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6887: Haiti President to Pass Legacy of Stagnation (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

Thursday February 1 2:17 PM ET
 Haiti President to Pass Legacy of Stagnation  By Trenton Daniel

 PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - President Rene Preval will pass Haiti's
leadership next
 week to his mentor Jean-Bertrand Aristide after a five-year term marred
by a political
crisis that virtually paralyzed the government and isolated the poor
Caribbean nation from
 international allies.
When Aristide is inaugurated on Feb. 7, Preval will leave Haiti's 7.8
million people with a
 legacy of agrarian reform, better roads and schools and strengthened
relations with
 neighboring Cuba.But his accomplishments are overshadowed by political
instability, damaged relations with the United States and other friendly
nations, a feeble judiciary, a weak economy and escalating crime,
observers say.``He was full of good will when he started out,'' said
Henri Bazin, a private sector economist. ``But I think politics got the
best of him.''Preval, 58, was the hand-picked successor to Aristide, the
former Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti's  first freely elected
president in 1991 but was ousted in a military coup seven months later
and restored by a U.S. invasion in 1994.
 Many believed Preval, an agronomist by profession, was simply holding
the presidency until Aristide, constitutionally barred from consecutive
terms, returned to power.
Critics and supporters alike say the political discord that scarred
Preval's tenure -- mainly bickering between Aristide's Lavalas bloc and
opposition parties -- kept the president from carrying out promises of
better police,economic reform and privatization of state companies.Tense
political divisions caused Prime Minister Rosny Smith to resign in 1997,
leaving Haiti without a premier until Preval named Jacques Edouard
Alexis -- 21 months later.Preval's administration failed to hold
elections before the terms of 18 senators expired in January 1999,
paralyzing the legislature for 18 months. The constitutional crisis
resulted in the suspension of some $500 million in sorely needed foreign
aid to the poorest nation in the western hemisphere.  Preval himself
admitted in a national address in early January that the frail judicial
system had done little to curb rampant crime, corruption, and violence.
Haiti has become a key transshipment point for Colombian cocaine in
recent years.
``The whole judicial system was a failure,'' said a former government
official who asked not to be named.``There were so many crimes,
investigations left unfinished.'  Preval's judiciary scored one notable
victory -- the August 2000 conviction of more than 50 people, including
the leaders of the coup that ousted Aristide, for the massacre of the
1994 massacre of slum-dwellers at  Raboteau, north of the capital.
 Unlike his predecessor and successor Aristide, a charismatic leader who
built rabid grass-roots support from the pulpit in the 1980s, Preval
lacked the charm to connect with the impoverished masses, observers
said. An incident last summer -- after his administration hiked fuel
prices 44 percent -- underscored public  disaffection. In the town of
Marmelade, Preval told a peasant the economic situation was critical and
that Haitians -- roughly paraphrased -- would have to swim to reach the
A reporter overheard the comment and made it public. The phrase -- in
the native Creole ``naje pou soti''; in  English ``swim to get out'' --
seeped into the national lexicon.
  It left millions of Haitians flabbergasted at Preval's insensitivity
in a country where tens of thousands of people --  many of whom do not
swim and fear the water -- have boarded unseaworthy boats for a
dangerous journey  across 600 miles of sea to reach the United States in
search of a better life.``We're all swimming, swimming for our life,''
said Garry Laguerre, 37, a cab driver whose battered car sported  a
``Naje pou soti'' sticker on the back window. ``The president of our
country is telling us we have to swim to   get out!''
 Under Preval, Haiti's sinking economy left many people with few
choices. Bazin, the economist, said per capita  income declined while
the inflation rate jumped from 8 percent last year to 18 percent now.
Unemployment is about 80 percent.
``The standard of living has sharply decreased. It's pretty visible,''
Bazin said. ``Take garbage, for instance. You  see garbage all
around.''  Mountains of garbage spill onto the crumbling roads in the
teeming capital. Pigs, goats, stray dogs -- and sometimes people --
scour the piles in search of food scraps. A recent United Nations (news
- web sites) study  found 62 percent of Haiti's people suffer from
malnutrition. Minimum wage is about $2 a day.Preval failed in the
planned privatization of state-run firms -- seaport, airport, electric
and telephone companies. ``I leave office with the feeling that I spent
five very difficult years, where I did my best,'' Preval said
recently.``I did my best but the situation for the past five years was
difficult because of the political crisis.''