Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, commander of the U. S. troops in Latin America, in testifying before a House committee on Feb. 25 virtually pronounced the Clinton administration?s policy toward Haiti a dismal failure. He said, “As our continuous military presence in Haiti moves into its fifth year, we see little progress toward creation of a permanently stable internal security environment. In fact, with the recent expiration of Parliament and imposition of rule by Presidential decree, we have seen some backsliding. He said that we have been keeping an average of about 500 military personnel in Haiti to provide “humanitarian assistance.”
General Wilhelm said he had recommended that we terminate our permanent military presence in Haiti. Why? Well, for one thing it cost us over $20 million in 1998. But he said, “At this point, I am more concerned about force protection than cash outlays.” He explained, “The unrest generated by political instability requires us to constantly reassess the safety and security environment in which our troops are living and working.” He said that until the troops are withdrawn, “We will continue to make force protection job one for our deployed forces. We will not let our guard down.”
This means that we are keeping 500 American servicemen in Haiti under conditions in which our primary concern is protecting their lives. In September 1994, President Clinton sent 20,000 American troops to Haiti to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. This was supposed to usher in a bright new future for this impoverished Caribbean country. Our troops were sent to make Haiti safe for Aristide, who had been ousted from his presidential office in September 1991 after serving only eight months of his four-year term.
During those eight turbulent months, he had incited his followers to murder 27 people by necklacing, the barbaric practice of burning them to death by putting a gasoline filled tire around their necks and igniting it. Aristide, who had been diagnosed as psychotic, had incited the mobs, telling them that he loved the smell of “Pere Lebrun,” the Haitian name for necklacing. He had them gather before the Parliament and the Supreme Court with their tires, gasoline and matches, to intimidate the members of Parliament and the judges.
After the Reverend Sylvio Claude, a Baptist minister who headed the Christian Democratic Party, became the 27th victim of necklacing on September 29, 1991, Aristide was arrested by the military and given the choice of standing trial on nine serious charges or resigning and going into exile. He took the exile option and spent the next three years scheming and lobbying in Washington to get the U.S. to restore him to power.
Bill Clinton, smarting from the failure of his effort to bring peace and democracy to Somalia by sending U.S. troops, thought that sending 20,000 American soldiers to Haiti to restore Aristide to power would show that he was a great commander-in-chief. Clinton said this would restore democracy and also cut off the flow of drugs being shipped to the U.S. through Haiti. We will discuss the results in our next commentary.