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#356: Shacochis Op-Ed NYTimes 083099 from Slavin (fwd)

From: Patrick Slavin <pslavin@unicefusa.org>

               August 30, 1999
               Only Haiti Can Save Haiti
               By BOB SHACOCHIS
               [I] n 1995, I spoke with a
                   Haitian-American woman in Miami who
               had recently enjoyed a lucrative tenure
               as translator for the American high
               command in Port-au-Prince during the
               early months of its military
               intervention, which had restored Haiti's
               first democratically elected President to
               the national palace.
               "What will happen when the American
               troops finally go home?" I wondered out
               loud to the well-educated linguist, the
               daughter of one of Haiti's elite
               Her horrific vision of the future, which
               she seemed to energetically embrace,
               shocked me.
               "Everything will be fire, ashes and
               blood," she said, because the Haitian
               people would at long last be free to
               unleash the revolution that she believed
               the Americans had denied them throughout
               the 20th century.
               The woman's prophecy echoed in my ears
               last week when it was reported that the
               Clinton Administration plans to withdraw
               the last American troops from Haiti at
               the end of this year.
               At a dinner at the United States
               Ambassador's residence in Port-au-Prince
               last winter, I listened to matter-of-fact
               table chatter about how the
               Administration had ceased calling Haiti a
               foreign policy success.
               True, as President Clinton has asserted,
               Haiti saw its first peaceful democratic
               transition of power from one chief of
               state to another in 1996, when President
               Jean-Bertrand Aristide, unable to succeed
               himself, passed power to Ren, Pr,val. And
               although sporadic political violence
               continues, the Haitian people are free of
               the state-sponsored terrorism that
               visited such misery on them for decades.
               But by virtually every other measure,
               Haiti is far worse off than it was before
               the 1994 intervention. The country has
               stumbled backward into a vacuum,
               virtually without a functioning
               President Pr,val dissolved an intractable
               Parliament in January at the end of its
               constitutional term. Lavalas, the loose
               grass-roots coalition that brought Mr.
               Aristide to power in 1990, has broken up
               into several groups warring over every
               issue imaginable.
               Wealth was not redistributed during the
               chaotic early months of the invasion, but
               weapons were. Street crime is
               commonplace. Cocaine flows into the
               United States through the island's covert
               pipelines. The Haitian national police
               are better known for corruption, civil
               rights violations and trigger-happy
               tactics than preserving law and order.
               The justice system is as defunct now as
               it was in the days of the tyrants.
               The destruction of Haiti's ecology has
               only gotten worse, its mountains eroded
               to bedrock, its coral reefs suffocated
               with topsoil, its aquifer on the verge of
               drying up.
               Its economy is moribund, an endless line
               of old women on the side of the road
               hawking identical pyramids of oranges to
               customers who never come.
               What went wrong? Setting aside for the
               moment the culpability of the Haitian
               leadership, Washington's policymakers
               might acknowledge that in vitro
               democratization is a risky procedure.
               Haitian democracy, born prematurely, will
               not survive without a genuine multiparty
               system, which won't exist without a
               secure middle class, which can't evolve
               without a viable economy, which won't
               exist without credible leadership strong
               and wise enough to wrench the country out
               of its tailspin.
               The transition to mature democracy can't
               be effected overnight, and perhaps not
               even in a single generation. But Haiti's
               transition to democracy has been
               especially rocky. Mr. Aristide was on the
               job only seven months after his 1990
               election. Overthrown in a coup, he spent
               the next three years in exile. The United
               States restored him to office, on the
               condition that he serve only the rest of
               his five-year term, a mere 14 months.
               Mr. Aristide returned to a debilitated
               administrative and physical
               infrastructure -- even the toilet in his
               office had been smashed by the previous
               regime. His Government was so unorganized
               that it could barely spend the emergency
               aid donated by the United States, France
               and other countries.
               To make matters worse, in the months
               after the United States invasion of
               Haiti, the American military was ordered
               to tell its troops that Fraph, the
               country's most dreaded paramilitary
               group, was actually a legitimate
               political opposition party.
               Now, the United States Government is
               almost certainly going to have to
               accommodate itself to five more years of
               the mercurial Mr. Aristide, whom voters
               will almost certainly return to power in
               elections in 2000.
               Whether Mr. Aristide might be a great
               leader of his people is yet to be
               determined. But Haiti, which seems to
               have no bottom to its troubles, cannot be
               ruled by a weak leader. If the United
               States maneuvers, as it has in the past,
               to undermine the Haitian President's
               power in the wrongheaded belief that a
               multiparty system is indeed just around
               the corner, then Mr. Aristide is doomed
               -- again -- to failure.
               The American Government and the Haitian
               people need to grant Mr. Aristide the
               ideological space to make hard decisions.
               Haiti is going nowhere without skilled,
               conscientious and trustworthy dealmakers.
               Mistakes will be made, but it's time to
               stop the petulant, hypocritical
               handwringing about what Mr. Aristide does
               or doesn't do. Perhaps Mr. Aristide will
               engineer a confluence of selfless
               patriotism among the country's bickering
               factions, and Haiti will inch forward
               into the light. Perhaps not.
               But now that the Clinton Administration
               has decided to recall the troops before
               the country's elections, Haitians and
               Americans alike should brace themselves
               for the fire and ashes scenario -- three
               parts anarchy and one part civil war --
               in which Haiti may well find its bottom.
               I f that happens, I doubt Americans will
               have the will to stop it. Nor should we.
               Haiti, Graham Greene wrote, deserves a
               chance to be ruled by its heroes. That
               chance has come, and it is fast
               dwindling. Given the breach of faith, the
               heroes must step forward.
               Bob Shacochis is the author of the
               "Immaculate Invasion," an account of
               American military intervention in Haiti.
                Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company