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Commentary: America's Uncertain Presence in Haiti's Uncertain Future

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
January 18, 2010

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CFR's Max Boot foresees a great deal of future American involvement in Haiti, but only with a strategic justification.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it's hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it's equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti's best years - the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil - were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

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