Haiti bleeds again

October 04, 1991|By The Los Angeles Times

EVER SINCE the Duvalier dictatorship was overthrown in 1986, the island nation of Haiti has been plagued by turmoil. Even by such a standard, the coup that overthrew President Jean Bertrand Aristide Monday was anything but routine: It ousted Haiti's first democratically elected president.

The Bush administration's firm stand against the junta -- including the cutoff of desperately needed humanitarian assistance -- was a tough but necessary first step. It is terrible that humanitarian aid is to be denied the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. But the generals must be forcefully reminded that without an international lifeline even a Haiti run by the military will starve.

Washington's job now is to rally the other democratic nations of the hemisphere against the coup -- the sooner the better. Repeated intervention by the Haitian military is obviously not the cure for what ails this country of 6 million. Indeed, Haiti's militarism is a disease itself: Every civilian leader who has tried to make democracy work runs up against stubborn resistance from the 7,000-man military force.

It would be nice to think that reform of the Haitian military is the answer. But what if reform isn't possible? This was the case in Costa Rica in the 1940s. Weary of constant military coups, that small nation simply abolished the army. Costa Rica has been one of the most stable nations in Latin America ever since. That is a precedent that frustrated Haitian civilians will want to consider once this latest coup is rolled back -- as it most surely should be.

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