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#4541: Haitians' vote for change ignored (fwd)


Published Thursday, July 6, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 Haitians' vote for change ignored BY RAYMOND A. JOSEPH

 How did a party responsible for Haiti's dire economic conditions and
political morass, manage to score such victories? Raymond A. Joseph is
co-publisher and editor of the weekly Haiti-Observateur in
 Brooklyn, N.Y., and former charge d'affaires at the Haitian Embassy in
 Washington. The tradition of maintaining a stranglehold on power
through government-controlled elections is alive and well in Haiti, as
recently demonstrated. Haitians braved danger and turned out in droves
to vote for ``change,'' i.e. a team different from the one reinstated in
power in 1994 by the United States and 20,000 soldiers. The vote was
relatively peaceful but a week later the government-controlled
 Provisional Electoral Council (French acronym CEP) announced the ruling
party had won 16 of the 17 contested senate seats. Thus, did Lavalas
Family, the party of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, give
itself a solid majority in the 27-member upper chamber.  Oddly, fewer
than 20 races of the 83 were decided in the House of Deputies. But
 all the ``winners'' there, too, came from the ranks of Lavalas Family.
The party also grabbed almost all the mayoralties and local legislative
positions throughout Haiti.  How did a party responsible for Haiti's
dire economic conditions and political morass, manage to score such
victories?By controlling the electoral machinery and manipulating the
vote count, not unlike the Duvaliers. The power grab in Haiti is so
brazen that the representative of the Organization of American States,
who first praised the May 21 vote since has expressed reservations. CEP
President Leon Manus, who since has fled the island to the United
States, rejected the OAS ambassador's questions as ``meddling'' in
Haiti's internal affairs. But the United States backed the OAS
 ambassador and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, too, has declared he
is troubled by ``continuing irregularities. Haiti's opposition political
parties have formed a coalition, Convergence, to urge the elections be
annulled. These parties represent a large percentage of the
 electorate. President René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide have
proved that they can't, or aren't, willing to organize fair elections.
The situation was so bad in the 1997 elections that parties formally
allied with Lavalas broke ranks and refused to accept the results. Only
5 percent of the electorate participated in those elections, down from
about 30 percent in 1995. Haitians vote for change, but it's not to be.
The regime increasingly operates in the same manner as the Duvaliers.
Haiti has been without a parliament since January 1999 when President
Préval dismissed the lower house. He's been ruling by decree since.
 In the last three months there have been some 15 prominent murders,
mostly of opposition candidates and workers. Now a wave of repression
has been unleashed in Haiti to silence popular candidates who weren't
Lavalas candidates but were considered sure winners in their
constituencies. Some were jailed without visitation rights.  Among the
Lavalas Family senators ``elected'' are several accused of drug
 trafficking and are barred from entering the United States. The U.S.
Drug Enforcement Administration says that in 1999, about 14 percent of
all the cocaine from Colombia to the United States came through Haiti.
That was a 24 percent increase over the previous year. Isn't it fair to
question the role of the Lavalas party chief in this nefarious commerce?
 U.S. President Clinton dispatched troops to Haiti ``to restore
democracy'' and prevent Haiti becoming a ``haven for drug dealers who
use it . . . to flood the United States with cocaine and marijuana.'' If
the fraudulent elections of May 21 are not annulled, there is a large
possibility that Haiti will become a major security risk for the United
States.  It is illogical for the United States to allow Aristide, the
former ``poor priest of the shanty-towns'' who now appears to live the
life of a multimillionaire, to derail democracy in Haiti.