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Tuesday, May 16, 2006 

Posted on Tue, May. 16, 2006

Mr. Préval begins to pick up the pieces


René Préval returned to the presidency of Haiti this week like a man returning to the wreckage of a home shattered by a Category 5 hurricane. He is surrounded by want and human misery in a nation where nearly everything cries out for immediate attention. If Haiti is to have a chance of breaking out of the endless cycle of poverty and hopelessness, the international community must be prepared to make a long-term commitment. This job will take time, support from abroad and money.

Fortunately, Mr. Préval will not have to operate in the shadow of his political mentor, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, this time around, but the odds remain stacked against Mr. Préval and against Haiti. The country is broke, the political system in tatters, the government barely functioning -- and hurricane season is on the way. This much is clear: Haiti cannot do the job by itself, and Mr. Préval cannot tackle everything at once.

Taking on the gangs

Security remains the most urgent challenge, and here the United Nations can make a big contribution in the form of a renewed commitment by the U.N. force known as MINUSTAH to clean up gang violence. As important, the force must help to build a strong Haitian National Police cadre free of corruption and links to organized crime and drug smugglers. This is no easy task, but nothing else can be done if Haiti is not safe.

There should be little doubt that Mr. Préval has the ability to persuade the people of Haiti to roll up their sleeves and begin to pick up the pieces. At a minimum, though, he will need from them a strong measure of political support. This means putting an end to the fraticidal politics that destroyed the old Aristide regime and ushered in an era of violence unusual even by Haiti's rough standards.

Compromise necessary

Mr. Préval has a strong base in Haiti's parliament, but he does not enjoy a majority. That means that compromise and goodwill -- two qualities in short supply for a very long time -- must prevail if Haiti is to move forward. Those who opposed Mr. Préval's candidacy may not be able to overcome their skepticism, but they have an obligation to give him a chance to govern and to reach out to him.

Mr. Préval, for his part, can do himself and Haiti a world of good by using his authority to seek the release of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, widely deemed a political prisoner because of his ties to former president Aristide.

But he should not roll out the welcome mat for Mr. Aristide himself. Now in exile, Mr. Aristide remains a polarizing figure in Haiti. Mr. Préval will have a tough enough job moving quickly to deal with Haiti's most urgent problems, and he does not need the added worry of Mr. Aristide to distract him and the people of Haiti from the task at hand.

Copyright 2006 Knight Ridder
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