People wait to apply for visas outside the U.S. embassy in...

People wait to apply for visas outside the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday. Credit: AP/Fernando Llano

Even before the shocking assassination last week of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the Caribbean nation had clearly reached another politically dangerous milestone in a history replete with them.

Moïse was elected in 2016 amid allegations of fraud. Elections were postponed. Violent gangs proliferated. The Biden administration had been prodding the regime on holding elections, and Moïse had set Sept. 26 for new balloting for president and parliament. Numerous arrests have been made in the plot to kill Moïse but the fuller story of the crime has yet to fill out.

Aside from helping the probe, the U.S. government faces a difficult choice of how to respond to a nation already in crisis where food and fuel are getting scarce, COVID-19 is rampant and there has been no effort to vaccinate the population.

Civic leaders in the Haitian diaspora — from places like Elmont in Nassau County, Central Islip in Suffolk and Cambria Heights in Queens — say a military intervention would be neither popular nor practical. A request for troops from the interim regime in Port-au-Prince brought a well-advised response from the Biden administration that it has "no plans to provide U.S. military assistance at this time."

That tracks with the record. In 1994, the Clinton administration proclaimed Operation Democracy which sent in U.S. troops and removed a regime that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a coup. Ten years later, Aristide was forced out again, and the Bush administration deployed Marines again. Woodrow Wilson sent Marines in 1915 and they stayed until 1934.

Bottom line: Stability and prosperity were not achieved.

Besides the question of force, the U.S. has decisions to make as to whom it ought to help and prod and to what end.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Haitian leaders "to bring the country together … and pave the road toward free and fair elections this year." But key voices disagree. This week Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Queens), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for calm and a peaceful transition. But in March, before the current problems, Meeks called on the administration "to recognize that holding elections for elections-sake in Haiti will lead to the same outcome as in the 2015 election," which led to Moïse's rule by decree.

Haitian human rights advocate Pierre Esperance writes for the website Just Security that quick elections would be "a path sure to result in sham outcomes and countless deaths of Haitian citizens." When institutions aren't functioning, opposition candidates can't campaign safely, and voters can't vote safely, results would not be trusted, Esperance argues. Some recall how hurried elections held after a disastrous 2010 earthquake put Haiti on the path to Moïse's recent rule by decree.

The best U.S. approach might be to do as little harm as possible and perhaps find a way to help.

An earlier version of this editorial included an incorrect year for Jovenel Moïse's election as president.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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