Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Haitians feel abandoned by their American friends


When US troops intervened in Haiti nine years ago on Friday, Kesnel Wilson believed they would help his hapless country recover from years of military-backed rule.

Today, he feels abandoned as he watches US assistance dwindle and his poverty-stricken country sink deeper into despair.

"The United States was right to intervene. But it was wrong to lead us into believing it would help us rebuild our nation," said Wilson, a 43-year-old carpenter in Haiti's crumbling capital.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide won a landslide victory in 1991 and governed for seven months before the Haitian army ousted him in a bloody coup. Three years later, 20,000 US troops arrived Sept. 19, restoring Aristide to power and stemming a Haitian exodus.

A windfall of US aid and assistance came with the intervention. But since Aristide's government has fallen out of favor with the US, none of the aid has been directed at development.

The relationship began to fray in 2000 when Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept flawed legislative elections. Since then, the government and opposition have been deadlocked and the opposition has accused Aristide of attempting to establish a one-man, one-party rule.

The opposition and civil groups refuse to sit on an electoral council that will organize legislative elections this year until the government disarms its partisans, ends judicial impunity and reforms the police according to two resolutions from the Organization of American States.

Although opposed to demands that Aristide step down, the US has been increasingly critical of the government, saying it is dragging its feet on implementing the OAS resolutions.

"All friendships go through changes," Judith Trunzo, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Haiti, said on Friday.

But US Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega went a step further last week.

"The US intervention to return Aristide in 1994 has ended up a complete failure, due to the Haitian leaders' inability and lack of willingness to move the country along a democratic path," he said.

Aristide has blamed the country's deteriorating economic and political situation on international "political and economic terrorism."

"Most Haitians believed there would be a change in the traditional US policy of supporting the minority against the majority," said government spokesman Mario Dupuy. "But the United States still supports the elite ... imposing an unjust embargo on international aid and causing the political crisis to drag on."

Some US$427 million in international aid poured into Haiti in 1995. It has steadily dwindled since then with the US allocating some US$70 million in humanitarian aid this year, and international lenders suspending aid or grants to demand democratic reforms.

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