Originally: White House should engage now, pressure Aristide

High hopes for democratic change in Haiti accompanied Jean-Bertrand Aristide nearly three years ago when he was swept into office on a wave of populist sentiment.

But those expectations quickly dissipated, replaced by political corruption, drug trafficking, human-rights abuses, murders of journalists and street violence that seem to increase in frequency and intensity with each passing day. In the past six weeks alone, 13 people have been killed and 38 wounded in roiling demonstrations, riots, police raids and gang-style slayings.

President Aristide alone isn’t responsible for all of the turmoil. The previous administration of President René Preval, an Aristide ally, also was marked by violence, incompetence and inept leadership; and indeed, dictators and autocrats have presided over Haiti throughout its history. More to the point, Haiti’s volatile opposition parties sat out the last election, have refused to accept Mr. Aristide’s ascension to president and have actively stirred up violent protests.

Nevertheless, Mr. Aristide carries the lion’s share of responsibility. He is positioned, as head of state, to stand against corruption, stamp out the violence, implement change, build bridges to the opposition and facilitate the international community’s help.

For its part, the White House must step up its efforts to support and strengthen Haiti. Given our history and proximity to Haiti, we will either act now — or later when anarchy reigns. For example: After Mr. Aristide was overthrown in a 1991 military coup during his first term in office, the United States — acting on a U.N. mandate — led a multinational force three years later to restore constitutional rule. But the bulk of U.S. assistance in helping Haiti build infrastructure and democratic institutions ended too soon.

Roger F. Noriega, the new assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, says the administration is committed to helping Haiti regain its footing but is reluctant to throw good money after bad.

In fact, the administration should do more now before a larger intervention is necessary.