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6054: Aristide is Back in Haiti (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Wednesday November 29 1:05 AM ET
 Aristide Is Back in Haiti 
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - When he first ran for office a decade
ago, many Haitians called him a prophet and backed him with religious
fervor.Now, as Jean-Bertrand Aristide prepares to reassume the
presidency of this impoverished Caribbean nation, some consider him an
evil genius capable of almost any manipulation. The former priest who
wore polyester and worked out of a sweltering slum office now dons
Italian suits and lives in a mansion guarded by weapon-toting
bodyguards. Opponents charge he has rigged elections, incited violence
and even bombings, and intimidated opponents. Soft-spoken and reclusive,
Aristide insists he stands for ``peace'' in a land that has never known
it. As results of Sunday's presidential election were being compiled
on   Tuesday, Aristide was nearly certain to be declared the winner. All
major opposition parties boycotted the vote, and Aristide ran against a
field of six unknown candidates too scared to campaign. The air of
conflict contrasted with the public euphoria that accompanied the former
priest's election victory in 1990, when he became Haiti's first        
freely elected president.  ``Aristide symbolized the will of the people
to fight for democracy, and our support was spontaneous,'' said former
Sen. Paul Denis, whose Struggling People's Organization once dominated
parliament. In 1991, after Aristide had been in power for seven months,
the army ousted the new president and installed a regime of terror and
oppression.Three years later, President Clinton (news - web sites)
ordered an American military intervention that returned Aristide to
power. The former Roman Catholic priest who used to preach in Haiti's
slums finished the remaining 16 months of his five-year term and -
constrained  by a constitution that banned consecutive terms -
reluctantly handed over the presidency to a hand-picked protege, Rene
Preval.``Aristide has always been allergic to power-sharing. He hasn't
changed. But we didn't discover him in time,'' Denis said.
In legislative elections in May, Denis lost his Senate seat to an
Aristide candidate. Two days later, he said, he was jailed on trumped-up
charges of illegally possessing arms. Aristide's Lavalas Family party
won more than 80 percent of local and legislative offices in that
bitterly contested vote. The international community questioned the
validity of the election of 10 Aristide senators, but in spite of
warnings that Haiti would lose millions of desperately needed
foreign-aid dollars, the government refused to revise the results.
Haiti's main opposition parties denounced Aristide's alleged ``electoral
coup d'etat'' and declared a boycott of Sunday's presidential vote.
 In a petition released last month, dozens of Haiti's most prominent
intellectuals came out against what they said was a new drift toward
dictatorship.`We don't know where Aristide stands. A priest cannot
become a president and keep his halo,'' said artist-actor Mathieu
Painvier, 40, who voted for Aristide in 1990. Haitians, disillusioned by
the squabbling and dysfunctional political leadership, have also been
forced to endure continued extreme poverty, corruption and rampant
crime. It is clear that many did not bother to vote  on Sunday -
although there is the typical wrangle over just what the  turnout was.
 Now 47 and married, Aristide has two children and lives on a 40-acre
 estate in suburban Tabarre. No one denies that Aristide has worked hard
as a leader. Lavalas now  has offices in all 133 Haitian towns and
counts thousands of members.The activities of his Aristide Foundation
for Democracy include literacy classes and a 15,000-member food
cooperative.  But he faces charges of being aloof and authoritarian.
``Aristide believes he is God and that he is above everybody else,''
said Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, an ex-ally turned bitter rival. ``He
surrounds himself with people who adore him.''On Monday, Aristide
avoided answering difficult questions posed by Haitian journalists,
including how  he proposed to rein in street thugs who say they work for
Lavalas. ``Reassure me that you are not putting yourself on a
pedestal,'' one journalist demanded.Aristide did not answer. He waited
for the locals to leave the sweaty, overcrowded room. Only then did he
invite the foreign press into his air conditioned office.