BBC: What is your evaluation of the Haitian dialogue taking place in Norway. The Norwegians cite the example of the Mideast talks that produced the Oslo accord. Can they do as well with Haiti?

Haiti Democracy Project (represented by James Morrell): Anything that conduces to greater unity, coherence, and ability to compromise within Haiti’s democratic sector is an important step forward. Involvement of the political parties and civil society will be crucial for the success of the next election.

One recalls other efforts, also supported by Norway, to promote unity of the Haitian democratic sector. The International Peace Academy held a negotiations exercise at Princeton, New Jersey in 1998 in which the Haiti project was an observer. This exercise was well organized with a qualified trainer who led the participants through compromise scenarios. The result was a noticeable bonding among the participants. Similarly, the International Republican Institute promoted a coalition of political parties in Haiti and the National Democratic Institute took Haitians abroad to observe examples of party coordination in South Africa, Chile, Peru, and other countries.

BBC: It has been charged that the political parties represent a small number of Haitians and their leaders are virtually unknown to the Haitians, except for Aristide.

Project: In the last nearly-free election Haiti had, that being the first round on May 21, 2000, the Lavalas party of President Aristide emerged as the strongest party, winning one-third of the seats outright, but that still left the non-Aristide parties competitive for the other two-thirds of the seats in the second round. Eliminated by the fraud that then took place, the other Haitian political parties joined in the Democratic Convergence. It was both the dire necessity of fighting their elimination, and the training in common action from these earlier exercises promoted by the Norwegians and others, that led to this unprecedented degree of unity among them.

The stock of the opposition parties began to rise in 2002 and 2003 as the Haitian people became disillusioned with Aristide. However, that unity was not enough. It was the much broader coalition formed by civil society that began to transform Haitian politics in 2003.

So the organizers of the Oslo meeting can take heart from their previous exercises, which set important precedents and were not in vain.

As for the leaders of the political parties being unknown to the Haitian masses, this is untrue. Over the years they have been frequently interviewed on the radio and the people listen to the radio, so they have heard all of them many times and have had a chance to form their opinions.

BBC: What is the most important thing for the Haitians to do, coming out of the Oslo meeting?

Project: Their most important agenda item is to hold a clean, fair election that will produce a regime that the Haitians can halfway accept as theirs and not consider to be the result of yet another manipulation. With such legitimacy, the elected government can assure a minimum of infrastructure and security to allow job-creating economic growth to get underway. Only one in fifty Haitians has a regular job. It has some of the lowest social indicators in the world.

One can go to Haiti with band-aid projects and immediate relief, but only when you have minimally accepted and responsive governance can you sustain job creation that will materially better the condition of the majority over time.

The election will not succeed in being free and fair unless the political parties and civil society work together with the government every step of the way. There needs to be greater involvement of both in the process. When one reviews the aid pledges that Haiti recently collected at the donors’ meeting in Washington, it was hard to discern this crucial level of involvement of the civil society.

BBC: What are U.S. interests in Haiti and how constructive has the international community been in Haiti?

Project: The bedrock U.S. interest, little changed for over a hundred years, is stability. It is an end to factional disorders and violent takeovers that create chaos, which in turn generates refugees, provides a haven for drug trafficking, and creates a dangerous power vacuum.

That is why the United States took the unusual step of returning Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency in 1994 with twenty-two thousand American troops, because with his popular mandate and constitutionality he seemed to promise that stability, which is the goal of the policy. However, they did not return him in the right way, subject to the checks and balances of the Haitian constitution. They just put him in there without staying to protect the other institutions of, if you will, bourgeois democracy. Soon he returned to the pattern of presidential despotism handed down by nearly two hundred years of Haitian history.

Because the bottom-line goal is stability, keeping a lid on the situation, the United States had no problem supporting either Baby Doc or Aristide as long as they seemed to be in control, however undemocratically. Both the Clinton and Bush II administrations supported Aristide to the end.

The mess that Haiti is in is the result of bad decisions made both by Haitians and the United States. Neither alone is responsible, rather the result is a composite. After the United States intervened in 1994 with such power it became willy-nilly involved in producing the result that we have now. The interim caretaker regime inherits this mountain of problems that was built up by the last two decades’ political chaos, and of course is blamed for those problems by some people.

After those years of neglect, the international community has responded to Haiti in a constructive way this year, however belatedly. This includes the Bush administration, which came in decrying nation-building. The international community has taken to heart the lesson of the failure of the mid-1990s—the rush to the exits—and they resolve to stay the course this time. Nevertheless, they come at it with a large dose of Haiti fatigue.

The $1.1 billion pledged at the July donors’ conference for two years is an important boost to Haiti. If the civil society can be harnessed to the projects arising from this aid, then we have the elements of success in Haiti. It is not that Haiti lacks the personnel capable of building a modern state. It has such personnel in the democratic civil society and the diaspora. But such honest, capable personnel never seem to be the ones at the control points in the government, where it always reverts to the familiar patron-client relationships of Haitian history.

BBC: What does the acquittal last week of Jodel Chamblain say about the Latortue government?

Project: That they handled this issue sloppily.

The judiciary in Haiti has been nearly dysfunctional for two hundred years. In 1995, after Aristide was returned, there was a trial in another murder case, that of a murder that took place two months after this one for which Chamblain has been acquitted. In that case too, the prosecution did a sloppy job. It did not present witnesses and witnesses and jurors were intimidated. The suspected murderers of Guy Malary got off scot-free.

BBC: The Haiti issue seems to have sharply divided people in the West. What is the basis of this division?

Project: When Aristide won his popular mandate in 1990, he drew strong international support as well, especially that of the liberal and left sectors. The reference points were set, seemingly for all time. Many elements in those sectors did not notice what was happening in Haiti in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as Aristide reverted to the role of traditional despot with corruption and violence. This meant that the Haitians were left to confront this problem without the very constituency that should have come strongest to their support, namely the liberal-left sectors, whose heart went out to the people of Haiti, but whose analysis was faulty.