Our presence has made a positive difference
by Lt. Col. Dave Lapan

Ms Sabir: I have no desire to get into a debate with you over the political situation in Haiti; that is not my place as a military spokesman. I would like to address a few of the points you have made with regards to the military presence here.

First, you say Marines have done no good since they have been in Haiti. The attached fact sheet, which has been provided to the Haitian media as well, lists just a few of the successes we have had since we arrived. This is just a tip of the iceberg.

Second, as I said in my first letter, Marines have neither fired into crowds nor stood by while Haitian police did. We have not arrested or tortured anyone. If you have proof of such, I would be interested in seeing it, and not simply "eyewitness" reports from those with an agenda. Talking to selected individuals, especially if all are members of the same group, may not present an accurate picture of events. As a journalist, you know to seek the opinions of many people in order to corroborate stories. I have not been contacted by any journalists who claim to be eyewitnesses to what you have reported. Nor was I contacted by your organization to ask about the allegations before simply printing them. What pictures do you have, other than those of bodies? How do you know how those people in the photos were killed or injured? In Haiti (as in San Francisco and any other population center) people die but how they died is not always knowable. For all the accusations of Marines firing into crowds or standing by while others did, I have seen no photos to support those claims.

All of the military forces here, including the Marines that you disparage, adhere strictly to the rules of engagement, UN Chapter 7 (under which this force operates) and international law. If there are violations, we take action to correct them and hold those accountable for violating them. But that hasn't been the case.

To answer your question, the U.S. military is here as part of a four-nation Multinational Interim Force authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1529 (passed unanimously on Feb. 29). We are here because the commander-in-chief of the armed forces ordered us here. And we have accomplished much in the two months we have been here. We have our headquarters at a former medical university because the government of Haiti authorized us to be here. When we arrived, there were no students here and the buildings of the university had been heavily damaged and looted. Our force has spent more than one-half million dollars to repair and refurbish this complex. We have provided water from the wells here to the local community. Ask those people, who had to walk miles each day for water if they object to our presence. Because of the destruction, were we not here, I doubt any classes would be in session. And rather than focusing on the 200 or so students who once attended classes here, why not focus on the thousands of students across Haiti who can once again attend classes because we are here. Before the arrival of the Multinational Interim Force, schools were closed, businesses were closed, people stayed in their homes day and night for fear of being killed. Those conditions no longer exist.

Are there Haitians who think we are occupiers? I'm sure there are. Are there some who wish we would leave? Yes. But I think MOST Haitians recognize that our presence has brought them back from the chaos that existed during February. We can't solve all the problems that face this country or her people but our presence has made a positive difference in the lives of many.

As for your hints of racism, I'd be happy to have you converse with the many soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen of color who are part of our force - to include a number of Haitian-Americans - and I know you'll hear differently. In fact, in my job, I'm paid to be diplomatic. I can't guarantee that they'd respond in the same fashion.

Finally, other than the presence of U.S. military forces, there is nothing connecting Iraq and Haiti. They are completely different situations and circumstances.

Read the powerful responses to Lt. Col. Lapan by two Haitian-American lawyers, Lionel Jean-Baptiste, a well-know reparations activist in Chicago, and Francois-Marie Michel, a popular radio host in New York, at www.sfbayview.com.
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