Foreign Policy

Democracy in Haiti

Nation building aftermath

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An economy staggering from years of external sanctions, a militaristic dictatorship overthrown through American might, a U.S. president's commitment to democratic nation building—that was Haiti in 1994.

The aftermath of Washington's '90s effort to stabilize Haiti—a sequel to its '10s-'20s efforts—is worth contemplating as similar efforts progress in Iraq. Although physical assaults on U.S. personnel were rarer in Haiti than they have been in Iraq lately, the long-term results of our involvement there have proven dismal.

The United States intervened militarily (with U.N. backing) to return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994 after he'd been overthrown by a military coup. Aristide's authority passed to one of his cronies, Rene Preval, in 1996. Preval dissolved parliament in 1999.

Now with Aristide back in power (he won a very democratic 92 percent of the vote in 2000, although most of the opposition boycotted the election and street-level voter intimidation and violence were widespread), Haiti is rated by the government watchdog agency Transparency International as the third most corrupt country in the world. Aristide's ruling Lavalas Family Party regularly postpones elections, all TV is state-operated, and thugs—apparently government-sanctioned—terrorize independent journalists. Unemployment is above 50 percent, literacy is below it, and Haiti has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti was supposed to prove the Clinton administration's belief that democracy and stability could be exported through American money and might. But one Clinton State Department spokesman, contemplating the realities of Haiti, was forced to admit to The Washington Times, "You can't impose democracy."