Haiti's fresh start

THE sweet smell of freedom that now pervades Haiti is welcomed by its people, for 28 years in the grip of Duvalier dictatorship. Many problems challenge the fledgling-and-temporary government; much will be required of it, Haitian citizens, and friendly nations. The five-member junta must follow up its good start by regaining control of Haiti's 6 million people and disarming the 20,000 Tontons Macoutes, who made up the Duvalier power base. The junta must also maneuver the nation, with its underdeveloped political system, toward promised elections. With outside assistance the junta should begin to restart the economy: Haiti is the hemisphere's poorest nation. Finally, the junta must be sufficiently free of the influence of the Duvalier forces to merit the broad support of Haitians: A few are concerned that some junta members are too closely identified with Duvalier.

The United States ought to begin releasing some of the $52 million in US aid withheld from the Duvalier government in recent months. Funds are desperately required to rebuild Haiti's shattered economy and provide humanitarian assistance to the nation's many poor. The money could be provided in stages, subject to continued progress by the junta.

The United States now has the support of Haitians, having played a role in ``liberating'' Haiti, only a few miles from Cuba. Washington, which has been having difficulties elsewhere in the hemisphere, should be careful to retain that backing.

Jean-Claude Duvalier, Haiti's self-styled President-for-Life, ultimately decided to flee rather than try to retain power by brute force, with the prospect of great harm to the Haitian people. Dictators rarely cede power without the most tenacious struggle; this time, under the pressures of widespread domestic unrest and apparent strong US pressure, Duvalier gave in.

His decision aids the Haitian people immediately. In the future, it should also encourage diplomats who might seek to convince autocratic rulers of other suffering nations that the hour has come for them to relinquish authority as well.

For nearly two centuries the United States has been involved in Haitian affairs, to a greater or lesser degree. For too many years the US strongly backed the Duvalier dynasty, despite its lamentable human rights record and the plundering of the country's economy by Jean-Claude and his father. Washington made the correct move last fall, however, when it began to distance itself from Duvalier and, more recently, became involved in easing him out of Haiti.

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