Mission Incomplete: The U.S. Leaves Haiti


WASHINGTON — Washington. -- On March 31, President Bill Clinton will travel to Haiti to congratulate U.S. forces for their occupation of Haiti and meet with Haiti's President Jean- Bertrand Aristide.

That day the United States will pass command and control of Haiti to a U.N. force of whom some 3,000 will be American troops. These are ominous indications that the mission designed as ''restoring democracy'' to Haiti is far from complete.

Readers of this column may recall that I did not support the U.S. landing in Haiti nor the preceding economic embargoes, which destroyed much of Haiti's fragile economy. I did not think it was likely that we could ''restore democracy'' in a country with no experience of democratic government or rule of law. Under propitious circumstances, it is possible to help a country develop democratic institutions. But President Aristide's record did not suggest to me that he was himself seriously committed to democratic principles and norms. The number of instances when he incited followers of violence suggested to me a fanatical disposition, an inability to tolerate opposition and habitual disregard for law.

There were other reasons for pessimism concerning how quickly Haiti could make the transition to democracy. Its per-capita income is among the lowest in the world. So is its literacy rate. The extreme poverty of the majority of its citizens, the extreme disparities in wealth and the habit of violence have bred an indigenous version of class war whose effects could be observed in the governments of the Duvaliers and of President Aristide.

The fact that the Roman Catholic Father Aristide had been expelled from the Silesian Order for advocating violent class war only confirmed that the behavior in which he had engaged

during his brief tenure as president had been manifested in other times and places. It is not a political style conducive to debate, to compromise, to peaceful settlement of disputes.

Haiti has neither the traditions nor the institutions required for a rule of law. Its judicial system and police are thoroughly politicized. Now some 375 new police recruits are being trained, but they are not yet ready to assume responsibilities for law enforcement and it is not clear that they will be willing to function in a politically neutral fashion. Training them to respect citizens and protect personal security will not be easy. Already the Aristide government has circulated a secret ''watch list of 30'' persons who are charged with unspecified crimes against humanity.

Allan Weinstein, president of the Center for Democracy, described the arrest at the Montreal Airport of Frantz Robert Monde, a political opponent and candidate for re-election to the Parliament. Canadian authorities arrested Mr. Monde simply on the basis of the Haitian government's charge. Strenuous representations by Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Strobe Talbot and others in the State Department have still not secured his release.

Mr. Weinstein is deeply concerned that the ''watch list'' heralds a campaign of repression against opposition candidates in the parliamentary elections. Those elections have already been postponed repeatedly and are now scheduled for June. Will there be adequate respect for personal security to permit campaigning, opposition and an honest count? Not unless a vigorous preparatory campaign for the election is conducted by the United States.

The Clinton administration has much riding on the success and integrity of operation ''restore democracy.'' Opposition to the American plan existed in both the U.N. Security Council and the Organization of American States. But the Clinton team pushed forward. Now, to avoid a failure of the Haiti operation comparable to the failure in Somalia, the Clinton administration must urgently pursue its own campaign for democracy in Haiti.

Military intervention in the internal affairs of another state rarely produces the desired results and is not finally compatible with an orderly world of self-governing states. Overturning another government by force or threat of force is still more objectionable -- except if there are truly vital American interests and lives at stake, such, for example, as was the case in Grenada in 1983. There hundreds of American students were held hostage by a murderous band of revolutionaries who had already killed in cold blood Grenada's Marxist-Leninist prime minister, Maurice Bishop, and five of his Cabinet members and imposed a round-the-clock, shoot-on-sight curfew on a terrorized population.

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