No Haitian third way

By Lawrence Bailey

In a conversation over lunch with a close friend of mine, the topics of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and American intervention came up. We had differing viewpoints.

"It’s nice to see the world community finally stepping up and doing something," he said, or something to that effect, adding military intervention for humanitarian reasons was a refreshing development.

I was more skeptical.

The notion of military humanitarian intervention makes me very uneasy. The American "liberation" of Afghanistan or Iraq has always smacked of power politics and not a genuine concern for the well-being of Afghans and Iraqis. I have no doubt George W. Bush is correct in saying Saddam Hussein is an evil man, however, I doubt that’s his lone, or even his primary, reason for shocking and awing his way to Baghdad. Call me a cynic, but when Halliburton gets rich off sweetheart government contracts while Dick Cheney is Dubya’s right hand man, I get suspicious.

However, Haiti is an entirely different beast.

The United States did not bull headlong into Haiti without international support, nor did they need to concoct some notion of an imminent threat. While it’s unlikely Haitian rebels were going to organize attacks beyond the shores of Hispaniola, people were dying daily and in ever-increasing numbers, and that needed to be addressed.

Still, the whole situation doesn’t sit well with me.

You see, there is a culture and a history of violence in Haiti–from 19th century racial violence to American military rule to Papa Doc and Baby Doc. This has led to repeated American military intervention, as early as 1915 and as recently as 1994. In 1994, the Americans went in to reinstate the democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Ten years later, they were deposing him.

It’s not that I think Aristide should have stayed in power, nor do I have any huge moral qualms with the powers-that-be looking out for the common Haitian. No, the thing that irks me is the fact we have yet to find a viable alternative to ousting one leader and installing another, only to oust him somewhere down the line.

Look at the Taliban in Afghanistan or Hussein in Iraq for examples of governments the United States thought would be more beneficial to the people than those that preceded them. Then look at Haiti where one man has been removed and another will likely take his place–but for how long?

It’s maddening that we seem to be cycling through leaders we, who are well-removed from the people and the culture of these countries, feel would be the most suitable. It’s maddening we still grab our guns, head overseas and impose what we truly believe is a better situation. It’s maddening we aren’t more open-minded, more willing to step back and find a third way. And it’s maddening to feel so helpless in the face of it all.

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