Handling Haiti

September 23, 1994|By Lawrence Pezzullo

DESPITE THE 11th-hour success of the peacemaking mission headed by former President Jimmy Carter, the arrival of thousands of U.S. troops in Haiti since Monday represents the bitter fruits of diplomatic blundering by the Clinton administration.

Whether because of guilt, weakness or lack of rigor in carrying out its policies, the administration has taken on the impossible burden of turning a country with no democratic traditions into a functioning democracy.

The quiet resignation last Friday of the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, Dante Caputo, represented a kind of punctuation mark to the administration's hopeless diplomacy. Mr. Caputo has long held the view that the situation must be resolved by Haitians, not by military intervention.

The role of U.S. troops now, before the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to power, involves relatively little risk. But our soldiers, under orders not to intercede even when they see Haitian police beating pro-Aristide demonstrators, will find themselves in an increasingly difficult position.

To prevent worse clashes, a multinational force to retrain and monitor the police is urgently needed.

The multinational negotiations that began soon after Mr. Aristide was overthrown in September 1991 were hampered by the unwillingness of the two protagonists to deal with each other.

Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who emerged as Haiti's de facto ruler, apparently felt that he could outlast the international pressure to restore the elected government. Mr. Aristide, exiled to Washington, expected the United States to restore him to power on his terms.

The agreement signed at Governors Island in July 1993, which set a timetable for Mr. Aristide's return to power, contained two ,, central elements: the transfer of power from the military to a democratic, constitutional government and the creation of a broad-based political coalition.

The Haitian constitution of 1987, which balances executive power with the parliament's -- essential in a country with a long history of abusive strongmen -- requires that the president build a working majority in the legislature.

It was precisely Mr. Aristide's estrangement from the elected parliament, coupled with his chilly relationship with business leaders and the military, that led to his overthrow in 1991, just seven months after he took office.

Without a broader governing coalition and an operating majority in the parliament, Mr. Aristide could face a repetition of the conflict that turned violent in 1991, or he could circumvent the constitution by ruling by decree. In either case, the United States, with its troops on the ground in Haiti, would find itself in an untenable position.

By unwisely putting its own credibility on the line rather than keeping the pressure on the Haitian protagonists to resolve the crisis on their own, the administration has shouldered an obligation to sustain the return to democratic rule.

That will require staying the course and ignoring the advice of those who argue for an early exit. Surely it would be wise for the United States, with its multilateral partners, to stay in place through the presidential elections in January 1996.

To preserve the integrity of its policy, the administration must insist that all Haitian parties, especially Mr. Aristide, comply scrupulously in word and spirit with the 1987 constitution.

Further, the United States should ensure that all members of parliament elected in 1990 are protected and allowed to assemble as soon as possible in a secure environment.

When he resumes the presidency, it will be essential that Mr. Aristide cooperate with the parliament on the following measures to build a truly democratic system:

* The early confirmation of a prime minister who can build and maintain a majority in the parliament. This will require reaching out to political adversaries, who earlier this year showed a willingness to build such a majority.

* The nomination and confirmation of a new commander in chief to replace Gen. Raoul Cedras. Haiti's constitution allows the president to pick one from senior military officers. Some of the current group remain untainted by the coup and have clean human rights records.

* The enactment of an amnesty law, the specific details of which would be worked out between parliament and the executive branch. The issue of whether Mr. Cedras and other military commanders should be forced into exile must also be left to the Haitians themselves.

* The creation of an independent civilian police force, which was stipulated in the Governors Island agreement and is required under the constitution. The United States and Canada have already pledged to assist in their training.

* The confirmation of a new civilian police chief.

* The enactment of legislation requiring that all paramilitary gangs be disarmed.

* The establishment of a bipartisan electoral commission to organize and oversee the parliamentary and the presidential elections.

Only a very carefully calibrated policy will guard against Haiti's slipping from military dictatorship under Mr. Cedras to populist authoritarianism under Mr. Aristide, presided over by a U.S. praetorian guard.

Lawrence Pezzullo, former ambassador to Nicaragua and Uruguay, was the administration's special adviser on Haiti from March 1993 to April 1994. He wrote this for the New York Times.

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