Constructive engagement needed in Haiti

Regarding Richard C. Hottelet's Jan. 29 opinion piece "Aristide in Haiti: back to the future?": As Jean-Bertrand Aristide begins his five-year term as Haiti's president, he faces formidable challenges, including a bankrupt economy and an organized opposition.

His silence to many accusations launched against him, including electoral fraud and partisan impunity, has provided fertile terrain for his critics. Negotiations with the opposition are doomed to fail because the self-appointed political leaders are united only in their efforts to remove President Aristide. Acting without a popular mandate, they have installed their own president, and called for the reinstatement of the Haitian military - a corrupt and repressive institution Aristide dismantled in 1995. The international community has frozen more than a half-million dollars in aid.

No one denies Haiti's current wretched state. But rather than interfere in Haiti's internal politics, the United States and other "friends of Haiti" should ask the Haitian government how it can best assist in building a successful democracy.

Having been a correspondent in Haiti from 1988 to 1998, I believe that Mr. Aristide has the upper hand. He remains the country's most popular leader, his political party holds a majority in parliament, and even members of the business class recognize it is more economical to work with him than against him.

But no one is invincible. If Aristide can't deliver, the Haitian people, who have for five years been waiting patiently for his return, will be the first to reject him. The opposition and the international community should step back and give them, and Aristide, a chance. Everyone may be surprised by the results.

Kathie Klarreich Key Biscayne, Fla.

Cooperation, not combat, for Dems

Regarding Paul Rogat Loeb's Feb. 15 opinion piece on "The perils of civility": He has the audacity to speak for the late Martin Luther King Jr., recruiting him in an effort to seek and destroy any policy or any politician he disagrees with. His is a pitiable attempt, at best, to galvanize the Democrats to act like a bunch of recalcitrant rogues in response to an administration he clearly despises and dismisses as illegitimate.

How can one so partisan and divisive have any advice to give a party bruised by former-President Bill Clinton's history of scandal and a conspicuously sleazy exit from office? If there is any advice that has a chance of energizing this party or ameliorating its state of ennui, it is one of bipartisan cooperation and constructive dialogue.

Bruce L. Thiessen Sacramento, Calif.

Presidential legitimacy

In commenting on Israel's election, Helena Cobban ("Sharon, the peacemaker?" Feb. 9) claims that voter turnout "was an unprecedentedly low 60 percent" and adds, "At least 62 percent of eligible Israeli voters did not vote for Sharon."

Perhaps Ms. Cobban would like to apply this logic to the US? Only 51 percent of eligible voters participated in the 2000 presidential elections. That means that President George W. Bush received fewer than 25 percent of the eligible votes.

Would that the US had voter turnout approaching that of Israel!

Following Cobban's logic, this would make Mr. Bush's election illegitimate, and since US voter rates in nonpresidential years are even lower, it would follow that the entire US Congress must be illegitimate.

So why the selective criticism of Israel?

Steven M. Albert New York

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