Helping stabilize Haiti

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THE only good news from Haiti these days is that, after months of public pressure, the provisional government led by Gen. Henri Namphy has announced elections for the fall of 1987. It is a small step in the right direction. But it does not diminish Haiti's strong need in the interim for a more stable atmosphere, further internal reforms, and increased economic help from its friends.

This half-island nation of 6 million people in the Caribbean is beset by deep-seated poverty, growing population pressure, and continuing citizen unrest. Capital is scarce. Roughly half of the potential work force lack jobs. Increasing deforestation is greatly eroding the limited supply of hillside land. Without a correction, Haiti runs the risk of becoming another Ethiopia, unable to feed itself.

Transitions to democracy after long years of rule by dictators -- particularly the ruthlessness of a ``Papa Doc'' and the siphoning of public funds by him and his son Jean-Claude -- are seldom easy. The original joy and relief that greeted the younger Duvalier's pressured departure four months ago has given way to an almost constant wave of antigovernment protest. Some citizens have taken the law into their own hands by direct attacks against the Tontons Macoutes, the Duvaliers' private hit squad, and practicers of voodoo magic. A few days ago General Namphy, a former Duvalier general, said the current state of unrest has brought Haiti to the ``edge of anarchy.''

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It is logical for Haitians to want a government free of Duvalier associates and recognition by the government of the importance of their own human rights. But continuing protest alone is not going to resolve their problems. As Johns Hopkins University expert Piero Gleijeses says, ``What do they care if Duvalier is gone if they're starving?''

A more generous outpouring of economic and technical aid from the world community -- beyond the $662 million given Haiti over the last decade -- could do much to provide more jobs and a more stable climate for stepped-up foreign investment. The US, the major donor, which now points to a Communist influence in Haitian protests, has added $8 million in emergency commodity help over the last few months and new technical assistance in hillside fruit and coffee tree planting.

Fresh aid to Haiti from the United States and other traditional givers such as France and Canada could legitimately carry political strings, requiring that certain steps be taken in the direction of more democratic rule. Two months ago United States economist Arnold Harberger, returning from a Reagan administration visit to Haiti, urged fiscal changes, from reduced tariffs to the sale of inefficient state-owned industries -- but not before the political situation there had normalized.

Haiti's political timetable now includes the formal registration of political parties by June and the writing next fall of a new constitution. These steps should give Haitians the initial tools they need to make democracy work and encourage the return to a more stable environment. In that effort, Haiti deserves the full support of the community of nations.

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