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20,000 Troops Later

By Porter Goss

Wednesday, September 29, 1999; Page A29

In 1994, the Clinton administration sent 20,000 U.S. combat troops to Haiti to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Now, five years and several billion dollars later, the administration has announced the end of its policy of permanently stationing troops on this small island.

This is the right decision -- however belated -- for our troops and, in the end, it is right for Haiti. But what have we actually accomplished there? The sad truth is that things in Haiti are in many ways worse now than they were before the U.S. intervention. Arguably, that country has receded from the high-water mark of democracy witnessed in the 1990 elections.

In January of this year, Haitian President Rene Preval effectively dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree. The economy continues to decline. Haiti has never recovered from the embargo imposed by the Clinton administration in an effort to punish the Cedras regime, which had toppled Aristide. Crime is on the rise. Drive-by shootings and other dramatic politically motivated murders and attacks are numerous. Parliamentary elections in November were expected to provide a road-map to resolve the steady flow of crises, but now they have been canceled and it is at best a hope that they will be held next spring.

In 1990 I observed the elections in which Aristide was chosen as president. While there were irregularities, there is no question the elections were largely free, open and fair. These elections stand out in my mind because the Haitian people made an earnest and sincere statement of hope in both the ballot box and in democracy. During subsequent trips to Haiti, I have encountered a far different attitude toward elections and democracy. When I asked one woman recently why she wasn't going to the polls she replied, "why bother -- democracy has not put food on my table."

From the military's perspective, as testified to by the appropriate, responsible officers in the Department of Defense, our permanent combat troops should be brought out of Haiti. There are several good reasons why:

Haiti is not a combat situation. Our troops are digging ditches, building roads, dispensing medicine and carrying out other noncombat tasks that would better be performed by other organizations.

We have been asked to leave by the host country.

Our troops are a target. The majority of our soldiers are guarding other soldiers who are carrying out humanitarian tasks.

Symbolically, U.S. troops appear to be propping up an increasingly corrupt totalitarian government of elitists.

Most of the responsibility for the pathetic state of affairs in Haiti rests on the shoulders of the Haitian leaders who have put the pursuit and preservation of power above the needs of their own people. But the current administration bears a heavy burden here as well. As Haiti has slid back toward a totalitarian government, the White House has looked the other way. If the administration cannot put its Haiti policy back on track, the very least it can do is provide the American people with a full accounting of what happened to their investment.

The writer is a Republican representative from Florida.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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