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5290: Haiti may rue Aristide win (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Canute James (FINANCIAL TIMES) Published: October 11 2000 18:25GMT | 

In the often arcane theatre of Haitian politics, there are few
certainties. One is that in February, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the
populist former priest, will return to the presidential palace for a
second term. Mr Aristide, arguably Haiti's most popular politician, is
likely to be a comfortable winner of next month's presidential election.
As he registered his candidacy this week, it emerged that his rivals
will be weak, unknown candidates with little popular support - some even
without parties. Yet, while Mr Aristide will be the winner, Haiti could
be the loser in the longer term,unless the president in waiting is
willing and able to execute an about-turn in his policies.The vote is
being boycotted by the main opposition parties, angry over the conduct
earlier this year of legislative elections. They contend that the vote,
intended to end a three-year government crisis, was rigged to support
candidates from Mr Aristide's Lavalas Family party. "This is a poor
excuse for not participating," said a spokesman for Mr Aristide on
Wednesday. "The future president is the most popular man in the country,
and other candidates simply are afraid of a humiliating defeat." 
Mr Aristide's first term was interrupted after seven months by a
military coup. He was exiled for three years before being reinstated on
the back of a US-led military invasion in 1994 to complete his term. 
 But the US has been one of the countries frustrated at the failure of
Mr Aristide and Rene Preval, the outgoing president, to implement
economic and institutional reforms to which Mr Aristide committed
himself while in exile. Foreign governments say they are willing to
commit hundreds of millions of dollars to Haiti, the poorest country in
the hemisphere, but will not do so until the reforms, including the
privatisation of several state enterprises, are implemented. 
Their attitude has hardened following the charges by the opposition
parties,supported by the conclusions of foreign observers, that the
Lavalas Family party has gained control of the congress with a flawed
electoral system.  "US policy on Haiti will as much be shaped by Haiti's
refusal to back down on the question of a proper recount of votes as it
will be influenced by the threat of an increased number of boat people
and the problem of Colombian cocaine in Haiti," said Michael Dash of New
York University, an analyst of Haitian affairs. "Recognising and working
with Aristide may be the lesser of the evils." However, Mr Aristide
cannot continue to ignore the demands of his potential benefactors that
he should address the electoral and economic issues. The 7.5m people of
Haiti have an average income of $250 a head. Unemployment is
conservatively estimated at 65 per cent. Economic reforms have been
approached with clear reluctance. Mr Preval's  administration has
privatised a flour mill and a cement plant. Also listed to be sold
 are the electricity, water and telecommunications companies, airports
and seaports. Mr Aristide, who had publicly criticised the
privatisation, has recently moderated his views and now says there must
be a significant role for private business if the country is to escape
its economic quagmire. The known problems of the economy and political
volatility have been compounded by a more recent difficulty for the
country. It has become a favoured entrepot for cocaine being smuggled
from South America to North America. The enigmatic Mr Aristide is giving
little indication of what he will do after February.He has, however, not
strayed far from his populist roots. Today we make history on the road
to peace, today we work for a new country," he said this week when
registering his candidacy. "We will establish peace in the stomach and
peace in the