by Maja Wallengren
MEXICO CITY/PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Haitian President Michel Martelly's plan to create a new army has stirred a heated debate in the Caribbean country just days after it was published last week.
Even among those in Haiti's Congress who support the proposal, concern remains over how this can be done and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when the military was closely linked to political parties and used by rulers of the island nation for personal gains rather than to protect the people.
"We have a national police force which is still weak," Martelly said during the United Nations General Assembly, adding that Haiti needs "something stronger than just police" in order to confront the fragile civilian structure in the country where even the smallest protests often end in widespread violence.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York recently, Martelly said it was still premature to withdraw the UN forces from Haiti, adding there would be "nothing more irresponsible and dangerous" than to let the UN forces leave without first having established "an effective national alternative."
But opposition to the plan for creating a new army has quickly grown on all fronts both inside and outside Haiti, throwing Martelly into his first major policy controversy since taking power in May.
According to a 22-page document, entitled "Policy of Defense and National Security -- The Great Axes," Martelly wants the new army to consist of 3,500 uniformed personnel and be set up between now and late 2014, by which time most of the 12,000-strong UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) would have been gradually withdrawn.
Haiti's army was dissolved in 1994 following the military coup that removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 1991. And in the next 10 years the nation lived under a fragile rule of law until MINUSTAH was set up in 2004.
"When civilian rule was restored in 1994 the military was understandably disbanded but a growing number of Haitian politicians feel it's time to revive it," said Latin American analyst and writer Tim Padgett in an editorial for Time magazine.
"Many wish that Haitian politicians would drop the idea all together and concentrate on building a credible constabulary," said Padgett, adding that Martelly's plan for creating a new army of Haiti is "at the bottom of the wish list" for international donor nations that have pledged billions in support.
Donors and potential investors alike agree that Haiti would be much better off concentrating on building up a strong and efficient police force to handle the island nation's security needs, said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the nonprofit think tank International Crisis Group in Washington, D.C.
But in the 22-page document, the administration of Martelly argues that the state of Haiti is still so fragile that it is "vulnerable to the risks of internal unrest that could plunge the country into anarchy" at any time.
Martelly earlier this week defended the view that Haiti needs a new army, saying military forces would be better qualified than the national police for restoring order, defending Haiti's border, carrying out emergency and rescue work during national disasters and handling rioters in violent protests.
Of the 10 billion U.S. dollars pledged in international aid to Haiti following the devastating earthquake in January 2010 which left at least 230,000 people dead, about 4 billion dollars have been received.
While some officials in Martelly's administration argue that the 95 million-dollar budget for the new army is only a fraction of the international aid Haiti is receiving, a number of analysts and lawmakers have questioned whether Haiti even needs an army.
"Why would the international community fund an army, we don't have anyone we're are going to war with," Senator Moise Jean-Charles told local press in Port-au-Prince, according to the local daily Haiti Libre.
As a measure to avoid misusing the military as seen so many times in Haiti in the past, Martelly has proposed that the commander of the new army be a civilian.