New York Times Editorial Attacks IRI’s Work in Haiti
Haiti was a deeply troubled democracy when the Bush administration took office. Now it is an even more deeply troubled nondemocracy. One thing contributed to Haiti’s present plight, our colleagues Walt Bogdanich and Jenny Nordberg reported Sunday, was a “democracy building” program financed by the United States government and run by the International Republican Institute.
The I.R.I., whose chairman is Senator John McCain and whose president is a former Bush administration official, is one of four institutes (the others are affiliated with the Democrats, the United States Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.) set up during the 1980’s to channel taxpayer dollars toward strengthening democracy in other countries. Congress intended this financing system to move American support for democracy in other countries out of the shrouded world of covert intelligence and into the daylight of political training institutes.
But according to the Times report, which the I.R.I. disputes, much of the Republican Institute’s activities in Haiti from 2001 to 2003 were carried out in a shadowy world of secret meetings and efforts to isolate and destabilize the democratically elected government. Diplomats, including the American ambassador to Haiti in those years, said that the I.R.I. program worked at cross purposes with the State Department’s policy of promoting compromise between President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his many powerful opponents. It also undercut mediation efforts that appeared within reach of success.
With all hopes of compromise thwarted, a rebel army led by notorious criminals and cashiered police officers crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic and drove President Aristide from office. He fled on a United States-supplied plane after Washington made it clear to him that it would not protect his life if he remained or defend the democratically elected government.
That was almost two years ago, and Haiti is worse off today. Murder rules the slums of Port-au-Prince, and a United Nations peacekeeping force struggles even to protect itself. Dates for new elections have been repeatedly postponed. The latest date is now set for next week. We hope this begins to undo some of the damage done by the kind of I.R.I. democracy building described in The Times.