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People walk in front of the badly damaged presidential palace of Haiti after a major earthquake hit Port-au-Prince January 13, 2010. Thousands were feared dead in the major earthquake that destroyed the presidential palace, schools, hospitals and hillside shanties in Haiti, its leaders said on Wednesday, and the United States and other nations geared up for a big relief operation. REUTERS/Carlos Barria (HAITI - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)

CARLOS BARRIA/CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

Haiti's government is not governing; its very existence has been tenuous since the earthquake struck. Even so, the country should not be turned into a protectorate of the United States or the United Nations. Haiti's previous experience under American tutelage is not a good precedent. Instead, a small, well concentrated committee of the major nations chiefly concerned - the U.S., Canada and France - plus the Bahamas to represent the CARICOM regional organization - should be formed to work with what remains of the Haitian government, in order to provide effective emergency governance and give some new strength to this perennial failed state.

Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, has understandably tried to assert that the President of Haiti, René Préval, is still in charge; a slender thread of legitimacy, however weak, is certainly worth preserving in a country that has had difficulty with constitutional continuity for most of its history. But Mr. Préval and his cabinet cannot be said to be functioning as a government.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which has a pedigree of acronyms going back to 1993, is a highly heterogeneous entity with participation by many nation-states, several of them with no particular connection to Haiti. For example, Hédi Annabi, its head until he himself was killed in the earthquake, was a Tunisian diplomat. Nations as diverse as Romania, Yemen, Ecuador and Nepal are contributing military or police personnel.

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An occupation and trusteeship by the United States might yield some benefits, but a past American protectorate dragged on from 1915 to 1934 and was not followed by good governance, which is what Haiti desperately needs.

The United States, Canada and France all have large communities of Haitian immigrants, and all are developed countries that can be highly competent when they put their minds to it. The U.S. and Canada are nearby in North America, and France is naturally the world's leading French-speaking country. These major stakeholders could work together and, with the fragments of the Haitian government, remake the Haitian state.

The Bahamas is the only developed country in the Caribbean Community and Common Market, and is the home of 75,000 Haitian immigrants. It could add some regional perspective to a U.S.-Canadian-French grouping.

Yesterday, a French cabinet minister accused the Americans of trying to occupy Haiti, after U.S. air traffic controllers turned away a French airplane bringing aid. But such collisions are all the more reason for a small group of powers to convene, in order to sort out such problems, along with the Préval government, to provide some equivalent of the state that is now missing and to prevent Haiti from falling back into anarchy.

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