Haiti Clings to Democracy

AT a time of uncertainty and even dread on the world stage, it was good to see the tiny country of Haiti reject Monday the coup attempt of convicted criminal Roger Lafontant. The rejection of Lafontant by a military emboldened by Haiti's first free national elections is unprecedented. For decades the country has been used to cycles of bloody coups and political negativity and corruption, and the palace takeover announced by Mr. Lafontant, head of the renegade Tontons Macoute police force, looked to be just a repeat of ugly-business-as-usual in Port-au-Prince.

Haitian military leaders may have recognized that the calculus in Haiti has changed, a change made possible by the euphoric and peaceful election of the Rev. Jean Bertrand Aristide. As one observer put it, ``The military saw that the middle class just wouldn't stand for this.''

In an unfortunate replay of Haiti's violent politics, supporters of Mr. Aristide hunted down and killed many suspected followers of Lafonte after the army put down the coup. But the bloodshed was probably minor compared to what might have happened if the coup had been allowed to continue.

Following his election on Dec. 16, Aristide said he would wait on taking action against the Tontons Macoute. It seems now he shouldn't. Lafontant should be brought to justice, and the Tontons disbanded.

This is a critical time for Haiti. Haitians have to think anew about the future of their country, and its possibilities. It also makes the time between now and Feb. 7, when Aristide takes office, a special kind of pre-honeymoon period for the president-elect.

Aristide's liberationist rhetoric has been important in giving impoverished Haitians hope. But in addition to offering people a vision, Aristide must begin to solidify his relations with the Haitian congress, the military, and other elements in the coutry. He enjoys good-will in trying to construct the new economic programs Haiti so desperately needs.

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