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6052: Haiti: A Shabby Epilogue (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Haiti: A Shabby Epilogue
After a distinctly undemocratic election, drug lords may have          
become the real rulers of this island nation                       

Nov. 28 ?  It was an election  that most voters ignored, that the
international community disavowed and whose outcome was
never in doubt. In many respects,Sunday?s presidential vote in Haiti was
the polar opposite of the U.S.election that continues to
garner headlines around the world. Former president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide faced no  serious challengers in a cakewalk contest that was
boyctted by the country?s main opposition parties. Polling      
precincts that drew long lines of voters for a legislative        
election only six months ago stood empty throughout much of the
day. And when Aristide begins his five-year term next
February he will enjoy little legitimacy beyond the shores of the
impoverished Caribbean island nation. Butone of that stopped the onetime
apostle of Haitian democracy from hailing the vote and promising a     
role for the opposition in his future government. ?We observed a huge
majority of the Haitian people expressing their right through their
vote,? the 47-year-old Aristide told reporters on Monday, during his
first press conference in six years.
?To have a peaceful Haiti, the opposition is indispensable, and there
will be a place for everyone in my overnment.But the nation?s main
opposition leaders quickly spurned Aristide?s invitation, and his
victory provides a shabby epilogue to what the Clinton Administration
once touted as one of its greatest foreign-policy triumphs. In         
1994,the United States dispatched 20,000 troops to oust a military
regime accused of involvement in drug trafficking and restore Aristide
as Haiti?s first democratically elected president. Washington then
poured hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid into the
country as a sign of support for Aristide, who continued to wield
effective power after he was succeeded as president by a hand-picked
political lackey named Rene Preval in 1996.
By last May, though, the White House had run out of patience. The amount
of cocaine streaming into the United States through Haiti had more than
doubled since the years of military rule, and Preval?s government was a
democracy in name only. Haiti?s return to the ranks of the world?s     
pariah sates appeared complete?and as a sign of their displeasure, U.S.
officials refused to provide financial assistance or election observers
to this week?s presidential vote in which an estimated 15 percent of
eligible Haitians bothered to take part. ?The United States bet on a
horse that disguised itself as the (champion) of democracy,? says
opposition politician Gerard Pierre-Charles. ?But the state      
doesn?t function, and drug traffickers could become the
masters of the country.Many believe that has already occurred with the
consent of corrupt Haitian judges, legislators and police.The State
Dept. estimates that nearly 70 tons of cocaine moved through Haiti in
1999, and Drug Enforcement Administration officials say that at least 15
major Colombian drug trafficking syndicates have set up shop in recent

Drug-related corruption is flourishing throughout the Western
Hemisphere?s poorest country. The head of police at Port-au-Prince
International Airport was fired last March after he allegedly failed to
seize a 405-kilo shipment of cocaine, and U.S. officials have linked
three prominent senators from Aristide?s Lavalas Family party to drug
trafficking activity. A senior police commander says that up to
three-quarters of the country?s 4,500-member police force have accepted
bribes from drug lords and their lieutenants, and the country?s justice
minister says the going price for a judge starts at $5,000. ?There is no
element of that system in Haiti you can?t buy your way out of,? says one
frustrated DEA agent. ?(Traffickers) face a greater law enforcement
infrastructure anywhere else in the Caribbean.?
But Haiti?s newfound status as an emerging narco-state isn?t the only
cloud hanging over Aristide as he prepares to return in triumph to the
gleaming white Presidential Palace in downtown Port-au-Prince. Any 
remaining pretense of democratic rule under Aristide?s designated
stand-in Rene Preval evaporated nearly two years ago when the figurehead
president dissolved parliament. U.S. officials criticized the move, and
their concerns hardened into loud condemnation after Haitians went to
the polls last May to elect a new legislature. A controversial
vote-counting formula awarded 18 of the 19 seats at stake in the
national senate to candidates from Aristide?s Lavalas Family party.
Independent election observers argued that ten of those seats should
have been decided by a runoff vote, but the Preval government refused to
hold a second-round election. Washington retaliated by suspending aid
for this month?s presidential election and announcing plans to channel
$75 million in US economic assistance exclusively through private,
non-governmental organizations. ?Seldom in recent history has a country
received such a level of international support in its effort to
establish democracy,? Luis Lauredo, the U.S. ambassador to the
Organization of American States, said last Aristide is likely to get an
even colder shoulder from George W. Bush if the Texas governor is sworn
in as president next January. In one of his few clear-cut disagreements
with Vice President Al Gore on foreign policy,Bush vowed never to use
American troops in any future ?nation-building? exercise and publicly
cited Haiti as a failed example of that approach. Republican Congressmen
started taking aim at Aristide and his inner circle for alleged 
involvement in drug trafficking long before the Clinton Administration
soured on him. One of their recurrent targets is Dany Toussaint, a
former army major and longtime Aristide loyalist who was elected to the
senate last spring.Toussaint reportedly engineered the removal of a
police inspector general earlier this year who was investigating several
police superintendents implicated in the cocaine trade.The 43-year-old
legislator dismisses those accounts as part of a Republican smear
campaign aimed at portraying the charismatic Aristide as a closet
leftist who will cozy up to Fidel Castro in short order. ?All they are
talking about is garbage,? shrugs Toussaint. ?They have to go through me
to attack Aristide.? Now that he is president-elect, Aristide may find
himself more directly in the firing line.