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Sabotaging Democracy

December 01, 1987

Last weekend might have seen a triumph for democracy in Haiti, as citizens of the Western Hemisphere's poorest country took the first chance given them in 30 years to vote for a president and a National Assembly. What the weekend brought instead was one more sordid triumph for gangsterism, as the electoral process fell victim to assassins, arsonists and thugs. Secretary of State George P. Shultz blames followers of deposed President-for-life Jean Claude Duvalier for the violence that ultimately forced the election to be canceled. To focus exclusively on the pro-Duvalier goons of the Tonton Macoute, though, is to be far too sparing of the military-based regime that replaced Duvalier. The junta, it is clear, bears the chief responsibility for the brutal betrayal of Haitian hopes.

Soldiers and policemen were seen on a number of occasions either committing acts of violence or standing by without interfering as armed gangs spread terror. Earlier the junta had acted to sabotage the election by refusing to provide transport or security for the movement of ballots to provincial polling places. Scores of observers and news correspondents had come from many countries to witness what all anticipated would be the first step toward restoring popular-based government to Haiti. Their presence was unavailing. Foreign newsmen in fact appear to have been singled out for particular attack by hoodlums operating, if not under official orders, then certainly with official tolerance. It was as if Haiti's rulers, unsparing in their contempt for the rights of Haitians, were determined as well to prove their contempt for international public opinion.

The United States responded quickly by suspending all of the military and much of the economic aid that it gives Haiti; it came to about $108 million last year. Only humanitarian help supposedly aimed at alleviating Haiti's wretched and chronic poverty will continue. Can more be done? At a minimum, the United States should try to mobilize the hemisphere's other democracies in a political boycott of the Haitian regime, until the free elections that have long been promised are actually held. What must be driven home to Haiti's rulers, emphatically and unequivocally, is that the actions that they ordered or condoned are regarded by their neighbors as utterly unacceptable.

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