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6002: In Desperately Poor Haiti, Voters May Have Given Up (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Monday, November 27, 2000 
In Desperately Poor Haiti, Voters May Have Given Up 

PAPAYE, Haiti--Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Chavannes Jean-Baptiste once
called each other brothers. They marched barefoot side by side across
miles of razor-edged rock to protest Haiti's military rulers. Together,
more than a decade ago, they built the massive, populist Lavalas
Family movement that helped drive out Haiti's brutal dictators
and bring Aristide to power. But Sunday, as Haiti's still-desperate
masses were asked to troop yet again to the polls, this time to elect
anew a virtually unopposed Aristide, peasant leader Jean-Baptiste didn't
vote. Neither, it seemed, did most Haitians, although the
government-controlled Provisional Electoral Council announced
late Sunday that turnout was 60.5%.
 Jean-Baptiste was in hiding from armed assassins, he said, in
this remote central plateau village. "This is not an election. It is a
christening--a consecration of the new Lavalas dictatorship," said
Jean-Baptiste, who split with Aristide several years ago and now ranks
among his harshest critics. "It is a slap in the face to democracy." 
And it is, he and other opposition leaders added, the legacy
of the Clinton administration's multibillion-dollar Operation
Restore Democracy. Six years after President Clinton sent 20,000 U.S.
troops to drive out Haiti's military dictatorship and bring Aristide
back to serve out only the final year of his first presidential term,
the 47-year-old former Roman Catholic priest now almost certainly
will lead his still-impoverished nation through five more years,
with a far less certain mandate.That, opposition leaders assert, is
likely to lead to a deepening of Haiti's economic crisis, further
international isolation and another wave of boat people to America. 
Aristide's return to power at an inauguration scheduled for February
comes after a five-year hiatus largely in seclusion, which began after
he agreed under U.S. pressure to support his protege, President Rene
Preval. Since his 1995 election, Preval has led the nation into
increasing isolation by allowing Parliament to lapse, ruling for two
years by decree and presiding over parliamentary elections that the
Haitian opposition and most Western nations viewed as flawed. 
As a few hundred Lavalas Family party loyalists and employees waved and
shouted "Aristide or death!" while the next president voted for himself
in his wealthy suburb of Tabarre, there were widespread reports of low
voter turnout nationwide. As he voted, Aristide called the election "a
rendezvous for peace . . . for all Haitians." Support Sunday for the
self-styled national savior who inspired millions of Haitians to vote in
1990 is seen as a key barometer of the future legitimacy of Aristide's
government, after his party won its controversial yet overwhelming
parliamentary majority in May and July.

 3 Unknowns, 3 Who Withdrew on Ballot 
With voters facing a presidential ballot that pitted Aristide against
three unknowns and three other candidates who withdrew from the race
amid a wave of preelection bombings and shootings, independent poll
watchers reported low turnout throughout the capital, Port-au-Prince,
and the countryside. John Compton, the former St. Lucia prime minister
heading  the Caribbean Community and Common Market observer
group, reported peaceful voting with a turnout that he predicted
might not exceed 30%. Haiti's Radio Galaxie quoted local
officials in the Northwest District as saying that, as of 2 p.m.,
only 5,000 of 200,000 registered voters had cast ballots. And by
midafternoon, Jean-Baptiste reported that just 20 of the 2,400
registered voters in Papaye--where Haiti's grass-roots pro-democracy
movement began more than two decades ago--had gone to the polls. Despite
claims by government officials and Aristide supporters of large turnouts
in the countryside, by 5 p.m., the official end of polling, some
precincts had long since closed for lack of voter interest--even in the
capital's Cite Soleil slum, which is Aristide's traditional bedrock
of popular support. And when Haiti's official election commission
announced "strong turnout" at an afternoon news conference in
Port-au-Prince, a stunned commentator on the independent Radio Metropole
said simply: "There are no words to describe this. The crowds are not
there." If there were any crowds of voters Sunday--a day when two
bombs exploded harmlessly in Port-au-Prince and outside an
election office in a nearby province--the largest of them were in
Aristide's Tabarre district, where he now lives in a palatial,
walled compound he rarely leaves. Hours before Aristide arrived at St.
Vincent de Paul Seminary amid a phalanx of beefy, heavily armed security
guards to cast his ballot, Marie Carmelle, 32, explained why she chose
to vote: "He is in my heart. There's nobody else that can face
him. He's the only one." Boiler room worker Lexilien Pierre, 47, was
less enthusiastic."I don't have any faith in human beings. I only trust
God," he said  after voting with a Bible under his arm. "Life can only
be better in Haiti if people learn to work together instead of fighting
all the time. "But we must vote. If we don't use the vote, we will lose
the  vote." Carlos Francois, a Haitian American from New York, had a
unique take on the vote after he cast his ballot for Aristide in the
Tabarre seminary, where Aristide's Haitian and private American
security guards toting assault rifles and sniper scopes took up
positions on the rooftop to prepare for the future president's
casting of his vote.  "I voted for Al Gore in New York on Nov. 7 and
Jean-Bertrand Aristide here today," said Francois, a bandleader
who divides his time between the United States and Haiti. And
despite the bitterly contested aftermath of the American
presidential polls, Francois was emphatic that America's electoral
system is far superior to Haiti's."At least in America we have a choice.
And there was no  choice here today," he said. "That is something very
sad and very worrying for Haiti. With so many millions of people, we
should have some competition. Because if there's only one, there will be
no progress and no hope at all.

'This Is the Death of Democracy' 
The view from Jean-Baptiste's compound in Papaye offered little hope.   
"Sunday's consecration will plunge Haiti into hell, because the economic
crisis will get worse," he said. "The foreign countries that support
democracy are not going to accept this. . . . This is the death of
democracy that they are staging here." In fact, the U.S. and the
European Union already froze most aid to Haiti after the parliamentary
polls in May and July, which they and the Haitian opposition say were
flawed by tabulations  that gave Aristide's party control of both
legislative houses. The U.S. Congress has voted to suspend all future
aid until the U.S. secretary of State's office can certify that Haiti's
parliamentary elections were free and fair.Worse, though, is the
prospect for future violence and anarchy that would fuel a new wave of
Haitian boat people seeking out America's shores; it was the exodus of
about 60,000 of them that preceded the 1994 U.S. military intervention
here.  After Sunday's vote, Jean-Baptiste, whom local Lavalas
supporters insist is bitter because he was denied a seat of power,
asserted, "There will be an anarchy regime of armed, angry young thugs,"
especially in the already chaotic countryside.  And Jean-Baptiste
insists that he is living proof--but just barely, having narrowly
survived a Nov. 2 attack on his peasant movement's rally, a raid led by
Aristide's handpicked local officials that left Jean-Baptiste's youngest
brother critically wounded. "Their first objective was to assassinate
me," said Jean-Baptiste, who delivered a speech at the rally criticizing
Aristide. "The mayors are heavily armed by Lavalas Family--M16s, Uzis,
all kinds of pistols." They are even better armed than the U.S.-trained
Haitian National Police, he added, warning that the Haitian countryside
increasingly is run by emerging warlords who view their towns as private

  'Aristide Believes He is God' 
As for Aristide, Jean-Baptiste said, "He feels he owns the entire state.
"I believed he was a democrat. But Aristide believes he is God, that he
is above everybody else, that everyone must agree with him. . . . This
gave birth to Aristidism and a group of Aristidians--people who do not
defend an ideology. They only defend a man."So what's left? Fat cats,
drug dealers, whatever. All the democrats are gone."