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5944: Racked by Violence, Haiti Prepares to Vote in Controversial , Election (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Saturday, November 25, 2000  
Racked by Violence, Haiti Prepares to Vote in Controversial Election 
Unsolved attacks further mar presidential poll seen as stacked in favor
of former leader Aristide. 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Michele Montas still greets her husband's empty
desk  with a "Good morning" every day. Montas,the newsroom director at
Radio Haiti Inter, still broadcasts her husband's commentaries         
most afternoons. But more than seven months after an assassin pumped
four bullets into Radio Haiti's director, Jean Leopold Dominique, 69, in
broad daylight, there has been no news about the identity of his
killers--professional hit men who struck during a wave of political
violence that killed at least 15 people before parliamentary elections
in May. Now, as Haiti prepares for presidential polls Sunday that are
almost certain to return former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
to power, the unsolved slaying of Haiti's most prominent political
commentator is a chilling metaphor for the prevailing lawlessness
in this impoverished and increasingly isolated land.The political
violence, too, remains unresolved. A wave of random pipe bombings
throughout Port-au-Prince, the capital, since Wednesday has left two
people dead and 16 injured. A girl, 7, was killed Thursday when a bomb
blew up a bus she was riding in on her way to school. Drive-by shootings
have become so common in some areas that residents erect makeshift
roadblocks of burning tires at night.  American Airlines and Air France
have canceled all flights here Sunday and Monday because of the
violence. And three of  the seven presidential candidates have
withdrawn, citing the  terror attacks and an electoral system that they
say is stacked in Aristide's favor. "Jean's death was definitely part of
the same pre-electoral violence we are seeing now," Montas said Friday,
blaming the bombings and shootings on unknown forces seeking to keep
voter turnout low, weaken Aristide's mandate and further cripple
 Haiti's faltering democratic experiment. No one has claimed
responsibility for any of the violence. "The object is to kill or maim
enough people to keep voters from going out. If the elections are held,
and people aren't afraid to vote, they will vote overwhelmingly for
Aristide," Montas said.In the conspiratorial environment that is Haiti,
though, other analysts suggest that Aristide's own ruling Lavalas Family
party could be behind the violence--a pretext that would help explain
 any lower-than-expected support for Aristide on Sunday. 
Aristide hasn't commented on the violence publicly. In fact, he
hasn't appeared in public at all--not since he registered as a
candidate Oct. 9.As a Roman Catholic priest and champion of Haiti's
poor,Aristide rode a tidal wave of support to the presidency in 1990
elections. That victory was overturned the next year by a military
coup that drove Aristide into U.S. exile. And the Clinton
administration, which returned Aristide to power in the 1994
Operation Restore Democracy--a multibillion-dollar international
effort that included 20,000 American troops--pressured him to
leave the post at the end of his presidential term in 1995. 
After five years largely adrift under Aristide's protege,
President Rene Preval, most Haitians believe that Aristide
deserves another chance. Preval has lost hundreds of millions of
dollars in foreign aid in the two years since he allowed Parliament
to lapse and has ruled by decree.Besides, most Haitians say, there's no
real choice. The violence-marred parliamentary polls May 21 and July 9,
which gave the Lavalas party an overwhelming legislative majority, were
sharply criticized as unfair by Haiti's political opposition, the U.S.,
the European Union, and the Organization of American States, which
officially monitored them. Shortly before midnight Thursday, the
Parliament confirmed Jacques-Edouard Alexis as premier 20 months after
he was appointed to the post by presidential decree. Alexis will run the
government until a new president is inaugurated.There will be no
international monitors Sunday: The OAS is boycotting. There will be no
real opposition: All major parties other than Lavalas also are
boycotting, and Aristide's three remaining presidential rivals are
virtual unknowns. In addition,after a vote that most Western nations are
expected to reject,there probably will be none of the estimated $500
million in frozen foreign aid Haiti so desperately needs. 
For most Haitians, though, the core election issues are the
soaring cost of living in the world's third-hungriest nation,
personal security, and what Montas called "a tradition of impunity in
Haiti." There have been recent attempts at accountability, including the
rare trial, conviction and sentencing this month of more than 50 former
army officers and paramilitary leaders responsible for a 1994 massacre
of peasants and fishermen. And Dominique's murder still is under active
judicial investigation."But there are very high expectations of what
Aristide can
do," Montas said. "And there are very serious concerns about
what will happen if he