Tags: Haiti | quake | aid | US

Quake Response May Better U.S.-Haiti Relations

Thursday, 14 January 2010 10:23 PM

For nearly two decades, Democrats and Republicans have tussled over U.S. policy in Haiti, resulting in an inconsistent and troubled relationship despite the delivery of nearly $3 billion in American foreign aid.

The devastating earthquake came just as the Caribbean nation had finally achieved a measure of political stability and even inklings of new investor interest -- and as the Obama administration was preparing to unveil new policies that it hoped would win broad consensus on how to build on those tentative achievements.

The star-crossed relationship between the small country and its much larger neighbor to the north dates back to Haiti's founding in 1804 as the second independent nation in the Americas. For about half a century, the United States refused to recognize Haiti because it was founded by former slaves -- a snubbing that some analysts say helped form the insular political culture that continues to plague the country to this day.

"We've been very uneasy neighbors for the past 200 years, and so some people regard a very pro-Haitian stance as a bit of a departure," said Paul Farmer, deputy U.N. envoy to Haiti. "The thing that's striking to me is that any historical view of the problems we're seeing in Haiti shows that we don't have a long and distinguished history of good-neighbor policy towards Haiti."

More recently, the Clinton administration's intervention in 1994 to reinstall President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- who had been ousted in a 1991 coup -- resulted in a fierce backlash from congressional Republicans.

The GOP takeover of Congress that year, just weeks after Clinton sent troops to Haiti, limited the administration's options for a sustained presence in the country. Troops left after two years, after the intervention met many of the benchmarks that had been set, such as local and national elections -- but that was too soon, as it turned out.

It was too short of a period to bring about any thoroughgoing change in its political and economic system," said James Dobbins, former U.S. special envoy to Haiti and a key participant in other U.S.-led nation-building operations in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Dobbins, now with the Rand Corp., said such interventions generally take at least seven or eight years to succeed.

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Thursday, 14 January 2010 10:23 PM
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