WORLD

FINAL MEASURES

Clinton mobilizes he U.S. military to invade Haiti

ANDREW BILSKI September 26 1994
WORLD

FINAL MEASURES

Clinton mobilizes he U.S. military to invade Haiti

ANDREW BILSKI September 26 1994

FINAL MEASURES

WORLD

Clinton mobilizes he U.S. military to invade Haiti

After 20 months of fruitless negotiations with Haiti’s de facto military leadership, and several weeks of increasingly strident but ineffectual rhetoric, a frustrated U.S. President Bill Clinton last week turned first to gunboat diplomacy. But then, in a final effort to avoid a threatened invasion and accompanying bloodshed, Clinton dispatched former president Jimmy Carter to Port-au-Prince. Carter’s mission: to persuade military dictator Lt.-Gen. Raoul Cédras and the rest of Haiti’s rogue leaders to leave the island peacefully, and to negotiate the terms of that departure.

Carter, accompanied by Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the armed services committee, and Colin Powell, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, arrived in the Haitian capital shortly after noon on Saturday and later visited Cédras, for meetings that were to continue throughout the weekend.

Earlier, as the U.S. navy command ship Mount Whitney steamed towards Haiti to direct an invasion armada of at least 18 warships and 14 military cargo transport vessels,

Clinton took to the airwaves to present his case for a U.S.-led international invasion to a skeptical American people. Declared the President: “The message of the United States to the Haitian dictators is clear: your time is up.” Clinton added that exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide should be restored to office after three years of brutality and political violence that have killed some 3,000 Haitians.

A defiant Cédras responded that he was prepared to die rather than step down. Referring to U.S. offers of immunity from prosecution and third-country residency if he and his cronies left Haiti without a fight, Cédras declared: “I’m not interested in any buyout.”

Many analysts were bewildered by Cédras’s defiant stand, given the overwhelming superiority of U.S. troops and firepower. But they also questioned why Clinton would risk American lives in such an unpopular cause. A Time/CNN poll taken after the President’s speech showed that 58 per cent of Americans opposed an invasion with only 27 per cent in favor. Many Democratic and

Republican congressmen, who face re-election in November, have criticized the use of force. And in a joint statement, the presidents of the Roman Catholic bishops conferences of Canada, Latin America and the United States said an invasion of Haiti is not morally justified and is unlikely to establish a true democracy there.

But having beat the war drum so loudly over the past month, Clinton made military intervention, sanctioned by the UN Security Council, a diplomatic and political priority. Foreign policy analyst Lincoln Gordon, a former assistant secretary of state for interAmerican affairs, told Maclean’s: ‘There is no strategic rationale for invading Haiti. But Clinton has talked himself into a box. His credibility is at stake.” For his part, the President told the American people: “Now, the United States must protect its interests: to stop the brutal atrocities that threaten tens of thousands of Haitians; to secure our borders and preserve stability in our hemisphere; to promote democracy and uphold the reliability of our commitment around the world.”

Military experts say the 20,000-member U.S. force—bolstered by some 2,000 soldiers from 24 countries—could quickly overwhelm Haiti’s poorly trained 7,400-man army, which is backed by a few thousand ragtag auxiliaries. Only a small percentage of Haiti’s eight patrol boats, three aircraft, she helicopters and six armored vehicles are operational. And after 10 months of international boycotts, its jeeps, machine-guns and artillery are woefully short of ammunition, fuel and spare parts.

he U.S. military to invade Haiti

Under contingency plans already practised by the U.S. military for a Haiti invasion, marines and Seal (sea, air and land) special forces troops would likely go ashore before dawn in the capital of Port-au-Prince to provide intelligence and help prepare for an assault. Shortly after, according to Pentagon officials, nearly 2,000 82nd Airborne Division troops from the aircraft carrier America would secure the city’s civilian and military airports. At almost the same time, up to 2,000 troops from the army’s 10th Mountain Division would sweep into the capital from the aircraft carrier Eisenhower and about 1,800 marines from the helicopter assault ship Wasp would hit the northern city of Cap-Haïtien. The aim would be to put key communications, military, police and other strategic targets in U.S. hands within hours after the first assault. As U.S. Defence Secretary William Perry put it: “The military aspect of this would be over in a matter of hours, at most a day or two.”

John Luddy, a former marine infantry officer and now a policy analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington,

is one of many critics of U.S. military intervention. From a military point of view, he said, the actual invasion would be less a problem than what happens “after the island is secure.” One great danger would be disarming Haitian military and militia groups acting as a palace guard. There is the threat of retaliation against U.S. citizens. And guerrillas are certain to stage terrorist attacks. Said Luddy: “Americans are going to die.”

The last time U.S. forces invaded Haiti, in 1915, they remained there for 19 years. Now, Pentagon officials insisted, the plan was to withdraw within months after any invasion, leaving in place a multinational UN force, including Canada, designed to provide transitional stability in Haiti.

On a visit to Washington last week, Foreign Minister André Ouellet reaffirmed that Canada would not participate in any actual invasion. But he said Ottawa would send police to Haiti to train a local constabulary if Aristide is restored to power. Last month, Ottawa signed a memorandum of understanding with aides of the exiled president to train about 100 Haitians in Canada to be the nucleus of a reformed police force for the country.

In Washington, where he has been living for the past three years, Aristide, 41, said he would return to Haiti within 10 days of an invasion. He also confirmed that he would hand power over to a democratically elected successor when his five-year term of office expires in December, 1995.

A fiery Roman Catholic priest who was expelled from his Salesian order for promoting class struggle among Haiti’s poor, Aristide was elected with 67 per cent of the vote in December, 1990, and is still popular with a large number of Haiti’s seven million inhabitants. His brief seven-month rule was the only time Haiti was run by a popularly elected government since independence from France in 1804. During that time, Aristide undercut the interests of the elite and the corrupt army. He attacked drug trafficking and graft—revenue sources for the army—and favored raising the daily minimum wage from the equivalent of $4 to $7, a reform that outraged wealthy employers. But he often ruled arbitrarily, undercutting powers of the parliament, occasionally violating Haiti’s Constitution and threatening his enemies by implying that they should be lynched. The army, backed by the elite that feared losing its privileges, ousted Aristide on Sept. 30,1991, and sent him into exile.

As the Haitian crisis edged towards a violent climax, residents of Port-au-Prince anxiously awaited the American invasion. “We want it to happen and be over with,” said the hostess of a downtown restaurant who, fearing reprisals from the military, asked not to have her name used. “If you’re dead, you’re dead,” she said. “If you’re alive, you can pick up the pieces and get on with your life.”

ANDREW BILSKI

WILLIAM LOWTHER