Published on Friday, March 12, 2004 by the Inter Press Service
Role in Haiti Events Backfiring on Washington
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Last week's U.S.-backed ''regime change'' in Haiti could yet backfire against the administration of President George W Bush, according to independent analysts and Democrats who are describing the U.S. role as another major foreign-policy blunder -- or worse.
Despite the administration's continued insistence that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide voluntarily departed Haiti aboard a U.S.-provided aircraft on Feb. 29, a growing number of lawmakers here are expressing doubt about that version of events.
While not explicitly endorsing Aristide's version that he was essentially kidnapped by the U.S. government, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and Senate Democrats are now charging that Washington was at the very least complicit in an effective coup d'etat.
''Whatever the specifics of his Sunday morning departure from Haiti, I can't blame him for holding the belief that his departure was involuntary,'' said Connecticut Democrat Sen. Christopher Dodd, a senior Americas' expert, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday.
Along with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)--whose efforts to mediate between Aristide and his opposition were abruptly terminated when the president was flown to the Central African Republic--and the African Union, Democrats and the CBC are demanding an investigation of the circumstances of his exile.
Other analysts are expressing growing concern that the administration is not prepared either for the aftermath of Aristide's exile to the Central African Republic (CAR) where he met Wednesday with South Africa's deputy foreign minister.
''Those who were working in Washington toward either emasculating Aristide politically or ousting him had a very definite and well-crafted strategy,'' said Robert Maguire, a Haiti expert at Trinity College, who testified before the Senate Committee Wednesday.
''But they didn't clearly didn't count on the level of violence that has occurred, and now it seems to have become a very improvisational strategy,'' he told IPS, noting in particular the expanding role of some 1,500 U.S. Marines who have been sent to Haiti along with soldiers from France, Chile, and Canada.
As the Marines have expanded their patrolling beyond Port-au-Prince, armed rebels--many of whom are led mainly by former military officers and paramilitary officials who terrorized Haiti in the early 1990s during Aristide's first exile--have not disarmed as they had pledged to do one week ago.
They have instead moved into towns in the countryside, so that insecurity continues to make the transport of food aid and other relief supplies to more-remote parts of the country difficult or impossible. At the same time, pro-Aristide forces are also armed, although their strongholds are centered more in urban slums in the capital and other cities.
The CBC has called for setting up U.S. and foreign troops to urgently establish ''humanitarian corridors'' to needy areas.
Florida Democratic Sen Bob Graham charged that the Bush administration was pursuing ''an Afghanistan solution'' by concentrating Marines in the capital ''with everyone else in the country pretty much naked.'' He and Ohio Republican Sen Mike DeWine both criticized the administration for not sending in more troops to stabilize the situation.
''There are lots of weapons,'' said Dan Erickson, a Caribbean specialist at the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), a hemispheric think-tank here. Erickson believes the rebels intend to ''wait out'' the 90-period while the Marines are deployed, and then assess the strength of any U.N. peacekeeping operation that takes their place as of Jun. 1.
He described the overall situation as ''terrible,'' in part due to the sharp reduction in international and U.S. aid that was largely orchestrated by Washington since the Bush administration took power.
''Haiti simply demands more resources than what the U.S. and the international community are willing to give,'' he said. ''The reality is, we're not engaged in Haiti as we much as we need to be.''
In testimony Wednesday retired ambassador James Dobbins, who was Washington's top envoy to Haiti after Aristide was restored to power by the last U.S. intervention in 1994, noted that Iraq is currently receiving more than 30 times more U.S. aid on a per capita basis than Haiti received in the mid-1990s when U.S. assistance was greatest.
In an implicit stab at the administration, Dobbins, who, as a RAND Corp analyst has advised Washington on Iraq, noted that reducing aid to Haiti was ''quite unwise'' and contributed to the disintegration and chaos that followed that in turn led to the intervention.
But while Haiti's aid requirements could prove much more costly to the U.S. Treasury than the administration originally thought, its credibility as a supporter of democratic governments may have suffered the most, according to a number of analysts.
''The CARICOM countries feel deceived by the U.S.,'' said Maguire, who noted that Washington's inability to ''convince the opposition in Haiti to accept their (mediation) plan when the U.S. had agreed to it and all the cards were stacked in the opposition's favour constitutes a major failure of U.S. diplomacy''. A number of CARICOM governments have themselves faced opposition movements that have used confrontational tactics and election boycotts as the Haitian opposition did, noted Maguire.
''It sets a very disturbing precedented for the entire region,'' Michael Shifter, a Latin American specialist at IAD, told IPS.
''There are a lot of Latin American governments that are very shaky. People who aren't happy with their governments will see this as a way to get rid of them if the Bush administration doesn't like them either. So there's no incentive to engage in the give-and-take in democratic politics and trying to find a peaceful solution,'' he said.
Gayle Smith, an Africa specialist on the National Security Council staff under President Bill Clinton, said Washington's role in Aristide's ouster will have global implications. ''Most people around the world believe that Aristide's departure was at best facilitated; at worst, coerced by the U.S. and France,'' she said, noting the African Union's decision to call for an investigation.
''The developing world is now challenging the U.S. and France for not being democratic; that is of great long-term significance,'' she added
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