The list of urgent needs in Haiti is extensive, from housing to a thorough clean-up of its streets and refugee camps to better sanitation and medical treatment. Not on this list: a new army.
Yet even so, President Michel Martelly has told supporters he is going to announce some kind of ďpublic security forceĒ later this week, thus fulfilling a promise to some of his most ardent backers in the campaign that brought him to the presidency earlier this year. If Mr. Martelly had bothered to consult the Haitian people, itís doubtful they would have endorsed this wrong-headed action.
Mr. Martelly reportedly justifies his actions by summoning the brave role played by the indigenous fighting force that led the successful war of independence from France. The historical reference may be good politics in the narrowest sense. Haitiís people are justly proud of becoming the first black republic to declare independence back in 1804 under the heroic banner of Toussaint LíOuverture.
But playing the patriot card in order to reward former army members in his retinue and bringing back the very institution that trampled on the human and political rights of Haitians before and after the coup that brought down the dreaded Duvalier regime is an insult to the people of that nation. Theyíve had enough of military strongmen and their abuses over the last few decades to justify their fears for a better future if Mr. Martelly goes through with this plan.
This is both dangerous and reckless, particularly in light of the desperate situation that faces most of Haitiís people every day. Squalid camps dotting the capital and its environs still house more than 500,000. Conditions are miserable and most people have become disconsolate because they see no progress. Electricity remains a sometime thing, cholera still rages throughout the country and the educational system is rudimentary, at best.
Knowing that the international community, without whose support Haiti would collapse entirely, is opposed to his action, Mr. Martelly says he will raise about $95 million to support the army from donors other than Haitiís institutional supporters. Even if he succeeds, which is doubtful, his priorities are completely misplaced.
How about an army of street-sweepers to remove the remaining debris and give the capital and other earthquake-ravaged cities a cleaner look and, not incidentally, improve santitation? As a writer on the facing page recently suggested, a brigade of construction workers would do far more good than bringing back the army that was disbanded by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide 16 years ago.
Someday, the international security force guarding Haiti will be disbanded and leave the country, but there is no need for an army to replace it. The U.N.ís MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission has worked with international donors and others to build up the police force. That is where Mr. Martelly should focus his efforts if security is his genuine concern.
By and large, the international community has been reluctant to play the heavy in obliging the Haitian government to do its will. The cooperative approach remains the best way. But given that external aid remains a vital lifeline for Haiti, its friends must exert leverage on Mr. Martelly to persuade him to put his energies elsewhere.
This may cause hard feelings between donors and Haitiís proud president, but the desperate needs of the Haitian people should be placed above any individualís political interests.
Published Tuesday, November 15, 2011.