Haiti Needs Long-Term Help From the US

If the island receives only tepid American support its chances for meaningful democracy will diminish

JUST as quietly as President Clinton is withdrawing more than two-thirds of the 13,000 United States troops sent to Haiti to guarantee President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's recent return to office, the tiny island nation has slipped from the US media and moral radar screens. With our recent Republican-friendly midterm elections, it could be a long time returning.

If the US follows its traditional pattern in the region, Haiti's latest crisis will be followed by an era of benign neglect, undermining any chance of establishing a meaningful democracy.

This tepid support is ironic, since the Clinton administration dubbed US involvement in Haiti ``Operation Uphold Democracy,'' a mission of mercy to ensure respect for human rights, secure US borders from illegal immigration, and provide moral leadership.

But can the US, which has historically tied its global leadership to the moral superiority of democracy, afford to offer half-hearted support to its newest prot in the Western Hemisphere?

The answer is no, not if the US wants to consolidate its leadership and further Mr. Aristide's successful Lavalas movement. Lavalas means ``a raging, cleansing flood that washes away all that is before it.'' Continued US support, including military presence as well as aid, would ensure the success of this movement.

ARISTIDE won 67 percent of the popular vote in Dec. 1990 and pledged to step down in 1996, so that democracy and the peaceful transition of power can become a permanent part of the Haitian landscape. His victory also set the stage for the end to the status quo created by an unhealthy alliance between commercial elites and the Haitian military establishment.

The US should strive to continue this momentum by implementing a Marshall Plan-type program of military and economic support. This would provide the necessary framework within which Aristide can rebuild Haiti and implement change. Ultimately, this support might resurrect the more prosperous Haiti, once home to US manufacturing and textile factories.

Implementing such a plan would require strong popular support in the US. That isn't likely to materialize in the hands-off sentiments of conservative American voters and the elected officials who represent them.

There is further irony in the similarities between Haitian and US elections. Both events betrayed widespread dissatisfaction with an uninspired status quo: Haitians chose social, political, and economic change in a move to the left. US voters vented frustration by shifting to the right.

Nobody would pretend that Haiti represents the most fertile soil for the growth of democracy. But just as it did not become ideologically barren completely of its own accord, neither can it rectify the situation alone. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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