When I was asked in March of last year to become the secretary of state's special adviser on Haiti, I accepted because I thought that the United States should play a leading role in finding a solution to the Haiti problem.
It was clear that any solution would require a change in the military leadership and a commitment by the successors to the return of constitutional government and of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. What was less obvious was that, given Haiti's parliamentary system of government, Father Aristide needed a broad-based political coalition with a majority in the Parliament to govern.
Simply returning to the status quo ante (September 1991) when Father Aristide was overthrown would offer little hope for stability. A viable social contract had to undergird the democratic process to ensure its durability.
Looked at from this perspective, the multilateral negotiation led by U.N./OAS envoy Dante Caputo and supported by the "Four Friends" (Canada, France, Venezuela and the United States) was taking on the challenge of helping Haitians reshape their political culture.
Early on, I realized that this commitment was not shared by all in the Clinton administration: Some naively fed a fantasy that Haiti offered the president an opportunity for an easy international victory, while others were convinced that Father Aristide's return would provoke a blood bath requiring U.S. military intervention.
A winner-take-all game
Since rebelling from French colonial rule nearly two centuries ago, Haiti has suffered a succession of abusive dictatorships. Politics has been a winner-take-all game in a zero-sum world where social and economic progress have been sacrificed to privilege and corruption. The lack of political stability additionally has stunted the growth of civil and private institutions.
In the early 1950s, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier twisted a democratic opening into a repressive tyranny. The soft-spoken country doctor was maliciously adept at turning Haitian against Haitian. He subverted institutions, including the armed forces, to cement his hold on power and so poisoned civil society that, as one prominent Haitian said sadly, "He made paranoids of us all, including me." The Duvalier dynasty, which came to an end with the overthrow of his son, "Baby Doc," in 1986 is the sordid backdrop for recent events.
With no institutions or political consensus to fall back on, the years after the demise of the Baby Doc regime were tumultuous. The political centrists faced attack from the extremes. Moderate Haitians saw the need to build something positive from the ruins of the Duvalier years. In 1987, 99 percent of the people ratified a new constitution designed to prevent another dictatorship. The new organic law drew on the French Constitution, splitting the power of the executive between a president and a prime minister, and balancing executive power with that of the legislature.
The first fruit of the new constitution was the election of 1990. Haitians came out in large numbers to elect the ex-Salesian priest, Father Aristide, as president in a landslide. Members of other political coalitions won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of Parliament.
But the democratic process was interrupted seven months after Father Aristide took office. At loggerheads with the Parliament and feared by members of the private sector and military, Father Aristide was overthrown.
His ouster was viewed internationally as a serious setback to the democratic process in Haiti and a potentially dangerous precedent. At the same time, Father Aristide was faulted for his political maladroitness -- excluding members of the coalition that brought him to power in favor of a narrow group of loyalists who lacked political skills and turning to mobs when he failed to win parliamentary support for his political programs. Father Aristide's failure to form a majority government and his authoritarian style had raised fears that he would become another Duvalier.
Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who had been selected by Father Aristide to serve as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, became de facto leader of Haiti. Father Aristide and General Cedras, once part of the same government, emerged as the principal antagonists, each a product of the nation's troubled history.
Governors Island accord
The Governors Island Agreement (GIA), forged in July 1993, was the product of multilateral negotiations. Neither Father Aristide nor General Cedras had shown any inclination to take initiatives to resolve Haiti's crisis. (The agreement set a timetable for Father Aristide's return to power and called for the transfer of power from the military to a democratic government.)
General Cedras and the military were counting on waiting out this latest round of international pressure. Father Aristide expected the international community to force his return on his terms. By applying pressure on General Cedras through mandatory United Nations sanctions and by pressing Father Aristide to respond positively to General Cedras' willingness to meet, we were able to get the two parties to Governors Island. Father Aristide and members of his party refused to negotiate directly with General Cedras and his advisers. Adroit maneuvering led by Mr. Caputo presented each with terms they found difficult to refuse.
While the GIA and the New York Pact that followed were solid substantively, the two parties remained caught in a negative dynamic. Instead of building on the agreements and fostering reconciliation, which was at the heart of the settlement, each focused on demonizing the other, thereby feeding the distrust and animosity which has atomized Haitian society. Neither side had the vision or courage to rise above the enmity and narrow self-interest that separated them in order to bind the wounds of their suffering country. That was left to the international negotiators who, after pressing the two parties into signing the GIA had to prod and cajole them into living up to their commitments. Despite delays, the agreement was being implemented.
The process of forming a new government as stipulated by the GIA was another showcase of the political gamesmanship of the two sides. Father Aristide used the international sanctions, which were to be suspended only when a new government was confirmed, for narrow political advantage. He allowed his partisans' blatant fights for patronage to delay decisions. And the government he formed under Prime Minister Robert Malval, a widely respected entrepreneur, was far from the coalition government of "National Concord" agreed to in the New York Pact. Later, Father Aristide dragged his feet on the issue of amnesty as well.
None of this was lost on General Cedras and other military leaders who were doing their best to sabotage GIA and thus avoid the return of Father Aristide. They intimidated and harassed parliamentarians, and when the Malval government was confirmed allowed thugs to threaten the new ministers and obstruct their performance of duties.
Elements in the military also were involved in attacking Father Aristide's supporters, the most notable being the assassination of Antione Ismery in September. Despite it all, the momentum of events, albeit slow and agonizing, was forcing Haitians to face the inevitability of change. Then came the Harlan County debacle.
Harlan County affair
In our discussions with Haitians of all sectors early on in the process, one concern was universal: fear that their lives and property would be at risk during the delicate transition back to democratic rule. All requested some form of international presence to guarantee their safety.
In response, we developed a plan to provide a multinational contingent of military and police trainers. As written into the GIA, the trainers and civil-action engineers would not perform police and military duties. Rather, they would be an international presence (a dissuasive force) to quell fears and to train the military and police force to assume a mission more compatible with the needs of Haiti.
On Oct. 12, a week after 12 U.S. Army Rangers were killed in Somalia, the U.S. troop ship Harlan County, carrying more than 200 U.S. and Canadian military personnel, retreated from
Port-au-Prince because thugs demonstrated against its docking.
The decision by Mr. Clinton's key policy-makers to turn around the Harlan County -- against my advice and without consulting our U.N. partners -- delivered a mortal blow to the GIA and our credibility in the region. The retreat emboldened dangerous elements in the Haitian military who felt that they had faced down the United States. And it reinforced Father Aristide's inflexibility and fed his suspicions that only intense pressure on the U.S. government would ensure his return.
The International Civilian Mission (ICM), which had been organized at great cost to monitor human rights performance throughout Haiti, departed within the week, accompanied by administrators and technicians who formed the vanguard of the international assistance program.
Soon after, General Cedras took advantage of our show of weakness to renege on his commitment to resign on Oct. 15. The U.N. Security Council retaliated by reimposing sanctions. The bottom had all but dropped out of the international effort.
This gave way to an interlude of Haitian despair that permeated all sectors of the society, including political parties, the private sector, labor unions, the churches and elements of the military. Feeling abandoned by the international community and betrayed their feuding leaders, Haitians began searching for a way out of the impasse.
Mr. Malval, seeing the urgent need to foster reconciliation, presented Father Aristide with numerous initiatives to build broad-based political support that would marginalize nonconstitutional elements in the military and bring about Father Aristide's return. But by early December, Father Aristide, who opposed coalition-building, turned his back on Mr. Malval (who then resigned) and undercut the nascent reconciliation efforts, characterizing them as "power-sharing" with the military.
In the face of the open breach between Father Aristide and Mr. Malval, the international partners launched another initiative. Aide memoires were delivered to Father Aristide and General Cedras in mid-December 1993.
General Cedras was offered the carrot of suspended sanctions if he complied with his commitments under GIA by Jan. 15, 1994. The stick of increased sanctions was threatened if he did not. Father Aristide, in turn, was urged to fill the political vacuum occasioned by Mr. Malval's resignation and to broaden his political base of support by naming a consensus prime minister and cabinet.
Then came another reversal reminiscent of the Harlan County retreat. The National Security Council (NSC) began to foot-drag when the Jan. 15 deadline was not met by General Cedras. Instead of supporting the strengthening of sanctions as promised, the Clinton administration caved in, further compromising U.S. credibility and deepening the Haitian crisis.
At this point, it was clear to me that, as destructive as was the symbiotic relationship between Father Aristide and the military command, the bigger problem was unsteadiness in Washington. Against the expressed wishes of Mr. Clinton to play an active role in resolving the Haitian crisis diplomatically, his principal advisers were unable to stay a course. Interagency differences that usually surface when policy options are being considered, continued after decisions had been made. The NSC neither coordinated policy nor maintained discipline, and the State Department did not exert leadership. This encouraged the CIA and the civilian side of the Pentagon as well as disparate voices throughout the administration to undo policy.
The most damaging Haitian policy flip-flop by the Clinton administration was yet to come. The mid-December recommendations to Father Aristide by the "Four Friends" to name a new prime minister to replace Mr. Malval and to broaden the political base of the new government surprisingly brought a favorable response from Father Aristide. He indicated a willingness to open a political dialog with political leaders and Parliament, some of whom had opposed him in the past.
At a conference he sponsored in mid-January, Father Aristide supported the findings of a working group that recommended the formation of a new government. He also encouraged several influential parliamentarians in private meetings at the conference pursue talks in Port-au-Prince toward that end. This, in fact, led to an agreement between two candidates on Father Aristide's short list for prime minister that if either were selected the other would work to ensure confirmation and a working majority in the Parliament.
But in February, when a group of key parliamentarians came to Washington to pursue talks with Father Aristide, he reverted to form. Instead of accepting their offer to create an alliance to implement GIA -- including the departure of General Cedras and his own return to Haiti -- Father Aristide refused to deal seriously with the parliamentarians. He encouraged the defection from the group of the president of the Senate and launched a public relations smear campaign in Washington to discredit the others.
Members of the congressional Black Caucus and other Aristide supporters in Congress joined in disparaging the parliamentarian initiative. As the campaign gained steam, it was broadened to attack the Clinton administration's entire Haiti policy, including the treatment of refugees.
On March 25th, the United States offered a series of guarantees to address Father Aristide's concerns regarding alleged "tricks"
in the parliamentarian initiative. At the same time, Father Aristide was informed that it would be difficult for the Clinton administration to continue to support him if he refused to take advantage of this real opportunity to make progress.
Father Aristide responded negatively and gave notice of termination of the Alien Migrant Intervention Operation, which authorized the United States to return refugees to Haiti. At this critical moment the Clinton administration capitulated, this time adopting Father Aristide's agenda to pacify his Washington lobby. This undid the policy at its core, by sacrificing the imperative of building a broad-based governing coalition to support the democratic process.
At this point, I was marginalized and left the Clinton administration. All the initiatives by Haitians to build a broad-based political coalition that would include Father Aristide died on the vine. The administration had made the fateful turn from a peacemaker helping Haitians resolve their differences to a partisan feeding the polarization that is at the heart of Haiti's despair.
Mr. Clinton was left with two equally unacceptable policy options: military intervention or retreat.
In my letter of resignation to Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher dated April 28, 1994, I expressed "my grave concern that we are heading irrevocably down a path toward unilateral military intervention in Haiti." It was my position all along that only a sophist could propose "restoring democracy" at the point of a gun in a country with no experience in participatory democracy and lacking the essential institutional support.
The imposition of sanctions since May 1994 absent diplomatic initiative only tortured an ailing society. The Haitian military, which was softening and dividing due to internal and international pressure, started to close ranks. General Cedras was able to appeal to Haitian nationalism in the face of U.S. threats.
By the force of his Washington lobby, Father Aristide continued to pressure the United States to serve his private agenda. And Haitians on the left and the right who were working to bolster the democratic process were forced to run for cover.
Even the moderate KONAKOM Socialist Party, which was the largest component of Father Aristide's political coalition, was expelled by Lavalas extremists, ostensively for its support of the parliamentarian initiative. This action further reduced Father Aristide's political base of support. By its partisan position, the United States, unwittingly, played the Duvalier role of dividing Haitians.
Last week, the United States interposed itself in the Haiti crisis with 15,000 troops. The Clinton administration will now find itself trapped in an a deeply polarized political culture.
Haiti would have been better off if the Clinton administration had pursued the policy of its predecessor. The Bush administration had no false illusions about Father Aristide or the complexity of the Haitian problem.
In retrospect, it is clear that when the illusion of a quick diplomatic triumph evaporated, the Clinton administration lacked the leadership and courage to deal with the real problems besetting Haiti. It became easy prey to forces that had clear agendas and the will to achieve them.
The Clinton administration's weakness has reduced the world's one remaining superpower to a policy line that is impoverishing and further polarizing a traumatized society.
Lawrence A. Pezzullo, former ambassador to Nicaragua and Uruguay, was the Clinton administration's special adviser on Haiti from March 1993 to April 1994.