Democratic transition in Haiti Success so far: Preval must make it work, in Aristide's shadow.

February 09, 1996

FOR THE FIRST TIME in Haiti's history, an elected president has handed his authority over to another. There is satisfaction that the U.S. peaceful invasion to restore legitimacy in the troubled state has so far succeeded.

And yet, President Rene Garcia Preval is not assured of making it. The people who elected him really wanted his predecessor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to stay on. Though a military coup cheated Mr. Aristide of three years of his presidency, the U.S. insisted that he step down as the constitutional timetable decreed.

The new police, trained by an international force of professionals, are not yet credibly superior to the armed-thug tradition. A longer lasting international police presence would make sense. Some bullies of the Duvalier and military eras remain armed, in particular the FRAPH militia which the U.S. occupation force insufficiently disarmed when the chance existed.

Mr. Aristide himself is a problem. He remains in Haiti, defrocked from the priesthood and newly married, his popularity undiminished, looming larger than the successor he supported. Were a rift to develop between Mr. Preval and Mr. Aristide, the strength of democratic authority in Haiti would be sorely tested.

Mr. Aristide is too young, vigorous and intent on running for the presidency again in five years to be content as elder statesman. In their previous relationship, Mr. Preval was Mr. Aristide's subordinate and they both must accept the reversal of roles.

The U.S. sent a relatively low-level delegation headed by U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright to witness the inauguration. It was recognition of how easily things could yet go wrong. President Aristide's last act was to recognize Cuba. However annoying that is to Washington, the two are near neighbors and will always have practical problems to discuss, not least the periodic flights of their two peoples by leaky boat.

The Preval presidency is a welcome development that many Haitians never expected to see. May it prosper and last the constitutionally allotted five years.

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