Rebuilding Gains US Attention In Haiti Crisis

Large, long-term economic-aid package awaits restoration of order in poor land

AS the Haiti crisis reaches a climax, the Clinton administration is beginning to look past the restoration of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide toward the long, hard work of rebuilding a shattered country.

Administration officials deny that the United States will be sucked into nation-building in Haiti, as it was in Somalia. President Clinton himself has said that most US troops will come home within months, not years.

But to avoid a Somalia-like mess, the US will need to quickly pump in aid and promote reconciliation in Haiti's polarized politics. This post-intervention work promises to be more difficult and prolonged than the military task of occupying Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country.

``There is amassed a very substantial economic effort that is prepared to move into Haiti when conditions permit,'' said Samuel Berger, deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, at a White House briefing Friday.

``Obviously that depends on there being a secure environment there,'' Mr. Berger said.

As of this writing, the manner of the US entry into Haiti was not yet clear. Diplomatic efforts to avert an invasion were continuing up to the edge of a Monday or Tuesday deadline for military action.

Former President Jimmy Carter, after a meeting with Haitian regime leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras that lasted into the early hours of Sept. 18, reportedly expressed pessimism about a peaceful solution to the crisis. General Cedras and Mr. Carter met a third time midmorning Sunday.

But Carter and his fellow US envoys, Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, retired Gen. Colin Powell, were scheduled to meet with the Haitian Army-installed President Emile Jonassaint Sunday, raising hopes that regime leaders might yet quit the country in the face of massive US military might.

If these talks fail, the US invasion force will be that much closer to taking action. At least 18 Navy warships are now off the Haitian coast, including two aircraft carriers loaded with about 5,800 Army and Marine troops. Some 20,000 US personnel are expected to eventually take part in any forced military action, with the bulk of the force flying in from US bases after the seaborne leading elements take control of airfields and other key sites.

Even if Cedras and the junta agree to leave peacefully, a large US force will likely land in Haiti. Thousands of Haitian rank-and-file troops are bitter opponents of President Aristide and might fight even if their own leaders have been whisked off into exile.

The US might also need substantial forces to prevent an upsurge of violence by Aristide supporters. US officials have made clear to Aristide and his entourage that they will not abide any taking of revenge on the Haitian junta or the business elite.

``President Aristide understands that the rebuilding of his country by the international community is very much dependent on an atmosphere of relative stability,'' Berger said.

ONE element of the US political strategy for developing stability is Aristide's promise to step down when his term expires in 1995. Another is parliamentary elections, which will likely be held before then. The US intends to help Haiti develop stable, opposing political parties - something its contentious history has so far precluded.

The US strategy also calls for an economic effort to work alongside the political one. One US estimate holds that Haiti will require about $555 million in the first year of Aristide's return to fund the reestablishment of his government, keep people from going hungry, and begin the process of economic redevelopment.

Humanitarian deliveries of food and fuel are expected to follow closely after the arrival of the US military. Longer-term plans call for debt relief and international investment.

At a meeting organized by the World Bank in Paris last month, the US proposed that Haiti's $82 million international debt be wiped clean once Aristide returns to power. This would allow international lending institutions such as the World Bank to unfreeze about $150 million in funds for Haitian projects currently held up because of the nation's political crisis.

Experts urge that the world community focus on building up Haiti's ports, roads, etc., so that its light-assembly industry can be competitive with the rest of the Caribbean Basin. In the late 1980s, this sector of Haiti's economy showed some promise - but it has been almost wiped out by the US-led economic embargo.

``We've got to orient expenditures toward the kind of infrastructure Haiti has not had,'' says Peter Johnson, executive director of Caribbean/Latin American Action.

Haiti has also had some promising experiences with nontraditional agricultural exports, says Mr. Johnson, such as limes and papaya.

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