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5339 Would Aristide back as president help poor Haiti? (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

>From Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

WIRE:10/15/2000 11:01:00 ET
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, who was ousted by a military coup and restored to power by a U.S.
occupation, has edged toward a political return by announcing he will run in
presidential elections in which he is the clear favorite. But political
analysts are divided over whether a return to office by a man, whose
passionate leadership of the impoverished masses won him the presidency in
the Caribbean nation's first free vote, will help Haiti a decade on. Once a
firebrand Roman Catholic priest, who dislodged the 30-year Duvalier
dictatorship in a popular uprising, Aristide, who registered to stand Oct.
9, is widely expected to win next month's ballot, which major opposition
parties are boycotting. Some Haiti political analysts praise Aristide for
bringing unity to ordinary Haitians cowed by decades of dictatorship. They
also credit Aristide, who was ousted in a military coup eight months after
he took power and restored by a U.S.-led invasion force after three years in
exile, for dismantling the nation's feared army. But analysts have mixed
opinions on whether Aristide's return to the presidency after a five-year
absence will be good for Haiti, the poorest nation in the hemisphere and
currently the target of international anger over tainted parliamentary
elections won by his Lavalas Family party this year. SHAKY GOVERNMENT
INSTITUTIONS "He's the only authentic, fully legitimate leader that Haitians
have or have had in the last 200 years," said Robert Rotberg, a Harvard
political scientist who has written extensively on Haiti. "He has enormous
ability and talent." "On the other hand, he hasn't used that talent in a way
that inspires confidence outside of Haiti. There hasn't been a palpable gain
to Haiti from Aristide." Analysts said Aristide faces crushing problems. In
addition to its grinding poverty -- per capita income is less than $400 per
year -- Haiti has an illiteracy rate of around 80 percent and narcotics
trafficking is rampant. Aristide will need to persuade the world community
that Haiti's shaky government institutions are ready to support democracy
and jump-start an economy that has stagnated during President Rene Preval's
term, in part due to political chaos, they said. After the May election, the
value of Haiti's currency, the gourde, plunged to an all-time low. After
falling to 34 to the U.S. dollar two weeks ago, it now hovers around 25, a
rate worse than during a U.S. economic embargo in 1994. "Ideologically he's
(Aristide's) been a socialist all his life," Rotberg said. "He could figure
out how to return the market economy to Haiti and at the very least he'd get
the Haitian diaspora money and he'd make the U.S., Canada and others
partners." ARISTIDE"S BEHIND-THE-SCENES-INFLUENCE Aristide's critics,
including former Lavalas allies, say the ex-president has lost at least some
popular support within Haiti. In some quarters he was perceived as the real
power behind Preval, his hand-picked successor, during years when Haiti
drifted from one political crisis to the next. "Aristide has never been out
of power since 1995. Preval has done exactly what Aristide wanted," said an
independent analyst, who refused to be named because of a political climate
he called unfavorable to criticism of the government. "What is Aristide
going to change? Absolutely nothing." Haiti has suffered from almost 200
years of military rule and dictatorship, including that of Francois "Papa
Doc" Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," who terrorized opponents
from 1957 to 1986. Opposition parties will boycott the Nov. 26 presidential
election to protest the May parliamentary election. Aristide is expected to
win easily against several unknowns. International observers said elections
officials miscalculated the winning percentages of some senate seats in the
May vote, giving outright wins to candidates from Lavalas Family who should
have been forced into runoffs. DOMINANT IN PARLIAMENT Preval's government
refused pleas from neutral observers and opposition parties to recalculate
the results, leading to allegations that Aristide had stacked the deck for
his own return to power with a parliament dominated by his party. Analysts
said that domination of parliament may allow Aristide to partially unsnarl
Haiti's tangled politics. "If he does come back, he will have the support of
parliament. In that sense it's positive," University of Miami political
analyst Irwin Stotzky said. "The question is: How will the international
community demonise him?" The United States said it would not send $20
million in financial aid or observers for the November poll after the
Haitian government seated the parliament that emerged from the flawed May
election. Some opposition politicians and analysts have expressed fear that
Haiti is regressing toward another dictatorship marked by paralyzed
institutions and rampant corruption. In August, nearly 200 intellectuals and
former Lavalas allies that helped bring Aristide to power signed a petition
in which they asked the government for fundamental change. "We...protest the
reemergence of repressive practices, very much in vogue under the military
and putschist governments, that force democrats to go underground in order
to ensure their security," wrote the group, which included prominent
diplomats and intellectuals including writer Yannick Lahens and former
Haitian ambassador to Washington Jean Casimir.