published Friday, December 2nd, 2011

No need for a Haitian army

The last thing in the world Haiti needs is an army. Haitian President Michel Martelly disagrees. An army is crucial to Haitian "dignity," says the president of the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Nonsense. His half-baked idea conveniently overlooks the fact that his country needs more than an army to restore its honor and its national identity.

Foremost among those needs is an organized, well-managed effort to rebuild infrastructure obliterated by the devastating January, 2010, earthquake. International relief experts say about half the rubble from the quake has not been cleared. Essential services and utilities remain spotty, and they were never reliable before the quake. More than half a million Haitians still live in squalid, dangerous tent cities, a cholera epidemic has yet to be checked, and few of the hundreds of schools leveled in 2010 have been rebuilt.

Surely, resolving those needs and ending the corruption that plagues both the reconstruction effort and day-to-day government in Haiti should take precedence. Martelly has a different view. He continues to push his plan to restore Haiti's army, perhaps by early next year.

Doing so is bad policy. First, Haiti doesn't need an army. It faces no external threats, though Martelly seems to suggest, vaguely to be sure, that his country could become a target for terrorists. That's doubtful.

Second, a reconstituted army would be too poor, too small and too ill-trained and equipped to be useful in any conventional sense. Thirdly, it takes money to raise, train, equip and pay an army. Haiti doesn't have such resources, and the government would likely use funds needed elsewhere to support the military if the army became a reality. That's a disservice to all Haitians.

Then there's the historical argument against an army. The country had an army in the past, but it preyed on the people it was sworn to protect more than it defended their or the nation's interests. Before it was disbanded more than 15 years go, the army routinely engaged in murders, intimidation of various groups and political activities, including coups d'etat. A new army might not engage in those abuses, of course, but that is not reason to create one.

Besides, Haiti does not need an army. It has a national police force that appears relatively competent and that can take care of basic military needs like border defense and national emergencies. Investing in additional training and equipment for the police would be a better investment for Haiti than an army.

Haiti still needs international help for reconstruction, but many nations are withholding promised funds because political infighting and corruption have slowed if not derailed the rebuilding process. The army issue is a prime example. If Martelly really wants to restore Haiti's dignity, he should abandon his dream of an army and turn his attention to projects that will improve the lives of the people he serves.

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