Aristide's Promises

MANY who opposed United States and United Nations intervention in Haiti to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power did so because they believed Mr. Aristide was no democrat. They pointed to his incitement of mob violence against opponents in his last days in office, incitement that led Haiti's military and upper classes to conclude that they must depose him.

How much of a democrat Aristide was or is was made moot by the military regime's violent repression and outrageous human rights violations. At least, most reasoned, Aristide presented a hope for democracy in Haiti. He had, it was argued, learned much about democracy during his forced exile in the US.

Returned to power, Aristide for a while fulfilled that belief. He talked reconciliation and the need for free and fair elections. But over the past months, events have begun to turn in a familiar and unfortunate direction. First, June's legislative elections, swept by Aristide backers, saw many irregularities. Economic reforms have not been implemented, leading to a suspension of foreign aid. Then Aristide appeared to be returning to his old ways, encouraging a mob and flirting with the idea of canceling the Dec. 17 presidential elections and staying on for another three years.

Aristide supporters argued that the president, who under the Haitian constitution cannot succeed himself, spent three years abroad unable to carry out his duties. Therefore, they said, he should get three more years to make up for it.

On Nov. 18, several people were killed and scores injured after Aristide told a crowd to ''go to the neighborhoods where there are big houses'' and disarm opponents. He's also made conflicting and ambiguous statements about leaving office in February.

Meanwhile, US-Haitian relations are deteriorating over a disagreement about documents the US military seized from the previous regime. And in the last week, the US Coast Guard picked up more than 1,100 Haitian boat people trying to sail to Florida.

US officials, obviously disturbed by the turn of events, say they expect the elections to take place and that Aristide will abide by his renewed promise leave office. They should caution Aristide that the US and UN will not tolerate a new dictatorship in Haiti.

And Aristide's friends in the US - Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D) of Massachusetts, for example - should remind the Haitian president that if he really wants to help his people progress economically and politically, he will resist temptation to renege on promises he made when he was helped to return.

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