Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

U.S. military should step lightly in Haiti

The images pouring from earthquake-devastated Haiti onto the Internet and television are heart wrenching. The nightly news shows New York City firefighters crawling over downed buildings in search of survivors, crowds of survivors clambering for food and water or U.S. soldiers carrying injured children into helicopters for treatment.

U.S. troops have been instrumental in providing aid to countless injured and newly homeless Haitians. But a few Latin American leaders are upset that the American military, with 16,000 troops now in Haiti, has taken such a prominent role in the relief effort. Bolivian President Evo Morales declared last week that the United States “cannot use a natural disaster to occupy Haiti.”

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez repeated Morales’ accusation in stronger terms, accusing “the gringos” of “militarily occupying Haiti.”

Other voices have joined left-leaning Latin American leaders in criticizing the U.S. military presence in Haiti. A recent column in The Guardian accused the United States of prioritizing security over more urgent needs like drinking water, shelter and food. The column also indicted the United States for driving Haitian rice farmers into poverty by exporting vast quantities of subsidized American rice. In short, the author diagnosed Washington with a fear of Haitian self-government curable only by occupation.

So are Morales, Chavez and British opinion columnists simply taking potshots at the big, bad American military? Or do they have a point?

Morales and Chavez have been too quick to criticize the U.S. response, which is rooted in compassion and has saved thousands of lives. Unfortunately, some of their criticisms strike home.

When Navy helicopters disgorged U.S. Marines onto the lawn of the destroyed Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince last week, it was not the first time they stood guard there. The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 until 1934, and Washington supported a brutal dictatorship that ruled Haiti until 1986.

The United States was poised to invade Haiti again in 1994 to depose a military government. Troops were already in the air when Jimmy Carter and Colin Powell secured an 11th hour agreement with the Haitian government to allow them to land peacefully.

In 2004, another military coup overthrew the Haitian government, forcing President Jean-Bertrande Aristide into exile in South Africa. The Haitian government accused the United States, along with Canada and France, of masterminding the rebellion. Aristide accused the U.S. military of forcing him onto an American plane and flying him to the Central African Republic.

With such a dramatic history, it’s easy to see how some observers are wary of a U.S. presence in Haiti. But by acting carefully, the Obama administration can keep those sentiments from spreading.

The U.S. military should focus on providing essential aid such as water, food, shelter and medical care. The U.S. military can provide these urgently-needed supplies better than any other agency.

The U.N. peacekeeping force, and not American soldiers, should be responsible for providing security throughout Haiti. Most importantly, American troops should not remain in Haiti longer than necessary.  Given the history of U.S.-Haiti relations, a prolonged U.S. military presence would seem like an occupation.

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