December 21, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Twenty thousand U.S. troops landed in Haiti five years ago to restore democracy. The last of those troops are leaving Haiti now. Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on what the five years have meant for Haiti.
|Helping those in need|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Earlier this month, on Port-au-Prince Bay where Haiti's capital city sits like a damaged jewel, an American naval construction brigade loaded equipment to go home. These are some of the last U.S. troops in Haiti, remnants of an operation that has, over the past five years, claimed the energies of tens of thousands of American soldiers and civilians and cost taxpayers more than $2 billion. A few combat troops remain in Haiti for guard duty. The rest left in 1996 when multinational U.N. forces took over peacekeeping. Since then about 400 or so American soldiers have been doing mainly humanitarian work here. The commander is Lt. Col. Ray Duncan.
LT. COL. RAY DUNCAN: We've provided medical assistance to over 130,000 patients, and I think we've drilled 170 wells. And we've put water in communities where people didn't have water before, so instead of walking miles to get to a well or get to a source of water, they've got water near their homes. When you can say that people have water for the very first time in their lives, that's pretty amazing. And they've got classrooms and they've got roads to drive on that just didn't exist before.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Not far from this port, members of a U.S. Air Force transportable hospital unit were treating patients on the grounds of Haiti's Coast Guard headquarters. All these soldiers will be gone by the end of January. Other U.S. units will rotate in after that to do similar work, but they won't be stationed in Haiti. This kind of free medical care is rare in this country, the poorest in the hemisphere. More than one-quarter of all Haitian kids are malnourished. About 7 percent of Haitian babies die before reaching age 5. Lt. David Eaton, a physician assistant, said he feels he's putting a Band-Aid over a gushing wound.
FIRST LT. DAVID EATON: It's nice that we can help people, but it's also demoralizing at times because we see things we know we could take care of back in the states, but we don't have the supplies or the facility to do it. There was a small baby here a few months ago that was only a couple of weeks old. She had at least three different heart defects that required a transplant, and to have to sit here and tell that young lady that her baby is not going to live -- the thing that saddened me the most was is I walked out of the gate to wish her well, and three small youths came up and pushed her down and took her medicine from her. And our policy here is we're not allowed to intervene in any Haitian-Haitian relationships. And the only thing you could do was pick her up, try to clean the mud off her baby, help her back up, and get her some more medicine.
|Haiti: A country of contradictions|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: As Lieutenant Eaton found, Haiti remains a very dangerous place. About half the U.S. troops here provide security for the rest. From the beginning, U.S. policy-makers, concerned about American casualties, have sharply limited what troops here could do to confront random and organized violence.
Partly as a result, a hot debate is under way in Haiti now over whether the U.S. intervention has improved the lives and security of ordinary Haitians at all. American leaders had said restoring democracy and hence security was their key goal. In 1991, after democratic elections, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Catholic priest wildly popular with the poor, was sworn in as president of Haiti. The military overthrew him seven months later in a coup funded partly by wealthy Haitian business leaders. In the next three years, around 5,000 people were killed, many of them Aristide's supporters.
Thousands more fled in leaky boats, trying desperately to get to the United States. The NewsHour got caught up in this, too. Five years ago, just before U.S. troops landed here, a NewsHour crew and I got a taste of the then ruling military junta's repression. We were deported at gunpoint as part of a crackdown on local and foreign press. Our Haitian interpreter and assistant were briefly imprisoned. Since then other NewsHour teams have come to cover the U.S. intervention and President Aristide's return.
On this trip five years later, we wanted to know what, if anything, had changed. We found a place full of contradictions. After being reinstated by American troops, Aristide disbanded the army and replaced it with a new police force, but people still complain about violence. Millions of dollars of aid have poured in, but people still say they don't have enough to eat.
LUCIEN ELVIUS: (speaking through interpreter) In theory, according to my legal rights, I should be able to eat three meals a day. But I only eat once. I don't have money to send my kids to school; if my child is sick, I can't take care of him. There is no security. You're robbed from your pocket. Your throat is slit. There is no security in the streets.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And yet some data indicates poor Haitians haven't lost hope like they did in the early 1990s, after President Aristide was overthrown. For example, fewer people are fleeing by sea. About 400 Haitians were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard this year, as opposed to 1,400 last year and tens of thousands in the early '90s. Frantz Charles was one of those who left by boat. He fled just after the 1991 military coup. The U.S. Coast Guard picked him up, took him to Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, and six months later sent him back to Haiti.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since 1992, a lot has happened. What has happened to your life since 1992? Has anything improved?
FRANTZ CHARLES: (speaking through interpreter) There's nothing that's changed in my life. I live basically the same way I lived then.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Did you have hope that things would change when Aristide came back, for example?
FRANTZ CHARLES: (speaking through interpreter) Absolutely. And we still have hope that things are going to change.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: If somebody offers you a boat right now, would you take off again?
FRANTZ CHARLES: Oh, of course. (speaking through interpreter) Of course I would go.
|Closer to democracy|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Frantz Charles and most of his friends have no regular jobs. They say they barely survive on the few cents they make every couple of days from a private program that pays people who help clean up garbage. They still have faith in Aristide, whom they regard as the power behind the scenes here. Aristide served out his term and, restricted by the constitution from running again, oversaw elections and turned over power in 1996 to a close associate, the current president, Rene Preval. Aristide is expected to run for president again in elections scheduled for late next year.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In the presidential election, who will you vote for?
HAITIAN: (speaking through interpreter) Aristide.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why?
HAITIAN: (speaking through interpreter) Because he's done nothing bad to us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Not all of Aristide's former supporters have remained loyal. Gerard Pierre-Charles, an economist, and his wife, helped Aristide found the Lavalas Political Party in 1990. But Pierre-Charles said he became disillusioned when Aristide, after returning from exile in the United States, gave up being a priest, got married and also got rich.
GERARD PIERRE-CHARLES: (speaking through interpreter) Without doubt, the nectar of sweetness of the alcohol of power made him lose his head. It is a very painful phenomenon for all of us that were very close to Aristide to distance ourselves from him because the distance between the leader that emerged in the early days, and the head of the state who failed to satisfy expectations of the people who were hoping for so much is very great.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Aristide has remained off-limits to the foreign press over the past year, working behind high walls at his large home, or at his nonprofit foundation, both in Tabarre, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. On this day, members of his political party, potential candidates for the March legislative elections, waited outside the foundation for the former president's decision on who would run. At the end of the afternoon, children here for special classes boarded buses for home. Aristide told correspondent Guy Gendron of Radio Canada this month that literacy and other programs sponsored by the foundation account for his continuing popularity.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: One thing is to play the game as a politician. Another thing is to assume one's responsibility and serve in or outside government. Here we serve the people. That's why we have a community store where people can buy what they need at a low price. That's why we have a credit union that gives micro credit loans.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: When asked whether he was the richest man in Haiti, as some people claim, Aristide responded...
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: (speaking through interpreter) That is false. If you're speaking about wealth of the heart, it's true. If you're talking about the wealth of experience, it's true. But if you're speaking about money, that's absolutely false.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And on whether he's going to run for president, he answered that's not impossible. The March legislative election looms large here partly because parliament, which should be in session in this building, has been closed since January. President Preval dismissed it when he and the opposition couldn't agree on a schedule for constitutionally required elections. U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney, who has been here since March 1997, is leaving his post this month.
|Expectations to high?|
CARNEY: Failure to have the elections in March will mean continuing lack
of a constitutional government until whenever the elections are held.
This creates suspicion, apathy on the part of some of the electorate,
and adds to a fear that democracy just isn't worth it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's been five years and $2 billion and an enormous effort from many Americans here. What do you think has been accomplished?
TIMOTHY CARNEY: What we accomplished was to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to his presidential office here in Haiti. He was an elected president. Now, it's also clear that our expectations were too high, and that our hopes probably led our analyses. And as a result, there's been a certain frustration and even disappointment at the results over the last five years.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How would you describe those results?
TIMOTHY CARNEY: The key result is there really is a process towards democracy. It isn't democracy yet. It would be foolish to argue that. But what you have are a set of freedoms and rights that are increasingly being established. One of them is freedom of the press.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you wouldn't agree with those who say, as Senator McCain said on our show, that things are arguably worse in Haiti than before?
TIMOTHY CARNEY: Some things are not arguably but actually worse than before. For example, in any authoritarian state, the crime rate is usually fairly low. Well, in Haiti, while the crime rate in absolute terms is perhaps not so high, certainly not comparable with some of his Caribbean neighbors, the fact is the trend is alarming to those who have enjoyed the protection of an authoritarian armed force. And the economy is worse because the population is increasing, and there isn't enough investment either from Haitians who have money or from the United States and other countries to give the jobs that are needed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Ambassador Colin Granderson from the Caribbean island nation Trinidad and Tobago has directed a human rights monitoring mission sponsored by the U.N. and the organization of American states here since 1993. He agrees that expectations were too high and much remains to be done.
AMBASSADOR COLIN GRANDERSON: But I think what's important is the fact, with the disappearance of the army, that political space exists, perhaps for the first time, and the political crisis can for the first time have to be managed by politicians and not by generals and persons in uniforms.
It's a brand-new experience in Haiti. If you're trying to build institutions, institutions aren't built overnight. Institutions are not bricks and mortar. Institutions are people. And people don't change overnight. Attitudes don't change overnight. And it's a long, slow, difficult process.
I very often use the metaphor of a ship sailing against the wind. You can't go in a straight line. You have to tack. Other times you have the impression you're going backwards. You need to have the faith, I think. We have seen qualitative changes in Haiti.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some of the faith and many of the fears of the current moment center on Haiti's new police force, which has been built from scratch since 1995 to replace the disbanded military.
JIM LEHRER: That police force will be the subject of Elizabeth's next report on Haiti.