it condemns Haiti to precisely what the Secretary of State has previously stated that the U.S. wanted to avoid: “regime change” through an extra-constitutional change of government in Haiti whereby “the elected president . . . is forced out of office by thugs.” A peace force is needed now, when a constitutionally-elected government risks being overthrown by an opposition that increasingly is being taken over by armed war criminals from the era of military rule, and not, in the unlikely eventuality after a political settlement occurs, when presumably such forces would no longer be required.
One therefore must conclude that U.S. policy is now definitively characterized by a two tier strategy: on the one hand, Powell places Washington on the side of the rest of the hemispheric community in committing the U.S. solidly against recognizing the forcible overthrow of a democratically-elected government, as codified by OAS resolutions at Lima and Santiago. On the other hand, Washington paradoxically comes forth with a paradigm that inevitably will lead to the demise of constitutional rule in Haiti – something that his sadly inadequate Latin American team of ideologues, led by Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, have been whispering about for many weeks, namely regime change and the removal of Aristide through some unspecified process.
Reality in Haiti
Meanwhile, President Aristide has indicated a willingness to accept every condition demanded of him by the CARICOM prime ministers, the U.S. and the OAS. The question should be asked, who makes up the opposition and what is their automatic claim to co-equal status to the government? At best, the opposition is thought to represent no more than 20 percent of the population, and in terms of public manifestation, they were able to turn out at most 20,000 partisans in a major public display several weeks ago. As for the government, at least 300,000 (and perhaps twice that number) marched through the streets of Port-au-Prince in support of it several days ago.
Who is Committing the Violence?
In terms of resorting to violence, the opposition is at least as guilty as are government militants. In fact, in a parade staged in Port-au-Prince several weeks ago, opposition gangs were led by Evans Paul, an important opposition figure, who called for all schools and hospitals to be closed until Aristide stepped down from power. During that unruly parade, several schools were in fact torched, a number of teachers and students were roughed up, and market stalls were upended. Characteristically, police actions against the opposition occurred only after opposition marchers had diverged from the parade route which previously had been filed by the leadership with the police, which was reminiscent of action taken by the authorities in New York, Washington, D.C. and Miami against anti-globalization protesters who had strayed from the route that parade officials had filed.
Secretary Powell’s assumption that the opposition is even remotely interested in a settlement is further undermined by the recent statement of André Apaid, a main leader of the Group of 184, urging the leaders of gang of “thugs,” to use Powell’s description, who had taken over Gonaives, not to turn in their weapons because insurrection can be justified in the struggle against repression. The opposition, which has been made all the more dangerous as its adherents are being swelled by military and paramilitary personnel who fled into exile after the military junta had been ousted by U.S. forces, are now returning to the country and already have been participating in the armed takeover of Haitian cities after which wanton sacking has been involved.
Outside Forces on the Way?
Ever since the Clinton administration, the U.S. rarely has accorded the Aristide government the respect and support it needed to place the country on a solid footing. In the absence of a coherent Haitian policy, the international community is risking a humanitarian fiasco as tens of thousands of Haitians fall below survival conditions. By subscribing to a shockingly bankrupt police, Powell risks further damage to his reputation which already has been marred by embarrassing revelations concerning U.S. Iraq policy.
Larry Birns is the director of the Washington DC-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Contact COHA at: 1730 M Street NW, Suite 1010, Washington, D.C. 20036. Phone: 202-216-9261, Fax: 202-223-6035, email: email@example.com.
Articles by Larry Birns