The United States this year offered Haiti a clear carrot and stick:
Washington would provide the Duvalier government $32 million foreign aid, but only if Haiti helped to intercept refugees illegally fleeing to the US, did not harm the returning Haitians, and spent its aid in a more honest manner.
Haiti snapped up the offer (it gets the biggest chunk of its foreign aid from the US). Haiti's private sector is scheduled to get another $10 million this year under President Reagan's new Caribbean Basin Initiative. But US officials privately indicate that on one of its aid conditions - more honest administration of aid - Haiti already appears be slipping.
Keen US interest in Haiti rises not only from humanitarian attitudes toward one of the world's most poverty-stricken nations, but also from its proximity to Cuba. One of the Reagan administration's earliest-enunciated foreign policy aims was to stem expansion of Soviet influence in the Caribbean and Central America.
And in fact, Haitian President Duvalier appeared to be hewing closer to the democratic line in public statements this year, speaking of a need for ''liberalization,'' and promising to hold elections at the local level and to form a new human rights committee.
But when some skilled ministers appointed in February actually began to carry out reforms, Duvalier sacked several of them. Most have been replaced with figures linked to the more repressive early years of the President's rule, and with people close to the President's late father, ''Papa Doc'' Duvalier, whose dictatorial rule of Haiti was widely criticized as brutal.
Another incident that worries some US officials is Haiti's response to an alleged terrorist attack July 29 on some cars and power lines outside Port-au-Prince.
Some of those picked up after the incident were advisers to the ministers who were fired. A few, it is believed, are still being held without charge. US officials hope the government will not seek reprisals, restrict liberties, or beef up its already fearsome security forces.
One clue to Haiti's direction in the field of human rights, which US officials will watch, is the trials just getting under way of 22 opposition political figures and journalists arrested in 1980.