After the fiendish murders of a Haitian political candidate and dozens of citizens trying to exercise their right to vote, which brought that nation's recent elections to a halt, rumors arose of a possible U.S.-led military invasion.
I share the abhorrence of people around the world for that violence, meted out by the ruling junta and constituting one of the worst cases of barbarism in this hemisphere. Similarly, the lawlessness of the Ton-Tons Macoutes and the dangerous, volatile atmosphere that remains for the largely unarmed Haitian people are causes for deep concern.
Yet I am deeply worried, even chilled, at what appears to be the growing sentiment for intervention.
Among the first people to suggest the possibility of U.S. intervention to supervise new elections were Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.). Fauntroy has taken the position that he is advocating not an invasion but a humanitarian intervention to stop the killing, help remove the military junta and help install a legitimate government. While the State Department waffles, the White House contends that it has not considered intervention. But the rumors about American Marines landing on its shores are also making the rounds in Haiti.
Interestingly enough, the Congressional Black Caucus has called for a multinational peacekeeping force to ensure the freedom and security of the Haitian people when the next election takes place. And the talk is spreading to other countries. Monique Landry, Canada's minister for external relations, recently indicated that his country was "studying the possibility of participating in a 'peace force.' "
Obviously, U.S. intervention in a country in the Western Hemisphere is not without precedent. There was a covert U.S. role in Guatemala in 1954 when the nationalist regime became engaged in a dispute with a U.S.-based food production company. During the U.S. occupation, about 30,000 peasants were massacred by hostile opposition forces, and despite later U.S. efforts, Guatemala is today one of the poorest countries in Central America.
The most recent landing of U.S. Marines in the Western Hemisphere was, of course, during the coup in Grenada in 1983, a move, ironically, that was roundly criticized by some of the same black members of Congress who are pushing today for intervention in Haiti. Although Grenadians expected to be given U.S. working permits, what they got was high unemployment; up to 30 percent of Grenadians are now unemployed. Furthermore, according to Time magazine, "some $90 million in U.S. aid since 1984 has done little to better the lot of the average worker." Instead, the money has been used to repair roads, complete the airport, which is infrequently used, and build a mental institution to replace the one accidentally bombed by Americans. Even the prospect of tourism seems bleak.
Thus, one argument against intervention is that past invasions have, for the indigenous populaces, been at best beau gestes, signifying little and, at worst, becoming avenues to disaster. Significantly, most of the Caribbean nations have spoken in opposition to intervention in Haiti, including several that helped facilitate the U.S. invasion of Grenada.
But I think there's a further point to be made. If we're going to consider invading Haiti to right its wrong government, let's also consider invading South Africa, a country that is similarly oppressing its citizens. If we are talking about humanitarian ideals, what is different about humanitarian principles as they relate to South Africa and the same principles in Haiti?
Some people would say that to talk of a multinational force invading South Africa is clearly absurd. But why is invasion of a country such as Haiti any less absurd than invading one with the massacre record of South Africa, except for the fact that Haiti has a black-led government, is a small country in the Western Hemisphere and, unlike South Africa, has no nuclear weapons?
If South Africa is being given time to work out its destiny, then Haiti should have the same right. And the world can use the tools of diplomacy, economic sanctions and extensive aid withdrawal to force the violent elements back to their senses.
With the barbaric oppression in South Africa and in Haiti, the people have the equivalent of sticks and stones while the rulers have guns. But that is only part of the equation. In Haiti as in South Africa, the people's iron will and determination to have a say in the ruling of their beloved country should never be underestimated.