Posted on Fri, Feb. 27, 2004

President Aristide should step down


The presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide will go down in the histoire triste of Haiti as one of the great missed opportunities of all time. Few, if any, elected leaders of Haiti could boast of as much popular support or affection as he once summoned from the people. Yet today he finds himself trapped in his palace, his presidency clinging to artificial life support provided by armed gunmen whose loyalty goes to the highest bidder. With his back to the wall, the president has issued a warning that disorder threatens to unleash a tide of boat people.

A desperate call

This is the last straw. His ”warning” encourages the very thing that he claims to abhor. Yet it could provoke another round of panic and death in the Straits of Florida. Mr. Aristide’s call is a desperate, self-serving and barely disguised threat — help me, or get ready for more trouble. Compounding this hypocrisy is his appeal to the international community, whose advice he spurned time and again over the years when diplomats begged for a deal that would maintain a working democracy.

Listening to no one but paid sycophants, Mr. Aristide has been left to rule by decree, with street toughs acting as political enforcers. It’s too bad that none of the president’s advisors told him that his own credentials as a democrat would expire with the death of democracy.

It is pointless, therefore, to continue to support Mr. Aristide’s presidency in the name of supporting democratic governance. There is no democracy left to support in Haiti, and for that Mr. Aristide is primarily responsible. At this moment, the best contribution he can make on behalf of Haiti’s people is to step down and avoid the suffering and bloodshed that surely would accompany a battle for the capital. If he thinks any other outcome is possible, he is in denial.

This is no endorsement of the goon squads who have made common cause with former Duvalier loyalists seeking to topple the government. The first task of the international force that will have to restore order to Haiti once Mr. Aristide is gone is to disarm the thugs and imprison the killers. The intransigent political opposition to Mr. Aristide, too, will remain suspect until it can show that it has a popular following and can contribute to a peaceful outcome.

Democratic governance

The only acceptable successor to Mr. Aristide’s administration is a limited, provisional government under international supervision that makes room for all the nonviolent political factions in Haiti. Its role would be to prepare new elections and show the world that Haiti is capable of self-governance.

Hopefully, the next elected leader of this Caribbean nation will possess a greater avocation for the practice of democratic governance than Mr. Aristide ever could muster.