Aristide's Return

FOR now, the moment is to be savored. The hard part will come soon enough.

When Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide released a white dove of peace at his restoration ceremony Saturday, he signaled that the dream of democracy for his country, never abandoned but long deferred, was now realized.

His jubilant supporters, mostly poor and working class, turned out in droves to laugh and cheer and weep tears of joy.

Mr. Aristide's return completed a transition that, when first announced after Jimmy Carter's 11th-hour agreement with Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, had seemed so uncertain, such a gamble requiring trusting the untrustworthy.

And yet it happened - General Cedras and his regime resigned, ever so slightly ahead of schedule. Moreover, the general left the country, a point that former President Carter's deal had not explicitly, or at least not overtly, required. Now Aristide has been reinstated.

He returned to power literally on the wings of United States armed forces; US support for him is a sign of its seeing its real interest in supporting democratically elected leaders rather than leaders friendlier to the US than to their own peoples.

And he has come a long way from his mid-1980s attacks on the US as the source of all Haiti's ills to finally saying ``thank you'' to the people in Washington who were facilitating his return.

Haiti was where a US president who has had trouble conveying a clear vision for an American role in the world chose to draw a line.

With little congressional or popular support, Bill Clinton nonetheless made the tough decision to send armed forces into Haiti. He won at least some plaudits for being resolute, even from those who disagreed with him on the substance of the decision.

As nation-builders around the globe have learned in the post-cold-war period, one election does not a democracy make.

The ouster of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier in 1986 proved to be only a first step toward real rule by the people.

Aristide's return is another important step forward - one that should be more secure now that the US has found a way to engage the situation.

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