Nov. 16, 2004. 01:00 AM
Toronto Star Editorial: PM's Haiti lecture rang sadly hollow
On a whirlwind trip Sunday to strife-torn Haiti, Prime Minister Paul Martin warned the island's feuding factions to stop the violence, disarm and make peace, or risk being written off by the rest of the world. There must be "national reconciliation" and respect for the rule of law, Martin advised interim President Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and other Haitian leaders. If there isn't, donors cannot be expected to deliver the help that 8 million Haitians need.
Martin has a legitimate point. The world has lost patience with Haiti's endless fight over meagre spoils. A fiercely divisive but popularly elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has twice been hounded from power by elites who are undemocratic, corrupt and inept. Meanwhile,
the misery deepens. Two in three Haitians live on $1 U.S. a day. Recent floods killed thousands. And yesterday in Port-au-Prince, the capital, street gangs sprayed gunfire and torched cars.
When Haiti was rocked in February by the latest coup, Canada sent 500 troops for six months and 100 police to a United Nations peacekeeping force of 5,700. It also pledged $200 million in aid. It would be tragic if those efforts were scuttled by civil war.
But Martin's pleas would have been more credible had Canada acted earlier this year to preserve Haiti's constitutional order. Democracy, the will of the people, is the only glue capable of holding the fractured country together. Yet Canada, the United States and France stood by while Aristide, elected in 1990 and 2000, was ousted by thugs posing as liberators.
Aristide was a crushing disappointment, to be sure. He relied on gangs, tolerated both violence and corruption, and fanned social tensions.
However, leaders drawn from Haiti's elite
make a poor substitute. They cheered when the military first deposed Aristide in 1991, boycotted the presidential vote in 2000, mourned a failed coup in 2001 and applauded this year when a few hundred rebels deposed Aristide in a bloody coup.
Where were Canada and the other "friends of Haiti" while the president was driven into exile in South Africa and the constitution subverted? Standing by, doing nothing. Today, the island is drifting back into anarchy.
Canadians can help Haitians recover. They have suffered terribly. We should make it plain, though, that our aid will be linked to Haiti holding presidential elections early next year. The Haitian "elite" must get the clear message that their penchant for coups to oust one bad regime for a regime just as bad, but more to their liking, is intolerable.
Still, Canada let Haitian democrats down by failing to come to the aid of a freely elected president. Ottawa let Aristide be driven from office. It let the gun prevail over the law. This sen
t Haitians a fateful message. Millions who voted for Aristide feel abandoned and cheated. They were.
It is right for Martin to promise our help, but we have little credibility when it comes to lecturing them on democracy and the rule of law.
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