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#371: Hapless in Haiti (fwd)


Hapless in Haiti
Monday, August 30, 1999; Page A18 

PRESIDENT CLINTON's foreign policy has suffered some disappointments in
big places: Russia comes to mind. But it also has suffered in small
places, which is in a way still more humiliating. The roster  of small
but excruciating setbacks is headed by Haiti. In 1994, 20,000 American
troops landed on this dirt-poor patch of the Caribbean, promising to
restore democracy. During the ensuing five years,troops remained there
at an annual cost of $20 million to American taxpayers, and Haiti became
the top Latin American recipient of U.S.development aid. Yet it now
seems that the world's only superpower has had remarkably little impact
on this micropower of 7 million people. With an air of resignation, the
administration recently let it be known that the U.S. garrison in Haiti
would be closed by the end of the year.There is no easy explanation for
this debacle. Critics of the administration's pro-democracy diplomacy
sometimes have accused it of focusing too much on elections and not
enough on the civic institutions that underpin democracy. This is not
the case in Haiti. America, along with other foreign donors, has trained
a new police force, but vigilantes still reign. America has trained
lawyers and judges, but there are still few fair trials. America     
has strained to reduce corruption by reforming the civil service. But
corruption remains fabulous, and much of it is said to be run by the man
 whom American troops returned to the presidency, Jean-Bertrand
Aristide. America also did try to promote elections, and in 1995 a
successor to Mr.Aristide was voted into office, marking Haiti's first
democratic transition from one president to the next. But even in the
electoral sphere the record is depressing. Observers reported that
cheating in 1995 was more  prevalent than in 1990, before the American
invasion. Turn out was down, and it did not pick up for the 1997
parliamentary vote. Another parliamentary election, due this November,
may not be held. Formally,power resides with President Rene Preval, the
winner of the 1995 election.But Mr. Preval is thought to do Mr.
Aristide's bidding, and his democratic credentials were undermined when
he dissolved parliament in January and started to rule by decree.      
Does Haiti teach a lesson? Some will argue that America should give up
on pro-democracy intervention. The Pentagon and its congressional   
sympathizers declare that the military should not be called upon to do
what they regard as "social work," which saps preparedness for proper
wars.Given the scant returns on the investment in Haiti, this view
cannot be dismissed. And yet America should not turn its back on this
and other trouble spots. If the humanitarian intervention is undermining
military  preparedness, that is an argument for giving the Pentagon more
resources,not for pulling the plug on post-Cold War missions of this
kind. Building democracy in a place such as Haiti is a long-term
project. It should not be a surprise that, after five years of U.S.
effort, Haiti has advanced only modestly. Given time, more advance is
possible, but only if  basic physical security for democrats can be
ensured. In June the International Republican Institute, a
nongovernmental organization that  seeks to promote democracy, pulled
out of Haiti after 10 years of effort   there. Now the U.S. troop
withdrawal raises the threat of more such  departures. In the absence of
military social workers, Haiti may backslide,until a new disaster
triggers a fresh wave of boat people headed for Florida and worse.