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Posted May 15, 2004
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America / By Mary Anastasia O'Grady

Aristide's Ghost Still Haunts Haiti

If there's one good thing about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal it's that Haiti has been replaced as Charlie Rangel's blunt instrument of choice against Republicans.

The New York congressman has moved on, to borrow a phrase from Democrats, past grandstanding in the defense of deposed Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide as a "democrat," to the greener pastures of moralizing about the degradation of Iraqi prisoners.

What a relief for long-suffering Haitians not only to be rid of Mr. Aristide, who has applied for asylum in South Africa, but also to have Mr. Rangel and the congressional black circus diverted to other matters that no doubt appear more politically useful for them. Aristide apologists might also be eager to shine the spotlight elsewhere, now that allegations of narco-trafficking by the Aristide regime are mounting.

Haitians want to get to work rebuilding their nation. The trouble is that they are stuck with the legacy of violence left by Mr. Aristide who, during a decade of support from Mr. Rangel and his cohorts, built a network of bloodthirsty gangs under the command of his Lavalas party. Haiti's biggest problem today is how to disarm those thugs and restore order.

At a luncheon hosted by the New York Sun on Monday, Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue talked of his goal to break the cycle of political intolerance and end the culture of treating the seat of government as an authoritarian entitlement. He also made a plea for foreign aid, stressing the "unimaginable" poverty and a non-existent infrastructure. But despite the grim status quo, the Boca Raton businessman and former U.N. development economist exudes optimism. He said Haiti's elusive potential can be realized and that this is the "rare moment" in history to do it. [Gerard Latortue]

Mr. Latortue is asking the international community to provide the Haitian economy with some basics -- pointing out, for example, that Port au Prince only has four to five hours of electricity a day. La Jolla, California-based economist Victor Canto, who knows the island of Hispaniola well, says that anchoring a barge with generators off the coast could quickly address the electricity shortage. What's important is not only the power supply. A visible improvement to Haitian life would also boost Mr. Latortue's image and strengthen his interim government.

Yet, Mr. Canto also points out that lasting Haitian development will depend largely on clear, secure property rights, as multilateral aid failures all over Africa have shown. In particular, Haiti has to engage its successful Diaspora and decisions to return capital -- human and financial -- will turn heavily on security.

The conclusion to draw -- not only from Mr. Canto but also from many failed nation-building attempts -- is that the single most important foreign aid that Haiti can receive right now is a loud signal from the U.S. that the Lavalas gangs will be dealt with decisively. If, as reports from Haiti suggest, this decisiveness is lacking, it is likely to be read as accommodation and hopes for successful reconstruction are doomed.

After Mr. Aristide was chased out of the country in a popular rebellion at the end of February, a council of "sages" -- wise men and women deeply trusted in Haitian society -- chose Mr. Latortue to head a two-year transitional government. So far, he seems a good pick, embodying the integrity, goodwill and optimistic vision that Haitians hunger for. A simple but important decision he has made is to declare his assets publicly at the start of his term. He has promised to do the same when he leaves office. His cabinet, he says, will do likewise.

Mr. Latortue's election by the sages gives him some limited legitimacy. To honor that trust he says that his interim government is expressly nonpolitical. It excludes all political parties and is instead made up of technocrats whose mission is to stabilize the political economy and set the right conditions for new elections next year. While the lack of his own political base will make his efforts dodgy, Mr. Latortue says he is hopeful: "On the radio, in the streets and in surveys, the people are saying, 'Give them a chance.'"

Such sentiments are encouraging but they reflect a certain honeymoon status for the Prime Minister. Celebrating the fall of a tyrant is uplifting. But giddiness turns to griping pretty fast when the daily drudgery sets in again. The harsh reality is that Mr. Latortue's government will have to make people better off in some way soon, lest he lose support. No one understands this more than Mr. Aristide, who though in exile, has yet to throw in the towel.

Mr. Latortue noted over lunch that Haiti's tradition of political victors excluding political losers from public debate is a recipe for resentment. He pledges inclusiveness for all peaceful political actors and has demonstrated it by including Lavalas on the new electoral council, which will oversee next year's elections.

This shows an enormous amount of good faith on the part of Mr. Latortue and Haitian society and it is generating some positive results. Moderate Lavalas members who adhere to the party's socialist values but reject violence are trying to distinguish themselves from the thugs.

Mr. Aristide though clearly comprehends that the gravy train really is gone if Mr. Latortue succeeds in creating a viable political system. Therefore it would not be surprising to find that, as Haitians claim, Mr. Aristide continues to instruct his killers from offstage in sotto voce. To have any hope of returning he must not only undermine Lavalas moderation but also the security that would lead to the rapid renewal of confidence.

The late development economist Peter Bauer wrote in "Dissent on Development" that aid can be justified only when the conditions for development are present but political reasons make borrowing impossible and inhibit enterprise. "But in these conditions aid will restore confidence only in so far as it is interpreted as guaranteeing political security; a military presence in the recipient country, supplied by the donor country, would restore confidence perhaps more effectively even without aid."

This is precisely the point. Foreign aid is a jobs program in Washington. Its feel good status doesn't hurt either. But don't expect any nation building to take place until Mr. Aristide's minions are sent packing. If there be any concern for the destitute Haitians a clear signal must be sent swiftly.

Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal of Friday, May 14, 2004.

Please see also: Drug traffickers find Haiti a hospitable port / Putting former Haitian murderous dictator Aristide in tight handcuffs, whose job is that?

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