Haiti's humanitarian disaster and its escalating political mess have made it clearer than ever that the country's political class needs some kind of adult supervision -- either an ultimatum by donor countries to create a government of national reconstruction or a temporary United Nations trusteeship.
Granted, the idea of a U.N. trusteeship for Haiti -- whether it's called protectorate, mandate, transitional administration or anything else -- is not new.
It has been floating for decades in academic, political and diplomatic circles: You can find 623,000 entries under ``Haiti and trusteeship'' in Google. It was proposed most recently after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake by former Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd and former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.
But now, following the Organization of American States (OAS) report confirming that the Nov. 28 elections were flawed and that the government-backed candidate should not be on the ballot for the runoff election, there are growing questions over the future of the current partnership between Haiti's government and international donors and over whether there shouldn't be some kind of more assertive international role in Haiti.
Even before the current political crisis, there were mutual recriminations between Haitian officials and donor countries. Now the situation has worsened with the dispute over the November election results and the arrival of former despot Jean-Claude ``Baby Doc'' Duvalier amid a desperate humanitarian situation.
More than 800,000 people left homeless by the earthquake are still living in tents, there are outbreaks of cholera and most of the population is unemployed. There are fears of widespread violence.
Supporters of a U.N. trusteeship for Haiti, such as Dodd, say the Haitian government, for all practical purposes, does not exist. Haiti lost thousands of government officials during the earthquake, which destroyed 28 of the country's 29 government ministries' buildings.
While Haiti would not legally qualify under the United Nations Charter for a U.N. trusteeship because it is an independent sovereign nation, the Haitian government could allow the current 9,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the country to expand its role. Recent U.N. trusteeships in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor have been effective, supporters of the idea say.
While Haitians have long been highly nationalistic, the situation is so desperate that most would welcome a larger international role, they add.
Has the time come for a U.N. trusteeship in Haiti, I asked several well-placed Haiti watchers this week.
James Dobbins, head of the Rand Corp. think tank's international security division and a former senior Clinton administration National Security Council official, told me that ``I wouldn't exclude it if there is significant violence.''
The ideal outcome of the current impasse would be for President René Préval to accept the OAS recommendations, allow a second round election with the two candidates that the OAS determined as winners in the first round and have the international community take a stronger role in monitoring the runoff.
``But if for some reason Préval were not to follow the advice of the international community and that led to an outbreak of large-scale violence, more extreme measures would have to be considered,'' Dobbins said.
Robert Maguire, a Trinity University professor who heads the Haiti working group at the U.S. Institute for Peace, told me that a U.N. trusteeship would be counter-productive, because it would further weaken Haiti's institutions.
``It's in the international interest to have a stronger Haiti that can manage its own affairs,'' he said, adding that Haiti's public institutions have been bypassed by international donors. ``International donors should partner with Haitian public institutions, even if they are weak.''
My opinion: Donor countries -- together with the U.N., the OAS and other big players -- should help organize and monitor Haiti's runoff and condition disbursal of the billions of dollars in reconstruction aid to a deal whereby the winner of the election would include the loser and other opposition parties in a national reconciliation government.
That was done in several countries, including Japan after World War II, and would certainly help get Haiti back on its feet.
If that fails, and the political crisis leads to violence, the existing U.N. peacekeeping mission should be expanded with a mandate to coordinate all reconstruction efforts. In other words, there should be a temporary U.N. trusteeship, which for political etiquette reasons, should be called anything else but that.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Andres Oppenheimer is a Miami Herald syndicated columnist and a member of The Miami Herald team that won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize. He also won the 1999 Maria Moors Cabot Award, the 2001 King of Spain prize, and the 2005 Emmy Suncoast award. He is the author of Castro's Final Hour; Bordering on Chaos, on Mexico's crisis; Cronicas de heroes y bandidos, Ojos vendados, Cuentos Chinos and most recently of Saving the Americas. E-mail Andres at firstname.lastname@example.org. Live chat with Oppenheimer every Thursday at 1 p.m. at The Miami Herald.