The agreement this week permitting the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as leader of Haiti is the best news the suffering Haitians have had since they elected him president in December 1990. More important, the signature of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the military commander, is a promise for army and police to relax their deadly grip on the unhappy island.
This agreement, long brokered by the United Nations mediator Dante Caputo and finally completed in New York, carefully prescribes 10 steps for the restoration of constitutional rule leading to President Aristide's return to his homeland by Oct. 30. It is a tribute to the persistence of the quiet but tough-minded American negotiator, Lawrence A. Pezzullo.
Mr. Pezzullo, the director of Catholic Relief Services, who led that agency's move to Baltimore, stepped down from that post to return to government as President Clinton's adviser on Haitian affairs. As a career ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1970s, he had convinced that country's dictator, Anastasio Somoza, to step aside for elections. That was good training for persuading Haiti's military rulers to do the same.
There is not much doubt that economic sanctions, especially in oil and gasoline, added to the popularity of Mr. Aristide and the logic of Mr. Caputo and Mr. Pezzullo in convincing the army to give way. If the agreement is carried out, it will be testimony to the efficacy of sanctions in some situations.
That said, success will lie in the implementation. It will require the army and police to keep General Cedras' word. It will depend on the kind of restraint and tolerance from President Aristide that he did not always display while in office before his overthrow in September 1991. And it will use up all the aid that the United States and other American states may provide.
But if achieved, success would bring hope to the people of the poorest country in the Americas and ease the pressure of Haitian refugees seeking entry to the United States.
Mr. Caputo and Mr. Pezzullo have done well in a hard job, but the hardest parts are yet to come.