Haiti's Shaky Reformation

THE rehabilitation of Haiti is off to a faltering start, with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide remaining on American soil while seeking to form a government in his strife- and poverty-wracked little nation.

Under an agreement reached earlier this month with the military rulers in Haiti, Mr. Aristide is scheduled to return to Port-au-Prince Oct. 30. Bolstered by the presence there of two small American contingents - 50 military trainers plus a number of construction teams - and a UN/Organization of American States contingent, the Roman Catholic priest faces a Herculean task in his attempt to rescue Haiti from economic, governmental, and social problems that have been troubling the island nation for decades.

The government that he seeks to reclaim was taken away from him in a military coup in September 1991. He had been in office for only seven months.

Although Aristide and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who led the coup, have backed at least a partial plan for return to democratic government, there is much more hope than confidence in Haiti, the US, and elsewhere that this latest initiative will succeed.

Aristide's choice for prime minister is publisher Robert Malval, a longtime friend of the new president who is respected in Haiti's business community but whose political views do not necessarily reflect the new president's populist inclinations. As soon as Aristide's selection is confirmed by Haiti's legislature, UN economic sanctions against the country will be lifted.

Even as Aristide tries to form a credible government, it is already evident that his presence in Port-au-Prince is needed. One key member of the the government, Sen. Bernard Sansaricq, has threatened to pull out of Aristide's coalition unless he is chosen as candidate for speaker of the Haitian Senate. Any politician knows that it is easier to influence another at elbow-length than across an expanse of ocean.

The United States Agency for International Development (AID) is ready to send aid: food for 200,000 people in addition to supplies for 500,000 already shipped, and hiring of 160,000 workers on short-term construction jobs paid for by AID.

Haiti's economy and society have been crumbling for years. Is Aristide up to the challenge of untangling its economic and governmental knots? The new president has an aloofness rare in politicians. To successfully govern Haiti, he will have to be both tough and persuasive.

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