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Too Late, Again, in the Caribbean

THE bromide that hindsight is always 20/20 was never more true than in Haiti.

The United States could have gotten off easily in October 1993. It only needed to provide a little backup for the United Nations force aboard the USS Harlan County when it steamed into Port-au-Prince under the Governors Island accords. Instead, upon finding Haitian government-sponsored rabble on the dock kicking the tires of a US official's car, the Harlan County turned back to sea. Now we know that the Haitian military strongman, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, was as surprised by these events as the rest of us. His bags had already been packed.

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Our goal, then as now, is to get the Haitian rascals out of power in order to help democracy take root. But instead of a price tag of $10 million and no American lives in October 1993, the US is now prepared, a year and some 2,000 Haitian lives later, to spend over $400 million and who knows how many American lives to do the same job. It doesn't make sense. A superpower should be able to do better.

This is most true when there is a recent precedent at hand. Virtually the same US policy scenario played itself out in Panama in 1989 with military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega. When Panamanian military dissidents attempted a coup in October 1989 and actually had General Noriega in custody, the US couldn't see its way clear to support the equivalent $10 million solution. The dissident leaders perished. No, we had to do it our way - three months, 26 American and 400 Panamanian lives, and $400 million later.

True, democracy was reestablished in Panama, after a fashion. The same outcome can be predicted for Haiti. In one sense US policy will have succeeded again, but only at great human and material cost. In Haiti, furthermore, there is no real party structure or even a rudimentary history of national democratic process, unlike Panama. Therefore the US will have no choice once it intervenes but to stay on indefinitely in order to get the job done.

WE should know by now that political structures imposed from outside, whether by the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe or by the United States in Latin America, tend not to stick. Our experience in Haiti between 1915 and 1934 should be proof enough. In spite of the US government's best efforts, democracy did not take root. In large measure this was because the effort was seen as ``Made in America.''

Of course the Haiti of 1994 is far different from the Haiti of 1934. There is an elected president, among other things. The US, in concert with the international community, should support his restoration.

But it is a sad commentary on US foreign policy when it proves impossible to apply an appropriate, discrete, timely, and inexpensive response to achieve results rather than a belated, costly, and messy one. Too often, the complex ways we go about making policy decisions and the extraneous factors that often enter into them get in the way of efficiency and good outcomes. The process that led our policymakers to see US military intervention in Haiti as the only remaining viable option is seriously flawed indeed.

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@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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