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5919: Haitian election really no contest (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Published Friday, November 24, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
Haitian election really no contest BY YVES COLON 

 Except for explosions and drive-by shootings, there are few signs that
a presidential election is taking place Sunday in Haiti. That's because
most Haitians believe that those who go to the polls will be taking
 part in what they describe as a fait accompli -- the return of former
president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to a five-year term his partisans
believe was stolen by a military junta nearly a decade ago. Aristide
faces virtually no opposition. A coalition of opposition parties is
 boycotting the vote, claiming fraud by Aristide's Lavalas Family party
in an earlier set of elections this summer. ``Haiti is much more
interested in what happens in Florida,'' said Kesner Pharel,
 director of the market research firm Groupe Croissance in
Port-au-Prince. ``In Haiti we know the ending.' Party supporters want a
large turnout, however, to invest Aristide with the legitimacy that they
say the opposition and international community want to deny
 him. Because of the fraud alleged in the earlier elections, the
international community has threatened to withhold recognition of
Aristide's presidency, along with hundreds of millions of dollars the
next government desperately needs to begin to lift Haiti's eight million
people out of grinding poverty. ``He has to have a strong participation
by voters to legitimize the elections,'' said a Haitian government
official who asked that his name not be used. ``They're
 counting on the participation.'' But with his victory assured, the
campaign so far has consisted of Aristide's party buying a few radio
spots so Haitians can hear the priest-turned-activist tout the
 party's program to build clinics and schools throughout the country. A
 single-engine plane buzzed the capital last weekend, dropping thousands
of leaflets with Aristide's picture over the city. The only intrigue, so
far, has come in the form of unidentified gunmen who have
 killed more than two dozen people and injured scores of others in
drive-by shootings over the past two weeks. Poor neighborhoods have
taken to erecting barricades of rocks and tires to stop unwanted cars
from driving through. Several home-made explosive devices blew up at
scattered locations throughout the capital and its suburbs last Friday,
killing a teenager and wounding scores of others. And on Thursday, two
bombs exploded in a Port-au-Prince suburb, killing a 7-year-old girl on
her way to school and injuring two other people. The bombs exploded in
two locations in suburban Carrefour, the private Radio Metropole
reported. Police defused a third bomb found on the ground across the
 street from the Organization of American States headquarters in the
upscale neighborhood of Petionville. Haiti's top police officer, while
conceding that some violence usually occurs in Haiti around elections,
said these recent killings have been the work of gangs settling scores
or fighting over drug turf. ``As usual, we're getting attention having
to do with the elections, but all this stuff about killings has been
exaggerated,'' said Pierre Denizé, the chief of Haiti's
 national police. ``There is a campaign to make things appear worse than
they are.'' Lavalas and the opposition have blamed each other for the
climate of fear that has gripped the city. The opposition charges that
popular organizations loyal to Aristide are behind the
 killings, putting in place the tools they need to call off the
elections if indeed it appears that turnout will be extremely low.
Lavalas supporters, on the other hand, blame the opposition for
intimidating voters. Aristide is the charismatic leader of the Lavalas
Family party, in power since 1991, with ample resources and solid
support across the country. Overwhelmingly elected president in 1990,
Aristide was robbed of much of his presidency by a military junta,
condemned in absentia to life in prison last week. A constitutional ban
on reelection and U.S. pressure then forced Aristide to sit out the next
race. The current president, Rene Preval, considers Aristide his mentor.
Most Haitians, though, dismiss Preval as an Aristide puppet who has been
holding the position open until Feb. 7, 2001, when Aristide is scheduled
to be sworn in. Of Aristide's six opponents, three have dropped out of
the race and none are well-known. They pulled out after three failed
attempts by the United States and the Organization of American States to
stage a reconciliation. The current standoff with the opposition dates
to legislative elections of May 21 and July 9, in which vote tabulation
methods used by the provisional electoral council were questioned both
at home and abroad. Those elections brought a landslide victory for
Lavalas. Whatever the result of Sunday's election, Aristide will have
his hands full. He is not likely to benefit from a honeymoon, as most of
the country is unemployed or underemployed. The local currency, the
gourde, hit its lowest point ever over the past six months, trading at
34 to the dollar. Large numbers of poor Haitians continue to head for
the Bahamas and points beyond by boat while growing numbers of middle
class families are shutting down their businesses and applying
 for work visas in Canada. The police have been fighting an unwinnable
war with Colombian drug traffickers who have been exploiting Haiti's
unguarded coast and airfields to ship to the United States nearly 15
percent of the cocaine that enters the country. On the positive side,
Haiti's judicial system was bolstered recently when separate
 juries found policemen and the former military officer who led the coup
against Aristide guilty of human rights abuses.
 ``That's a huge step for us,'' said Minister of Justice Camille
Leblanc. Aristide's party in the next five years promises half a million
jobs, an annual growth rate of 4 percent, along with a school and clinic
in each of Haiti's 595 communal sections. Pharel, however, predicts a
gloomier picture in the short term because of the recent violence and
the threat from the international community of making Haiti a
 pariah among states. Haitians living abroad, who normally fly to Haiti
to visit relatives -- and bring dollars with them -- might stay away
this Christmas, adding to an already difficult November. Fewer dollars
circulating in the country means that the gourde will keep falling.
 Then, Pharel added, will come six additional difficult months of
waiting for the international community to accept Aristide and his
government. Ninety percent of new investments in Haiti come from
outside. ``If we look at this country right now, there is no Christmas
this year,'' he said. ``It's pretty much what you can feel.