Nearly 60 Haitians have died in the last two weeks in an uprising against the rule of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. As the country teeters on the brink of civil war, the United States – which failed to anticipate the upheaval – must move in concert with others to resolve this humanitarian and security crisis. Up until now, the United States has provided verbal support – but no more – to the efforts of the Organization of American States and Caribbean Community to facilitate a solution. In a delayed response, yesterday the United States called a meeting of the international community to develop a plan, and announced the upcoming visit of a military assessment team. However, failure to provide timely and real support will result in a flood of refugees to the shores of Florida and the further loss of life on the streets of Haiti.
The United States should provide whatever backing is necessary to succeed in negotiating a solution – including using its relationship with the opposition to ensure they come to the table – and supporting Haiti’s development in the long-term. Despite yesterday’s last-minute decision to develop an offer, the U.S. commitment to quelling the unrest and putting Haiti on a real path to development remains unclear. Sadly, Haiti may become an example of how U.S. commitments in Iraq may prevent us from averting humanitarian and security disasters in other parts of the world.
The United States must be resolute in endorsing democracy and constitutional order in Haiti. After wavering on whether the United States would support Aristide’s ouster, U.S. officials have now promised to back him. However, such mixed signals not only fuel tensions in Haiti, but contribute to the skepticism of countries around the region regarding our commitment to democracy. Furthermore, supporting the democratic process in Haiti means protecting its people, whose situation would not improve if the violent thugs of the opposition were to assume power throughout the country.
The United States must not allow what happened in Liberia to happen in Haiti, which lies just off our shores. While U.S. funds and troops made an important difference in Liberia, by dragging our feet the United States allowed the situation to deteriorate and cost hundreds of Liberians their lives. In Haiti, the United States should immediately commit the necessary and appropriate resources not only to resolve the crisis in the short-term, but to sustain peace and set the country on a positive course over the long-term.