MIAMI, Nov 27 (Reuters) – A wave of unrest in Haiti has exposed

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s shaky rule and if the situation unravels

further could pose an unwelcome problem for U.S. President George W. Bush.

     At a time when Washington’s focus abroad is on its continuing drive

against terrorism and possible war in Iraq, the prospect of turmoil in the

Caribbean and a flow of boat people would be awkward for the United States,

analysts said .

     Over the past week, dissatisfaction with Aristide and with a worsening

economy has flared, with thousands of people calling for the president’s

ouster in rallies in several cities across the impoverished Caribbean

nation. Counter-protesters have turned out, and violence has erupted


     “The big question is whether Aristide is going to understand that he

has no future,” said Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti.

“Without massive reform, Haiti is once again headed for kind of chaos that

has intermittently dogged its history.”

     Henry Carey, a political science professor at Georgia State

University, said he did not think Aristide’s rule was threatened for the

moment, but added the government had again shown it had to use force to

quell unrest.

     Eight years after sending in troops to invade Haiti and restore

Aristide to power, U.S. policy on Haiti revolved largely on avoiding avoid

a mass influx of refugees, Carey said. Washington can ensure this as long

as the Coast Guard continues to intercept and repatriate boat people trying

to get to Florida, he said.

     “The Bush administration is not going to get involved (in an

intervention) in Haiti,” Carey added.

     However, some analysts say the United States would be rattled by a

possible boat people exodus. The Coast Guard, which intercepted some 25,000

Haitians at sea during an exodus in 1994, has a new focus on security after

the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

     The U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba — used in the past as a

staging post for Haitian boat people — currently serves as a prison for

Taliban and al Qaeda suspects from the Afghan war.

    After years of bloody dictatorships, Haiti’s fragile democracy was

barely taking root when Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who had

been elected on a wave of grass-roots support, was ousted in a military

coup just seven months into his first term in 1991.

    President Bill Clinton sent in 20,000 U.S. troops in 1994 to reinstate

Aristide. But Washington’s relations with Aristide have soured as critics

contend he has used a heavy hand with political opponents and the country

has failed to hold credible elections.

     Some argue the U.S. invasion should have been followed up with more

“nation building” — both to work on reforming the economy and solidifying

Haiti’s democracy.

     “We shouldn’t have just upped and left,” said James Morrell, an

advisor to Aristide while in exile and now head of a policy group called

the Haiti Democracy Project. “We should have stayed to ensure good

institutions were established.”

     Morrell said the current situation in Haiti “has the look of the

beginning of the unraveling, but that’s as far as you could go. I don’t see

any evidence Aristide is going to leave or be pushed out.”

     Aristide stepped aside as constitutionally mandated in 1996, his place

taken by protege Rene Preval. He was re-elected in 2000 for a second term

that has been marked by a bitter feud with the main political opposition

over the results of parliamentary elections in 2000 and increasing

disillusion among many of the country’s 8 million inhabitants as living

conditions worsen in the poorest country in the Americas.

     Foreign donor countries have withheld aid worth hundreds of millions

of dollars because of the stalemate over the elections. Aristide’s

government has blamed this for many of the country’s current woes.

     Washington has been strongly critical of Aristide.

     “On virtually all fronts, from the timely accounting of its actions

taken with respect to the political violence of last December, to ending

impunity, to disarmament, to reparations, to counternarcotics, to election

security, the government has simply not moved with enough purpose or

effectiveness,” said then-assistant secretary of state for the western

hemisphere Otto Reich in October.

     For Lawrence Pezzullo, a retired ambassador who was special envoy to

Haiti under Clinton and is a stern critic of Aristide, the 1994 invasion

showed military action was not a ticket to democracy. He said the

experience could be a lesson for Washington if it is to seek to replace

Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein.

     “I don’t think using troops creates democracy,” Pezzullo said. “Before

you go talking about knocking over somebody, you had better think where

you’re going to go with it.”