Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jean Bertrand Aristide

America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

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Man-Made Disaster

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

It is, of course, axiomatic that George W. Bush was to blame for natural disasters that struck during his presidency. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, it goes without saying that Bush failed on three major fronts: First, he did not go back decades in time and demand construction of more resistant levies. Second, he did not force Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to accept his offer of National Guard troops to help bail out New Orleans — when she refused, Bush didn’t invoke the Insurrection Act and invade a U.S. state. And third, as Al Gore helpfully pointed out, strong hurricanes are a more likely weather phenomenon when the U.S. ignores carbon-emissions warnings the way the Bush administration did.

And let’s not forget the wise words of one Kanye West, who, after the hurricane struck, told the country on national television, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

An administration-defining, open-and-shut case if ever there was one.

But we didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, Bush is also responsible for calamities occurring after his presidency. Mother Jones has the scoop on the master of natural disaster:

In the aftermath of September 11 and the Bush administration’s numerous adventures around the world, Haiti returned to its usual state of invisibility in Western eyes. Few people noticed a remarkable report that appeared in the New York Times in 2006, based in part on the analysis of former ambassador Brian Dean Curran, showing how US policy helped to destabalize [sic] Haiti in the years leading up to 2004, when Aristede was again forced out by armed rebels under an accused death squad leader. … For the most part, Europe and the United States have continued to sit by as Haiti has grown poorer and poorer. … It is hard to imagine what a magnitude 7 earthquake might do to a city that on any ordinary day already resembles a disaster area.

Max Blumenthal weighs in with a far more sober reflection on the tragedy. “Of course, the earthquake can’t be blamed on the so-called Washington consensus.” Of course, Max. Good of you to point it out.

Or not. “However,” he goes on,

the Haitian government’s inability to mount even a band-aid relief effort, combined with the fact that the decimated rural economy has overwhelmed Port-au-Prince with new residents, placing enormous stress on its already inadequate infrastructure and leading to the mass casualties we are witnessing, are factors directly linked to American meddling.

In 2004, when the national press corps failed to report the American hand in the coup that overthrew Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, I embarked on a long and exhaustive investigative report on role of right-wing operatives in Washington and Haiti in toppling the government.

Don’t you love the self-congratulatory bit at the end there?  Through his evident grief for dead, maimed, and mourning Haitians, Blumenthal courageously forces himself to settle some personal scores. “Below the fold I have reprinted my piece for Salon.com, “The Other Regime Change” (which the NY Times’ Walt Bogdanovich basically plagiarized), in full.” Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.

There is bound to be more of this stuff to follow. There is no cliff over which the liberal establishment will not follow the fringe. Some high-profile op-eds blaming Bush should be hitting the New York Times any day now, just in time to coincide with his and Bill Clinton’s joint-effort to help Haiti recover.

Read Less




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