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After the Jubilation, Aristide Faces Hard Job of Governing

October 16, 1994|Amy Wilentz | Amy Wilentz is the author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier" (Simon & Schuster)

WASHINGTON — So long awaited, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has returned to Haiti. The mood on the ground in Port-au-Prince is celebratory--and apprehensive. The first question was: Will he even make it from the plane to the palace. One should never underestimate the capacity of Haiti's tiny but well-armed right wing for mayhem.

They have grenades: Do they have launchers?

This kind of practical question will be the sort of problem Aristide will face in almost every aspect of the one short year remaining in his term, while he attempts to govern a country as unaccustomed to governance as it is accustomed to oppression.

It was, for example, heartening to see U.S. troops clearing Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras' people out of the various Haitian universities. All too often, as one regime follows another to power in Haiti, the employees of the past regime refuse to be dislodged--a government paycheck in Haiti is a very big deal. In the past, this has led to violence in the ministries, as one group of agency people jostles the other. There are actually fistfights in the corridors over who gets what desk.

The ministries have been evacuated. Fine. But who, exactly, is Aristide going to fill them with? At the top of each, surely, will be a figure respectable enough to please Washington, but also of unassailable integrity. There are about six such people in Haiti--and not all of them are palatable to the Haitian people. If, for example, Haitian technocrat Leslie Delatour, who was finance minister under one of the corrupt interim governments between Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier and Aristide, regains his job--as Washington would like--there may be protest in the streets. That is, if the U.S. occupation permits demonstrations.

Other similar "reconciliatory" appointments and gestures to the coup against Aristide will likely be greeted with palpable disgust by a people sickened by concessions to this class. But clearly, such concessions must be made if Haiti is to avoid a replay of the coup d'etat.

Aristide has little to build on by way of institutions. Haitian government has traditionally shown little interest in public service, and government has always stolen more than it has spent. The Public Works Department has occasionally picked up garbage--if any of its few trucks are working and if someone happens to be around and in the mood to take one out. Otherwise, garbage is piled high around the city and then sometimes burned. The streets--even main thoroughfares and boulevards and the national highway--are in terrible disrepair.

There is no organized health care in Haiti, though there is, of course, a Health Ministry. There is one doctor for every 2,500 people outside the capital. Clinics are poorly stocked, poorly administered and run by either religious groups with scant resources or by a corrupt private sector, sometimes assisted by U.S. aid. The State University Hospital is a hideous joke--in some wards, patients lie two to a bed. The bedclothes are bloodstained. Patients sometimes lie on the floor. Nurses evince an utter unconcern. Doctors show up to pick up their paychecks.

Haiti's greatest resource lies in its talented, creative, hard-working people. Health care will have to be a top priority. Already, Aristide is planning to work with doctors from the Haitian "diaspora" to ameliorate the situation. There are hundreds of these who might be attracted on a part-time basis.

The same goes for education. Again, no structures. Again, the intervention of religious groups and corrupt free-lancers. Again, the possibility that exiled Haitians will return to work for the future of their country.

Nowhere in Haiti is the lack of democratic institutions more obvious, or more important, than in the judicial system. In Port-au-Prince, there are perhaps four lawyers who are not corrupt-- au maximum!-- as Haitians like to say. Yet, the amnesty voted by the Haitian Parliament to resolve the crisis calls for fair and impartial trials of those who committed crimes during the past three years, as well as under other regimes. Perhaps, who knows, there may be some who would like to bring criminal charges against functionaries from Aristide's first seven months in office.

Aristide, who is contemplating a Salvadoran-style Truth Commission to consider such cases, will also have to restock the judiciary with able, intelligent judges. Maybe he will select some under the age of 80 (all Haitian judges seem senile)--and maybe he'll put an end to the odd, 18th-Century pillbox-style hats that make Haitian judges seem such figures of fun.

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