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A 'Process' Blind to the Cost in Blood : Haiti: Justice minister's murder was a predictable result of U.S. partnership with thugs.

October 19, 1993|GEORGE BLACK and ROBERT O. WEINER | George Black is editorial director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York. Robert O. Weiner is coordinator of the committee's Americas program.

Guy Malary, justice minister of Haiti, a decent man and an honorable democrat, is dead. And although the trigger was pulled by Haitians, the moral responsibility for Malary's death lies also with Washington. Indeed, his murder is the perfect focal point for grasping the mixture of folly and arrogance that has marked U.S. policy toward Haiti since its freely elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown by the army in a bloody coup in September, 1991.

The problem began with the distaste and mistrust that two U.S. administrations have felt for Aristide. Every step designed to restore him to office has been taken at a snail's pace. Sanctions were imposed too late and withdrawn too early, allowing the Haitian army to dig in for the brutal defense of its power. Not until July 3, 1993, with the U.N.-brokered Governor's Island agreement, was a timetable spelled out for Aristide's return.

What was born at Governor's Island was that thing most beloved of policy-makers, a "process." Once a process exists, the bureaucrats whose egos and careers are invested in it will blind themselves in both eyes to avoid seeing evidence that it is going awry. The key to this particular process was the Haitian military, which had to be kept "on board" at all costs.

Under long years of dictatorship and military rule, Haiti has never developed a civic political culture. Most of its potential leaders have been either killed, cowed into silence or corrupted. A few, like Malary, survive as moderates--for a time. In this desolate landscape, some, like Aristide, grow radical. Faced with his talk of radical reform, an old and deep-rooted American instinct has taken hold. Repeated in countless countries, both during and after the Cold War, it is this: When in doubt, look to the military as the only institutional guarantor of stability and order.

The problem with the Haitian armed forces, however, is that they are unreconstructed thugs. Keeping them "on board" has had a grievous cost.

Almost as soon as the Governor's Island pact was signed, it was apparent to independent human-rights groups, and to U.N. monitors inside Haiti, that the agreement was unraveling. The murder on Sept. 13 of Antoine Izmery, a confidant of Aristide's who was dragged out of church and shot in full view of U.N. officials, made the crisis apparent. But for more than a month, until Malary, too, was gunned down a few yards from the scene of Izmery's killing, U.S. policy-makers plowed ahead regardless, like sleepwalkers headed for a cliff.

Deep-rooted bureaucratic habits of inertia and self-delusion were now fully engaged. The "process" was everything; all that mattered was that it be "kept on track." U.S. officials, such as special envoy Lawrence Pezzullo, brushed aside the wise counsel of U.N. observers who saw the disaster looming. Human-rights groups were told snappishly that they failed to grasp "the big picture"--as if any picture was more important, in a place like Haiti, than the rule of law.

The solution that Washington proposed was to send trainers to professionalize the Haitian army, and to spend tens of millions of dollars on a program to reform the most abusive force of all, Haiti's police.

In its indecent haste to push this central element of the "process," the Clinton Administration largely divorced itself from the problem of vetting the police force or purging it of its most egregious killers and criminals. That problem would be left to Aristide, and above all to his justice minister.

Malary was very close to the liberal end of the U.S. political Establishment. He had served as counsel to the U.S. Agency for International Development and was widely regarded as AID's point-man in Haiti. His only hope of accomplishing his mission was the protective shield of American diplomacy and force.

But last Tuesday, the U.S. Navy vessel Harlan County, with 250 troops aboard, turned tail in Port-au-Prince harbor rather than face down a few dozen jeering street punks. On Wednesday, like voices from a bad dream, top U.S. military officials in Haiti were praising the Haitian army's "professionalism," and still expressing confidence that it would "come on board." On Thursday, Guy Malary, stripped of his only protection, was dead. His death shames the Clinton Administration, and exposes U.S. policy in Haiti for the fiasco it has become.

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