by Rutagengwa Claude Shema
Great Lakes Peace Initiative (GLPI)
HOW HAITI ABOLISHED ITS MILITARY
-By Dr.Claude Shema-Rutagengwa
A soft-spoken, retired Quaker couple from Troy, New York, took a crucial step that led to the complete abolition of Haiti's army, which in 1991 had violently overthrown the democratically elected government of President Aristide and arbitrarily arrested, tortured and murdered many Haitian citizens.
In 1994, Sue and Marvin Clark from Troy, New York, founded a small NGO, "Global Demilitarization." In February 1995 they were able to meet in New York with Oscar Arias Sanchez, the former President of Costa Rica, who had won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the war in Nicaragua. They asked him what country he thought might be the next to follow Costa Rica's example, which had abolished its military in 1949.
Arias suggested Haiti, since most Haitians saw their army as threatening their personal security rather than protecting them from foreign aggression. From informal conversations with many ordinary Haitians, he estimated that about 80 percent wished the army were abolished. He was disappointed that nobody seemed to pay attention to his observations, but was convinced that if an internationally recognized polling firm could confirm his impressions, the world would notice. But that would cost about $20,000, and he did not have enough money.
When Sue and Marvin Clark heard this, they wrote to all their friends and friends of friends, sending out about one thousand letters, explaining this opportunity and asking for donations. Within a few weeks, they raised $27,000 and sent it to the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, and soon the poll was conducted.
At a news conference in Port-au-Prince on April 28, 1995, Oscar Arias could announce that 62 percent of the Haitian people wished to abolish the army, and only 12 percent wished to keep it, with the rest expressing no opinion. When President Aristide heard this, he stepped to the microphone and spontaneously announced, in front of the assembled military leadership, that given the clear wish of the majority of his people, he herewith declared the army abolished!
The international media almost totally ignored this important event. But when President Aristide was asked on a nationally televised interview in the United States after the election of his successor what he considered his greatest achievement during his term in office, he said it was abolishing the Haitian military.
It is impressive how much difference the efforts of individuals can make. Not even the U.S. Navy was able to abolish Haiti's army. When President Clinton sent the navy in 1994 to land in Port-au- Prince and help restore the democratically elected government, it turned around in the face of a violent demonstration on the landing pier by a small group of backers of the military dictatorship. Who would have thought that two individuals, without power or wealth, would succeed in helping abolish the Haitian military, simply by talking to the right people and taking the right action at the right time?
We can all take courage and hope from this. If we have a dream and pursue it step by step, never giving up, we can ultimately reach it.
After their initial success, Sue and Marvin have launched a campaign to dismantle all nuclear weapons, enlisting a support group of several hundred peace activists who send monthly appeals to the heads of nuclear states to give our children the gift of life instead of the threat of a nuclear holocaust. As Margaret Mead has said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." xxxXxxx