Tracy Kidder wrote in the Washington Post calling for aid to be resumed to the government of Haiti.

Virtually all aid to the current chaotic government of Haiti would be either wasted or stolen. None would reach the people. Aid channeled through nongovernmental organizations does reach the people, but fails to build productivity. This is the dilemma of Haiti.

Aid channeled through the government began to be effective during the mid?1990s, after the Clinton intervention, because there was a heavy foreign advisory presence and a temporary respite in political factionalism. As the foreigners pulled out and factionalism resumed in the late 1990s, the government became paralyzed and unable to hold a free election. Kidder?s assertion that the current president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was freely elected in November, 2000 (as he indeed was in 1990) is questionable. The election was boycotted by the Organization of American States? electoral observer mission because of gross fraud. Only 5 to 15 percent of the electorate voted, as against 60 percent in the previous legislative election. The only viable potential candidate against Aristide was assassinated, probably by Aristide henchmen. Aristide ran unopposed.

The World Bank reported last February that virtually all its projects in Haiti in the past fifteen years failed because of ineffective and corrupt government. ?The Bank and other donors erred by offering traditional assistance programs without identifying the fundamental governance and political barriers to development.? Kidder would have us repeat that error.

In fact, aid to the Haitian government today would be, as Rep. Otto Passman used to say in his incomparable Louisiana drawl, ?taking money from the poor folks in the rich countries and giving it to rich folks in the poor countries.?

It is not the Bush administration, but President Clinton himself, joined by the European Union, who cut off the aid in 2000 in a vain attempt to reverse electoral cheating. The Bush administration continued Clinton?s policy but in twenty months has gone no further with it. This is the grain of truth in Kidder?s article: a negative policy of aid denial is not enough for the hemisphere?s poorest country.

What began to work in the mid?1990s should be resumed in earnest: U.N. nation-building centered on preparation of unimpeachably free and fair elections. Given the rapidly growing anti-Aristide sentiments in the electorate today, such elections would deliver a pluralist parliament and a more professional and honest government apparatus. With World Bank programs now explicitly focused on governance, there would be the basis to make aid programs work.

Since a truly free and fair election would threaten the monopoly of the incumbent faction, it could not be held without resumption of the foreign security presence of the mid?1990s. Thus the second Haitian paradox: the sovereign will of the Haitian people cannot be expressed without foreign intervention of some kind. This was the paradox confronted by President Clinton in 1994.

Instead of the moral certainties offered by Kidder, the true Haitian situation presents only dilemmas. Neglect only perpetuates the suffering. Blind aid to the government perpetuates the suffering. Nation-building with a security presence offers a way forward, but slights sovereignty.

If we really care about the plight of the Haitian people, as Kidder enjoins us to do, we have no choice but to grasp the last dilemma, overcome the Bush administration?s aversion to nation-building, and reconcile foreign presence with sovereignty as best we can.

James R. Morrell was an adviser to President Aristide in the 1993 Governors Island negotiations and an electoral observer for the OAS. He directs the Haiti Democracy Project in Washington.