The Iraq factor in Haiti

March 03, 2004

OUSTED HAITIAN President Jean-Bertrand Aristide wasn't kidnapped from his homeland in the midst of Haiti's worst political violence in a decade - the United States made Mr. Aristide an offer he couldn't refuse.

With rebel insurgents poised to take the Haitian capital and violently drive Mr. Aristide from his palace (or worse), the Bush administration engineered his leave after refusing to bolster his security force with U.S. Marines. And yet Mr. Aristide's claim refuses to die.

The administration has no one to blame but itself. It has a credibility problem, born of misleading statements, manufactured "evidence" and manipulated data on everything from Iraq to al-Qaida to global warming.

FOR THE RECORD - Correction
An editorial Wednesday incorrectly stated the status of Haiti's parliament. The parliament stopped functioning in January with the expiration of a majority of members' terms.

That erosion of credibility enables the administration's critics to use Mr. Aristide's charge to pound away at the White House and attack the United States for undermining Haiti's first democratically elected president. The administration vociferously denies Mr. Aristide's version of events, but the question that should be front and center now is how to end the lawlessness in Haiti and form a stable, credible government there.

Rebel insurgents, led by a trio of Haitians with unsavory pasts, have refused to lay down their weapons, and the head of one faction, Guy Philippe, yesterday proclaimed himself the new chief of Haiti's military. (Mr. Aristide disbanded the army after his return from exile in 1994.) The United States and other sponsors of the international peacekeeping force due in Haiti will have to take an active role in policing the capital if order is to prevail.

But even more difficult than that will be the task of restoring a democratic government. The chief of Haiti's Supreme Court is serving as interim president, as set out in the country's constitution. But the Haitian parliament, which is supposed to ratify the presidential succession, was disbanded several years ago, and no capable, credible presidential successor has been identified. The political opposition, which demanded Mr. Aristide's resignation and never gave in to international demands to negotiate with him, must put aside parochial interests to help restore democracy to the country. The parliament also should be reconvened.

Haiti will remain impoverished and a cauldron of political instability unless the international community supports a long-term, sustained program of rebuilding the country's infrastructure and civil institutions. Absent that commitment, a Haitian proverb comes to mind: A day for the hunter, a day for the prey.

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