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6 juillet 2001

- Mary Anastasia O’Grady. Ms. O’Grady edits the

Americas column.

Americas column.

Imagine a place so dominated by violence that even those revered icons of the underworld, Colombia’s cocaine kingpins, have begun to abandon it on the grounds that it is too lawless. A senior U.S. official charged with high-level drug interdiction responsibilities in the Caribbean tells me this is exactly what intelligence networks say has happened in Haiti. Under the leadership of President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who has controlled the country since 1994, Haiti has become an inferno of terror that even hardened Colombian crime rings can’t abide.

Over seven million impoverished Haitians confront life in Mr. Aristide’s morass daily ; many have tried to flee. Last week Reuters reported that a Haitian vessel built for 15 passengers but carrying 93 had run aground off a Bahamian island. Sharks devoured 11 of the migrants. « They risk their lives on the open seas because there is no food, no money and no work in Haiti, » said a deacon from a local Bahamian church. The same week a U.S.Coast Guard patrol picked up another 183 Haitian refugees on a 40-foot wooden sailboat. A week earlier 25 shipwrecked Haitians were rescued by the Bahamian navy ; four of their shipmates were found dead.

The Organization of American States has been negotiating with Mr.Aristide for some time now, seeking an end to the violent government repression that has slowly strangled the economy. It dangles a huge carrot in front of the Haitian president : If he and his Lavalas Party will agree to a bare minimum of democratic standards — toleration of political dissent, an independent electoral council, and new Senate elections for seats that were stolen in the May 2000 balloting — then the OAS will clear the way for resumption of international aid. That aid could run as high as $500 million but is frozen because of Lavalas violence against its opponents and its role in stealing elections. Last summer Leon Manus, the electoral council jurist who ruled that the May elections were fraudulent, had to flee the country. Putting aside the question of whether it is morally sound to bribe a corrupt authoritarian such as Mr. Aristide, it is worth asking whether such « negotiations » can achieve the desired outcome. The Haitian strongman has a long record of saying one thing and doing another. In this latest round of chicken with the international community, at least one seasoned negotiator remained unconvinced of his sincerity. Dame Eugenia Charles, former prime minister of Dominica and the Caricom representative to the OAS mission, said she « found the Haitians are only interested in what financial help they can get from the international world. I don’t know if they are interested in having the matter solved. »

Mrs. Charles is best remembered in international circles as the Caribbean leader who asked Ronald Reagan to intervene in Grenada in 1983, on the grounds that Fidel Castro was quietly converting the island into a Cuban satellite. It’s not surprising that she recognizes Mr. Aristide’s modus operandi. Like Castro, Mr. Aristide badly wants at the multilateral largess sloshing around the globe. His immediate challenge is to somehow fool the international community into resuming aid without risking his monolithic rule.

One line of attack is in Washington, where he’s hired the Washington law firm of Patton, Boggs to help him get at the honey pot. On June 4, Patton, Boggs filed with the Justice Department as an agent for the government of Haiti. According to Justice, the firm said that it had « agreed to assist the foreign principal in its relationship with the U.S. executive branch, U.S. congress and certain multi-lateral organizations in order to obtain U.S. support for the release of withheld foreign aid by the OAS and the IDB [Inter-American Development Bank]. » The contract is for eight months for a fee of $50,000 per month. Mr. Aristide’s time-tested practice of greasing the wheels in Washington has Haitians cynical about any OAS agreement with him. On June 18, a spokesman for the Haiti’s strongest opposition alliance, Democratic

Convergence, accused OAS negotiator Luigi Eunadi of « working with the Lavalas leader, » according to a Haitian radio broadcast monitored by the BBC. There is no proof of this, but the allegation reflects suspicion that is not unwarranted. After all, high-priced Patton, Boggs is schmoozing the Washington elite for its client even as Mr. Aristide’s hitmen continue to target his political opponents. Just about the time that the OAS was announcing a successful Aristide « agreement » at its annual meeting in Costa Rica in June, the Haitian president was arresting adversaries and inciting his notorious street gangs to new violence back home ; in one week six people were burned alive in the streets.

Any workable treaty must bring Mr. Aristide’s opponents on board, but Democratic Convergence and numerous civil-society organizations have refused to accept what was announced in Costa Rica. This has negotiators frantic. As Haiti expert Georges Fauriol of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has written, the « international community is fatigued and fearful of Haiti going off the rails and therefore eager to reach a deal. » This is a shame. The U.S. has already spent $3 billion on Mr. Aristide, first to reinstall him as president and later to « reform » his police department. Yet Haiti’s institution building is no further along than it was in the days of post-coup President Raoul Cedras. And it’s not uncommon to hear Haitians pine for the good old days of the Duvalier dictatorship. Six years of placating Mr. Aristide have advanced few but him, and possibly his telephone company associates Joseph P. Kennedy II, former Democratic Party finance man Marvin Rosen, and Clinton pal Thomas « Mack » McLarty III.

Mr. Aristide bears direct responsibility for his country’s hardship. His extortion practices aimed at the few productive sectors of the economy have suffocated growth and investment. He has overseen the complete collapse of justice and personal security, and implemented a tyrannical crackdown on political dissent. Haiti doesn’t need international aid to get back on its feet. It needs modern democratic institutions that will attract private capital and brains. This conflicts sharply with Mr. Aristide’s most basic instincts, which run more along the lines of his chum Fidel. It is folly to believe that in exchange for multilateral aid the leopard will change his spots.

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