As Haiti approaches its second try at presidential elections in two months, there is growing pessimism about the outcome of the scheduled Jan. 17 vote. The Reagan administration, along with Caribbean democracies, Canada, France, and other nations, remains committed to a transition toward democracy in the Western Hemisphere's poorest country. But United States and other policymakers are unsure how best to influence the process and are nervous about possible violence ahead.
The US should not get out in front of the Haitian people, senior US officials say. Unless the Haitians again demonstrate their determination to win democracy and unless they can coalesce around a figure or united movement in that struggle, there will be no effective challenge to right-wing thugs, a senior US official says.
The process is not a simple black-and-white differentiation between the ``good'' opposition and the ``bad'' transitional government, says another senior diplomat. There are questionable elements in both camps, he says. The key is not to leave the field open to the ``violent radicals'' on either side, he says. The way to do that, he adds, is through a reconciliation of the opposition and the transitional government, the National Governing Council (CNG). Such a reconciliation would allow fair and free elections, he says.
However, a reconciliation is very unlikely, says a senior Western diplomat who is an expert on Haiti. Concerned countries have been pressing both sides, but little progress is evident, he says.
The Haitian opposition remains very fractious, uniting only in its boycott of the scheduled vote, the foreign diplomat says, and in its bitterness about the right-wing violence that killed more than 30 people before the Nov. 29 election was canceled. Its leaders have resisted private urgings by concerned democracies to present a united front and one candidate on Jan. 17, he says.
The Haitian opposition must learn to cooperate or it will not be able to move toward democracy before or after Jan. 17, a senior US official adds.
On the government side, Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga and other Caribbean leaders have been urging the CNG to accept a compromise on an independent electoral council to carry out the election, the foreign diplomat says. The CNG dismissed the previous independent electoral council and appointed its own after the canceled November elections.
The Caribbean leaders found that Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy, who heads the CNG, is committed to handing over power in February, but is under heavy pressure from hard-line elements in the military not to yield, US sources say. The CNG has not budged on its plans for the Jan. 17 vote, Mr. Seaga's initiative is stalled, and a Caribbean Community summit may be held in the first week in January to look at next steps, these sources say.
In Washington, the Reagan administration has come under pressure from a number of congressmen to say publicly what the US will do if elections go awry. The US has cut off all nonhumanitarian aid to Haiti. Some congressmen advocate sending a multinational peacekeeping force to Haiti to insure a free and calm vote.
Other concerned countries do not support direct foreign intervention or public threats to the CNG at this time, the foreign diplomat says. US officials say that for an intervention to work over the objections of the CNG, it would have to be large. Once a force is there, it will be hard to get out, since the problem of building democracy in Haiti will remain unsolved, they say.
These specialists point out that Haiti has major barriers to any semblance of democratic government. The country is poor, illiterate, and permeated by a voodoo culture that has bred distrust and lack of community values. Haiti's dictatorial regimes have built on these factors, leaving a society wracked with violence and leaving the military as the only real institution, they say.
Even the military is increasingly factionalized. Some more radical right leaders have recently integrated large numbers of former Tonton Macoutes, the secret police, into the Army to bolster their own influence at the expense of the more traditional conservatives, US officials and the foreign diplomat say.
A glimmer of hope is the Haitian determination for democracy. Popular demonstrations forced out former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Mass demonstrations in the run-up to the elections could force the CNG and the opposition to compromise, officials say. It could also lead to more killings. Even if the people are too intimidated to demonstrate, the foreign diplomat says, there is real danger of widespread vengeance attacks against pro-democracy leaders.
Indeed, the potential for anarchy and civil war is great, US and foreign officials agree. In that eventuality, the sentiment for a military intervention by the US and others would be great, they say.