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6123: Other perspectives on Aristide

From: Sarah Belfort <sbelfort@haitiworld.com>

I just joined this list last week, and as an American who has spent the
past 5 years living and working in Haiti, including 3 years based in rural
areas, I'd like to add my 2 cents worth.  It would be nice to be able to
be really positive about the elections and Aristide, but that doesn't mean
we should ignore facts that don't suit us, or indulge in
oversimplifications such as the "Aristide is a savior for 99% of the
people" theme.  Aristide's detractors should not be easily dismissed,
particularly when so many of them are his former allies and supporters.
And Aristide himself has done much to injure his reputation.  I see a lot
of references to the children's shelter he established.  How many people
know that this was shut down over a year ago and that the children
returned to the streets no better off than they were before?  What is the
source of Aristide's fabulous wealth?  Can anyone deny that he has at
least tolerated massive corruption and drug smuggling in the Lavalas
Despite implications to the contrary, there are educated, hardworking
Haitians who belong to neither the "elite/bourgeosie" nor "peasant/masses"
classes.  Most of them joyfully supported Aristide 10 years ago but have
since become disillusioned.  The last time I remember feeling real hope
for Haiti was on May 21, when people voted freely.  Since then it has been
downhill.  It is quite true that even the uneducated majority of the
population is starting to get really fed up with the current situation--
the rising crime, impunity of criminals, joblessness, and most of all the
inflation and consequent increase in poverty.  They've decided to give
Aristide a chance, but he will have to act fast to respond to their
demands because they are running out of patience.  
In the presidential election, as far as I could tell from listening to a
battery-operated radio tuned to independent stations with correspondents
around the country, the turnout was perhaps 15%.  I know at least one
person who voted for Aristide, and who happens to fall into the category
of less-educated and disadvantaged.  And this was NOT a vote of confidence
in Aristide.  She voted for him despite her view that he is corrupt and
"like all the other politicians, power-hungry" (that's a paraphrase), just
because she wanted to exercise her right to vote and because "there is no
one else".  The "in-between" class I referred to above probably didn't
vote, but they tend to agree, basically, "Let's get on with it, give
Aristide a chance, and see what he can do."  They're willing to work with
him, but they are rightfully skeptical that he will be able to share
power, and, as it was said, "tolerate others in a position of authority".
They aren't that keen on the opposition, but they believe that democracy
requires an opposition, a variety of parties to provide, as it were,
checks and balances.
Finally, I would like to point out that government is pretty far-away and
irrelevant to the vast majority of Haitians in rural areas (or at least as
they see it).  They're not necessarily pro-Lavalas or pro-anything else,
they'd just like first of all to have enough to eat, and for the rains to
fall when they're needed.  Their spirit and courage and tenacity are part
of the beauty of Haiti, as has been pointed out.  I continue to hope
against hope that the Haitian government will adopt a policy of serving
these people  (and act on it!).