Clinton's folly on Haiti could hurt Gore campaign

July 30, 1999|By Lawrence Pezzullo and Nancy Jackson

REMEMBER Haiti? That's the Caribbean island-nation where the United States intervened militarily five years ago with 20,000 troops to restore democracy and billions of dollars in assistance.

Currently, it is being threatened by the very leaders who were the beneficiaries of our military intervention and financial largess. If left unchecked, Haiti's trouble could boil over and hurt Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign.

Of course, there have been some improvements. Haiti now has an elected government, though, in January, President Rene Preval closed down the parliament that had the temerity to question the executive branch.

Haiti's corrupt and oppressive military has been eliminated, but violence continues. The latest example was the summary execution by Haitian police of 11 handcuffed youths in broad daylight.

People continue to leave the island via rickety boats headed for Florida, reflecting economic conditions, which are worse then they were during the international economic embargo, from 1993 to 1994. And narcotics trafficking has skyrocketed.

Those in Haiti who seek to thwart democracy and establish a one-party state want to use the current atmosphere of fear to postpone indefinitely the November elections.

Dictatorial rule

This faction, led by former President Jean Bertrand Aristide with the complicity of the Preval government, hope to eliminate the legitimate political and civil opposition by canceling the November elections and corrupting the process.

This was the case when a recent peaceful demonstration staged by Haiti's business community was violently broken up by thugs who, by eyewitness accounts, were bussed in from an Aristide political action center near the capital.

Members of the Haitian national police dressed in civilian clothes participated in the counter demonstration. This is precisely the type of heavy-handed thuggery that Mr. Aristide was quick to criticize the military regime for.

So what has our military and financial investment done to obtain our goals of promoting democracy and prosperity in Haiti? Not much.

Haiti's economy is still in shambles despite massive U.S. assistance, thanks to Mr. Aristide's unwillingness to institute economic reforms, including the privatization of long-corrupt state enterprises.

And the democratic opening we hoped to see prosper by removing a de-facto military regime is being undermined by Mr. Aristide, who spoke eloquently about representative government while in exile in Washington and now ominously appears to be following in the footsteps of dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

Congressional action

The Republicans in Congress, frustrated by the deplorable situation in Haiti and the Clinton administration's stonewalling, have voted to end the small U.S. military presence in Haiti.

The administration, meanwhile, has sought to preserve the myth that Haiti is a success story, while hoping that it doesn't blow up in its face.

We have invested too much in Haiti to turn our back now. President Clinton and the Republicans should make a major effort to see that Haiti holds free and fair elections in November. At the very least that would resurrect the parliament as a viable Democratic institution.

The Republicans should delay the exit of our military whose presence and prestige may help deter pre-election political violence. And they should hold the administration publicly accountable and demand that it make good on the investment we made in Haiti.

It would be naive to believe that the November elections alone will ensure the survival of Democracy in Haiti. They will not. But they are critical starting point.

Mr. Clinton, of course, hopes no one notices this foreign policy blunder. But if Haiti erupts during next year's presidential campaign, Mr. Gore, who is vulnerable, may pay the price for the administration's inadequate policy. That's unless Mr. Gore takes some responsibility for the administration's actions in the future.

Ironically, Mr. Gore was one of the few balanced voices within the administration when it lost focus and blithely followed Mr. Aristide.

To protect his candidacy, Mr. Gore should push the administration to use all means necessary to prevent Haiti from becoming a major liability. Otherwise, he will pay for Mr. Clinton's folly.

Lawrence Pezzullo was special adviser on Haiti to former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Nancy Jackson, an international affairs consultant, was Haitian desk officer for the U.S. State Department for three years under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

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