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FIRST-PERSON: $1 billion for Aristide & no return

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–There is nothing that can display itself more plainly than mediocrity, and nothing is easier to do in life than pass the buck. Such, sadly, is the case of Haiti. It is no wonder that the world seems to be sighing with Haiti “fatigue.”

How much time should it take, and how much money do you suppose, to establish this small island nation with social, political and economic stability and credibility? It appears that $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money and 10 years, after reinstallation by the U.S. military, was not enough for Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

After resigning on Feb. 29, former Haitian President Aristide was escorted to Central African Republic in exile and soon complained bitterly that he had been forced out of office by the very entity that had put him there a decade ago.

His people still suffer. Haiti has had 32 coups over its 200-year history. It is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. And democracy once again is absent on the tumultuous island, which is in ruins.

Now, the ruin of the country did not begin on the day that Aristide left. That was the day on which his poor leadership crested. He squandered the opportunity to lead his people and build his nation’s democracy.

Furthermore, the ruin of Aristide’s Haiti might have begun on the day he disbanded its army after returning to power and replaced it with a small ill-equipped police force. For 8 million people countrywide, he hired 4,000 police officers. Currently, New York City with its approximately 8 million residents has four times as many police officers.

Aristide’s alternative for a standing military was a band of toughs called chimeres, “ghosts” or “monsters” in Creole, who enforced his decrees as his government descended into an abyss of corruption. It hardly sounds as if Aristide was presiding over a budding democracy.

It is difficult, if not completely impossible to build a democracy when the leader of a country that wants democracy withholds it from the people. In other words, if democracy is to be achieved as the standard of a nation, democratic ideals have to be set forth and practiced.

True democracy depends absolutely on the principles of equality and respect for individuals within a society. If Aristide wanted democracy for Haiti, he apparently leaned the ladder on which he climbed toward its ideals on the wrong side of the presidential palace.

Rather than truly reform Haiti for its citizens and for the world, Jean-Bertrand Aristide squandered a grand opportunity to greed, corruption and autocracy. He practiced mob rule and mob response is what he got in return. And Haiti’s citizens, turned vigilantes, have nothing to show for their actions either.

In leaving the country and accusing the Bush administration of forcing him out of Haiti, Aristide likely found it plain hard to face the reality of what he had done with 10 years and a billion dollars. The reality is he forced himself out through his immaterial and incompetent leadership.

In addition, he succeeded in whipping up yet another political froth — in America — this time with some African American political leaders who, incredibly, are demanding investigations into his allegations of an American military coup.

In reality, America came once again to his rescue and, this time, perhaps saved his life.

In the future, America’s front-end responsibility for pouring billions of dollars into fledgling countries in calamity is to ensure, with whatever infrastructure support is needed, that American dollars are being used responsibly. Financial integrity and competent leadership ought to be made the minimum standard for countries receiving large sums of American money.

When American leaders hold Third World states accountable, perhaps genuine democratic efforts will be established on principles that promote human worth in accordance with individual freedom and the rule of law.

Sadly, Haiti is a major case study for legislators in America that a bonanza of dollars with no specific beginning, no specific target and no specific end, is not the answer to a broken situation.

With that in mind, if anyone deserves to protest and complain about a failed Haitian democracy right now, it is the American taxpayer.
Terriel R. Byrd is assistant professor of religion at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd