Re-evaluating Clinton’s Haiti

When ticking off his foreign policy accomplishments, President Clinton always has listed “restored democracy to Haiti,” at or near the top. However, in this year’s State of the Union address, which was his longest ever, he failed to mention Haiti for the very first time since he invaded that tiny country on Sept. 19, 1994, to force defrocked priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide back on his people. Was it an oversight?

Thirteen months ago, in the middle of the night, Aristide’s handpicked successor, President Rene Preval, dismissed Haiti’s legislature. If Mr. Clinton wasn’t looking the other way, he certainly did not call attention to the matter. Was the omission of any mention of Haiti in this State of the Union address a Clintonesque way of acknowledging that democracy has died there? If it has, we certainly haven’t mourned for this neighbor or conducted a proper burial.

A check of the White House website reveals that “Restored democracy to Haiti” is right up there with:

  • Achieved victory and ended ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
  • Building a self-sustaining peace in Bosnia
  • Pressing for human rights, core labor standards, religious freedom, and the elimination of child labor worldwide

While each of these “achievements” is a subject for debate, this is perhaps the biggest cruelty joke of them all.

Free and fair elections are essential elements for any democracy. This is an election year here in the United States, likewise for the country of Haiti. The election to fill the vacancies in Haiti’s legislature is scheduled for March 19, 2000, and another must be held in November or December to replace President Preval, whose term expires Feb. 7, 2001.

It is doubtful Haitians will go to the polls next month. If they do, this election will look a lot like the election of April 6, 1997, which essentially ended Haiti’s electoral process. In that election, allies of Aristide intimidated voters and stuffed the ballot boxes while members of the United Nations peacekeeping force looked on in bewilderment. The results were contested, the run-off never held and for nearly three years democracy has been on hold.

Preval may hold the title of president of Haiti, but it is no secret that Aristide is still calling the shots there, with the help of an army of well-paid thugs. Aristide plans to succeed Preval, but in order for his power to be absolute and be recognized by the international community, he must control the legislature as well. Aristide favors only one election in the fall at which time he hopes his coattail effect will give him the solid majority in parliament he needs. However, if there is to be a legislative election this spring, he plans to control it.

On Jan. 10, 2000, the president of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Leon Manus, officially launched the campaign for the March election by asking all parties to refrain from violence. That was wishful thinking. The Haiti-Observateur reports that radical Catholic priest Joachim Samedi declared in a speech, “There won’t be any elections here with officials chosen by the CEP.”

The Observateur reports that Aristide loyalists, armed with M1 and M-16 assault weapons, have made good on Father Samedi’s threat. In Grand Goave, a town about 35 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, they chased election officials out of a newly opened office and nailed the doors shut and disrupted the opening of electoral offices in other areas. “There is such a thing as oppressive violence,” said Samedi, “but there’s also defense violence, and we’ll use defensive violence and whatever we need to.”

The Observateur called a December fire “suspicious” that destroyed 14 colonial-style homes and damaged 20 others in Jeremie, the capital of the Grand Anse Department (state) in southwest Haiti, and said it is attributed to bandits tied to COREGA (Revolutionary Coordination of the Grand Anse), Father Samedi’s organization. Just last week, the houses of four members of the CEP went up in flames.

Raymond Alcide Joseph, the editor of the Haiti-Observateur, who served as an official for the democratic election of December 1990 that resulted in Aristide’s presidency, has asked President Clinton to withdraw his support for the upcoming elections in Haiti in order to avoid a bloodbath. Joseph urged Mr. Clinton to admit that his experiment has failed and to help keep the peace and organize an interim government to take over at the end of Preval’s term.

In an open letter to Mr. Clinton, which was faxed and then mailed to the White House, Joseph said that the recent arrival in Miami of some 400 Haiti refugees was a warning from Aristide. “Let there be one election in which I can run for president and win and I’ll stop the refugee flow.” Joseph charges that the same people who artificially manufactured the exodus between 1992 and 1994 orchestrated this trip. It is a form of blackmail. With Al Gore’s and Hillary’s political futures hanging in the balance, this would not be a good time to turn boat loads of Haitians away from our shores or have to explain why they are arriving in large numbers.

Mr. Clinton has two choices: He can give in to Aristide, again, or he can do the right thing and declare democracy in Haiti dead and have a long overdue funeral.

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