THE DAY of the dictator is over" in Latin America, proclaimed President Bush a few days ago in Argentina. For the most part, he's right.
But in Latin America's oldest and poorest republic, Haiti, the dictator's shadow still lingers, nearly five years after a popular revolt forced Jean-Claude Duvalier to flee to the French Riviera.
That shadow could at last be driven off if free elections proceed on schedule this Sunday. After a first electoral attempt was halted by gun thugs, and a second marred by military meddling, Haiti has its best chance yet to break with an unhappy past.
Through all their frustrations, Haitians have refused to give up. They have risked their lives to block a parade of generals from imposing a new dictatorial regime. And they have stood up to the formidable remnants of the Duvalier family's terror army, the Tontons Macoute.
The present civilian regime of President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot has asked the United Nations to provide election monitoring and security assistance. A group of 300 U.N. observers, 65 of them unarmed security experts, will monitor the election, along with more than 3,000 observers from the Organization of American States.
The need for such vigilance was dramatically demonstrated last week when armed thugs attacked a rally for the front-running candidate, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide. A fiery exponent of liberation theology, Aristide has survived repeated assassination attempts.
Further desperate attempts to disrupt the election are likely. But with protection from the world community, Haiti's voters now have a good chance to chase the dictator's shadow from their land.