Eleventh hour diplomacy

October 02, 2005

SECRETARY OF STATE Condoleezza Rice's recent visit to Haiti was a welcome move by the Bush administration at a time when the beleaguered Caribbean country could benefit from U.S. diplomatic engagement. Less than two months away from presidential and legislative elections scheduled for November, it is facing serious security challenges and problems registering voters, the population is dangerously polarized, and the American-backed interim government is loosing credibility.

Ms. Rice urged the provisional government to work for "open, inclusive and fair" elections, a tough challenge given Haiti's history of bloody elections, the disqualification of 22 of the 54 presidential candidates, and widespread allegations of fraud in the registration process. She also admonished the government over its poor record on human rights, a correct message she should repeat often.

The 15-month jailing without formal charges of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, and more recently, the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a well-known priest, show blatant disregard for due process. Both men, and hundreds of other less prominent prisoners, are loyalists of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Ms. Rice should work with the so-called Core Group for Haiti - Brazil, France, the U.N. and the Organization for American States - to push the government to resolve these cases.

Ms. Rice's visit did signal U.S. "backing for the Haitian people at this very important time," as she put it. It should demonstrate to nervous donor nations that the Bush administration is committed to helping stabilize Haiti, and persuade the European Union, the Inter-American Development Bank and other donors to release more than $1.3 billion in aid.

Ms. Rice correctly notes that the elections "could be a very important turning point" for Haiti. All the more reason for the U.S. to stay involved during the run-up to elections - and after.

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