Don't Forget Haiti

Nobody is talking much about Haiti these days. Four years ago, as American troops ousted a military dictator and ushered home an exiled democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, optimism briefly blossomed. Perhaps the Caribbean nation could rebuild after generations of misrule and turmoil.

The intervening years, however, have revealed continuing divisiveness and greed for power among Haiti's politicians. Mr. Aristide's Lavalas movement - never a paragon of democracy - has fragmented into warring factions. The former president, still Haiti's most popular figure, is widely thought to be biding his time. The 2000 election could put him back at the helm, with an enhanced mandate - tending, some worry, toward renewed dictatorship.

By the end of November, another mandate - that of United Nations police trainers - runs out. Haiti's new 6,000-man police force was to replace the corrupt former police and Army, but it's still in need of seasoning. More important, the same social and economic forces that helped corrupt their predecessors haven't changed.

National pride led many Haitian lawmakers to insist that the training be done by Haitians themselves. They voted to remove all foreign forces from Haiti, including the UN trainers. President Ren Prval, however, has reportedly asked for an extension of the UN mission - which makes sense. The 284 UN trainers are not armed forces, though they're provided security by a small Argentine force. Also on hand is a 500-member US relief mission.

Concern over these outsiders - who are there to help - is misplaced. A much greater danger to Haitian sovereignty lurks along the country's coast, where drug traffickers are clustering. Haiti's political chaos, frail legal system, and poverty draw them. Thwarting that threat requires more, not less, cooperation with the US.

This small country, among the world's poorest, needs all the help it can get. Surveys show that a large majority of Haitians would like to leave the island. Virtually the only cash flow sustaining the local economy comes from Haitians abroad sending money home. The expatriates' industry hints at untapped energies in Haiti itself.

What's needed is leaders, and governmental structures, that develop those energies, not repress them. That new Haiti is more likely to emerge with sustained outside help.

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