Building Democracy for Haitians

WITH the advent of a new United States administration and the entry of the United Nations into the negotiating process, it appeared likely that a basis for the return of Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide would shortly be found.

However, recent events in Haiti have underlined the difficulty in achieving a restoration of constitutional government. The UN special envoy was virtually run out of the country by the de facto government and army. Clearly, it is going to take a lot more pressure than the present, leaking embargo to persuade the powers in place to negotiate seriously.

Furthermore, let us assume that there is the will on the part of the Clinton administration and the UN to exert the necessary pressure to restore President Aristide. There will still be the problem of how to create a viable democracy.

President Clinton has made it clear that he will not recognize any political arrangement in Haiti that does not include Aristide as president. For his part, Aristide has shown a willingness to compromise in the interest of a settlement, and given assurances that he will work for peace and harmony if and when he returns. Of immediate importance to the negotiating process, he has agreed to accept a prime minister from the ranks of the political parties that have opposed him.

On the other hand, the Haitian Army has still to be prevailed upon to accept the prospect of Aristide's return and the presence of a substantial UN observer force. Even if this happens, the danger will remain that the international community will seek a political settlement, restore Aristide, and then pass on to other items on the world agenda. It is even likely that substantial humanitarian aid might be forthcoming after Aristide's restoration. However, it would be a tragedy if the effort were to stop t here.

The crisis in Haiti is reflected in both the difficulty of securing the election which put Aristide in power and in the speed with which he was toppled. Neither was an example of some historical aberration. They were symptomatic of a deeper Haitian problem. Nor is it enough to view this crisis as a product simply of the agonizing reality of Haiti's inadequate economy and its poverty.

At the heart of the Haiti's difficulties lies the absence of an adequate institutional foundation for civil society in the modern world. Generations of dictatorship and coups culminated in the extended brutality of Duvalierism.

As a result, it has never been possible to maintain any semblance of stability, without which it is impossible to develop the institutions which form the basis of a viable social organization supported by appropriate political institutions.

The crisis of Aristide's removal and the possibility of his restoration represent a challenge and an attendant opportunity which may not quickly come again.

An international assistance program should be directed toward the restructuring, reorganizing, and modernizing of Haiti's institutions. Civil service personnel need training. Haiti has High Court judges of great ability but not the wider body of judges needed. The customs service needs modernization; extension officers are needed to start educating the small farmers and the rural poor before the hillsides are finally destroyed.

The army needs a training program aimed at making it professional, including reorientation away from its traditional role of "king maker" in politics. There is an urgent need for a program aimed at training of a separate police force under civilian control. At present, a wing of the army carries out police functions with all that implies for the abuse of civil rights. And the list goes on.

If a program of institution building is not mobilized and brought to bear there is a real danger that Haitian democracy will prove as fragile and vulnerable in the future as it has in the past. If, in addition to traditional aid, such a program of institutional development is begun, confidence in Haiti's future might emerge.

THERE are thousands of Haitians living in the US, Canada, and France - a reservoir of skill and patriotism. Some will return to help build their country if they feel their own investment in the future is part of a coherent program of development going beyond ordinary economic aid.

Though less dramatic than the horrors of Yugoslavia and Somalia, Haiti's problem can and should be solved. Its solution might provide new models for international cooperation.

Above all, in cases like Haiti the international community needs to commit itself to the "long haul" rather than the "quick fix." In Haiti's case a short-term approach guarantees that the "boat people" will be around for a long time. Now is the time to help a small but proud nation embark upon a path of institutional development without which no democracy can survive indefinitely.

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