THE paroxysm of internecine conflict in Haiti raises doubt as to whether that small, impoverished nation is any longer a viable political entity.
The American-backed United Nations plan to install Haiti's duly elected president, Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, on Oct. 1 could prove difficult to fulfill.
Even if Mr. Aristide returns to Haiti on schedule, those who have no intention of tolerating his presidency have made their determination very clear.
They showed their contempt for law and order and for the president when they dragged prominent businessman and Aristide supporter Antoine Izmery out of church Sept. 12 and killed him.
Once installed, Aristide must have solid, multinational help in restoring order, democracy, and economic viability.
Fortunately, help is on the way from the United States and other countries. But the assassination of Mr. Izmery sent a clear message that entrenched opposition forces will not readily yield power to the elected president.
With a sizable US and multinational UN military force, it may be possible to restore law and order. But there remains another task that will take longer and demand more resources than restoration of order: economic aid to rebuild the country.
While the rest of the world was watching this shameful military-political episode, thousands of Haitians slipped from poverty to hopelessness.
These people's lives appear to be - for observers watching and listening from afar - at the nadir of human existence.
Haiti's situation has been deteriorating for decades, exacerbated by overpopulation, illiteracy, poverty, disease, and other products of misrule and meager resources.
The US and other nations are sending soldiers and police to Haiti in an attempt to see that the lawfully elected president, Aristide, is installed in office.
Whether they can keep the lid on while he gets organized and installs a new government remains to be seen.
Clearly, the support of America and other free nations will have to be discreetly constant.
Just as important - perhaps more so - is the structuring of a plan to restore and secure basic human needs to the 5 million-plus Haitians who have been put through more deprivation and degradation than human beings should ever be forced to endure.