Haiti's Future

THE United States-supported drive to reinstate Haiti's democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in office is not at the top of many newscasts these days.

Nevertheless, the situation of the Roman Catholic priest who is being deprived of his secular office is clearly of concern to anyone who cherishes free elections and civil rights.

At this point, knowledgeable observers still say Mr. Aristide will likely be installed in office, but just when this will occur can't be predicted.

Prime Minister Robert Malval, spokesman for Aristide, and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, leader of the Haitian Army and of those opposed to Aristide's presidency, have held at least two meetings in recent days without any indication of agreement. At present the military leaders clearly hold the strongest position, and there is little likelihood they will relax their intransigence.

Added to this mixture is Mr. Malval's announcement on Wednesday that he will resign Dec. 15. He established this deadline when he was first named earlier this year. But presumably that was with the expectation that Aristide would be governing from Port-au-Prince by now, not that the military regime would still be in power. His frustration is understandable: Top colleagues have been murdered by Aristide's opponents, and a spokesman says the prime minister is exasperated by what he sees as the international community's lack of resolve in returning Aristide to Haiti.

The US State Department on Wednesday asked Malval to stay on as prime minister. We hope he does. His departure would be a significant setback to the cause of building a democratic government in Haiti. His business background gives him credibility with an important constituency that long has been suspicious of Aristide. Moreover, Malval's resignation would likely encourage further intransigence on the military's part.

This two-week period leaves some room for maneuvering by all involved. Malval and Aristide were to meet in Washington Thursday.

Aristide and Malval are said to favor the strongest possible economic sanctions against the military, hoping that Haitians would support such measures, despite the great sacrifices they already have made. In his own way, Malval has matched the endurance and courage of his compatriots - qualities most needed when the obstacles seem the highest.

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