Originally: Elusive Democracy in Haiti

Nearly a decade ago, U.S. Marines descended on the Caribbean island of Haiti to remove a brutal military dictatorship and restore the democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide to power as president.

Aristide served out his term and in 1996 Haiti saw a peaceful transition to a handpicked Aristide successor. There was hope that Democratic roots were finally taking hold. But Aristide returned as president in a tainted election in 2000, and Haiti has fallen back into its long-standing patterns of political violence, corruption and power brokering.

Now Haiti is on the cusp of anarchy again. Since September at least 46 Haitians have died and 100 have been wounded in clashes. A coalition of bishops and Aristide opponents has called for his resignation. If matters continue to worsen, there will inevitably be demands for U.S. intervention.

So, what to do with Aristide ?

Though great hope was placed in him, he has never shown the leadership that is necessary to build a democracy. The Western world virtually abandoned Haiti a few years ago because of the instability there, cutting off aid after more than $1 billion had been pumped into work and relief projects. The nation?s grinding, chronic poverty has only worsened, AIDS rates have soared, half of all Haitians are illiterate and 80 percent have no work. Haiti has become a haven for drug traffickers who use it as a trans-shipment point between South America and Florida.

The anti-Aristide camp refuses to participate in parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year because it believes the elections will again be rigged by Aristide.

Last week, the legislators? terms expired and the parliament is now shuttered. Aristide is growing increasingly isolated, not only from Haiti?s business leaders and intelligentsia, but also from its Caribbean neighbors and backers in the United States.

Huddling in the Bahamas this week, Aristide opponents attempted to convince Caribbean leaders that the president has lost popularity and should be pressured to resign. Perhaps that would be a valid option–if there were a suitable successor. That doesn?t appear to be the case.

So the best of a bad lot right now is for Haiti?s neighbors to step up pressure on Aristide to make peace, finally, with his opponents and demonstrate that he can foster democracy.

Say this for Aristide, he has charisma and he has a backbone. He survived threats on his life and fled only when a military coup in 1991 ousted him after a few months in office. Thousands of his followers were tortured. Boatloads of Haitians headed toward Florida to escape the brutality and many died along the way.

But since returning from exile in 1994, Aristide has operated as a rogue kingmaker bent on personal fame and gain. Once a hope for all who desire to see Haiti alleviate its misery, Aristide has led the nation into deeper darkness.

If he is to survive, he has to put an end to the deadly backlash by police against demonstrating students, professors and church leaders, the sabotaging of radio stations and the harassment of journalists who criticize the government.

The Bush administration still has the carrot to offer of millions of dollars in much-needed financial aid if Aristide can curb the bloodshed and produce fair parliamentary elections. That?s still the hope, though it comes with little sense of optimism.