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# 728: Haiti's Aristide may seek return to power (fwd)


ANALYSIS-Haiti's Aristide may seek return to power     
 By Jennifer Bauduy 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Jean-Bertrand Aristide does not draw
the crowds he once did, but five years after Haiti's first freely
elected president was restored to power he remains a popular if divisive
figure.   Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, rose to power in
1991 on the wings of a social movement that toppled the brutal      
30-year Duvalier family dictatorship. He vowed to bring economic justice
to his impoverished nation of seven million people and punish those who
had committed  human rights abuses during the dictatorship. Seven months
 into his term, he was ousted by the military and forced into exile.   
On Oct 15, 1994, Aristide returned to Haiti on the back of a U.S.-led
military intervention. He was greeted nearly as a saviour by cheering
crowds of Haitians.  Five years later, the 46-year-old Aristide, despite
being out of  office since 1996, remains the Caribbean nation's best
known politician and may be considering seeking a return to power.      
But the hope he once inspired among the legions of poor Haitians has
diminished. `We had hope in Aristide in 1991, then the coup took place,
  which means we can't put all our hope in one man,'' said  Albert
Jean-Claude, a vendor along the capital's waterfront.  The harshest U.S.
congressional critics of President Bill  Clinton's intervention in Haiti
said the United States was   wasting millions of dollars and risking the
lives of 20,000  American troops to restore to power a man they
considered a  dangerous leftist demagogue. ra Kurzban, general counsel
for the government of Haiti, said he considered such criticisms the
result of a disinformation  campaign by the U.S. intelligence agencies,
which had  supported the Duvalier regime as anti-Communist, to       
undermine Aristide. Aristide heeded a provision in Haiti's constitution
barring him  from seeking a second consecutive term and left office in
1996. Rene Preval, his friend and hand-picked successor, was inaugurated
that February in Haiti's first peaceful transfer of   power between
elected presidents.  Aristide left behind his fiery public persona after
leaving  office, focusing on his Aristide Foundation for Democracy,
 which sponsors political awareness workshops, runs literacy centres and
a credit bank, and offers low-cost textbooks to students.  Critics say
the foundation is a device to further Aristide's  political goals, an
example of his behind-the-scenes machinations to keep political power.
In late 1996, internal bickering split the Lavalas movement that
brought Aristide to power into at least three separate parties 
including Lavalas Family, founded by Aristide.  Aristide Foundation
Coordinator Toussaint Hilaire said the foundation and Lavalas Family
were closely tied but remained separate from one another.  Since he
stepped down, Aristide has stayed largely out of the public eye, making
few public appearances and declining  repeated requests for interviews.
But Aristide's supporters expect he will run and have scrawled such
slogans as ``No matter what, Aristide for 2001''  and ``Aristide or
death'' to announce his intended return to the presidency in February
2001. `That means if I don't vote for Aristide, they (Aristide  
supporters) will kill me,'' said Aristide critic Sauveur Pierre-Etienne,
sociology professor at the State University of  Haiti and secretary
general of the opposition Organisation of  People in Struggle
Party.Aristide sent a taped speech to a Lavalas Family gathering this
summer in Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second city, in which he  said, ``Lavalas
Family is the most powerful political organisation in the country.''   
Critics said messages like these show that Aristide, with his Lavalas
Family party, is preparing to horde power. They cite  Preval's decision
in January to rule without parliament after he declared that the terms
of most legislators had expired. Preval installed a cabinet and prime
minister in March and  promised elections to fill empty parliament and
municipal posts. But the vote, once anticipated to be held in November
was first put off to December, and then set for March 19.  Opponents say
Lavalas Family wants to hold the municipal elections with the December
2000 presidential contest, so its   candidates will sweep into office on
Aristide's coattails.   On Sept. 30, the eighth anniversary of the coup
that toppled  Aristide, the foundation bused supporters to
Port-au-Prince for  a party at which participants chanted for Aristide's
return to power.