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#5182: Arguing Over Haiti's Election and Aristide (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Arguing Over Haiti's Election And Aristide By Lewis Dolinsky 
Wednesday, September 27, 2000 

 Haiti has long been considered a mess. The latest straw was the May
legislative election,declared flawed by the United States, the
 Organization of American States, the United Nations and Human Rights
Watch. Haiti's once and future president,Jean-Bertrand Aristide, out
of office because he is barred from serving consecutive terms, has been
accused by the world press of living high and undermining the          
current government, and of complicity in political violence. In the
Bay Area recently, two of Aristide's associates defended the country,
the election and the man. Myrlande Liberus, a candidate for the Haitian
Senate in November, when Aristide is likely to regain the presidency, is
the director of the Aristide Foundation for Democracy; Laura
 Flynn, a San Franciscan, is one of the foundation's directors for
international relations. In a joint interview, Flynn cited Frederick
 Douglass, America's first black envoy, who defended Haiti in the 1880s
against the prejudices of ``newspaper correspondents and
six- day tourists.''The May election is a sticking point. Unless the
results are corrected and the electoral council is reformed, the United
States says, it will not send observers to vet the presidential election
in November or help pay for it,and almost no U.S. aid will be routed
through the Haitian government. The Clinton administration is angry
 that a foreign policy``success'' unraveled; it feels that it worked
hard to bring democracy to  Haiti -- investing a couple of billion
dollars -- and got burned. The main criticism is over runoffs: They
were  held for the lower house but not for the Senate races, where
Aristide's party, the Lavalas Family, was awarded 18 of 19 seats. Nine
of the  Lavalas winners received less than 50 percent of the vote. Flynn
tells their side:  Haitian democracy was playing catchup: Two Senate
seats were up in each departement, but many people did not realize
they could vote for  two. With that in mind, the Haitian electoral
council considered only the votes won by the top four candidates in
figuring the percentage of the top two. (A quick think tells you that
pretty well kills the possibility of a runoff.) Flynn says the same was
done in 1990 and 1995, but nobody fussed. Besides,Haiti is entitled to
make its own decisions. Runoffs are expensive, and Lavalas candidates
would have won anyway. The U.S. view is that there is no Haitian
tradition of figuring runoffs in this way and that Haitians knew to vote
for two Senate candidates -- Lavalas simply did not want the trouble or
the risk of a runoff. This may also have been Aristide's way of pleasing
allies or of showing opponents that he can do what he likes, so
complaining to Washington or Paris won't help.By this petty squabble,
impoverished Haiti is alienated from world donors. But to Flynn and
Liberus,Aristide is ``wonderful'' -- the embodiment of the aspirations
of the Haitian people. They categorically reject accusations against
him.Liberus will run proudly on Aristide's platform: to establish an
elementary school, a medical clinic and a micro- credit center in all
565 districts within five years;to promote adult literacy in a country
where 85 percent cannot read; to support cooperative economic projects
in the face of globalization; to look more to Latin America and Africa,
and less to the United States. She will win. Aristide will
win, whether the election is shady or honest.The Clinton admistration
knows that.Unlike the media, it doesn't care whether he
lives well or accuse him of fomenting violence. It doesn't say he has
undermined the government;even out of office,he is thought to be in
charge. An enlightened elected autocrat is not the worst thing --
especially considering what Haiti has had. The U.S. concern is
that Aristide has lost his  way. Partly as a reaction to
being deposed in 1991, he surrounds himself with toughs. Perhaps
 because U.S. insistence on a technicality denied him a full term after
his return in 1994, his adherence to democratic niceties is shaky. 
Rachel Neild, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin
America, says,``Aristide doesn't really get' democracy. He is
 genuinely committed to helping the poor but sees democratic processes
as an impediment.The May elections were clearly manipulated.The question
is why. Lavalas would have won anyway, maybe 14 or 15 seats
instead of 19. It defies common sense to choose total victory and
no legitimacy over a solid victory and legitimacy.The problem in Haiti
is that it's hard to draw a line between incompetence and malice.''