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Haiti's Democracy - Still A Delicate Structure

IN Sunday's parliamentary and local elections in Haiti, some 3.5 million registered voters chose from among 10,000 candidates for over 2,200 elected offices. Logistical headaches and incidents of violence were to be expected in a nation marked by political polarization and lacking democratic traditions. But voters were not gunned down, and results are expected to show overwhelming support for the Aristide camp and reflect the desires of the electorate.

Haitians have taken another stride away from the years of brutal repression and dictatorship that followed the 1991 military coup and sent 55,000 refugees toward US shores, and the Clinton administration has further reason to point to its policy in this beleaguered Caribbean nation as an important success. To maintain this success as Haitians look ahead to December's presidential vote and the February withdrawal of UNMIH (the United Nations mission in Haiti), US policymakers should focus on supporting the creation of strong mechanisms to ensure transparent and accountable government. Two areas are key: support for the elections themselves and for reforming the country's police force.

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The bulk of the United States commitment of more than $10 million in electoral assistance provided essential support for electoral processes through the United Nations and the Organization of American States' 450-person observer team. The United States Agency for International Development (AID) also gave more controversial but much smaller sums for political activities, including training for political parties. Many Haitians felt that this assistance provided excessive support for discredited anti-Aristide parties. Clinton administration officials said, however, that they wanted to keep the right from withdrawing - as it had threatened - in an attempt to discredit the process.

This inclination to strengthen political forces that counterbalance Jean-Bertrand Aristide will be even greater in December's presidential elections, when Aristide's successor will be chosen. But the United States should take care not to sacrifice its credibility as democracy's backer. It's not just that US influence is limited - despite clear US preference and support, technocrat Marc Bazin won only 13 percent of the vote in 1990 against Aristide's 67 percent. The danger is that partisan support may provide a platform for potentially destabilizing attacks on the electoral process.

To help consolidate Haitian democracy for the long term, US policy in December should focus on ensuring transparent and accountable electoral processes, as it largely has done this June.

Haitian democracy's future depends not just on elections but on establishing the rule of law. Currently, security is guaranteed by 7,000 UNMIH troops in Haiti, including 2,400 Americans, who are scheduled to depart in February 1996. This places a premium on creating a Haitian police force capable of assuring that things do not fall apart after that date. An ambitious program, financed and conducted almost entirely by the US, has already established Haiti's first police academy. By February 1996, 6,000 newly trained national policemen should be on the streets.

So far, things look promising. The National Police are civilian, untainted by the repressive habits of Haiti's military. Rigorous, nonpartisan recruitment and training has produced highly motivated recruits. Moreover, the Haitian government and the vast majority of Haitians desperately want to live under the rule of law.

But this rosy picture has to be qualified. Economic problems, crime, and the UNMIH's pullout after the next president is inaugurated guarantee a tough task for the new police. The weakness of the Haitian judiciary is also a handicap.

Further concerns arise from US policies themselves. Optimism about an enduring democracy rests largely on the de facto abolition of the Haitian military. (De jure abolition requires parliamentary action.) This removes the institution that has brokered Haitian politics for centuries and weakens paramilitary sectors who rely on military guarantees of impunity. US concerns about preserving "countervailing forces" in Haiti have spawned proposals to create a variety of quasi-military entities tasked with non-police activities like border control. This could be destabilizing.

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In theory, such forces would be another balancing factor, protecting against the possible politicization of the security forces - specifically, the specter of a left-wing police force rather than a right-wing military. But a better approach is to press for mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in all security forces.

Optimism about Haiti's future must be tempered. The debris of Haiti's violent past still litters the landscape. Haiti could, however, become a proof of US commitment to democracy. If the US focuses its support on strengthening democratic processes rather than pressing for specific political outcomes, Haiti can become an example of a positive multilateral collaboration and an honorable solution to uncontrolled refugee flows. More important, Haitians themselves can have a chance to build secure foundations for economic and social progress.

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