(International Herald Tribune, 3 March 04)
Look beyond the 'Republic of Port-au-Prince'
By David M. Malone
NEW YORK -- The ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide signals the bankruptcy of Haiti's political elites, reminds us of Haiti's pattern of winner-take-all politics and of its violent political culture, and reveals international actors, particularly the United States, France and Canada, reacting to events rather than shaping them. The long-term prognosis for Haiti remains deeply worrying because Aristide's departure addresses nothing fundamental.
The disappointment of those who supported Aristide early on, including myself, runs deep. He faced a difficult task after his first election, with the economic elite and army opposed to him. But none need feel sorry for Aristide personally. Betraying the idealism he had espoused as a le
ftist priest, Aristide developed into a corrupt, self-centered, self-righteous autocrat unable to articulate coherent policies for the benefit of Haiti's people.
While Aristide regressed into oppressive tactics and irresponsible policies during his second term - an Aristide supporter, René Préval, served ineffectively as president from 1996 to 2000 - his purportedly democratic opponents did not perform better.
Haiti's Constitution foresees elections to a dizzying array of posts, resulting in perpetual election fever and both the temptation and opportunity of fraud. Aristide's supporters clearly rigged Haiti's parliamentary elections in 2000. But thereafter, the nonviolent opposition congealed against him, refusing to negotiate in any serious way, and offering little in the way of alternative policies. It was this nonviolent opposition that last week torpedoed a proposal by Caribbean governments, supported by Washington and Ottawa, that it share power with Aristide.
The nonviolent oppo
sition may have figured that if it forced out Aristide, it could accede to government on its own. But this was counting without the thuggish violence of the rebel leaders who streamed into Port-au-Prince on Monday, and who will remain a dark cloud on the horizon that international military and police intervenors will have to contend with. Opposition politicians, many of them one-man bands, some of them flaming egomaniacs, are neither cohesive nor impressive.
In the effort to resolve Haiti's crisis of democracy from 1991 to 1994, and in the years that followed Aristide's restoration, Canada, France and the United States provided leadership. After Aristide's restoration, a significant investment of about $2 billion was made to kick-start the economy, to promote the rule of law and human rights, and to train a professional police force. These efforts were stymied by feckless local politicians, corruption and the short attention span of world capitals, not least Washington.
Aristide's election r
igging, the depressing nature of the political opposition and many competing international priorities eventually shut down the UN peacebuilding program in Haiti and most multilateral financial assistance. But if international disengagement was intended to force Aristide and his opponents to adopt more conciliatory, responsible positions - rather than the result of neglect and "Haiti fatigue" - it achieved the opposite.
International actors were caught by surprise when the rebel uprising started in earnest early last month. They had been focused on political posturing in the "Republic of Port-au-Prince," Haiti's self-absorbed capital, rather than on the wretched conditions prevailing in the hinterlands, which fueled the rebellion.
France, alienated by a disingenuous Aristide attempt to claim reparations for 19th-century depredations, signaled early on in the crisis that Aristide was the root of the problem and should go. Washington, where many Republicans have long loathed the leftist Aristide,
soon positioned itself in support of the French view.
With an elected president now essentially railroaded out of his position by foreign pressure, the commitment that the Organization of American States made to democracy under the Santiago Declaration of 1991 has been undermined, without any real strategy to improve the lot of Haitians.
The UN Security Council has agreed to legitimize military intervention, in part to cover its own embarrassment. Improvisation will be the order of the day for some weeks as rebels, former opposition figures and foreign intervenors square off.
The Haiti case reminds us that post-crisis peace-building and
reconstruction is a long-term enterprise, demanding an expensive commitment on the order of 15 to 20 years. If Haitian politicians do not try harder in the national interest and if international actors once again fail to show determination, financial commitment and cooperation over Haiti, Port-au-Prince will be condemned to see the tragedy of Aristide'
s departure repeated again in a decade or so.
David M. Malone, president of the International Peace Academy, is author of "Decision-Making in the UN Security Council: The Case of Haiti," an account of the struggle to address the Haiti crisis from 1990 to 1998.
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