THE job of restoring democracy to Haiti still has many hurdles to go, but prospects for success look somewhat brighter.
This month, two key obstacles have been surmounted in talks at the United Nations.
On Saturday, some 40 politicians in Haiti's parliament - a mix of supporters and opponents of exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide - agreed after three days of talks to a political truce for six months while they work to restore constitutional government. Special UN mediator Dante Caputo called the accord "the first step" in Haiti's peaceful transition to democracy.
Under an agreement signed July 3 by Mr. Aristide and Haitian Army Chief Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, General Cedras is to resign, and Aristide is to return to power by Oct. 30.
Aristide, who has been in exile for 22 months, must next name a prime minister. His first choice is said to be Robert Malval, a respected liberal businessman. Once the 110-member Haitian parliament confirms Aristide's choice and the nominee takes office, UN economic sanctions imposed on Haiti June 23 can be suspended. The sanctions are to be lifted when Aristide returns.
In the July 17 accord, party leaders agreed to recognize the legality of the current Haitian parliament. One of the diciest questions throughout the talks was what to do about the 13 legislators loyal to the military regime elected last January. The UN and the Organization of American States consider that election illegal. Under the new agreement, the controversial 13 are not displaced but are asked to voluntarily step aside until a "constitutional institution empowered to consider this dispute has rende red its verdict."
ARISTIDE faces enormous challenges. He must try to broaden his populist political base as well as shore up the economy of the nation that was the poorest in the Western hemisphere even before sanctions were imposed. A new police force must be established while Haiti's armed forces are restructured and modernized.
"It's very difficult to merge democracy and poverty - our challenge is to solve both problems at the same time," says Mr. Caputo.
Aristide is scheduled to meet in Miami Wednesday with representatives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and some 17 Haitian businessmen.
One need is to keep extremists on both sides in line so that the transition process does not turn violent or become derailed. Many Aristide supporters have been firmly against any compromise whatsoever with forces they regard as evil.
One of the most prominent signs among Haitian demonstrators outside the UN this week said: "No deal. De facto [government] out." Supporters of the military regime, merciless in their repression of Aristide supporters after the September 1991 coup, are concerned that they will become targets of vengeance.
The expected strong presence of international experts to help with diverse tasks, including restoring and monitoring human rights, may ease such tensions but are unlikely to eliminate them, says Michel Laguerre, a Haitian scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. He says he thinks such polarization will flare anew when Aristide returns but is unlikely to topple him again.
Mr. Laguerre, author of "The Military and Society in Haiti," says the July 3 agreement marked the "critical moment" in Haiti's return to democracy. Though he says there are still some "wild cards" among Aristide supporters and opponents, he says he thinks most Haitians, including those in the Army, now realize they have little choice but to participate in the democratic process. Yet he warns that Aristide will need a strong majority in parliament to govern Haiti effectively.