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#5016: Haiti's Hungry (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PETIONVILLE, Sept 4 (AP) -- For Ghislaine Leveque there's going to be
less light, and for her children, no school.
   A 44-percent increase in gas and kerosene prices announced Friday has
Haitians anticipating the damaging social and economic consequences in a
country that political dictatorship and instability has kept among the
poorest on Earth.
   "This is the last straw. I can't make ends meet any more," said Leveque,
36, throwing up her hands in desperation.
   She sells cups of rice, beans and cornmeal from open baskets on the
unpaved roadside in Petionville, a Port-au-Prince suburb where broken down
hovels rub up against mansions and the fancy shops sprouting up to serve
the elite.
   It is unlikely that Leveque's children will get to eat at any of the new
fast food restaurants in the same community where they attended school last
year. A medium pepperoni-and-mushroom pizza at the new Food Planet costs
$6.90. But for Leveque, new school enrollment fees are too much. Costs have
gone up from $36 to $48, alongside the fees for school supplies and
uniforms. Bus fare has also risen.
   So on Monday, the beginning of the new school term, Leveque's children
stayed home, like many others across the country who cannot afford the
higher costs.
   "We'll lose passengers, but that's not all. If kids can't walk to
school, they'll just bum around and turn into delinquents," said bus driver
Frantzy Baho, 41.
   "Haiti is in a stranglehold," President Rene Preval said last month,
when he announced his cash-strapped government was ending the bus subsidy.
   He spoke as Haiti's major donors -- the United States, Canada and France
-- threaten to cut aid because of alleged fraud during elections that gave
Preval's predecessor and mentor, former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
an overwhelming majority in Parliament.
   Aristide is expected to win presidential elections in November.
Boycotting opposition parties say such a win could set the Caribbean
country back on the road to dictatorship, six years after the United States
sent troops to dislodge the military from power.
   The price increases and end to subsidies comes as Haitians are at their
most vulnerable, borrowing and scraping together money to try to buy their
children the education that they believe is the only way to save them from
poverty. Minimum wage has remained unchanged at $1.70 since 1991 while the
gourde has slumped from 7.5 to 21 to the dollar.
   Eighty percent of Haiti's 8 million people live in absolute poverty,
half the work force is jobless or gets by with odd jobs and the vast
majority live with constant hunger pangs. Figures are hard to come by, but
the average income is estimated at $250 to $400 a year.