A November Deadline for Haiti

With many a pious attitude, the UN Security Council last week extended the UN presence in Haiti until Nov. 30 - on a descending scale.

Intervention began in October 1994 with a mainly US force, 20,000 strong, sweeping away the military dictatorship and restoring the rightful president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Two successively smaller UN missions followed, to help the Haitian government build democratic institutions. This last mission has no military units but 250 multinational civilian police with the narrow mandate to assist in professionalizing the Haitian National Police (HNP).

Haiti today is politically, economically, and socially a basket case. What it needs most is the elemental domestic security that a respected police force could provide. The HNP, some 5,000 men but barely two years old, is largely incompetent and undisciplined. It has trashed the communications and transport left it by the Americans and the UN. Some of its members have this year been involved in ugly clashes with the population. Crime is rampant. Gang warfare shakes the huge Cit Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince. Training the police and their commanders takes time. And there is no justice system. Sixty-five percent of the judges are called illiterate. Of more than 4,000 suspects in custody only about 1,000 have been charged. Small wonder that people resort to vigilante justice.

The desolate economy makes life a nightmare for almost all. Unemployment and underemployment is put at 70 percent. The cost of basic foods is rising. And there is little prospect of improvement for the estimated 7 million Haitians.

The political system is tied in knots. Haiti does not have an effective government or civil service. Foreign governments respect President Ren Prval, but for the past two months there has been no prime minister to manage affairs. Prime Minister Rosny Smarth resigned in June, disgusted with his government's inability to meet the country's needs and with the fiasco of the most recent election in April. Less than 10 percent of the disillusioned electorate turned out, seeing only a choice between the grands mangeurs, the "big eaters." Laws needed to unblock $100 million in aid money are held up in parliament. Foreign investors are staying away. Haitian money that fled is not returning.

In the total absence of consensus and of democratic tradition, the most serious deadlock is over privatization of state monopolies like cement, flour, and electric power, which have been cash cows for the old elite. President Prval and his party (and the donor countries that have spent billions on Haiti) think it essential for economic recovery. Former President Aristide, however, obviously positioning himself to run for office again in 2000, has reverted to his old persona of radical populist. He opposes privatization, calling it a coup d'etat against the people. Diplomatic in talking to foreigners, he has been heard to inveigh in Creole against the UN presence as a foreign occupation. What happens in November when the UN presence ends?

The Security Council referred to a long-term international commitment of support for Haiti, essentially development aid. But development is not possible in a vacuum; there must be social institutions and a state. Democracy cannot be built without democrats - teachers, lawyers, political parties, people who accept the discipline of responsibility. Cambodia pointedly reminds us that it cannot be built from outside. Stability and legitimacy come from popular acceptance of a pattern that is rooted in the culture and reflects prevailing standards. There is no template of democracy; that is the dilemma of intervention.

* Richard C. Hottelet, a longtime foreign correspondent for CBS, writes on world affairs.

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