- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

U.S. officials, having washed their hands of this week's Haitian election, say they recognize their policies in the impoverished Caribbean nation have failed and they are casting about for a new direction.

"The story of Haiti is we tried and we failed," said one U.S. official, who spoke yesterday on the condition he not be identified.

"The problem with Haiti is they want us to fix it, and that's not the way you get things fixed."

A State Department official, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "People are taking a hard look at our Haiti policy and what comes next."

Haiti was hailed as a triumph for Clinton administration policy after U.S. troops landed there in 1994 to oust a military dictatorship and restore the rule of the elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

But relations have deteriorated so much that the United States did not even send observers for Sunday's election, in which Mr. Aristide is expected to have won a new term in the face of a low turnout and an opposition boycott.

The latest voting follows elections to the Haitian senate in May that the United States says failed to meet standards of fairness.

Congress told the administration not to channel any foreign aid through the Haitian government until the State Department could certify that the outcome of those elections had been free and fair.

Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party won 16 of the 17 seats then, but about half the winners were short of the votes needed to avoid runoff elections, according to international election observers. Nevertheless, the Aristide-dominated election commission certified them as winners.

Ten more senate seats were up for grabs Sunday, and when results are tallied later this week it is expected that Mr. Aristide's party will be declared winners. Opposition leaders who boycotted the polls say the balloting was unfair and that few people voted.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that U.S. foreign aid would continue to flow through private relief agencies not through the Haitian government until the election process meets the standards set by the U.S. Congress.

"We believe in democracy in this hemisphere, as do many others in this hemisphere, and we're willing to work on it," Mr. Boucher said at a briefing yesterday.

"But the flaws that are there [in Haiti] need to be remedied by the local authorities.

"And there are a lot of indications including low voter turnout, the violence that was in the pre-election period that show that they need reconciliation within Haitian society."

The U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Haiti was effectively a prisoner of its own history of underdevelopment and dictatorship.

"Nobody has anything good to say about improving conditions in Haiti," he said. "Haiti is considered a failure. It's not that our aid programs didn't work. There's a sort of psychology at work that we were never able to crack.

"We poured a lot of money into it and never were able to turn it around. [President] Clinton tried to help. [House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin A.] Gilman fought us every step of the way. But that's not why they failed.

"There's no group of people willing to take charge and work with the problems."

Mr. Boucher also expressed exasperation.

"There is always a limit. You can't impose democracy… .

"People on the ground in the country have to make the choice, have to make the decisions and have to take the steps necessary to make democracy grow," he said.

The Agency for International Development (AID) is sending $85 million in humanitarian aid via private agencies to Haiti in the current year, said an AID official. The money supplies hundreds of thousands of people their only meal of the day.

Mr. Boucher said U.S. aid programs aim to increase incomes for the poor, slow environmental degradation, improve economic and education performance and support the provision of health and family planning services, including HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programs.

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