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#375: Will anarchy reign when America leaves Haiti? (fwd)


Published Wednesday, September 1, 1999, in the Miami Herald 
BOB SHACOCHIS Will anarchy reign when America leaves Haiti?

 In 1995 I spoke with a Haitian-American woman in Miami who recently had
 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 families. 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. 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 Rene
Preval.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
government. President Preval dissolved an intractable
 parliament in January at the end of its constitutional term. Lavalas,
the loose grass-roots coalition that brought 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 road side hawking identical pyramids of oranges to
customers who never come. 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. 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. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. government almost certainly
will have to accommodate itself to five more years of the mercurial
Aristide, whom voters will almost certainly return to power in elections
in 2000. Whether 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, can't 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 Aristide is doomed -- again -- to
failure. The American government and the Haitian people need to grant
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
hand-wringing about what Aristide does or doesn't do.
 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