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Posted December 17, 2002
U.S. must take lead in developing a peaceful transition plan
for Haiti

Haitians have taken to the streets in protest against the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The economy is in shambles, and political repression is rampant.

In Haiti, street demonstrations traditionally have been organized by the authorities in power. The recent demonstrations are dramatically different. They have been organized by the growing number of opponents of Aristide and are attended by thousands of poor from the teeming slums -- a latter a somber indication of the depth of despair permeating Haitian society.

Opposition leaders, including Evans Paul, the ex-mayor of Port-au-Prince who was supporter of Aristide, have called for the president's resignation. Aristide, comfortable and secure for the moment inside his guarded palace, can be expected to ignore the call, but at his peril. The time for a gracious and noble exit is coming to a close. The international community should focus on the crisis in Haiti now while there still is time to craft a peaceful outcome.

The critical question is: What or who would replace Aristide if he could be induced to resign? Here the Haitians opposed to Aristide and members of the international community concerned about Haiti's future have a common interest in planning. It occurred in the twilight of the ''Baby Doc'' Duvalier regime, leading to, among other things, the formation of informed citizen groups. They played instrumental roles including the framing of a new constitution after Duvalier fled the country.

What should be done now? First, the Haitians on the island and in the diaspora who are respected for their democratic credentials must agree on a unified entity made up of all elements of the civil society. These players would be willing to put aside partisan concerns for the good of the country.

The new entity then must develop a transition plan that begins with the installation of a provisional authority on Aristide's departure that would govern for a short, predetermined period of time. The people selected to serve in the transitional authority would have to pass muster with the various opposition factions and should forgo any ambitions to form part of a new government.


The provisional authority would serve as the government of Haiti in all respects during its short tenure. Its most important task, in addition to maintaining public order and assuring the international community that it would respect and fulfill all agreements entered into by past Haitian governments, would be to organize and implement national and local elections within a specified period of time.

It could appeal to international and private agencies that have worked in Haiti. Those with expertise in elections could offer financial support, advice and monitoring. The goal should be the fairest elections in the history of Haiti.

The provisional authority would inherit a mess -- to put it lightly. It would have its hands full attending to a police force that has been politicized; state enterprises that have become the havens of corruption; a decimated economy and, perhaps worst of all, a body politic that has been abused and, in the process, disabused of any notion that government is there to serve them. A provisional authority would desperately need all the help and advice that the international community could offer.

Twenty-five years ago, Anastasio Somoza presided in Nicaragua. He was heir to a dynasty that saw his father and brother rule before him. The economy was strong and growing, but beneath the surface was simmering resentment of his heavy-handed rule.

In early 1978, sparked by the assassination of an opposition editor, all hell broke loose. Mobs took to the streets, businesses shut down and police posts were attacked. Somoza overreacted and used repressive means to curb the rioting and demonstrations. Somoza ruled but couldn't govern.


With the country in chaos, the Organization of American States attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Somoza played for time, re-arming his military, then aborted the OAS effort. The moderates from all sectors of the Nicaraguan society who had joined the negotiations suffered a crippling loss of face. That left violence as the only alternative. Radicals who favored armed conflict took center stage. Six months later, Somoza fled the country, surrendering power to young revolutionaries ill-equipped to govern. The country's agony was prolonged. Today, Nicaraguans are still paying the price of Somoza's folly.

Haiti is not Nicaragua. But the arrogance that comes from absolute power is universal, and Aristide is demonstrating that he is no different from Somoza on that score. He, too, rules but cannot govern. These two strongmen employed high-ticket lobbyists to paint a rosy picture of their sordid regimes. Each marshaled blocs of support in the U.S. Congress.

But, like the Wizard of Oz, all the smoke and mirrors are of little use now. Aristide has lost his legitimacy to rule. His misuse of power and corruption have turned the majority of Haitians against him. Peace for the long-suffering Haitian can be built only on regime change, but one followed by open and fair elections among candidates who are made to live within the constraints of the Haitian Constitution.


Washington might want to turn its attention elsewhere, but if history is a guide it won't be able to. Haiti and the United States have had a symbiotic relationship since they both emerged from colonial rule two centuries ago.

Haiti will demand our full attention as internal chaos spawns more boat people. Rather than wait until the 11th hour, it would behoove the Bush administration to initiate early consultations within the OAS and with the friends of Haiti in the United Nations to develop a policy approach to the crisis in Haiti.

Either the United States takes a leadership role in developing a transitional strategy or events in Haiti, as in Nicaragua 25 years ago, will spin out of control.

Lawrence Pezzullo was a special advisor on Haiti in the early days of the Clinton administration and on the advisory board of the Haiti Democracy Project.

Ira Kurzban, the usual defender of the uncommonly vicious thug Aristide, but sure in
exchange for millions of dollars, while the majority of the Haitians continue to endure
abject poverty, rushes to the defense of monstruous Aristide
Haiti's Aristide deserves full U.S. support

Lawrence Pezzullo, the man who was fired by President Clinton for his inability to find a solution to the military dictatorship in Haiti, now offers a plan to undermine the democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide by proposing a ''regime change'' in his Dec. 15 column, U.S. must take lead in developing transition plan for Haiti.

Unfortunately, in all of Pezzullo's years in the State Department, he apparently never learned the simple truth that our government should be in the business of respecting democratically elected governments, not trying to destroy them simply because we don't like the president chosen by the people.

It is a little ironic for Pezzullo to be making these suggestions now, because he was the person who bemoaned the CIA's efforts to prevent the restoration of Aristide during the first coup.

Pezzullo overstates both the violence in Haiti and the opposition to Aristide. He is ignoring that the same forces who prevented Aristide's return in 1993 are now trying to subvert Aristide's second election.

Pezzullo ignores that the struggle in Haiti isn't about Aristide at all. The struggle is about empowering poor people to have some say in their lives. The poor, who represent the overwhelming majority of Haitians, voted for Aristide. Pezzullo would like to call together all the elites in Haiti, who have always opposed Aristide, to have a new coup. And for what end? So that they can pursue the same policies that resulted in 32 coups in Haitian history.

The ironic part of Pezzullo's plan is that he ignores that it is Aristide who has repeatedly called for elections, and it is the opposition that represents virtually no one in Haiti that has refused to participate in elections. Aristide was elected president for a five-year term, which expires in February 2006. If Pezzullo and others don't like that they should do what we do in the United States -- organize an opposition and run for office, not plot the overthrow of the government.


[Editor's note: Ira Kurzban, an immigration lawyer in Miami, is the general counsel for the government of Haiti in the United States.]

Both texts, reprinted from The Miami Herald of Dec. 15 and 17, respectively.

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