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6094: Haiti's priest turned politician (fwd)

From: nozier@tradewind.net

Haiti's priest turned politician
By Canute James in Kingston, Jamaica (FINANCIAL TIMES)
When Jean-Bertrand Aristide is installed in Haiti's presidential palace
in February, he will take over a country deeply divided by his own
politics. Mr Aristide, a former priest, is revered by Haiti's majority
poor, but feared by the affluent minority which effectively controls the
country's economy. Since he shocked the impoverished country ten years
ago when he announced that he would stand for the presidency, Mr
Aristide has attained saint-like stature among the people of the poorest
country in the western hemisphere. This support, combined with a
messianic appeal and a passionately nationalistic disposition, is the
heady mixture which the Haitian elite, and a few foreign governments,
consider will provide a term fraught with difficulty for Haiti. 
After an apparently easy win in Sunday's presidential election, Mr
Aristide,aged 47, has sought to mollify local and foreign concerns about
his policies with an apparent overture to Haitian business and foreign
governments.But on Tuesday Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General,
recommended the UN shut down its mission in Haiti. He said it was
underfunded and could not function properly in a "climate of political
turmoil."Mr Aristide remains an enigma even to senior functionaries of
his Lavalas Family party. No one can claim to understand his politics. 

Mr Aristide's political philosophy was formed by his years of working as
a priest of the Salesian Order in the depressed slums of Port-au-Prince,
Haiti's capital. He studied in religious institutions in Haiti and the
neighbouring Dominican Republic, and later went to Israel and Rome to
study biblical theology.It was, however, on the edge of one of the
city's most miserable slums, in his parish of St John Bosco, that Mr
Aristide's political activism began.He spoke frequently and passionately
about the impoverishment of Haitians,and his repeatedly trenchant
attacks on the Duvalier dictatorship which ran the country brought
increasingly large crowds to his church. He gained national prominence
by speaking frequently on the Church radio station which supported
pro-democracy groups and attacked the Duvalier family dictatorship that
terrorised the country. With the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in
1986, Mr Aristide led public marches, often in the face of gunfire from
the army. Inevitably, he was not liked by the several military juntas
which ran the country, and in late 1988 armed gangs backed by the
military attacked his church, murdered many in the congregation, and
razed the building.  Soon after Mr Aristide was expelled from the
Salesian order on the grounds that he had stopped being a priest and had
become a politician. He contended that the Church had given in to
political pressure. Without a parish, he remained popular by speaking
publicly against the military governments, while operating a home for
Haitian street children. Haiti's turbulent politics, marked by coups and
counter coups, was further shocked in late 1990 when Mr Aristide
announced that he would stand in that year's presidential election. 

 His campaign, called "lavalas" (meaning "cleansing flood" and which
became the name of his party) led him to the presidency with two thirds
of the votes.His took office in February of 1991, but his attempts to
reduce patronage and corruption, and his promises to improve the
economic condition of the poor, were apparently too much for the
military and the rich elite. He was overthrown and exiled, and the
country taken over by the military.It was during his exile, firstly in
Venezuela, and then in the US, that Mr Aristide appeared to have
undergone a political change. He moderated his rhetoric, and undertook,
in agreements with the US and other countries, to implement a range of
economic and institutional reforms if he were to be reinstated. 
He eventually regained office in 1994 on the back of a US-led military
invasion which toppled the military government.In completing his term,
Mr Aristide appeared reluctant to implement the reforms to which he had
agreed, including the privatisation of several state enterprises. 
He spoke against disposing of the "patrimony" of Haitians. Foreign
Donors and creditors reacted by withholding hundreds of millions of
dollars which had been promised Haiti.

 In the five years he has been out of office, Mr Aristide's Lavalas
Family party took control of the Congress, paving the way for his
re-election. Opposition parties frequentl y accused the party of bending
the electoral rules to facilitate Mr Aristide's return to power. 
Foreign observers concurred that there had been electoral malpractices,
but by all indications, given his clear popularity, Mr Aristide would
have won this week's election, even if opposition parties had offered
candidates. Now married, and a father of two, Mr Aristide will be forced
to deliver on the expectations of his supporters. About two of every
three Haitians is unemployed, and their per capita income is $250. 
The country is racked by violent crime and prone to political unrest. It
has become a favoured port of call for narcotics being smuggled from
South America to North America. Countries such as the US and France,
which have promised help, await Mr Aristide with uncertainty.