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Foreign minister asks for new look at Haiti

Haiti's foreign minister, Gerard Latortue, visited Washington last week for the first time since being named to the new government of President Leslie Manigat in February. Mr. Latortue was trying to persuade Congress to take a new look at the situation in the hemisphere's poorest state.

``I am speaking frankly and openly ... some may say naively. I want to invite them to come to see and assess the situation,'' Latortue says.

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Congress and the administration, he says, should consider Haiti's history and the alternative to Mr. Manigat's government. ``If we go, it will not be democracy that comes,'' Latortue warns.

``This is the first time in Haiti that there is a government of honest, competent professionals ... willing to modernize.''

Even Haitian opposition sources say Latortue is very much disliked by the Duvalierists because of his reform-mindedness. Congressional aides say he made a good personal impression with legislators, but didn't change opinions on what needs to be done before US government aid resumes.

In a subtle way, Latortue is clear about the barriers his government faces:

Relations with the military. ``The new Constitution does not give any right to the president to interfere in the Army.'' Yet ``it's too early to say'' that the Army controls the government. ``We are living a new experience ... this is a period of adjustment,'' like a couple learning to live with each other. It's not reasonable, he says, to ask the new government to confront the military rather than to seek a reconciliation and to establish ``an equilibrium'' with the major forces in Haiti.

Past crimes. Haiti has a long authoritarian tradition. Transitions to democracy in similar circumstances (Spain, Uruguay, and Argentina) suggest it is better to let past crimes rest. Broad investigations of past crimes or incidents could touch so many people that one ``might not survive that crisis.'' The focus should be on creating a ``national reconciliation program'' aimed at ensuring that all Haitians have at least one meal a day.

US aid. ``We in government don't understand why Congress puts sanctions on'' now, while the Duvalier government received aid. ``It was corrupt. ... We are committed that every penny given for aid will go to the people.'' He proposes a joint US-Haitian committee to set priorities.

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Narcotics. Haiti has received official notification that senior military commander Jean-Claude Paul has been indicted on drug-trafficking charges last March in Miami, but it has not received a formal request for extradition or more than a ``pitiful'' amount of evidence against Colonel Paul. If given good evidence, the Haitian Justice Ministry will investigate. Drug traffickers can, however, abuse a poor country like Haiti; it needs help from the US to fight back.

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