U.N. Leaving Haiti, Country Still Ailing Many Fear Coup After Peacekeeping Troops Leave Island Today
Pigs root through garbage these days, no longer consuming the bodies that once littered Haiti’s streets. The corpses, hands tied and bullets through the head, stopped showing up after U.N. peacekeepers arrived.
The U.N. soldiers go away again today, ending a three-year mission that has restored a semblance of peace - but not peace of mind.
They leave behind a people enraged by constant hunger and rising crime, people robbed of the high hopes they had for a better life when some 20,000 U.S. troops stormed ashore Sept. 19, 1994, and disbanded a corrupt military regime.
U.N. representative Enrique ter Horst agrees that the international community misjudged the extent of Haiti’s trauma and the self-interest of greedy Haitian politicians, who have stalled an international economic recovery plan.
Haiti remains “a country that has not left the intensive care unit,” he acknowledged. “But I think a fairly decent work was accomplished.”
The peacekeepers helped Haiti hold peaceful elections, but the last one was tainted by fraud, leaving Haiti without a functioning government since Premier Rosny Smarth resigned in June.
Haiti is now caught in a power struggle between legislators loyal to Smarth and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. President Rene Preval, who replaced Aristide, has become so unpopular that people have screamed abuse in his face.
Saturday afternoon, Preval told a farewell parade of Canadian troopers that the U.N. mission was “a success. Haiti is better armed in its march toward a state of law.”
Political infighting cost Haiti $120 million in foreign aid this year and discouraged the foreign investment needed to produce jobs for the 70 percent of people without work.
The population of 7.2 million is growing faster than the economy, which grew 1.8 percent this year compared to 4.5 percent in 1995. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live on U.S.-funded, vitamin-enriched mush while others die in a resurgence of diseases, including tuberculosis and typhoid.
Most Haitians have no access to electricity and clean water. The roads built by U.S. troops already are crumbling into potholes.
The Canadian and Pakistani U.N. peacekeepers who took over from the Americans in March 1995 have mixed emotions about leaving.
“We are very happy with the accomplishment but we think we could still do good things around here - because this country isn’t in good shape right now,” said Canadian Lt. Col. Richard Blanchette of Quebec City’s Royal 22nd Infantry Regiment.
“If the U.N. people leave Haiti tomorrow, then something terrible can happen in Haiti tomorrow,” warned Janvier Demesvar, a 33-yearold Haitian who fled to the United States and was sent back.
President Clinton sent the troops in part to halt a flood of Haitian boat people. Many fear Haitians will take to the seas again.
The U.N. peacekeeping mandate in Haiti called for providing a “safe and secure environment” and creating a Haitian police force from scratch.
Still, 75 people were murdered in September and 60 in October.
“Safe?” scoffed Rosalind Petit-Homme, 27, who was selling roosters in a street market. “Nowhere is safe. The zenglendos (gangsters) have attacked me here, in my home and just the other day they robbed me on a bus.”
She had three stitches on her forehead from the robbery.
Like most Haitians, Petit-Homme never grasped that the U.N. mandate limited peacekeepers to guarding strategic installations, basically to prevent a coup. They’re leaving just as Preval’s government claims renewed threats from coup-plotters.
“Drug money is financing subversion, insecurity and coup d’etat plots,” said Robert Manuel, the undersecretary for public security. “In the drug trade … there are also judicial officials and police officers.”
More than 200 police officers have been fired for causes ranging from excessive force to armed robbery and drug dealing.
U.N. officials say the police force has improved recently. On Friday, the United Nations agreed to establish a 300-member civilian police mission to continue training Haitians until November 1998.
At its peak in 1995, the U.N. mission had 6,000 peacekeepers in Haiti in 1995. The number recently has dropped below 1,300.
Some 500 non-combat U.S. troops remain in Haiti, ostensibly to build roads, bridges and wells. U.S. Republican politicians are demanding their withdrawal as well.