Whose Is the Victory in Haiti?

Missing from US efforts to restore democracy is input from the Haitian people, they say

AFTER a three-year effort, the restoration of Haiti's exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appears to be only days away. His return will be a clear victory for the international community, although it is unclear how much the Haitian people have won.

Never before has a deposed president, democratically elected, been restored to office. President Aristide's triumph is that he has put Haiti, a small, black country, on the map.

His supporters' success is that his return is imminent. But the controlling hand of the United States, with its vast resources, has left Aristide little room to rule on his own.

Lurking behind the scenes are about 19,000 foreign troops, the majority of whom are from the US. And it is because of their presence that Haiti may soon become an unprecedented success story.

The most tangible proof of the troops' influence is the departure of Police Chief Michel Francois skulking across the border, and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras relinquishing his post as military high commander after three years of snubbing worldwide pressure. Provisional President Emile Jonassaint is expected to resign very soon.

From small villages to large urban centers across the country, Haitians have repeatedly expressed their gratitude when US troops appear since the US's peaceful entry into the country on Sept. 19.

Eager Haitians flock to greet the US Army convoys as they travel down the streets, clapping their hands in delight. Curious children climb on the tanks, inspecting the heavy weapons and bulky uniforms. Watching helicopters fly overhead has replaced flying kites as a way of passing time.

In spite of their gratitude, however, there is deep-seated concern among many Haitians that their country and their culture are slipping out of their hands.

They are angry about an internationally brokered solution that has excluded a large voice of the Haitian population. The envoys sent by President Clinton to negotiate a last-minute peace deal in Haiti did not even make contact with Robert Malval, a caretaker prime minister appointed by Aristide after an earlier phase of negotiations.

Members of Aristide's government are already concerned that their voice, to say nothing of that of the poor and illiterate, will be swallowed up by the policies of the most powerful country in the world, which may not have their country's welfare as its motivation.

Democracy will be installed, rather than earned, they say, by the very country many here feel is partly responsible for the crisis.

The US is controlling Haiti's restoration. There is barely a corner of the country or public administration where its presence is not felt.

``I'm happy they are all here,'' says one Haitian economist with moderate political views. ``But the sign of their success should not be if one of their soldiers gets killed or not. It should be whether or not we are truly going to have a democracy. And to date, they haven't included very many Haitians in that process.''

The last time the US occupied Haiti, in 1915, they stayed for 19 years. This time they hope to pull out and be replaced by United Nations forces within a matter of months.

Currently, US forces are filling the void created by the dismantling of the Army, Haiti's main structure of stability over the last three years. The biggest fear is not so much what will happen while the troops are here, but what will happen when they are all gone.

Many Haitians from all sectors are asking themselves if the US will afford them the time, training, and room they need to institute a democracy that corresponds to their culture, not one imposed on them.

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