Haiti: After the fall
Apr 22nd 2004 | MIAMI
From The Economist print edition
Is Haiti getting better?
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THE American-led stabilisation force is more than half way through its 90-day mandate in Haiti, following the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February. The UN is due to take over in June. So is Haiti recovering from the pandemonium?
Up to a point. A semblance of order has returned, but many of the rebel leaders who launched the uprising continue to roam the country with their weapons. They had pledged to disarm once Mr Aristide was gone, but many have not. American commanders insist that disarmament is not part of their remit, and limit their operations to securing key installations and helping to sweep the streets of rubbish. Despite early talk of a weapons “buy-back” programme, barely 150 guns have been turned in so far.
Meanwhile, supporters of Mr Aristide complain of a witch-hunt by the new interim government. Amnesty International says at least four of the ex-president's associates have been kidnapped, and other citizens have been attacked and harassed.
And allegations have emerged about the role of the Dominican Republic, Haiti's neighbour, in the uprising. “They didn't give us any guns, but they gave their backing,” says one rebel source. The theory is that Dominican generals wanted a military rival next door to justify their own budget (the Dominican armed forces are one of the largest in the hemisphere on a per capita basis). There are also questions about how much the Americans knew about this collusion. A Pentagon official conceded that a rebel military camp on the Haitian-Dominican border was identified a year before the revolt began. Critics say the Americans could easily have snuffed out the plot by leaning on the Dominican government, but that—although there were some pretty disreputable characters in the rebel ranks—they chose not to.
What about the future? Though American troops will soon be pulling out, Haiti's fortunes will still partly rest on the extent of Washington's largesse. So far, the United States has pledged only $55 million for Haiti, far less than was once anticipated.
The country will need manpower as well as money. Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, this week called for a new stabilisation mission, involving some 6,700 troops and over 1,600 international police and experts (the current force contains only 3,600 soldiers, more than half of them Americans; the rest are French, Chileans and Canadians). Reginald Dumas, Mr Annan's envoy to Haiti, says the international community needs to make a 20-year commitment to prevent the country sliding back into violence yet again.
The rebels have their own agenda. They and their allies have already been allowed to fill municipal positions left vacant by fleeing supporters of Mr Aristide's Lavalas Family party. Their next goal could be the reconstitution of the Haitian armed forces, as the Dominicans allegedly intended. Herard Abraham, a retired general and Haiti's new interior minister, is sympathetic. Mr Aristide disbanded the army in 1994, after it had ousted him in 1991; several former army officers were among the rebel leaders. Some of them are now demanding a decade's worth of back pay.
Human-rights activists fear a new Haitian army would guarantee the impunity of criminals. The Americans argue that Haiti doesn't need an army. But if they and the rest of the world look away, as they have done in the past, the rebels may get their way again.