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8110: Giving Haiti a chance (fwd)

From: Max Blanchet <maxblanchet@worldnet.att.net>

Published Wednesday, May 30, 2001



Giving Haiti a chance
Aristide towers over potential alternatives.

Haiti's seemingly eternal malaise is, if anything, worsening as a result of
disruptive local politics, shrill rhetoric and the near elimination of
overseas assistance.

Even though President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (who last November again won
the presidency by a huge margin) agreed to a number of mischievous
conditions for U.S. aid to resume, Washington has given no indication that
it would be forthcoming. The U.S. campaign of economic asphyxiation and
political isolation is not only unseemly, but also gravely damaging to U.S.

If this policy continues unaltered, it could bring added turmoil to the
island, inevitably followed by renewed efforts of desperate Haitians willing
to risk the dangerous 800-mile voyage to Florida.

Such an exodus would greatly embarrass the Bush White House, just as it did
the Clinton administration, particularly as the interdiction pact has now

The ``Democratic Convergence,'' a 15-party coalition of mainly
micro-factions that vehemently reject Aristide's legitimacy based on charges
of electoral fraud in last May's senatorial balloting, has named Gerard
Gourgue ``Provisional President.'' This is bringing chaos closer. Gourgue
called for the return of the commanders of Haiti's repressive armed forces,
expelled by the U.S. military in 1994.

Despite its modest popular standing, the convergence effectively has been
awarded a crippling de facto veto by Sen. Jesse Helms, Aristide's relentless
avenger, with U.S. policymakers also insisting that it is the democratic

The convergence is the main obstacle to negotiations and the resumption of
aid. Aristide first met with its leaders in February to discuss possible
solutions to the stalemate. Regrettably, his offer to include some
convergence leaders in his government and appoint a new impartial electoral
body were peremptorily rejected. Aristide's call for initiating a dialogue
also was rejected by the convergence, though he has offered to move up the
next round of legislative elections.

The State Department and National Security Council always have viewed
Aristide as a liability rather than as the island's principal political
asset. Allegations against him routinely understate his wide support.
Aristide towers over potential alternatives and has worked hard to cooperate
with Washington's often arrogant demands.

In December, the Clinton administration agreed to restore aid once the
Haitian leader adopted eight conditions that addressed electoral and
economic reforms along with narcotics smuggling, illegal migration and
human-rights violations. Later, Aristide agreed to all of them.

After several requests by Haiti for help in addressing the election issue,
the Organization of American States belatedly decided to dispatch a
delegation to discuss election reforms. Since Washington largely determines
OAS Haiti policy, its initiative's bona fides will require scrutiny.


There is a danger here, which comes far less from the fact that relatively
few Haitians have any respect for the opposition coalition. Any outside
imposed government and revitalized military, as hinted by Gourgue, could
destroy the country's fragile human-rights situation, its enfeebled judicial
system and its lame democratization process.

The Bush administration would do well to honor the commitments made by
President Clinton.

Failing to display some basic amity to Haiti's population will only add more
yellowed pages to the profoundly jaundiced and mean-spirited links to
Port-au-Prince, which historically have been characterized by condescension
rather than respect.

Larry Birns is director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric
where Sarah Townes is a research associate.