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#4270: Aristide return to power has foes wary (fwd)


Published Sunday, June 18, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Aristide return to power has foes wary BY DON BOHNING 

 He hasn't made a public appearance in Haiti -- except for a funeral --
since December. He did no campaigning for himself or his candidates in
crucial first-round parliamentary elections, in which unofficial results
indicate a sweep by his Lavalas Family Party. Yet Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, the enigmatic onetime priest and former president, is
 the odds-on favorite to be the next president of Haiti come Feb. 7,
2001. It's a prospect that has supporters cheering and opponents -- many
his erstwhile followers -- fearing. ''Aristide is the new dictator. . .
. that's a very sad situation for the Haitian people,'' Claude Roumain,
a leader of one of the five parties in an opposition coalition, said
following controversial May 21 elections that pointed to an overwhelming
victory for Aristide's party. ''It's a one-party state with a
charismatic leader in a poor country. What can you do?'' asked
 Jean-Claude Bajeux, a human rights activist, former priest and onetime
Cabinet minister under Aristide who is now among the growing ranks of
his disillusioned former supporters. But for most of Haiti's poor and
dispossessed, Aristide remains the Messiah come to save them
 from their misery. This seems to be the basis of his political
strength. A foreign diplomat calls Aristide the ''best politician in
Haiti. He's smart, deliberate and knows what he wants'' -- meaning a
return to power as Haiti's president. Trouble is, no one is sure what
happens then, and the 43-year-old Aristide has given few recent clues as
to what the future holds. He rarely ventures from his upscale home in
the walled 15-acre compound of an industrial area near the airport where
he lives with his wife and two small daughters. His reclusiveness has
been attributed in part to several earlier attempts on his life. The
land was purchased for Aristide by Haitian supporters while he was still
a humble parish priest. The purchase allowed him to make his successful
1990 run for the presidency: land ownership is a constitutional
requirement for presidential candidates. The small home on the property
was sacked during the Sept. 30, 1991, military coup that sent Aristide
into three years of exile in Washington.His present upscale home was
built on the same site after a U.S.-led invasion force ousted the 
military and returned Aristide to office in 1994. A few blocks away is
the headquarters of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which
he       started after leaving the presidency when his term expired in
1996. Funded by local and international donations, and by membership
fees     and the interest on deposits to its credit union, it houses a
grocery store, literacy training workshops, a cooperative farm and a
loan        program for about 13,000 needy Haitians.The closest thing to
a public service agency the  country has, the foundation's $3 membership
fee     gives people access to its store, which has discounted prices,
the credit union and other programs. It is an obvious benefit to the
 Haitians it serves but only a drop in the bucket in a country with a
$300 annual per capita income.


 The foundation, along with street children Aristide regularly hosts on
weekends for lunch and a swim in his pool, are his most direct contacts
with the masses from whom his political strength derives. Security,
along with necessities such as bulletproof vehicles, is provided by the
 government, according to Haitian sources. He receives a presidential
pension said to be equivalent to his salary as president, which was
$50,000 annually, a figure since reduced by depreciation of the Haitian
currency. Other sources of income include fees from speaking engagements
abroad, which can run up to $20,000 an appearance, and donations from
supporters in Haiti and overseas -- plus, apparently, royalties on
several books. Apart from the April 8 funeral of well-known radio       
journalist and commentator Jean Dominique,where he did not speak,
Aristide has made no public appearances in Haiti since December.       
Aristide did no campaigning for Lavalas candidates in last month's
elections.Aristide came to power after popular protests brought the
collapse of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986, opening
the way for his  election in 1990 as the first freely chosen president 
since Haiti's independence in 1804. But he was deposed in a military
coup seven months after  taking office, regaining office in 1994 behind
the barrels of a U.S.-led invasion force.


 In a rare interview with an American reporter from
 The Boston Globe late last year, Aristide explained his low profile by
saying he had ''decided to keep silent and work. I want to educate the
poor and work in the garden.'' He recently published Eyes of the Heart,
a 90-page minibook subtitled ''Seeking a Path for the Poor in the Age of
Globalization.'' At one point in the book, he renounces an economic
reform program, including privatization of state enterprises, that his
advisors had agreed to in Paris two months before his 1994 return. The
book calls this ''just a strategy paper'' and ''never a signed
agreement.'' Elsewhere in the book, he calls for the ''democratization
of democracy'' and asks that his readers ''do not confuse democracy with
the holding of elections every four or five years.'' Virtually all major
opposition parties are expected to boycott a runoff for the few
 undecided parliamentary seats, which appears certain to ratify
Aristide's control of the new parliament expected to be seated later
this summer. The runoff had been scheduled for June 25, but it's now
expected to be delayed, both for logistical reasons and the simmering
controversy over the first round of vote counting. Electoral law says a
candidate must get an absolute majority of all votes cast for
 a position in order to avoid a runoff. But electoral officials took
only the totals of the top four candidates -- and not all of the
candidates in the race. Using that formula, all 17 Senate seats at stake
May 21 were decided without a runoff, 16 of them going to Aristide's
Lavalas. An electoral observation mission from the Organization of
American States estimates that seven Senate seats would have gone to a
runoff if all the votes -- and not just those for the top candidates --
had been taken into consideration.


 The May 21 elections confirmed Aristide's status as the favorite of
Haiti's poor. Voter after voter reflected the views of Marie Torchin,
43, a food vendor. As she stood in line to cast her ballot in Leogane, a
town 30 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, she said she was voting for
Aristide's party because ''the country is in trouble and we have to get
a change.'' Even though Lavalas already controls the government, headed
by President Rene Preval, Aristide's first prime minister until the 1991
coup, ''people do not perceive that Aristide is responsible for the
country's problems,'' said a Haitian political analyst. ''Because the
elite is unhappy with Aristide and the situation, the masses vote for
Lavalas to send a message to the elite and the bourgeoise.'' Most
observers, both foreign and domestic, consider the May 21 election
itself -- although organizationally chaotic -- among the freest and
fairest since the Duvalier collapse. The turnout was heavy and violence
minimal. But the subsequent announcement of an overwhelming victory for
Lavalas and a crackdown against opposition figures created consternation
and accentuated fear of the future under a government headed by


 ''Obviously they used all the power of the state and all the power of
Aristide to organize these elections in such a way that they got
everything,'' said Bajeux. Henry ''Chip'' Carey, associate professor of
political science at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who has
researched and written on the role of elections in facilitating
democratic transitions in six countries, including Haiti, believes ''the
 danger of personalized leadership [under Aristide] is great.''

 Carey, a Haitian election monitor for the Organization of American
States, says that countries such as Haiti ''without strong institutions,
are likely to develop personalized organizations based on personal
loyalty. ''If Aristide tries to develop institutions based on rules,
Haiti will go forward. If he tries to build personalized institutions
with the party and the presidency as an extension of himself . . . the
greater the danger.'' One of the more disturbing signs is the growing
 number of disillusioned Aristide supporters, both foreign and domestic,
and the appearance around him of a new group of former military officers
with questionable pasts. Among those who have either distanced
themselves from him or been discarded are the leaders of most of the
opposition parties who contested the May 21 elections. They include, as
well, Smarck Michel and Robert Malval, two of Aristide's former prime
ministers. Also numbering among the disappointed are many in Washington
who worked with him during his three years in exile and lobbied the
Clinton administration for his return to the presidency. Former U.S.
Ambassador Robert White, who now heads the Center for International
Policy, a Washington think tank, says he has been ''discouraged'' by
Aristide but adds that he has ''a great capacity to learn and absorb
lessons. ''Right now he stands before the Haitian people without any
excuse for not being effective. All the mechanics of government are now
in his hands and he has the challenge of making government work. I think
there is at least a reasonable hope that he will take the challenge.''