Haiti's Needs Extend Far Beyond Next March
HAITI'S successful democratic transition remains at risk. As the flawed conduct of the legislative elections of June, August, and September indicated, too few institutions and checks and balances exist to give all Haitians an equal stake in their country's political evolution.
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is immensely popular, but his year-old American- restored rule has not yet created the institutions that could support the flowering of democracy. The national infrastructure is being rebuilt. The economy remains weak, and the country very poor. Seventy percent of all Haitians are unemployed. There is no independent press.
Observance of the rule of law, essential for confidence in a new democracy, cannot be assumed until judges are trained and the judicial system developed. Arrests remain arbitrary, and examinations and trials are still conducted haphazardly. The United Nations is instructing a 5,000-person police force, but only half of that number have received their four-month basic training. Recruiting continues, and leaders of the force doubt it will be ready to replace the UN/US security contingent in less than a ye ar.
Yet that contingent is due to leave Haiti in March, according to orders from Washington. Moreover, Haiti's presidential elections are scheduled for late November and President Aristide is constitutionally obliged to relinquish his office in early February.
Making good the transition from one wildly popular elected president to a legitimate successor is thus critical if Haiti's nascent democracy is to survive and overcome the national legacy of dictatorship, military interference, coups, and widespread human rights abuses.
But there are many formidable obstacles. Given the ways that Aristide's appointees manipulated and mismanaged the legislative electoral process, how can legitimacy and transparency of the presidential electoral process be ensured? An impartial administrative machine is essential. International technical assistance, helpful to Haiti during the 1990 presidential balloting, is a priority. So are meaningful conversations about the conduct of elections among the followers of Aristide and their opponents.
Given the inexperience of the new Haitian police (the Army has been abolished), and the potential threat of violence during the electoral period and for months after Aristide steps down, renewing the mandate of the UN security force for six additional months beyond March is also essential.
Training new judges will be continued, conceivably at an accelerated pace. Meanwhile, the laws of Haiti urgently need to be translated into Creole, the language of the people. The mandate of the national Truth Commission, intended to expire at the end of 1995, should be extended so that Haitians feel confident in the identification of their past oppressors.
Existing newspapers are tied to political patrons. There is no independent, objective source of news and comment, despite the efforts of individuals inside and outside government. Possibly, Haitians living in the United States will want to invest in the kind of newspaper that will support democracy, not just individuals or parties.
Roads are being built with World Bank and InterAmerican Bank funds, but it will be years before rural farmers are linked effectively to Port-au-Prince, the country's capital and chief market. Telephone and other communication systems are rudimentary; so is the provision of electricity. Haiti has less generating capacity than that needed to supply as few as 20,000 US homes. Likewise, the provision of potable water and sanitation lags behind all other countries of the Western Hemisphere
Haiti's annual per capita gross domestic product is estimated at less than $250, ranking it among the poorest 25 nations in the world. Inflation of about 30 percent a year is eroding what little purchasing power there is, so macroeconomic stabilization is also essential. Fundamental to per capita income growth will be the encouragement of tourism and export-oriented manufacturing, plus a revival of agricultural exports like coffee. New roads will help. So will the employment opportunities already create d by the UN, the US, and other donors. But Aristide and his successor also need to reduce Haiti's traditional interference in large sectors of the economy. Privatization, a dirty word among sectors of the Haitian government, needs to be reconsidered in order to jump-start the country's desperately weak economy. Many services, like schooling and health care, could be contracted out, too.
Long-term, further efforts at population planning will also be critical. Haiti is among the most densely populated places in the world, if arable land alone is considered. Its 7 million inhabitants have no more than 1,000 square miles (a tenth of the land area of Maryland) on which to sustain themselves. Erosion, a major and growing problem, has reduced Haiti's available arable land by half in 30 years.
Setting Haiti effectively on the road to sustained democracy is a massive task. Fortunately, for another half year Haiti possesses President Aristide's charismatic leadership, backed by an international security force. Haiti, Washington, and the UN need to make the most of what little time is left to secure a legitimate succession and conditions conducive to continued democracy.