What is such a good democrat as Leslie Manigat doing in the government of Haiti? He has created a dilemma for his friends in the United States. They remember his long struggle against the Duvaliers and his time in prison and exile because of his fight for democracy. How is it that he participated in the deeply flawed, military-controlled elections and now finds himself president?

Manigat takes office under inauspicious circumstances. The Haitian military and old-line Duvalierists refuse to give up control. The United States and other donors have suspended economic assistance that the country needs desperately. Haiti's closest neighbors in the Caribbean have distanced themselves. Canada, France and other important donor countries have strongly criticized the election that produced his presidency.

As an old friend of Leslie Manigat, I believe he is committed to democracy in Haiti. I believe he will make his best effort to nudge the military out of power and expand the political space for Haitian democrats. But I believe he must begin immediately to demonstrate his beliefs and intentions in a tangible way. Only if he is serious and successful can the U.S. government support him through resumption of aid.

Some sign of his intentions could be to integrate into his new government the impressive Haitian democrats excluded from the election process, or he might schedule early legislative elections at the national and local levels. He could announce a plan to separate the police from the military and to begin a program of professionalizing each, starting by throwing out the thugs. He could also emphasize electoral and judicial reform and the long-term strengthening of Haiti's extremely weak political parties, labor unions and private sector.

If he initiates these steps soon, then he deserves American support, even though the process that elected him was deeply flawed. We recognize democratic transitions do not happen overnight and that political transitions require leadership sensitive to various groups, including the military. Like it or not, the military in Haiti, as in many other countries, is an important political actor. Manigat's challenge, and one in which to support him, will be to nudge the military out of the political arena and to help it develop a more professional, nonpolitical role in guaranteeing Haitian security. The U.S. government should be prepared to provide assistance to encourage military reforms.

The U.S. government provided assistance to Haiti during years of authoritarian rule under two Duvaliers. That was not one of the most glorious chapters in U.S. policy. Now, as Haiti's new president, Manigat says he stands for democracy and social justice. We want to work with him to help Haiti's fledgling, imperfect democracy evolve. There is a chance, though a slim one, for democracy to take root.

The writer served as deputy assistant secretary of state for the Caribbean and U.S. ambassador to Grenada and the Eastern Caribbean during the Carter administration.