Clinton's Errors: Where Policies Went Awry HAITI: POLICY AND PRIESTS U.S. And Haiti -- Uneast Partners, Turbulent Past

September 25, 1994|By LAWRENCE A. PEZZULLO

When I was asked in March of last year to become the secretary of state's special adviser on Haiti, I accepted because I thought that the United States should play a leading role in finding a solution to the Haiti problem.

It was clear that any solution would require a change in the military leadership and a commitment by the successors to the return of constitutional government and of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. What was less obvious was that, given Haiti's parliamentary system of government, Father Aristide needed a broad-based political coalition with a majority in the Parliament to govern.

Simply returning to the status quo ante (September 1991) when Father Aristide was overthrown would offer little hope for stability. A viable social contract had to undergird the democratic process to ensure its durability.

Looked at from this perspective, the multilateral negotiation led by U.N./OAS envoy Dante Caputo and supported by the "Four Friends" (Canada, France, Venezuela and the United States) was taking on the challenge of helping Haitians reshape their political culture.

Early on, I realized that this commitment was not shared by all in the Clinton administration: Some naively fed a fantasy that Haiti offered the president an opportunity for an easy international victory, while others were convinced that Father Aristide's return would provoke a blood bath requiring U.S. military intervention.

A winner-take-all game

Since rebelling from French colonial rule nearly two centuries ago, Haiti has suffered a succession of abusive dictatorships. Politics has been a winner-take-all game in a zero-sum world where social and economic progress have been sacrificed to privilege and corruption. The lack of political stability additionally has stunted the growth of civil and private institutions.

In the early 1950s, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier twisted a democratic opening into a repressive tyranny. The soft-spoken country doctor was maliciously adept at turning Haitian against Haitian. He subverted institutions, including the armed forces, to cement his hold on power and so poisoned civil society that, as one prominent Haitian said sadly, "He made paranoids of us all, including me." The Duvalier dynasty, which came to an end with the overthrow of his son, "Baby Doc," in 1986 is the sordid backdrop for recent events.

With no institutions or political consensus to fall back on, the years after the demise of the Baby Doc regime were tumultuous. The political centrists faced attack from the extremes. Moderate Haitians saw the need to build something positive from the ruins of the Duvalier years. In 1987, 99 percent of the people ratified a new constitution designed to prevent another dictatorship. The new organic law drew on the French Constitution, splitting the power of the executive between a president and a prime minister, and balancing executive power with that of the legislature.

The first fruit of the new constitution was the election of 1990. Haitians came out in large numbers to elect the ex-Salesian priest, Father Aristide, as president in a landslide. Members of other political coalitions won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of Parliament.

But the democratic process was interrupted seven months after Father Aristide took office. At loggerheads with the Parliament and feared by members of the private sector and military, Father Aristide was overthrown.

His ouster was viewed internationally as a serious setback to the democratic process in Haiti and a potentially dangerous precedent. At the same time, Father Aristide was faulted for his political maladroitness -- excluding members of the coalition that brought him to power in favor of a narrow group of loyalists who lacked political skills and turning to mobs when he failed to win parliamentary support for his political programs. Father Aristide's failure to form a majority government and his authoritarian style had raised fears that he would become another Duvalier.

Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who had been selected by Father Aristide to serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, became de facto leader of Haiti. Father Aristide and General Cedras, once part of the same government, emerged as the principal antagonists, each a product of the nation's troubled history.

Governors Island accord

The Governors Island Agreement (GIA), forged in July 1993, was the product of multilateral negotiations. Neither Father Aristide nor General Cedras had shown any inclination to take initiatives to resolve Haiti's crisis. (The agreement set a timetable for Father Aristide's return to power and called for the transfer of power from the military to a democratic government.)

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