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Bureaucratic Bumbling Spoiled Haiti Effort

THE military-initiated violence against supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the obstructions that prevented United States and Canadian military engineers from landing emphasize the glaring inadequacies of the Governors Island accord.

The pact's inherent weakness: It reinforced the island's military regime by placing it on equal footing with the ousted Mr. Aristide.

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This is not exactly happenstance. Aristide's populist brand of democracy met with a frosty reception in the Bush White House and has hardly fared better under President Clinton. The administration always has appeared to appreciate the idea of Aristide far more than his corporeal reality.

The ideology behind the Clinton strategy of restoring democracy through the same channels that destroyed it is best exemplified by the military's continued use of terror to eliminate opposing voices. Its tactics have claimed at least 3,500 lives in two years of rule. The regime, headed by Gen. Raoul Cedras and abetted by the powerful police chief, Lt. Col. Michel Francois, has been intent on provoking chaos as the time neared for Aristide to return on Oct. 30.

Their hidden mission likely is to demonstrate that the just-installed pro-Aristide transition team can govern only in collaboration with an institution that has no intention of closing down its lucrative drug operation or discontinuing use of violence to control the population.

The first of almost 1,500 UN personnel failed to arrive in Haiti to retrain the military and to get the country running, but some did succeed in entering the country. It could be instructive to examine the pot-holed trail of US-Haitian relations so that the international community could assist this beleaguered nation by not compounding avoidable errors.

When they first met, Mr. Clinton expressed support for Aristide's return to power. But he continued ineffective Bush policies, authored by regional policymaker Bernard Aronson, that failed to ease the military's choke hold on the country. Criticism mounted that US diplomatic initiatives toward Haiti were too protracted, if not inept, and were too solicitous of the military's future. A senior US official defended Washington by insisting that the armed forces be ``coaxed into accepting democracy by a series of carrot-and-stick maneuvers that take a lot of time to implement.''

Early this summer, the White House decided to crack down on the military. This resulted in last July's United Nations oil embargo and arrangements for the Governors Island meeting.

The UN, also worrying over its eclipsing image, threatened to end its Haitian diplomatic efforts as the military repeatedly stonewalled on its pledges to UN negotiator Dante Caputo. Fearing the high political cost of failure, Washington increased the pressure on Aristide, the military, and Mr. Caputo.

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The series of talks that led to the accord resulted mainly from concessions by Aristide and what turned out to be the largely paper gestures by Mr. Cedras. The Haitian military won Washington's backing for an amnesty in spite of the thousands of innocent civilians who died at the military's hands. In order to extort Aristide's signature, negotiators indicated that they were prepared to lift the embargo even if he failed to cooperate.

All along it had been the State Department's modus operandi to suggest that Aristide's intransigence, as much as anything, held up a settlement. But Aristide well knew what Washington all along refused to acknowledge: that for democracy to be achieved, the military must be defanged rather than forgiven and reformed.

Despite Washington's insistence that Aristide will be installed on schedule, this now seems unlikely. The UN force, even if it fully manages to arrive, particularly after the bitter lessons of Somalia, will have to carry out its very brief six-month mission in a hands-off manner. It is not empowered to arrest, detain, or protect - only to observe, train and construct. Even if casualties begin to mount among UN personnel as a result of the activities of Colonel Francois' brutal plain clothes ``attaches,'' it is unlikely that the UN will grant a wider mandate. As for the restored embargo, Washington well knew that contraband smuggling thrives along Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic, but has been entirely mute on the subject as it has been over the military's massive drug smuggling.

Although the hundreds of incoming foreign officers and specialists are bound to improve matters, it would be foolhardy to believe that democracy can be consolidated in an environment where the Haitian military know that once the foreigners leave and the country is no longer in the international spotlight, its full leverage will return.

While the Clinton administration may have bought time with its calamitous Haiti policy, the respite may prove very short-lived. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.

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