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Let Haitians Escape Chaos at Their Own Halting Pace

Foreign policy: The U.S. can't impose democracy. Future aid must come from the international community.

May 05, 2000|WILLIAM B. JONES | William B. Jones was U.S. ambassador to Haiti from 1977 to 1980

What goes around, comes around. Once again, Haiti has made the complete circle from chaos and violence to chaos and violence. Although well-meaning and idealistic, U.S. policies have failed to bring democracy, stability and economic growth to Haiti.

Millions of dollars of foreign aid have gone down the drain. Drug trafficking controlled by the Latin American cartels has turned the country into a major transshipment hub. There is virtually no private business investment. Personal security is at levels reminiscent of the times of the Tontons Macoutes.

U.S. policies, based on the premise of "restoring democracy," have had little positive effect. The Haitian government is paralyzed and the country is close to anarchy. The ill-advised embargo destroyed the business and industrial infrastructure. Tourism, a staple of other Caribbean nations, is virtually nonexistent.

It is essential that we reevaluate our policies toward Haiti. A more realistic, pragmatic approach, taking into account the cultural history of Haiti and the many complexities of its society, is necessary. Such a policy should be based on four major principles:

* Political. We should stay out of Haiti's internal political processes. We cannot impose democracy on a nation that has absolutely no history of it. The only condition that we and others should insist on is that there be no organized political violence--no death squads, no killing of political opponents. Beyond that, we should let the Haitians sort things out for themselves. The result may not resemble democracy as we know it, but it will be a Haitian solution arrived at in the context of their culture.

* Economic. There should be no more unilateral U.S. foreign aid. If there are food shortages or a threat of epidemics, the U.S. should work with the international community to provide assistance. Haiti should never become an economic ward of the United States. We should stress that development only can come from free and open private investment. The light industrial sector was thriving, largely under Haitian ownership, when the embargo destroyed its base.

* Security. Whatever government that finally emerges on Haiti should be told, through normal diplomatic channels, that neither the U.S. nor the international community will tolerate government-sponsored violence and corruption. There must be basic regard for internationally recognized human rights.

* Social. We should respect Haitian culture and history. There is a strong sense of nationhood in Haiti. The U.S. and the international community should recognize Haitian sensitivities and traditions. We should encourage Haitians who have fled, but who can make a contribution to development, to return. We should urge the government of Haiti to welcome their return and not view trained, educated Haitians as a threat.

If we base our policies on these principles, Haitians may begin to move forward, at their own halting pace, and we will not be stuck with a commitment that the American people will not support. It is in our national interests to have a peaceful, relatively stable Haiti that can stand on its own feet. U.S. policies, however, must be based on realism, not on slogans or idealistic dreams. Diplomacy is the art of the possible.

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