Changing of the Guard in Haiti

April 02, 1995

President Clinton was entitled to claim victory for his six-month occupation of Haiti, as he did, in turning occupation over to the United Nations at Port-au-Prince on Friday.

Since the U.S. landing Sept. 17, the exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was restored to authority, thuggish military forces were disbanded, the rule of intimidation ended, emigration subsided and massive economic aid was pledged.

The U.S. force, once up to 22,000, will be down to 2,400, within a 6,000-man U.N. army commanded by an American, in a few weeks. None of the disasters and humiliations predicted by opponents of the mission has materialized.

Yet the challenge -- a pessimistic one -- is for the claim to remain accurate six months hence. To avoid mission creep, the U.S. forces watched crime and violence mushroom. The economy has not restarted. People are hungry, jobless and desperate. There is no justice, no police, no jail. The anarchy in a vacuum of authority resembles Russia after communism, only worse.

Two murders of supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were followed by assassination of a prominent opponent, Mireille Durocher Bertin, after U.S. authorities had learned of the plot and sent warnings. Tips pointed to complicity of the so-called interior minister, Monesir Beaubrun, which he and President Aristide denied.

Things in Haiti are not what they seem, and Mr. Beaubrun is not a real interior minister or ally of the president. He was a colonel who switched sides, was army commander, was then retired from military life and, after protests, brought back with a title and no responsibilities. Two of the tipsters were violent Marxist supporters of the president who were assumed to have been agent provocateurs planted by the old army.

President Clinton said that President Aristide sought help in solving the murder of Mrs. Bertin. Forensic experts were sent. Rapid solution of the crime would help restore authority in Haiti. Not that the country is capable of a fair trial and sustained imprisonment.

The U.N., now taking over, must do more nation building than it wishes. Much depends on the next police force, being trained for deployment in June, when local elections portend new murders. Somebody must disarm the demobilized thugs clinging to their weapons. The $1.2 billion in promised aid had better start arriving to create jobs and infrastructure.

Contrary to fears, this was not another Somalia or even a repetition of previous Haiti operations. But, like more innocent sports, the game is not over till it's over.

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