The Haitian army is seeking to rebuild itself, 22 years after it was disbanded during the period where soldiers and private militiamen killed thousands during the violence of the ‘90s. There was a power vacuum after the Duvalier family that ruled with an iron hand for many decades and was replaced by a freely elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1990 and then prompted military leaders to a coup ousting Aristide eight months later.

That led to the UN coming in for a stabilization mission that has been on-going for the past 13 years. The army troops, training under the auspices of the UN, have been training in Ecuador for the past several months but don’t have a mission…yet.

“We’re proud Haitians and we want to make the nation stronger,” said Lt. Ted Tesnor Wolsby, a base commander in the brigade that has received months of military training in Ecuador but has only intermittent duties fixing irrigation ditches or roads back in Haiti for salaries starting at $318 a month.

While it’s easy to find citizens who strongly support reconstituting a Haitian army, particularly jobless young people, the idea alarms those who vividly remember times darkened by military coups and oppression.

“It’s not a good idea, that’s for sure,” said Bobby Duval, a former soccer star who was arrested by the army in 1976 and starved and tortured while locked up for 17 months for speaking out against human rights abuses under Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s government.

“We want a new armed force, an armed force oriented toward development. This is what we need,” said Defense Minister Herve Denis, adding that the government is “very concerned” about a possible security vacuum after U.N. troops depart.

While many Haitians support the rebirth of the military, the donors of the long and expensive National Police Program are leery of an armed force being wielded against the citizens, knowing full well what has happened in the past.

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The 14,000 man National Police Force is the closest thing to a professional force the Haitians have had in their country for a long time. The US has said that while it supports the police force, the Haitians are a sovereign nation that can make its own decisions.

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Photo courtesy of Associated Press