REMEMBER HAITI? One month ago, shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was flown out of the country on a U.S. military aircraft, U.S. Marines began landing in the capital of Port-au-Prince as part of a multinational intervention to stop the spread of anarchy. It was a mission the Bush administration did its best to avoid, following years of neglecting Haiti and months of trying to hand off management of its mounting crisis to others. Thirty days later, the Marines are still there — 1,900 of them — but the country and its dire problems have once again vanished from the agendas of administration policymakers. And once again, the Haitian situation is starting to deteriorate.
While Washington’s back has been turned, Mr. Aristide has returned from Central Africa to nearby Jamaica, while loudly telling the world that his departure was not voluntary but the result of U.S. trickery and force — an allegation the White House has made no concerted effort to counter. The 15-nation Caribbean Community, whose collaboration is vital to Haiti’s stabilization, has responded by calling for an international investigation and postponing recognition of the interim government — a decision made at a meeting that no U.S. diplomat attended. The interim stabilization force, which was supposed to consist of 5,000 troops, has leveled off at 3,500 and has been unable to establish itself beyond the country’s three largest cities. Consequently, much of the rest of the countryside remains in the hands of armed gangs.
The new government was supposed to be one of national reconciliation. But the interim prime minister flown in from exile in Florida, Gerard Latortue, swiftly aligned himself with the opposition to Mr. Aristide. Mr. Latortue’s cabinet excluded members of Mr. Aristide’s party; last week he flew to the city of Gonaives to celebrate with several of the local gangsters, including a convicted murderer, whom he called “freedom fighters.” His government has proclaimed its intention to prosecute Mr. Aristide and some of his key followers, but offered no hint of a plan to prepare the country for democratic elections.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed for a major new effort to rebuild Haiti’s government, police and political institutions. Without a nation-building program of at least a decade’s duration, he warned, the country will experience continued or worsening chaos. “Our globalized world cannot afford such a political vacuum, whether in the mountains of Afghanistan or on the very doorstep of the sole remaining superpower,” Mr. Annan wrote in an article published by the Wall Street Journal.
So far, the Bush administration’s response to this forthright challenge looks a lot like another dodge. Today the most senior U.S. official to visit Haiti since before Mr. Aristide’s departure is to arrive in Port-au-Prince — a deputy assistant secretary of state. His boss, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, recently told a congressional committee that the administration will not ask for any supplemental appropriations for Haiti this year. The current budget is $44 million — about 2 percent of what the United States is spending on reconstruction in Afghanistan.
Some midlevel American officials agree that U.S. engagement with Haiti is essential; they are studying how the United States might participate in such areas as training police and building up democratic institutions, provided funds could be diverted from other programs. But they are mired in debate with administration policymakers who oppose further aid. It’s true, as the opponents say, that the Clinton administration spent billions trying to save Haiti, and failed. But this is about the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, a haven for drug traffickers and a perpetual source of refugees 600 miles from Florida. It’s time for the Bush administration to develop a better policy than ignoring the country.