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9178: Miami Herald editorial: Aristide won by big margin! (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Published Wednesday, October 3, 2001 

Haiti's government should show that it is open to democracy.
While its political parties continue to bicker, Haiti's prospects for future stability continue to slide inexorably toward the abyss. The Organization of American States's attempts to broker an end to the downward spiral is the best hope of reversing the decline.

Yet there is little chance for improvement without the engagement of and assistance from the U.S. government. The United States can help create opportunities for Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to make improvements and rebuild trust, including repairing Haiti's dismal human-rights record.

Sanctions alone won't help lift Haiti from poverty and misery. As it is, Mr. Aristide's government remains paralyzed. It desperately needs the hundreds of millions in international aid that has been frozen. The Haitian government must show that it is opening itself to democratic processes if it hopes to get help from the international community.

There were good reasons for the withdrawal from Haiti of a United Nations mission this year, of U.S. training programs for Haitian police and its justice system in 2000 and of OAS monitors in 1999. But in the void left behind, Haiti's human-rights situation has only worsened.

A report last week by Amnesty International describes the dangers now posed by a dysfunctional justice system, politically motivated abuses and attacks on freedom of speech. While the repression hasn't sunk to the brutal low that followed the 1991 military coup, there are ``extremely worrying trends that, if not reversed, will lead to even graver violations of human rights,'' the report says. According to Amnesty, the improvements that followed Haiti's return to constitutional rule in 1994 have been eroded. 

The unsolved murder of Jean Dominique reflects the concerns. A popular radio commentator, Mr. Dominique was gunned down outside his radio station in April last year. An ally of Mr. Aristide, he had been publicly critical of some in the ruling Lavalas Family party. Efforts to find Mr. Dominique's killers have been hindered by threats against investigating judges. Threats to journalists and other attacks have chilled freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, irregularities in last year's Senate elections continue to cripple Haiti's political fortunes. OAS efforts have come close, but haven't yet produced a solution. Mr. Aristide's government must accept that the opposition has a legitimate voice in the political system. The opposition, too, must accept that Mr. Aristide is their democratically elected president -- by a big margin.

Yesterday's announcement that the OAS has created a new Group of Friends on Haiti, which includes the United States, is a hopeful sign. Better for all to stay engaged in order to avert what could become human catastrophe.