Originally: Haiti: Democracy or Dictatorship
In another month or so it will be rafting season–Washington slang for the time of year when favorable winds and weather conditions prompt asylum seekers to flee the Caribbean’s two most problematic regimes, Cuba and Haiti. While Cuban migration is normally a trickle?except for rare occasions when dictator Fidel Castro has opened the floodgates to allow tens of thousands to leave?the Coast Guard normally intercepts about 1,000 Haitians a year.
Those ranks could easily swell with worsening violence, political disintegration, and economic collapse at home. More worrisome is the erosion of public security and attendant disorder that make Haiti a potential playground for international drug traffickers, criminals, and even terrorists.
All that has U.S. officials worried. When a few Cubans wash up on U.S. shores, it’s seen as a stain on Castro’s unchanging, ironfisted rule. When Haitian migrants arrive by the shipload in waters off southern Florida, however, it’s viewed as a failure of U.S. efforts to promote order in this troubled nation of eight million on the island of Hispaniola.
Up to now, U.S. interventions in Haiti have had largely disappointing results. In 1994, the Clinton administration made a huge gamble, leading a multinational invasion force to restore an ousted president to power, committing 20,000 troops and some $ 3 billion to the task. U.S. officials pinned their hopes on the belief that this charismatic leader, not the painstaking construction of durable political institutions, could lead Haiti into a new era of democratic governance. Now, Haiti is dissolving into chaos and policymakers are wondering what, if anything, to do next.
HISTORY OF DISCORD
Haiti has a history of predatory rule that argues against backing personalities. Though the nation originated when a slave rebellion became a heroic fight for independence from France, early leaders based their rule on the way the island had been governed as a colony?by imposing order from above. James Morrell, who directs the Washington- based Haiti Democracy Project (HDP), writes that Haiti’s model of winner-take-all presidencies “has been a formula for instability for nearly two centuries,” promoting a succession of autocrats through rebellions and coups, rather than by consent of the governed.
In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent Marines to put down an uprising. The United States ended up occupying Haiti for the next 19 years, building roads, improving public health, and helping the tiny nation pay off debts. At the time, little effort was made to educate future democratic leaders or promote the idea of public service.
As a result, many of those advances were undone by the time a country doctor named Francois Duvalier became president in 1957. Duvalier governed by intimidation, organizing bands of ruthless vigilantes named Tontons Macoutes (Volunteers for National Security) to enforce loyalty throughout the countryside. When he died in 1971, his 19-year-old son Jean-Claude took his place. Corruption, epidemics, and unrest sent waves of rafters to the United States, prompting the Reagan administration to ask “Baby Doc” to step down.
After a series of interim governments and the adoption of a democratic constitution, Haitians elected an ex-priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to the presidency in 1990. Despite high hopes inspired by a fair vote, Aristide set about harassing his opponents and relied on violent mobs for support. Within a year, his presidency collapsed. He was replaced by a repressive military junta, sparking an exodus of rafters, some 41,000 of whom were picked up at sea according to Coast Guard figures.
INTERVENTION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING
Although Haiti had never been a high priority for the United States, relentless lobbying by the ousted Aristide?who had reportedly obtained access to some of Haiti’s frozen assets?and the need to stanch the flow of Haitian refugees to south Florida prompted hasty action.
In the wake of failed efforts by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations to restore Haiti’s elected leader, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution empowering member states to use any means to restore the country’s constitutional order. Subsequently, the United States led a multinational force to Haiti in September 1994 to pressure the ruling generals to step aside. Within a month, Aristide was back in office.
The invasion, misnamed “Operation Restore Democracy,” was not the foreign policy slam dunk policymakers claimed it was. While President Clinton praised Aristide’s commitment to the rule of law, the fiery leader surrounded himself with chimeres?mobs that threatened and attacked opponents of his Lavalas Party. At the end of his constitutional term in 1995, U.S. officials had to persuade Aristide to leave office so an elected successor, Rene Preval, also of the Lavalas Party, could take office.
As the United States and other governments poured millions of dollars into a new national police and judiciary to take over for departing peacekeeping forces, the rest of Haiti’s new government was quickly falling apart. Preval, an Aristide crony, served most of his four-year term without a congress, thanks to flawed parliamentary elections in 1997. A new vote in May 2000 was marred by fraud, and Aristide was reelected shortly thereafter in a questionable contest boycotted by both the opposition and outside observers.
During the Preval administration, the United States, Canada, and other multilateral donors spent millions to train a new 6,000-member Haitian National Police to replace the repressive pro-junta military. In his second term of office, President Aristide politicized it, replacing effective officers with Lavalas loyalists. In one case, he reportedly appointed his chauffeur as chief of the Judiciary Police and then detained the highly regarded former chief on suspicion of inciting a coup.
By June 2001, a shrinking and demoralized constabulary was no longer making headway in establishing public order. Thus Aristide established a new “zero tolerance” policy, making it unnecessary to bring suspects to court if citizens or police caught them in a criminal act. Radio journalist Brignol Lindor of Petit-Goave became a tragic victim of that decree. Identified by a Lavalas official as someone to whom zero tolerance should be applied, he was hacked to death by a pro-Aristide mob on December 3, 2001.
Aristide’s neglect of public institutions and harassment of opponents have also battered the economy. Haiti generates less than $ 3 billion in gross domestic product annually, which amounts to $ 371 per capita?one of the lowest figures in the hemisphere. Adult literacy is less than 50 percent, while unemployment stands at about 60 percent. Millions of adult Haitians eke out a living in subsistence agriculture in one of the most environmentally degraded places in the world; only about 30,000 have jobs in manufacturing or assembly industries. With electricity available for only a few hours a day and 80 percent of the nation’s water supply contaminated, no climate exists for bolstering local enterprise or attracting foreign investment.
LEAVING IT UP TO THE OAS
The dispute over the legitimacy of Haiti’s parliament and lack of progress in establishing functioning public institutions led the Clinton administration and international aid donors such as the European Union and World Bank to suspend direct assistance worth about $ 500 million and pull back support for national-level reforms. The Bush administration has sustained this policy. The HDP’s Morrell claims this outcome “was driven by an exit strategy rather than a vision of reconstruction.”
In the interim, grants directed to nongovernmental organizations have kept the country running, maintaining health clinics, schools, and needed agricultural extension services. According to the World Bank, such programs are short-term solutions that prove humanitarian relief and build minor infrastructure while leaving national institutions largely untouched. Condemning Aristide’s missteps and decrying the tug- of-war between the Lavalas Party and its political opponents, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan curtailed the UN International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti in November 2000. The only remaining international presence has been OAS negotiators, who are trying to broker an agreement between the government and the fragmented opposition known as the Democratic Convergence.
On more than 20 occasions, the OAS has attempted to strike accords that would put Haiti on a track for democracy and peace. Last September, it adopted Resolution 822, recommending that international donors resume loans and aid if, in two months, the government would prosecute the sponsors of attacks against political opponents and murderers, strengthen the police and judiciary, and name a credible electoral commission.
With seeming optimism, OAS Assistant Secretary-General Luigi Einaudi referred to the conditioned offer as a sea change with “something for everybody.” When the deadline lapsed with no progress, it was apparent that the OAS was merely keeping the ball in play for a propitious moment in the future. Even if such a deal were possible, it still would not resolve deeper issues of citizenship and a social contract. At a recent Washington conference on Haiti, Einaudi acknowledged that the OAS negotiations have focused on settling differences between Haiti’s elites.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Backing leaders over institutions is an expedient way to project power that allows a nation to influence neighbors without becoming involved in their internal affairs. In Haiti’s case, Washington supported a personality and intervened at the same time, reinforcing patterns of dictatorial behavior while expecting them to yield democratic reforms. When the hoped-for savior turned out to be an autocrat, the United States and other parties pulled back, leaving the OAS to patch things up with resolutions and promises to support more aid.
Clearly, such an ad hoc strategy should not be continued. Denying aid while expecting Haiti’s leaders to produce reforms by themselves only encourages further disintegration. Propping up the government with blank checks only invites them to pocket some and divert the rest to violent support groups.
The only way out of the dilemma is through targeted, supervised assistance that builds institutions at the national level and sustains efforts to promote accountable, democratic governance at the municipal level. In 1987, Haiti adopted a workable democratic constitution. Opposition parties exist and might eventually gain a foothold if they are permitted to reach out to a grassroots constituency. Independent media continue to broadcast and print, despite government and partisan intimidation.
To help build on that foundation, the United States and other international donors should:
* End support for self-serving personalities in favor of promoting democratic institutions. Encouraging participatory government at the community level on up encourages broader citizen understanding of government as public service, promotes the idea of a social contract, and provides training opportunities for new leaders.
* Continue grants to nongovernmental organizations that foster better community-level governance, citizenship awareness, more effective education, and humanitarian relief.
* Offer to resume assistance, provided the Haitian leadership accepts donor oversight. A U.S.-led multilateral donor commission could provide on-site approval and supervision of any resources used to reform national institutions. Priorities would be holding internationally supervised elections and rebuilding public institutions to establish a climate of order and encourage investor confidence.
* Hold Haitian officials accountable for their conduct by revoking visas and freezing the U.S. bank accounts of those who violate local and international laws, including politicians who promote human rights abuse.
As Haiti approaches its two-hundredth year of independence in 2004, peace and accountable government remain elusive. Support for strong leaders over durable institutions has proved a bad mistake. For that reason, a resumption of multilateral aid to the regime will not solve any problems but rather put money into the wrong hands. Only a sustained and coordinated commitment by the international community will help establish the conditions that will allow compromise and consensus to become daily habits.
If Haiti’s current leaders accept supervised assistance, the road to peace and prosperity will still be difficult. Traditions of winner- take-all politics and economic predation will be hard to suppress. If they choose to go on ruling with impunity, the road will be blocked. Existing enterprises may pull out of Haiti’s turbulent economy, and the state could dissolve amid worse violence and chaos. In that case, another full-scale intervention may become inevitable.
Stephen Johnson is policy analyst for Latin America at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.