Marines Won't Solve Haiti's Crisis

Haiti was in big trouble long before rebels launched their big push to overthrow President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to the CIA World Factbook, Haiti ranked dead last on the list of the Caribbean's poorest nations with the lowest economic development rate. Eighty percent of the population lives in crushing poverty, and the life expectancy is slightly more than 50 years. At the island's present rate of growth (or more accurately regression), it will take decades for it to achieve universal primary education, and to make a real dent in its poverty and the abominably high child mortality rate.

Much of the blame for the violence, disease, poverty, and corruption thatseem hopelessly embedded in Haiti can be dumped squarely on the backs of the long parade of dictators, despots, and demagogues that have ruled the country. In a three quarter century stretch from 1843 to 1915, 21 out of the 22 leaders never finished their term of office. In the two decades after that the U.S. Marines occupied and ran the country. Haiti's dictators, most notably and notoriously Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, killed, maimed and terrorized their citizens, rigged or rejected free elections, and systematically looted the country's treasury while living in palatial splendor. Their greed and dictatorial rule has locked the country into the destructive and near permanent cycle of poverty, and disease, and dependency that has become Haiti's sorry trademark.

Then there's the AIDS epidemic that has hammered Haiti. One in 16 Haitians is afflicted with AIDS/HIV. Only a miniscule fraction of those with the disease have any hope of getting the potential life sustaining antiretroviral drugs. President Bush and Congress have yet to cough up the much-promised extra billions to fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and the Caribbean. Even when, or if, the money flows, thousands more Haitians could be dead from the disease.

Though Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell demanded that Aristide go and almost certainly helped broker the deal to get him out, they have not mentioned the stalled AIDS funding, let alone the millions in aid that the U.S. froze to protest the alleged rigged Senate election in Haiti in 2000.

Also, Bush has requested billions to fund a proposed Millennium Challenge Account to spur development in poor nations. The catch is that Congress must approve the funds, and even if it does, the money is not exclusively earmarked for the poorest of poor nations, such as Haiti. Bush has not made mention of this initiative during the Haitian crisis, nor has yet given any indication that the U.S. will substantially raise the amount of aid it gives to Haiti when, or again if, a stable, democratically government takes power in Haiti. Though France also played a part in Aristide's exit, it also has not said whether it will increase its aid to Haiti whenever fair and free elections are held. Other than the fear that the country's continuing chaos could trigger a massive exodus of thousands of Haitian boat people to the U.S., so far Bush has offered next to nothing to Haiti.

There are reasons. The country has no vital potential economic and strategic importance to the U.S. It contains no known oil, or mineral wealth. The work force is too small, poor, illiterate, disease plagued, and unskilled to offer American and industrial companies any incentive to open up shop there. Unlike the growing number of pro-U.S. African states, that Bush courted during his Africa trip last year to provide dependable political allies in his war against terrorism, and the fight against Muslim fundamentalism, as well as potential military bases, Haiti again is too poor and unstable to offer any real help here either.

Bush used his Africa foray as a global platform to self-promote and evangelize against AIDS. This spruced up his image as the "compassionate conservative." In doing so, Bush almost certainly had an eye on U.S. politics, and hoped that would boost his political fortunes among African-American voters.

But Haiti is different. A few civil rights leaders such as Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and a handful of activists, have been outspoken critics of Bush policy toward Haiti, and the treatment of Haitian refugees. Yet, there is little sense that the majority of African-Americans identify with the nation's plight. The poverty, language and cultural gulf between Haitian and American blacks is simply too great for that.

Haiti remains firmly locked in the grip of terrible poverty, disease, violence and autocratic rule. It will take real democratic rule, renewed and substantial U.S. economic assistance, and greater hemispheric regional integration and cooperation to prevent Haiti

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