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6885: Another chance for Aristide (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>

Another chance for Aristide


Haiti is bankrupt and besieged by violent armed groups, but the 
President-elect, whose first
term was interrupted by a coup, shows little appetite for tackling 
problems. Some predict he
won't last six months

by Marina Jiménez
National Post

PORT-AU-PRINCE - Political opponents and donor nations are giving Haiti's 
President-elect a second chance. Jean-Bertrand Aristide takes office on 
Feb. 7 with an ambitious agenda to bring peace and prosperity to the 
Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
But Mr. Aristide, whose first stint in office was interrupted by a coup, 
has shown little appetite for tackling the corruption and violence that 
bedevil Haiti, a country where extremes of privilege and poverty are 
starkly apparent.
Nowhere is the contrast more vivid than in Israel St. Flena's corrugated 
tin shack in the suburb of Tabarre. Next door is Mr.  Aristide's 
air-conditioned house and swimming pool.
The President-elect is protected by a barbed wire fence and a phalanx of 
security guards in the six-hectare compound where he lives with his wealthy 
wife and two children. Mr. St. Flena shares his cramped garbage-strewn 
concrete patio and open charcoal fire with two other families.
Yet he does not begrudge "Ti-Tid" his wealth. He asks only that his 
neighbour make good on his election promises when he takes office Feb. 7, 
delivering jobs, security and food.
"I can't expect Aristide to help me personally. That would be selfish. But 
I hope he does something for the country. If he doesn't, we'll get rid of 
him," says the 33-year-old father of three, who has never spoken to Mr. 
Aristide, but has waved to him on occasion as he sped by in a motorcade.
The president cannot expect a long honeymoon periodhis election was corrupt 
even by Haiti's low standards. Mr. Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas 
Family) party handed themselves total power, "winning" all legislative 
seats in two series of elections last year.
Now his country is bankrupt and besieged by violent armed groups, many of 
them protected by his party.
Some Haitians predict his government won't last six months. With such a 
limited life expectancy, Mr. Aristide is finding it additionally hard to 
attract credible people to serve in his government.
"He is a popular anarchist who doesn't believe in elections or democracy. 
We are going towards catastrophe and disaster," says Jean Claude Bajeux, a 
literature professor and former political ally.
Haiti lost US$500-million in loans from international institutions after 
Mr. Aristide's predecessor,
René Préval, dissolved Parliament in January, 1999. Some of the money may 
be restored, but
some lenders, such as those in the European Union, will continue to 
withhold funds until the
validity of last May's Senate elections is established. Without the money, 
Mr. Aristide will find it
hard to fulfill the ambitious promises contained in his White Paper -- 
500,000 new jobs, a 4% growth rate, better schools and public housing.
Meanwhile, "popular organizations" affiliated with Lavalas have embarked on 
a campaign of terror that has killed more than 15 politicians this year.
                     Today, middle-class Haitians routinely travel with 
armed guards.

The United States has also issued a travel advisory warning its citizens 
not to visit the country and foreign boats not to anchor in Haitian waters.
Earlier this month, one pro-Aristide group threatened to kill members of 
the Opposition, journalists and even Roman Catholic clergy. Lavalas 
condemned the declaration, but has yet to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Despite the intimidation, the Opposition -- 15 parties grouped under the 
banner Democratic Convergencerefuse to be cowed. It is planning a civil 
disobedience rally outside the Presidential Palace on inauguration day. Its 
members say they will install their own government-in-waiting, calling the 
new presidency an "electoral coup d'état."
So far Mr. Aristide has been able to rely on the ti-pep (masses), like Mr. 
St. Flena, who make up
80% of the population.
That could change. Because he lives next door to the president, Mr. St. 
Flena has electricity 24 hours a day, a rarity in Haiti. But, as he points 
out, what good is electricity if there is nothing to eat?
It is as useful as Mr. Aristide's poetic election slogan, "Peace in the 
mind will bring peace in the
"The biggest disappointment about Aristide is that people think he is 
Nelson Mandela and he is not," says one Western diplomat. "Unlike his first 
time in power, the faith of the people is not unlimited."
It is possible Mr. Aristide does not realize this. His first term as the 
country's first democratically
elected president lasted barely a year before he was ousted in a coup 
engineered by General Raoul Cedras, his chief of staff.
After 20,000 U.S. troops restored him in 1994, Mr. Aristide had only 
another year in office before his term ended. Since then, he has controlled 
the country from the sidelines, through his hand-picked successor Mr. Préval.
In the interim, Mr. Aristide has also metamorphosed from a Roman Catholic 
priest of humble origins who was considered a saviour of the masses into a 
paid-up bourgeois in a suit and dark glasses. Today, the gros mangeur (big 
eater) rarely leaves Tabarre.
"He was on his way to failure, but he didn't have time during his first 
term," says Mr. Bajeux, who was culture minister in the first Aristide 
Haiti's friends abroad are also getting restlesscountries such as the 
United States, Canada and France who contribute about 65% of the 
government's budget.
Many donors are tired of seeing so few results: Haitians' quality of life 
has fallen since the 1994
U.S. invasion; roads are worse; there are only 100,000 phone lines for a 
country of eight million; and a recent survey showed 70% of the population 
would leave for the United States if they could.
It is difficult to believe the new government will spend its funds more wisely.
Mr. Aristide's proposed budget calls for a six-fold spending increase on 
the presidential office, while allotments for justice, security and health 
stay about the same.
"We are tired of being the grandfather doling out the money with a smile on 
our face. Enough
of the blank cheque approach. Haiti must produce," says one U.S. official, 
noting that his
government no longer gives bilateral assistance and has cut its overall aid 
from US$350-million
in 1995 to US$50-million last year.
Haiti is still the largest recipient of Canadian aid in the Western Hemisphere.
It has received about $33-million in various kinds of aid every year for 
the past five years. But even Canada is reassessing its commitment.
"Aid in Haiti is a risky business and the higher the risk, the greater the 
demand for accountability," says Diane Vermette, who oversees the Canadian 
International Development Assistance program.
"The question is, what is the level of risk you can afford? We are 
constantly assessing the question, are we still in a position where we can 
influence change?"
All Canadian programs are now administered through Canadian agencies 
because Haitian institutions cannot be trusted with the money.
Mr. Aristide desperately needs to win back the goodwill of the 
international community if he is to last in office.
Last month, in a letter to Bill Clinton, then-U.S. president, he promised 
to strengthen democratic institutions, professionalize the police force and 
judiciary, install a broad-based government, and rectify the May 21 
elections and 10 disputed Senate seats.
Few believe such promises will be kept. As James Morrell, research director 
at Washington's
Centre for International Policy, observes, Mr. Aristide's record in 
maintaining allegiances is "not
"He doesn't accord the opposition any legitimacy. He considers them to be a 
group of free riders. He has chosen the route of personal ambition and 
control," says Mr. Morrell, who was an advisor to Mr. Aristide during his 
Others believe Mr. Aristide has compromised his credibility by courting 
violent political followers.
They point to his condoning "necklacing" or "Père Lebrun"killing someone by 
placing a fuel-drenched tire around their neckand recall his famous speech 
outside the Presidential Palace in 1991.
"If you catch a false Lavalassien ... don't hesitate to give him what he 
deserves" Mr. Aristide told a crowd of excited supporters.
"Your equipment in hand ... Père Lebrun, it's beautiful ... yes it's 
beautiful ... It has a good smell. Wherever you go you want to inhale it."
Now he may find he is like the man on the back of the tiger, having handed 
over too much power to the street thugs whose loyalty he has cultivated.
Some believe he may even be assassinated by the popular armed groups who 
are aligned with rivals within his own party.
"He is very weak. All that he created is turning against him: the gangs, 
the goons," says Micha Gaillard, another former Aristide ally now with the 
However, Yvon Neptune, the president of the Senate and a close Aristide 
associate, dismisses such notions, saying Lavalas has never been 
responsible for a campaign of intimidation.
"There are those who always say that Lavalas is evil," he says. "I am more 
worried about opposition members publicly declaring terrorist acts."
Hillaire Toussain, spokesman for the Aristide Foundation, which is across 
the street from his gracious white home, says Mr. Aristide's favourite word 
is peace.
"It's only to blame Aristide that people say there is violence in the 
party. You have to remember we have only had dictatorships in Haiti ... 
little by little we are developing our politics."