The people of Haiti voted for Jean-Bertrand Aristide for president because his radical rhetoric promised a clean break from the Duvalierist past. They voted against the thugs of the Tontons Macoute, who enforced the Duvalier family dictatorship for 29 years ending in 1986 and still claim power and privilege. They voted against despair in the hemisphere's poorest country. They voted for hope, and for more hope than other decent candidates among the 11 could promise.
Four days after the election, with no more than 15 percent of the vote officially counted (in which he had a commanding 65 percent), the United States and France had declared Father Aristide the victor. He remained silent, but his party co-leader, Evans Paul, came forward. Yes, Mr. Paul thinks Father Aristide won the presidency without the need for a run-off election. No, he does not think their party won a majority of the 110-seat national assembly. It will seek coalition.
Father Aristide is prepared to quit the priesthood to govern if the Vatican so wishes. He was booted out of his order for espousing liberation theology, with its revolutionary implications. He is only 37, shy and retiring, but turns to fire when exhorting the people to claim the freedom and justice to which they are entitled. Small wonder the forces that tried to assassinate him in the past swore not to let him come to power now. Father Aristide's apparent landslide support should intimidate the army from preventing his accession. The people would not stand for that.
He has never worked in government and never said how he would deliver the justice, food and jobs for which he crusaded. Taming the army and suppressing the Tontons Macoute and bringing to justice the sinister former interior minister, Roger Lafontant, are daunting tasks that could unseat a reformist on Day One. It is not enough to be a great orator. President Aristide will need to be statesman and politician.
The U.S. government had more faith in Marc Bazin, a former World Bank official who came in a distant second. Washington should nonetheless support Haiti's people and do everything possible to help the honest reformer they elected. The trickle of U.S. aid, cut off for human rights abuses, should be restored upon the new president's accession. The election impressed a multitude of foreign observers as freely conducted, but judgment must be reserved until the count is announced. Father Aristide may be just what Haiti needs to liberate the creative impulses of a long-suppressed people. They, at least, think so.