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6943: Review & Outlook Our Man in Haiti The Wall Street Journal February 7, 2001 (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Review & Outlook Our Man in Haiti The Wall Street Journal February 7, 2001

Jean Bertrand Aristide will take the oath of the office for a second term as President of Haiti today, despite wide protestation from key elements in Haitian civil society, which are refusing to recognize his November 26 election. The opposition claims that less than 5% of the Haitian electorate actually voted in the elections, supporting its view that much of Haiti's population condemns Mr. Aristide's version of democracy, best described as authoritarian rule with Marxist overtones.

Independent international observers rejected the presidential election because of the government's refusal to overturn the May congressional elections despite clear evidence of fraud. According to a joint statement issued on Monday by five international human rights organizations, "During the period preceding the presidential vote, a spate of pipe bomb explosions, government attempts to suppress dissent or otherwise intimidate its opponents, the assassination of Jean L. Dominique, Haiti's most prominent journalist, and manipulation of the May 2000 vote for parliament, dealt a severe blow to the observance of civil and political rights in Haiti."

On Friday, the European Union announced that it would withhold international aid. The Bush Administration has declined to send an official delegation to the inauguration.

So much for nation building with despots. For six years President Clinton, who initiated the October 1994 military intervention that returned Mr. Aristide to power after he was deposed by a military coup, tried hard to spin the intervention as a victory for democracy. But events in Port-au-Prince, particularly the great number of political assassinations against Mr. Aristide's lawful opponents, tell a different story. Since 1994, Haiti has become a mecca for drug trafficking, violence and poverty and has moved ever closer to Fidel Castro.

A longtime enemy of the Duvalier dictatorship, Mr. Aristide became a popular choice among intellectuals, labor and the poor in the country's first election in 1990, winning in December as the candidate for the National Front for Change and Democracy.

Once in office Mr. Aristide dumped the National Front, asserted his dislike of political parties and instead embraced Lavalas, a radical left-wing movement that had funded his candidacy. He quickly formed his own presidential guard of 300, circumventing parliament and ruling according to his own will. New York Times reporter Howard French wrote on October 22, 1991, "Soon he was governing a country of nearly seven million people with the aid of fear and a tight circle of friends."

The legislature reacted in mid-1991 by planning a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Rene Preval. Some 2,000 Aristide backers surrounded the National Assembly, beat up two congressmen and threatened to burn others alive, Mr. French reported. Meanwhile Mr. Aristide praised "necklacing" -- placing tires around the necks of Lavalas opponents and setting them on fire.

On September 30, 1991, a military coup ousted Mr. Aristide, who settled in Washington. President Bush recognized him as an official government-in-exile entitled to access frozen Haitian assets in the U.S. and, most interestingly, long distance telephone royalties, but was reportedly reluctant to intervene based on Mr. Aristide's history. Drawing down $1.8 million per month plus those phone royalties -- for which there was never an audited accounting -- Mr. Aristide hired Michael Barnes, a Democratic Party operative, and launched an emotional campaign on his own behalf. Back in Haiti, an Organization of American States economic embargo devastated the economy and waves of refugees began arriving in Florida.

Despite everything, Mr. Aristide got the Clinton White House and Congress to support his cause. It's still not known what role access to Haitian assets and royalties might have played in his Washington popularity. But in October 1994, the U.S. intervened militarily, General Cedras was removed and Mr. Aristide returned to the presidential palace. If anything, his non-democratic behavior got worse after the U.S. intervention.

Repairing the damage of Mr. Clinton's pro-Aristide policy, such as it was, will take years. In almost every respect, Haiti in this period is a case history in how U.S. fecklessness can make a bad situation significantly worse.