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For Any Solution to Haiti, U.S. Must Include Aristide

May 15, 1994|Amy Wilentz | Amy Wilentz is the author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier" (Simon and Schuster)

ALBANY, N.Y. — The Haitian problem is growing thornier by the minute. Amid a deluge of proposals to end it, the issues that caused the crisis are growing clearer: an entrenched business elite unwilling to part with an iota of its power nor share a penny from its pocketbook; a military that traditionally acts as paid agent of the business elite's agenda; an overwhelming majority of poor and disenfranchised who hoped change would come when they elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a president unique in Haiti's history because he represented the people's interests, and a large contingent of jobless, uneducated young toughs who see no hope for a future and are willing to join whatever death squad will pay for a house, a month's meals or a bottle of rum.

Aristide's election was supposed to have produced a peaceful overthrow of the status quo, but because he went about changing things in Haiti, and didn't do it slowly or subtly enough, he was overthrown instead, taking things in Haiti back to square one--to square zero, in fact. He tried to purge and professionalize the military, to tax businesses, to eliminate the drug trade, and to grant workers certain basic rights. These reforms, which seem elementary, are exactly what the elite in Haiti will not stand for.

Here are some of the amusing and not so amusing solutions being bandied about in Washington:

* Bay of Pigs Jr. Since Bay of Pigs Sr. worked so well. This solution proposes that the U.S. government--rather than send its own boys--arm a group of Haitian exiles and send them in boats to retake Haiti and install a new government. The question is, what group of Haitians would the Americans arm? There are so many. Taking a leaf from the Bay of Pigs, there are the crazed right-wingers; there are the crazed left-wingers (split, of course, into many warring cells); there are Christian groups and voodoo groups, friends of the United States and avowed anti-Americans. There are relatives of the elite, groups of professionals (send in the doctors) and people militating for a mass movement of the proletariat (as if Haiti had one). There are Aristide supporters, former Aristide supporters and anti-anti-Aristide supporters. You choose.

* The Black King of La Gonave. This is my personal favorite, actually mentioned for two days running in the national press. (This proposal, at least, has a historical precedent, sort of: During the U.S. occupation of Haiti, Marine Lt. Faustin Wirkus of Pennsylvania, civil administrator of La Gonave, a barren and impoverished Haitian island about 40 miles from Port-au-Prince, was crowned king by the people there, and was known as "The White King of La Gonave.")

The Black King solution proposes that Aristide should be flown to La Gonave. There, he should gather and organize his people for an armed attack on the main land. The United States could then remove itself from the continuing crisis.

Unfortunately for Aristide and the men and women he would need to take back Port-au-Prince, there is not enough drinking water or food on La Gonave now to support the current population. This plan also seems to posit that Aristide's physical removal from the United States would somehow enable Washington to wash its hands of the matter. "You're on your own now" is the theory.

But the United States has never let the Haitians go it alone. America has been involved in Haiti since the beginning--since Haitian slaves declared independence from France in 1804, while the United States still relied on slavery ; since United Fruit and the National City Bank became major players on the island; since the United States invaded and occupied Haiti from 1915-1934; since the Cold War, when we supported the cold-blooded dictator Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier as a reasonable alternative to an imperceptible communist threat; since the fall of his son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, in 1986, when we supported the Haitian military as a force for democracy. And now, since the post-Aristide era, when the United States has obfuscated and generally encouraged an atmosphere in which the military regime believed it had the tacit support of Washington and the international community.

* Think Tank Option. Form a multi-party interim government that would permit a U.N. force to oversee next year's elections and stay in place afterward to protect the results.

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