To the Garbage Cleaners Go the Spoils

In 1991, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Haiti, which included the police force. Now the Haitian police chief is reasonably concerned that the police will not be able to control the extremely turbulent situation in that country without adequate weaponry.

And in the meantime, what the hell is the U.S.-led coalition force doing? Building basketball courts and soccer fields, and removing garbage from the streets. Thank God for that. You see, they’re preparing for a formal UN peacekeeping force to take over in three months, and I suppose the UN boys need the streets clean, and obviously need a place to play their favorite sports too.

At least that’s what they’re doing now. The leadership changes its story every week or so, as if the leaders themselves suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). At first, there were no plans to do anything, surely the wisest approach since it’s none of our business anyway. Two weeks later, “military contingencies” were planned, but “no deployment orders” had been issued. Then, the US were sending in Marines to protect the US embassy only, not to interfere with any Haitian insurrection taking place nearby. Early in March, the force was to protect government buildings and the airport, but not interfere with – anyway, then it changed considerably last week, when Brig. Gen. James T. Hill was put in charge of the intervention from Miami (I guess that’s the closest Hill wanted to get to Haiti). Hill said that the new duty of the ever-growing coalition force was to disarm the population and patrol the cities to keep the peace. But are these meager efforts going to be enough?

“I gave up my pistol but if we don’t start seeing schools and clinics in our neighborhood, we’ll find other weapons. We’ll fight for change with machetes if we have to,” a resident of a Haitian slum said.

The anti-Aristide gangs said they would disarm “if the other side disarms” – namely the pro-Aristide gang. Guess what? Aristide gave the gangs their weapons in the first place, and where did the weapons come from? The police. As his enemies closed in on Port-au-Prince, Aristide had his tepid police force disarmed, and gave the precious weapons to ferocious gangs (called the chimère, if that matters) loyal to him. It was called a “desperate” act. Shortly after this, perhaps his last decision as president, Aristide was spirited out of the country on a US plane, which he says was not his idea, but probably was.

Haiti’s arms situation is interesting in and of itself. In 1991, the US imposed an arms embargo on the nation, which included the police force. Strange move, to be sure, but it meant that “illegal” arms were smuggled onto the island for years, and the anti-Aristide gangs were better armed than the poor police, who used rusty old guns. Fear not, the cops did manage to collect some good weapons – confiscated from drug dealers and underworld types – but not enough, apparently. Ever wonder how the insurrection happened so fast, and what was with all those stories about police “hiding” inside their offices or fleeing altogether? Now you know. (Also, many of the police were sympathetic to the rebels’ cause, unfortunately for Aristide)

Back to the MPDs. Hill’s number one man on the scene is Brig. Gen. Ronald Coleman, who now says that the coalition will not be disarming the locals. The aforementioned Haitian police will be doing that. Coleman has suddenly decided not to take that job. Why go back on their previous statement? Are they just trying to maintain the consistently inconsistent stance they have been taking since the insurrection started? Perhaps the job was just too dangerous and unrealistic to begin with? Better to let the mostly unarmed Haitian police “handle” it, the way they handled the insurrection in the first place – by not handling it.

“I think it will be very difficult to take up that challenge, if the (arms) embargo remains in effect,” said Haiti’s new police chief, Leon Charles. This is clear thinking.

The current situation, despite whatever the US commanders are presently saying, has not changed for a few weeks. There are several armed and dangerous anti-Aristide gangs who seem to have their own view of what type of government they want (how silly of them). There is, at the same time, a gang of pro-Aristide guerillas, armed and dangerous, in and around Port-au-Prince. The anti-Aristides will not disarm unless the pro-Aristides do first, which they presumably won’t do until and unless their guy is put back in the Big Chair (there’s as much chance of that as of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man becoming Haiti’s president).

At any moment, a new round of fighting could break out between these sides, and the coalition would be caught in the middle, trying to stay alive, and execute their commanders’ murky orders at the same time. And don’t forget those soccer fields, too. The right proper neocon “Unconditional Surrender” thing to do to solve this problem would no doubt be to hunt down all the members of all the sides, to whatever degree that’s possible, and slaughter them. So far, that decision has not been made. Maybe there aren’t enough troops to carry it out?

In the midst of all this, somebody’s eventually going to get their guy into the Big Chair, and the smart money is on the US So it was, so it shall likely be. Hey, they deserve it! Look at all those streets they’re cleaning up. The US government ought to be paid something for all the free services it provides for other nations. To the garbage cleaners go the spoils, that’s what I always say.

All of this will probably change quite soon. Tomorrow, the garbage-men-in-charge may decide that the marines will be dressing up like clowns and entertaining the youngsters, or dressing in business suits and pimping used cars. Why not? Those are no less valid activities than building a basketball court.

Brandon J. Snider is a researcher for antiwar.com. He lives in Canada.

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