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6897: Haiti is bankrupt and besieged by violent armed groups... (fwd)

From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

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
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
We are going towards catastrophe and disaster," says Jean Claude Bajeux,
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, butsome 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
So far Mr. Aristide has been able to rely on the ti-pep (masses), like
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
government. 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 1994U.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
Mr. Aristide's proposed budget calls for a six-fold spending increase on

the presidential office, while allotments for justice, security and
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
reassuring.""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 exile.
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 opposition.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."