Help Restore Haiti's Democracy

By Robert I. Rotberg. Robert I. Rotberg is president of Lafayette College . | The Christian Science Monitor, October 17, 1991 | Go to article overview

Help Restore Haiti's Democracy


Robert I. Rotberg. Robert I. Rotberg is president of Lafayette College ., The Christian Science Monitor


SENDING United States Marines to restore the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti's presidency is a final option. For now, tightening the noose of economic sanctions as mandated by the Organization of American States, the United Nations General Assembly, and President Bush is the most appropriate approach.

The Western Hemisphere's overriding concern must continue to be the nurturing of democracy in Haiti. Late last year, in Haiti's first-ever fully free and popular election, Rev. Aristide won an overwhelming mandate, receiving 67 percent of the votes cast.

After nearly three decades of dictatorial rule by Francois (Papa Doc) and Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, and nearly five years of corrupt and stuttering military rule, the wildly acclaimed victory by Aristide's radical forces signaled the beginning of Haiti's modern renaissance. With solid Western backing, particularly from the US and France, Haiti had its best chance in modern times to begin developing itself economically and politically.

Haiti is the poorest and, by most indicators, the most backward country in the Americas. Its 6 million inhabitants have rarely known prosperity, good education, suitable health care, or freedom from political extortion. Aristide's accession to power early this year brought new hope and, among the underprivileged in the slums of Port-Au-Prince or in the countryside, a sense of exhilaration.

But, as far as the Army and the wealthier classes in Haiti were concerned, Aristide overreached himself. He exerted a measure of new control over the Army and curtailed many of its perquisites. He made commercial life more uncertain for businessmen. Unfortunately, too, in speeches he enjoyed rabble-rousing more than persuading, and even praised vigilante rule and some aspects of mob violence. He was less a voice of tolerance than a threatening voice of mass rule.

Despite these seemingly anti-democratic tendencies, and some alleged attacks on ex-Duvalierists, Aristide did not openly abuse his high office. But merchants and the Army suspected dictatorial tendencies, particularly after he began recruiting and training his own special guard.

Prompted by Aristide's supposedly inflammatory rhetoric, his continued antagonism to the old ruling groups, and the formation of the new guard, the Army ousted him in late September and sent him into exile. …

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