Originally: CARICOM Pact an Opportunity for Change in Haiti

The agreement brokered last weekend by Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Caribbean leaders creates an opening for the Haitian president to end three years of political turmoil that threatens his presidency. But to make it work, Mr. Aristide must do something that he thus far hasn’t done: Live up to his word.

This time may be different, but don’t bet on it. Neither Mr. Aristide nor the disparate opposition-party leaders seem sufficiently motivated to change the cycle of violence and blame that has brought impoverished Haiti to its knees.

CARICOM leaders

We applaud the intervention by CARICOM leaders. It adds peer pressure to the equation for change. But for all their good intentions, CARICOM is all carrot and no stick. While U.S. officials are quietly supportive of CARICOM’S efforts, it remains true that the United States is uniquely positioned to deliver both carrot and stick.

In the weekend conference with CARICOM leaders who make up the regional bloc, Mr. Aristide agreed to a series of steps designed to show his good faith and build confidence for eventual negotiations. The agreement calls for him to disarm gangs, destroy illegal weapons, release jailed protesters, rescind restrictive protest measures and appoint a neutral prime minister, among other things. Most of the measures are to be in place by March, although some, such as releasing protesters, were to be carried out within days.

Thus, it quickly can be determined if Mr. Aristide is serious about making changes. Unfortunately, the early answer is that Mr. Aristide’s follow-up hasn’t matched the promise of his pledge. One day after the agreement, Mr. Aristide rescinded a police order restricting street demonstrations, and protesters marched peacefully, calling for the president to resign. But, so far, Mr. Aristide has been slow to release jailed demonstrators.

For their part, some opposition leaders, who participated in talks with CARICOM this week, continue stubbornly to insist that Mr. Aristide first leave office before they will negotiate. Their position is untenable. For all his faults, Mr. Aristide was elected by a large majority in a democratic process overseen by international observers. Forcing him out of office by political contrivance or street violence would be unacceptable.

A window for change

Prior to the CARICOM pact, Mr. Aristide and opposition leaders tried but failed to abide by similar agreements brokered by the international community and the Organization of American States. This time, the window for change will be open only briefly. By March, it will be clear whether Mr. Aristide and opposition leaders will take advantage of the opening or continue to plunge Haiti deeper into turmoil and instability.

© 2004 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.