'An Election Doesn't A Democracy Make'

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", March 1, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: The U.S. military finds itself in Haiti (search) for the umpteenth time in the history of that unhappy land. The last time was 10 years ago, when Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) came to and held on to power with the help of the Clinton administration. He was supposed to usher in an era of democracy and reform. So what happened?

For answer we turn to Bernard, a former assistant secretary of state for the region, who is now a managing partner of a venture capital firm that focuses on Latin America.

Bernie, welcome.


HUME: So what ... wanted here? Well, one question first of all. Is there a reason why we keep having to go back into Haiti militarily? Is there something about Haiti?

ARONSON: You know, Haiti was the second country in this hemisphere to gain its independents, but it has he never had a stable, honest Democratic government since that time in 200 years.

HUME: Why is that?

ARONSON: You know, it doesn't have the colonial legacy of the British Caribbean, where the Brits stayed and they built their rule of law in the courts. The French were the colonial power. They left. Nobody took their place after they left. It was just one rapacious ruler after another, and the Haitian people have suffered for 200 years.

HUME: So President Clinton, in an act of what -- I remember going down there with him at the time was a -- sort of there was a lot of idealism involved ... and a feeling that something might change this time.

We had this former priest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he spoke of bringing peace, although he pronounced it in such a way that it made all of us laugh. But I won't go into that. What happened with him? What was the deal?

ARONSON: You know, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was the leader of the opposition against the Duvalier dictatorship. He was a very brave liberation leader, but he never made the transition to a democratic governor. Haiti needed a Nelson Mandela (search) in its first democratic leader. Instead they got a Robert Mugabe, and that is a big part of the problem.

But the other part of the problem is that there were no democratic constitutions in the country. The army had really always been a source of repression. There's a very small business class that's largely removed from the suffering of the poor, so it's a country with enormous historical and structural problems.

But Aristide became part of the problem. He promoted violence. He fostered violence. He rigged elections, and he organized a coalition against him that includes many of the people who were in the streets with him against Duvalier. And he bares a significant part of the responsibility.

HUME: Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are complaining today, prominent Democrats, that the administration has, in effect, turned its back on democracy here. That it could have saved this democratically elected leader. He was, after all, elected. What about that election?

ARONSON: Well, I think he was democratically elected. Though, once he was in office in the second term, he held elections for the parliament, their congress, which were rigged. He was a democratically elected leader who then, once in power, you know, misused democratic rule to rule in an authoritarian manner. And we have seen that elsewhere in this hemisphere. We saw it under Fujimori in Peru.

And so it's a terrible dilemma for the United States, which wants to back democracy, when the democratically elected leader himself misuses his own power to stay in office. In this case, I think Aristide had his chance. And to say that we should have saved him despite the way he ruled the country, I think makes a perversion of democracy.

The fact is we would have had to put him back despite the opposition of a significant amount of his own population. And I think that would have been a responsibility that would have been enormous to take on. And Aristide, I think...

HUME: Quite a lot of troops, I would think.

ARONSON: Well, it wouldn't have required so many troops in that country, but he lost his legitimacy through his own actions. And I think that the United States doesn't have an obligation to defend a democratic leader who himself democratic values.

HUME: The United States went into Iraq because Saddam Hussein was a danger; it was believed, to the United States. Now, people can differ about that, but the idea that he was a danger to the United States, U.S. interests engaged there, fairly clear.

Kosovo (search) -- U.S. interests in Kosovo less clear, but a humanitarian situation there that was truly nightmarish in its possibilities. Obviously there are humanitarian concerns here, but beyond that, are there any real U.S. vital interests in plain Haiti?

ARONSON: Well, I think we have a vital interest in defending democracy in this hemisphere. We worked for many decades with others to promote democracy. It matters to us. It's not only what we believe in, but democracy fosters other things that we care about: stability and economic growth and anti-corruption, counter narcotics and the like. So we have a stake in democracy.

Secondly, there's been a history of refugee flows from Haiti and where poor Haitians want to come, understandably, is to the United States. We have an interest in stability. There's been a growth of narco-trafficking through that country. We have an interest in that. So I think we have stakes.

Is it a vital interest in the same way as Iraq was? I don't think so. But I don't think that means we shouldn't be part of a multi-national force. I think we should be, and I think that's the right way to try to restore democratic rule to the country.

HUME: Now, what needs to happen now? The -- I guess the chief -- the judiciary down there is a temporary head of state there.

ARONSON: Correct.

HUME: Is there any -- do you have any thoughts about what may need to be done now other than what the administration seems to be trying to do?

ARONSON: You know, I think so far they're doing the right thing, which is they're going in with others. They've gone to the U.N. for Security Council mandate. And this transitional multi-national force will become a U.N. force, so it's multilateralized.

Hopefully they're going to bring in, I think they are, police forces from the Caribbean, from France, from Canada, and others so we're not there alone.

But the main thing we have to do now and whether we want to or not, we have now taken on a responsibility to stay the course. An election doesn't a democracy make. That's one of the lessons of Haiti.

And Frankly, we didn't stay long enough the first time. We did a lot. We put a lot of money in there. We trained up the police. But we got out, really within two years. And that was too soon. And that's also a lesson for Iraq. You can't get democracy on the cheap.

HUME: Just one, last quick question. We have got about five seconds. Is there a leader you can envision now who could be the one who will take them through democracy?

ARONSON: You know, I think there are people in the opposition. I certainly shouldn't pick the next leader. There's a former mayor of Port- au-Prince, Evans Paul, who was a...

HUME: Some people possible...

ARONSON: ... Aristide supporter.

HUME: Bernie Aronson, great to have you. Thanks very much.


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