Despite criticism for the US military presence in quake-stricken Haiti, Washington says it has a long-term plan to stay in the country. “We are there for the long term, this is not something that will be resolved quickly and easily,” US Ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff said on Thursday.
Just three days after a magnitude 7 earthquake jolted Haiti on January 12, the United States began to send military forces to the impoverished Caribbean nation.
The head of US Southern Command General Douglas Fraser said on Thursday that nearly 20,000 US troops are due to operate, both on land and offshore, by Sunday.
Currently over 2,676 US troops are operating on the ground in Haiti, Fraser said, adding the number is going to swell to 4,600 by the weekend and that another 10,445 are currently afloat aboard vessels offshore. More than 4,000 other soldiers and Marines also left North Carolina late Wednesday.
This is while leading international aid organization, Medecins Sans Frontieres, blasted the US for putting the delivery of soldiers before medical supplies.
The presence of the US military, which has taken over command of the distribution of humanitarian aid, has raised the ire of some other countries including France, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Paris demanded the United Nations investigate and clarify the dominant US role in Haiti. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said Haiti seeks “humanitarian aid, not troops.” Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez accused the US of seeking to occupy the country. “The United States government is using a humanitarian tragedy to militarily occupy Haiti. I read somewhere that they even occupied the [presidential] palace.”
Washington, in the past, has been accused of interfering in Haitian internal affairs on many occasions. The US military played a role in the departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide before his second term was over in early 2004. Aristide described his departure as kidnapping.
Haiti was occupied by US Marines for nearly 20 years from 1915 to 1934. Former US President Bill Clinton sent troops to Haiti in 1994.