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Posted November 1, 2002
Submitted for publication October 31, 2002
By Stephen Johnson, Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

In 1994, U.S. troops helped to return Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to office after he was ousted in a military takeover. Since that time, he has ruled through partisan mobs and rigged elections. As a result, national political consensus is fragmented, human rights abuse is rampant, and governing institutions are dysfunctional. Rather than fulfilling earlier promises to reform, Aristide has spent his country's scant resources lobbying U.S. lawmakers to restore aid directly to his administration. In the short-term, his gambit may be paying off. Some U.S. Congressional supporters and newspaper commentary writers are calling for the United States and international donors to renew direct assistance, arguing that Aristide was democratically elected and that withholding donations hurts the Haitian populace.(Defining evil ... The dangers of atavism - More than 1,000 photos)

On September 4, 2002, the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution giving Haiti a two-month "window of opportunity" to apprehend human rights abusers, improve judicial and police functions, and establish a new independent electoral council in exchange for a recommendation that international funding be restored. The Bush Administration, the European Union, and the World Bank are doubtful that Haiti's government will be able to comply with the offer. None of their big-dollar assistance programs seem to have had a significant impact and little, if any, of the funds given to Haiti have been accounted for.

Giving Aristide a blank check would lift Haitians' hopes, only to dash them when the resources are inevitably squandered or stolen. On the other hand, sitting on the sidelines and expecting Haiti's leadership to produce reforms will only fuel the current disintegration of the state and society and accelerate the exodus of refugees. Governance in Haiti will improve only when national leaders agree to be held accountable and when a new order is cultivated, incorporating community consensus and control. To help encourage such a transformation, the United States, in coordination with other international donors, should: " Avoid supporting predatory regimes and, instead, help to develop democratic institutions from the grassroots level up; " Direct grants to non-governmental organizations with proven track records that promote better community government, citizenship awareness, more effective education, and humanitarian relief; " Offer targeted national-level assistance, under the condition that Haiti's government accepts donor oversight to establish governing legitimacy by organizing free and fair elections, supervising the rebuilding of public institutions (including the judiciary and police), and ensuring transparent utilization of resources; " Encourage Haiti to take advantage of trade opportunities by electing a government that can enforce laws, negotiate treaties, and live up to trade obligations; and " Hold Haitian officials accountable for their performance by revoking visas and freezing the U.S. bank accounts of those who violate local and international laws and abuse human rights.


Haiti gained independence in 1804 after slaves overthrew French colonists and defeated an army sent by Napoleon. Despite its heroic birth, Haiti has experienced continuous rebellion ever since. Instead of building a new state from grassroots consensus, Haitian leaders adopted the previous model of imposing order from above. Haiti's first ruler, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself emperor and was killed by a mob on his way to put down a rebellion. Over the next 190 years, a succession of autocrats assumed power and left office through ousters and violence.

Following an uprising in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent U.S. Marines into Haiti and the United States imposed outside rule for 19 years. While U.S. intervention improved public health, expanded national infrastructure, and paid off Haiti's debts, local officials served as figureheads. As a result, occupation left few lasting reforms beyond the establishment of more professional security forces.

When a country doctor named Francois Duvalier was elected president in 1957, he replaced U.S.-trained troops with young followers who were less likely to challenge his authority and organized bands of vigilantes named Tontons Macoutes (Volunteers for National Security) to enforce loyalty in rural villages. He remained in office until his death, leaving the regime to his 19-year-old son Jean Claude in 1971. Malfeasance, epidemics, and unrest stirred up by Jean Claude's opponents prompted the Reagan Administration to ask him to step down. When he refused, riots triggered a coup that was followed by a series of interim governments. During this turbulent period, Haiti adopted its first truly democratic constitution.

In 1990, a fiery ex-priest named Jean Bertrand-Aristide was elected president with 67 percent of the vote in what foreign observers declared a fair contest. Yet Aristide soon created a partisan secret police and exhorted street gangs to eliminate his political opponents-including members of the armed forces-in a practice called "necklacing." In less than a year, his presidency collapsed into violent confusion and his own security chief Gen. Raoul Cedras replaced him with a military junta. The episode triggered a huge exodus of Haitian rafters, 41,000 of whom were interdicted at sea. Later in Washington, Aristide reportedly obtained access to frozen assets, including long-distance telephone fees due to the Haitian telephone monopoly, and spent some $55,000 a month lobbying U.S. officials to support his return.


When Organization of American States (OAS) and United Nations (UN) efforts failed to restore Haiti's elected leader, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution empowering member states to use any means necessary to restore Haiti's constitutional order. Acting with good intentions, the United States led a multinational force to Haiti in September 1994 to pressure the ruling generals to step aside. By October, Aristide was back in office.

But this effort, Operation Restore Democracy, was not the success many predicted. The Clinton Administration's objectives-to restore democratic rule, to slow the exodus of Haitian rafters, and turn over peacekeeping duties to the United Nations by February 1996-were too ambitious for a country that had never known democracy or peace. Moreover, the vehicle for achieving these goals was to support a leader whom Washington barely understood.

Back in power, the former priest surrounded himself with chimeres-mobs that harassed and attacked opponents of his Fanmi Lavalas Party in a manner reminiscent of Duvalier's Macoutes. In 1995, U.S. officials even had to persuade Aristide to abandon the local tradition of staying beyond one's term of office to allow René Préval, his handpicked candidate and elected successor, to take office.

Following flawed parliamentary elections in 1997, President Préval-at Aristide's behest-blocked a new vote until most assembly seats expired and then dissolved parliament, leaving himself and a handful of unconfirmed cabinet officials to carry out Lavalas policies unopposed. When legislative, local, and municipal elections were finally held in May 2000, Aristide and Préval reportedly pressed the independent Provisional Electoral Council to exclude nearly a quarter of the votes cast, using a formula that violated two articles of Haiti's constitution. The dispute over the legitimacy of Haiti's parliament, dating from the Préval administration, led the Clinton Administration to suspend direct U.S. assistance, a policy the Bush Administration has continued. The European community and multilateral institutions did likewise, resulting in holds totaling about $500 mhines into Haiti and the United Staillion. Subsequently, Aristide was returned to office in November 2000 in a questionable vote that the opposition and OAS observer mission boycotted, and in which the estimated turnout was between 5 to 15 percent. Instead of coming to an agreement over new elections and adopting minimal standards of accountability, Aristide again hired a Washington lobbying firm to dislodge frozen aid, calling its denial economic terrorism.

In fact, some $100 million donated by the United States had already been lost. None of the money spent on elections-at $6 million to $8 million apiece-left behind any lasting electoral infrastructure. A professional police force of 6,000, initially trained by U.S. and Canadian officers, dwindled to about 3,000-most of whom are now partisan loyalists and who do little to protect Haiti's 7.8 million people. After a new Coast Guard was set up to help apprehend drug traffickers, transhipments through the island actually increased from 10 percent to 14 percent according to a GAO study. In 2000, some 80 percent of those in prison were simply awaiting trial from Haiti's "reformed" judiciary.

Over the last two years, the OAS has attempted to broker an agreement with both Aristide and the opposition on more than 20 occasions, discussing formulas that ranged from removing a few senators in contested seats to holding entirely new elections. Intransigence on both sides has blocked success. On September 4, 2002, in an effort to breathe new life into what has evolved into a dialogue largely with Aristide, the OAS adopted Resolution 822. In it, the OAS promised to recommend that international donors resume loans and aid, if in two months the government would prosecute the authors of attacks against political opponents and murderers, strengthen the police and judiciary, and name a credible electoral commission-dropping previous requirements for an electoral accord with the opposition (known collectively as the Democratic Convergence). (See sidebar: Dealing in Bad Faith.)

Departures of key ministers reflect on Aristide's ability to meet these conditions-at least concerning human rights and the rule of law. On September 20, 2002, Haiti's minister for electoral negotiations Marc Bazin resigned, faulting the president on human rights and economic policy. And on September 29, Justice Minister Jean Baptiste Brown stepped down, complaining that he found himself "unable to substantively address serious issues such as professionalization of the Haitian police and fighting against impunity."

---------------- SIDEBAR: DEALING IN BAD FAITH: Aristide's Eight-Point Promise

In December 2000, Aristide sent outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton a letter outlining an ambitious eight-point plan to correct Haiti's flawed parliamentary elections, establish a credible electoral council, increase cooperation on counternarcotics, revive the police and judiciary, strengthen respect for democracy and human rights, form a broad-based administration, promote free markets, and negotiate an agreement for migrant repatriation in return for recognition of his flawed November reelection. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations acknowledged his presidency, but Aristide made no progress on those pledges.

Aristide's commitment to OAS Resolution 822-which advocates restoring financial aid if the government takes steps toward establishing a climate of security, prosecuting human rights abusers, and naming an independent electoral council-is similarly dubious. According to U.S. Ambassador Roger Noriega, the OAS has been waiting for action on a related resolution (806) that called on Haiti's government to conduct an inquiry into a suspected staged attack on the National Palace (December 17, 2001) that inspired Aristide supporters to raid and destroy political opponents' headquarters. It also asked the government to prosecute those responsible, pay reparations, and establish public order. Beyond some arrests, little has been accomplished.

Insights into why Arishines into Haiti and the United Statide remains so recalcitrant may be found in his 1990 book In the Parish of the Poor, in which he scorned elections, Western democracy, and past Haitian dictators in equal measure. Instead, he called on Haitians to take up "Bolivar's sword," offering a vision of perpetual struggle. ----------------


If Haiti was pillaged by the Duvalier family, it has been battered by political turmoil ever since. According to the World Bank, real per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) declined about two percent per year during the 1980s. During the 1990s, it fell 2.5 percent per year. The lack of a functioning, transparent government and widespread corruption deserve much of the blame. The World Bank's 1998 Poverty Report put it more bluntly: "Haiti has never had a tradition of governance aimed at providing services to the population or creating an environment conducive to sustainable growth."

Last year, according to The Heritage Foundation's 2002 Index of Economic Freedom, Haiti, with nearly 8 million people, generated little more than a $2.9 billion gross domestic product, which amounts to $371 per capita-one of the lowest figures in the hemisphere. In 1999, it imported $800 million worth of goods and services (half from the United States) while its exports only totaled $359 million. Adult literacy is now estimated at 48 percent, while unemployment stands at about 60 percent. Millions of adult Haitians eke out a living in subsistence agriculture in one of the most environmentally degraded places in the world, while only about 30,000 reportedly have jobs in manufacturing or assembly industries. Electricity is available for only a few hours a day and 80 percent of the nation's water supply is contaminated.

Thus far, direct assistance to Haiti has failed because the current government has followed the extra-institutional governing patterns of previous regimes: intimidating opponents, coercing entrepreneurs, and making empty promises to the nation's majority poor. While some Haitian elites view the situation with alarm, most remain largely silent, fearing retribution and attacks on their businesses. Sensing little momentum for change among the country's leaders, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended curtailing the United Nations International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH) in November 2000. In 2001, he stressed that any resumption of aid could not take place without a resolution to the political crisis.

Grants channeled solely to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been more effectively spent to the point that the country probably could not function without them. NGOs maintain public health clinics, run schools, support grassroots civic organizations, and operate needed agricultural extension services. In FY 2000, the U.S. Agency for International Development disbursed $79.8 million in such assistance and, in FY 2001, $67 million-making the United States Haiti's largest donor. But according to the World Bank, such programs are "short-term solutions" that do best at providing humanitarian relief and building minor infrastructure while leaving national institutions largely untouched. More to the point, excessive reliance on them removes incentives to develop effective homegrown services.


Since returning to power, Aristide has used violence to intimidate opponents and enforce political discipline, resulting in death for some and exile for others. During the parliamentary, municipal, and local elections held May 21, 2000, President Préval and Aristide reportedly pressured 84-year-old Provisional Electoral Council chief Leon Manus to confirm a fraudulent vote count in favor of Lavalas candidates. "At the top governmental level, unequivocal messages were transmitted to me on the consequences that would follow if I refused to publish the false final results," he declared. Refusing to do so, he resigned and fled to the United States.

Established in 1995, the Haitian National Police (HNP) was intended thines into Haiti and the United Stao be a non-partisan security force to replace the pro-junta military. Yet, in his second term of office, President Aristide politicized it, filling key positions with Lavalas party loyalists. Although the police are not always abusive, they often stand by while partisan gangs commit crimes. A typical example of this occurred in May 2001, when a pro-government mob surrounded a house where the opposition Democratic Convergence was meeting in the city of Les Cayes. The mob threw rocks and fired weapons. Nearby police took more than an hour to respond. When they arrived, they arrested the Convergence leader inside, at first claiming they were protecting him, and then later stating that a complaint had been filed against him.

Now Aristide turns to mobs to do what the police cannot. His "zero tolerance" policy announced in June 2001 made it unnecessary to bring suspects to court if citizens or police caught them in a criminal act. According to Human Rights Watch in its 2002 World Report, "his words were widely interpreted by Haitians as an invitation to vigilante justice and police violence. Human rights groups reported that in the months following the speech, dozens of suspected thieves were killed by mobs."

Sadly, gang attacks have claimed the lives of others as well. Last December, Brignol Lindor, news director of Radio Echo 2000 in Petit-Goâve, was hacked to death by a partisan group. A few days before, the town's deputy mayor Dubay Bony reportedly called for "zero tolerance" to be enforced against a list of political opponents that included Lindor. An inquiry carried out by the Haitian Press Federation found that members from the popular organization, "Domi Nan Bwa," close to Lavalas, admitted committing the murder. In 2001 alone, 40 journalists were attacked or threatened and a dozen were forced into exile, according to the French-based Reporters Without Borders. Ironically, the same mobs that Aristide unleashed on opponents are now involved in internecine power struggles. Some are competing for supremacy as Lavalas supporters. In others, discontent over unfulfilled promises and fears that Aristide may be purging some followers have created rebellion. Last August, street thugs in Gonaďves broke a former Lavalas militant out of jail and simultaneously released 158 prisoners, sparking riots that lasted more than two weeks.


Propping up Haiti's faltering government with blank checks will only deepen the country's misery, inviting funds to be pocketed by self-serving leaders and paid out to violent supporters. Another armed intervention would only impose a new fix at great cost, possibly with similarly disappointing results. After all, the Clinton Administration did both in backing a little understood politician in his bid to reclaim a lost presidency-committing $3 billion and 20,000 troops. It then compounded its difficulties by pursuing a quick-exit strategy that encouraged a subsequent multilateral pullout before functional institutions could be established. Now is not the moment to repeat those mistakes.

Denying aid while expecting Haiti's leadership to produce reforms by themselves only encourages the current disintegration of the state and the accelerated flight of refugees-impacting Caribbean neighbors, such as the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas, as well as the United States. Last year, the Dominican Republic deported some 12,000 Haitian migrants and the rising tide of drug smuggling from Haiti prompted President Hipólito Mejía to double his military forces across the Dominican Haitian border. The Bahamas and the United States also receive asylum seekers, but more worrisome is the erosion of public security, extreme poverty, and attendant disorder that make Haiti a potential playground for international drug traffickers, criminals, and even terrorists.

Haiti's only hope for improvement is through targeted, supervised assistance to build institutions at the national level and sustained efforts to promote accountable, democrathines into Haiti and the United Staic governance at the community level. The challenge is to check authoritarian impulses of those who would unfairly impose their will on others and create space for democratic leaders and budding entrepreneurs. Some of the foundation has already been laid. In 1987, Haiti adopted a workable democratic constitution. Opposition parties exist and might eventually gain a foothold if they are permitted to reach out to a grassroots constituency. Independent media continue to broadcast and print, despite government and partisan intimidation. Moreover, Haitians are hardworking and their cities feature vibrant marketplaces where free choice is practiced on a daily basis.

To help build on those strengths, the United States and other international donors should pursue a coordinated policy to: " Avoid supporting dictatorial leaders in favor of promoting democratic institutions from the grassroots up. The Clinton Administration's support for Aristide mistakenly placed hopes in a demagogue, from whom Haitians traditionally would expect nothing but exploitation. Consensus is better cultivated at the neighborhood level where trust between individuals is typically the highest. Building democracy from the bottom up not only encourages broader citizen understanding of government as public service, but also promotes the idea of a social contract and provides training opportunities for new leaders. "

Direct grants to non-governmental organizations that promote better community-level governance, citizenship awareness, more effective education, and humanitarian relief. Existing U.S. international broadcasting and public diplomacy programs that provide information on civic responsibility and how democracies function should be fine-tuned to support such efforts. This kind of assistance is less susceptible to misuse and can be easily adapted to the needs of the moment as long as its purpose is to promote self-determination and self-sufficiency. While it might not directly address large-scale reforms in national institutions, it maintains momentum. "

Offer to resume targeted direct assistance, provided Haitian leadership accepts donor oversight. A U.S.-led multilateral donor commission should provide on-site approval and supervision of any resources used to reform national institutions. Priorities should be to: (1) hold internationally supervised elections to establish the legitimacy of the government and insure that Haitians may freely determine their own leaders; (2) rebuild the judiciary and police to create a climate of order and encourage investor confidence; and, (3) reestablish other national and municipal agencies and help them develop planning and coordination capabilities. Making a conditioned offer rather than withholding assistance avoids the stigma of sanctions and places the burden on the current leadership to take action. It could also be a way to help Haiti qualify someday for assistance under such programs as the Bush Administration's Millennium Challenge Account-intended to "reward nations that root out corruption, respect human rights, and adhere to the rule of law." "

Persuade Haitian leaders to take advantage of trade opportunities to restore growth. Haitian leaders, entrepreneurs, and workers need incentives for reforms as well as a market for their goods if they are to achieve prosperity on the basis of their own efforts. One such incentive already exists with the U.S. Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) that allows Haiti and other member countries duty-free access to the United States for most goods, with some limits placed on apparel. Bills sponsored by Senator Mike DeWine (R OH) and Representative Ben Gilman (R NY) would lift some of those limitations. But all of these benefits depend on Haiti's ability to comply with existing trade obligations, establish the rule of law, and eliminate bureaucratic uncertainties that block foreign and local investment. Finally, "

Hold Haitian officials accountable for their conduct by revoking visas and freezing the Uhines into Haiti and the United Sta.S. bank accounts of those who violate local and international laws, including those who engage in human rights abuse. U.S. federal law enforcement agencies should investigate all credible allegations against leaders accused of malfeasance, money laundering, involvement in drug or arms trafficking, or human rights abuse. The United States should urge other regional allies and organizations such as the European Union to do the same.


In 2004, Haiti will celebrate its bicentennial as an independent republic. It would be nice if it could achieve some measure of progress by then. However, promoting a level playing field to enable democracy and transparency to flower could take decades. Unsupervised aid to the regime will not solve any problems, but rather will make them worse by putting money into the wrong hands. Assistance through NGOs buys time, but leaves no lasting solution. Only a sustained and coordinated commitment by the international community to provide direction will help establish the security umbrella necessary to ensure that the practices of compromise and consensus can take hold.

In the interim, disaffected officials from the current government, dissidents, and the unemployed poor will continue to flee to the United States, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas-wherever they think their chances of survival and earning a living are better. They will be competing with hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing violence in Colombia, misrule in Venezuela, economic meltdown in Argentina, and other American states with troubled economies or simmering disaffection. Helping all of these hemispheric neighbors resolve their difficulties is a daunting task and U.S. policymakers will face hard choices in deciding how and where to employ scarce resources. If Haiti's government accepts targeted assistance with supervision, the road to peace and prosperity will still be long. For one thing, the tradition of winner-take-all politics and economic predation hangs like a pall over any outcome. For another, the countryside is an environmental disaster; and depleted resources are forcing what was once a rural society into cities where there are few jobs, promoting social fragmentation. But if Haiti's leaders do not accept conditions and instead choose to go on ruling with impunity, the road will also be steeply uphill. Existing businesses may pull out of Haiti's turbulent economy and the state could dissolve amid worse violence and chaos. In that case, Haiti's progress will depend almost entirely on small steps at the local level to encourage the kind of consensus that one day would allow ordinary Haitians to determine their own future.

# # # # Stephen Johnson is Policy Analyst for Latin America in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

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