Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Here we go again. The Marines should sign an annual contract with United Air Lines to ferry troops to Port-au-Prince and collect the frequent-flier miles.

It’s difficult to argue with the proposition that the United States has a humanitarian responsibility to stop the killing and man’s inhumanity to man, which was long ago raised to an art form in Haiti, but we should be under no illusion that the latest Marine expedition to the miserable island of Hispaniola will accomplish lasting good.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide is merely the latest in a long line of crooks, anarchists, vandals, malefactors and thugs who have succeeded, by fair means and foul and mostly foul, in becoming president, to control the tap of foreign aid. Papa Doc would be proud of him. Foreign aid is Haiti’s leading cash crop, more profitable even than the prosperous drug trade: More than $2 billion has been shipped in by the United States since the Marines landed the last time, enough to put every one of the 7 million Haitians on Easy Street if we had just written every one of them a check. His Excellency has had two opportunities to direct this aid to his own bank account and those of his cronies, and if he’s not rich already, he isn’t as clever as his friends in Washington say he is.

President Bush has to say the usual diplomatic things. “The government believes it is essential that Haiti have a hopeful future,” he said on dispatching the first contingent of Marines to Port-au-Prince on Sunday night. “This is the beginning of a new chapter. I would urge the people of Haiti to reject violence, to give this break from the past a chance to work. And the United States is prepared to help.”

Night had fallen when Mr. Bush said this, and it was impossible to see his wink, but neither the president nor anyone else at the White House can actually believe that Haiti has “a hopeful future.” Nobody in Haiti believes it, either, which is why U.S. Coast Guard cutters have to be stationed off the Haiti coast to intercept whole families eager to set out in rowboats, leaking fishing trawlers, inner tubes, rafts and even a 30-year-old Buick LeSabre modified with flotation devices (as one family did only last month) in a desperate attempt to get to Florida.

Of course someone has to try to help, but “helping” will be no more than keeping alive the Haitians who have not yet modified their Buick LeSabres or inflated their inner tubes, until the next bloody uprising. This should be no more than three or four years into the second term of the next Haitian who elbows his way to the American foreign-aid spigot. It’s the Christian thing to do, as the unwary might say.

Keeping hope alive is not easy, because the blabbermouths here are ever eager to champion the interests of the thieves who rob the abused Haitian masses, who deserve a lot better. American friends of Mr. Aristide and his 40 and more thieves went right to work yesterday to spread what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called an “absurd” conspiracy theory: The Marines who saved Mr. Aristide’s life, and the life of his family, when they rescued them from the besieged Presidential Palace in the middle of the night, were actually his kidnappers.

Rep. Maxine Waters, who plays the race card with the speed of a Washington lobbyist slapping the bar with a credit card, said she was assured by Mr. Aristide himself, calling on his cell phone from his exile in the Central African Republic — “at a place called the Palace of the Renaissance, and he’s not sure if that’s a house or a hotel” — to describe how he was rescued, taken to the airport under protection of U.S. Marines and put aboard a jetliner sent down from Washington. “They ordered him to leave. They said you must go, now!”

Mrs. Waters’ inflammatory accusation was quickly picked up by Randall Robinson, who never lets slip an opportunity to blame white folks for offenses real, imagined and fantasized. Mr. Aristide left a fairly eloquent note of resignation, saying he was leaving to prevent further shedding of blood. But what’s a little more blood of peasants, when there’s an opportunity to score political points? The hysterics demand the impossible, the “restoration” of democracy in a place where democracy never was. Mostly these are folks who would like to give George W. Bush an “Aristide necklace,” a flaming tire the deposed president put around the neck of anyone who got in his way. Instead they pick up the handiest club they can find. Ingratitude is the hate crime of choice.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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