Originally: Why Drag Feet On Elections?

 March 29, 2005

Despite fears of violence, the United States and its allies stuck to their commitment to elections in Iraq this past January. So why is Washington signaling that chaos in Haiti may be reason enough to back off elections in that country this coming November?

More than a year after U.S. troops escorted deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile, political violence in the Caribbean nation continues. Last week, two United Nations peacekeepers and two former soldiers were killed in gun battles, further evidence that Haiti remains a volatile place.

The violence is escalating as U.N. troops patrolling Haiti, mostly Brazilian soldiers, step up efforts to confront gang and militia members. The U.N. force has been criticized for taking a passive role in the face of the chronic street violence that tends to accompany pro- and anti-government protests. A more forceful approach to remove weapons from hands that shouldn’t have them ought to be encouraged and supported.

This is especially true because an effective campaign to disarm Haitians could ease the process of preparing for necessary elections. Ultimately, life in Haiti will not settle down until the country’s electorate chooses a representative government. For all his failures, Aristide was an elected leader and it’s unrealistic to expect the country’s 8 million people will support a U.S.-handpicked interim government for an extended period.

The elections in Haiti are important also in terms of U.S. prestige and credibility in the hemisphere. People across the Americas, especially in the Caribbean, are watching to see whether the United States will deliver on its promises to help restore democracy there.

Yet Bush administration officials are now calling into question the probability of fall elections. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld raised such doubts on Tuesday. “It takes a lot of efforts and planning from a security standpoint,” Rumsfeld said. “You simply have to be ahead of it, or it can get bad fast.”

That’s true, but if the administration pulled off the vote in Iraq, can Haiti really be that much more difficult?

There’s a lot of work to be done in Haiti, of course. And some of those tasks would be easier to accomplish if the $1.2 billion in reconstruction money earmarked for Haiti could actually be sent to the country.

No one should minimize the difficulty of restoring representative government to this side of Hispaniola. But right now, it doesn’t look like the international community is trying very hard to overcome those obstacles either.