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8868: Haiti: By David Keene (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Haiti: By David Keene
Note: David Keene was part of the RNC delegation that went to Haiti last week.


Port-au-Prince - Back in the early nineties, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was believed by many to be the man who would save Haiti. When his election was overturned by a coup, Bill Clinton ordered him returned to power at gunpoint. The exercise cost US taxpayers literally billions of dollars, but we did it.
    Questions about Aristide's methods and temperament that had been raised by critics were almost cavalierly dismissed. After all, the man had been elected and was close to Bill Clinton and those around him.
    He did serve out that first term and presided over a joint Haitian/US nation building experiment during which we trained Haitian police, cleaned up the capitol of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and hoped for the best. Those really familiar with what was going on noticed that his Lavalas Party was working systematically to destroy any real opposition, but few commented on it.
    Still, when his term ended, Aristide stepped down as required under the Haitian constitution.  In a peaceful transfer of power, one of his henchmen was elected. But he continued to control the Lavalas Party and to work closely with his allies in Washington until, he knew, the next election would allow him to once again assume the presidency.
    No one in Haiti could question his US connections. He was Clinton's man and made it clear in dozens of ways that to oppose him was to oppose Haiti's neighbor to the north. When he got married, Bill Clinton's advisor on all things Haitian stood up for him as his best man. And while he and his successor dragged their feet on privatization, they did manage to spin off the nation's state-owned telecommunications corporation to a consortium that included Clintonites Mack McLarty, Joe Kennedy and Terry McCauliffe.
    Meanwhile, an economy that no one thought could get worse did. Today upwards of 75% of Haitians are unemployed with no light at the end of the tunnel. Tourism is dead and investors shun the place. To announce one is going to Port-au-Prince is to invite laughter, scorn or pity.
    Last year, however, Aristide went too far even for Washington. On May 21st, the people of Haiti went to the polls in record numbers to elect virtually everyone but the president. The nation's Senate and Assembly as well as almost all local officials ran in elections overseen by a Commission controlled by Aristide's allies.
    During the campaign, opposition candidates were targeted for intimidation, but on election day things really got out of hand. Police stormed polling places, seized ballot boxes and replaced them with pre-stuffed boxes thoughtfully provided by the government. At one point a truck carrying seized ballots hit a pothole as it careened through Port-au-Prince, scattering ballots onto the streets.
    The election was a joke. Even the head of the Lavalas controlled election commission refused to certify the results. He has since fled the country. International observers labeled it a fraud and urged action.
    Without flinching, however, the government announced that all the Lavalas candidates had won (most by more than 90%) and would assume office throughout Haiti. The international community led by the Organization of American States and the US demanded new elections and cut off aid. Their position was that there had to be new elections unless Haiti wanted to risk becoming pariah state.
    The government thumbed its nose at all this and went on to hold a presidential election in November to allow Aristide to retake the presidency. Every one objected. The opposition and the Haitian population boycotted the November 26th election. Turnout was less than 3% and most of those who voted actually worked for the government.
    Aristide was, of course, elected and took office over international protests, but the Clinton Administration decided the whole thing was legal because people "could have" voted if they had wanted to do so and the opposition parties "could have" run a candidate against him if they had chosen to do so. Besides, as a US official told me, there is no evidence that Aristide did anything untoward on election day.
    The Bush Administration almost casually accepted the Clinton position as legitimate and we now find ourselves in the position of defending Aristide while insisting that the earlier election be re-run. What we really want, though, is for the whole thing to go away.
    But it won't. Aristide became our guy when we returned him to power and we became his shield when we ratified his return to office after the November elections. We built and trained the police that he uses to destroy his opposition rather than to keep order. We've stood by while he's made himself an ally of Fidel Castro's Cuba and welcomed Columbia's drug traders to his shores.
    Last week, Aristide's police again began tossing his political opponents into jail. The excuse is that several police stations were raked by gunfire in what the regime describes as an attempted coup. The resulting crackdown is being justified as necessary to protect Haiti's fragile democracy.
    The US protested and our ambassador told me that while we don't know exactly who fired on the police facilities, we do know that it wasn't the opposition. At least Aristide must read history, because the attacks were a sort of minor league Reichstag fire designed to justify an assault on his critics.
    But no one in Haiti is buying Aristide's story. In fact, it appears that whatever popular support he once enjoyed is vanishing. He trusts no one. In fact, after a widely publicized visit with Fidel Castro, he returned with a new all-Cuban security team to protect him from his own people.
    So today, Bill Clinton's advertisement for democracy in Haiti can't even find a dozen or so of his countrymen to man a security detail. He may be a despot, but he's no fool. He knows that he's safer with Fidel and the boys from Columbia than he is with his fellow Haitians.

(David A. Keene is Chairman of the American Conservative Union and a Washington
based governmental affairs consultant)