ALBANY, N.Y. — There was a picture of a carnival procession, men, women and children wearing bright masks. Of a morning. . .The harsh colors gave an impression of gaiety, the drummers and trumpeters seemed about to play a lively air. Only when you came closer you saw how ugly the masks were and how the masquers surrounded a cadaver in grave-clothes; then the primitive colors went flat. . .Wherever that picture hung, I would feel Haiti close to me.
Graham Greene, "The Comedians" 1965
If you knew Haiti, it was an amazing sight--those helicopters like giant insects buzzing over the beautiful, ravaged land; men in camouflage landing and taking up combat positions at the little airport as if this might be their war, and all the Haitians waving and cheering. You wondered if the Americans had secured the airport's gift shop and bookstore and the little bar. You hoped they were buying up Creole dictionaries.
You could tell the Haitian military was not supporting the U.S. intervention because the Haitian people had not been given tiny American flags to wave in front of the TV cameras. (When Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier fell and the Americans spirited him out of the country, the people had the flags.) At the bottom of the screen on CNN, a cutline ran: U.S. Occupation of Haiti. If you knew about the Americans' 1915 landing in Haiti, it was like a \o7 deja vu \f7 you had never really \o7 vu\f7 'd.
History makes you pessimistic. The words being used were Army-bureaucratese, circa Vietnam: "permissive entry," "administrative landing." The style, too, was Vietnam: cooperation with dictators.
It was odd--after the "success" of the Carter Mission--to watch all the television people congratulating themselves and the U.S. team on a successful venture (No U.S. soldiers hurt!) when you knew what a capitulation we had made to the Haitian generals--butchers on Thursday, and honorable on Monday. Of course, for many TV commentators, last Thursday, with President Bill Clinton examining graphic photographs of Haitian Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras' victims, was as far away and forgettable as 1915.
On July 28, 1915, we invaded Haiti with one ship and one battalion. We conquered in a day. It wasn't very bloody--two sailors died, victims of random shootings. The Haitian Army, even more pathetic than now, was immediately disarmed. We stayed for 19 years, in which we used Haitian slave labor to build roads for Haiti, and alienated the population, while waging an intermittent and brutal war against anti-American guerrillas.
This time around, the intervention was even less bloody, but by the second day of the occupation, Haitians were already paying with their blood for the "bloodless" incursion. At least two Haitians have been killed by the still-ruling Haitian authorities since the occupation began--one in Cite Soleil (an Aristide stronghold) and one, a hapless coconut vendor helping the crowd celebrate the Americans' arrival, killed by a policeman's baton. Who knows how many died in the provinces, with all cameras trained on the capital. And no one is sure what the term of the occupation is to be, or what its goals are.
The result of the Carter mission was a shock to the Aristide government--which up through last Sunday night had been talking with U.S. officials in some detail about the transition to democracy and the disarming of the Haitian forces. With a gun to their heads, the Haitian military, about to be invaded by a force that is--to put it mildly--vastly superior, got the following concessions:
You can stay in power until the end of your appointed term.
You leave hororably.
You and your men receive complete amnesty for all crimes committed.
You remain in Haiti if you so desire.
Exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return is not mentioned.
The army retains all its weapons.
The embargo will be lifted while the junta is still in power.
You will be consulted respectfully on occupation strategy and military planning.
Lt. Col. Michel Francois will not be included in this agreement.
The Administration will sign this agreement with de facto President Emile Jonaissant, whose government the United States does not recognize.
It used to be that when you put a gun to someone's head, he begged for mercy. Of course, he has to believe you're willing to shoot, and he has to believe the gun is loaded with bullets not blanks. In this case, we put a gun to his head, and then we begged him for mercy. The dirty secret is the Clinton Administration didn't want to invade and the generals knew it. They really had the upper hand.
Why? One theory is that it has always been the U.S. plan to allow the Haitian military to remain more or less intact, and to grant the leaders of the coup and its bloody aftermath some kind of legal amnesty. After all, the military is the only institution that works in Haiti--or so the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince believes.