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7238: Can Aristide Govern in Haiti? (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>

March 5, 2001

Can Aristide Govern in Haiti?



When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took over Haiti last month, he was a 
different man from the popular priest who swept into office only a decade 
ago. Mr. Aristide is not the only one who has changed. The country has 
descended deeper into poverty, and Mr. Aristide, who was never popular with 
the moneyed elite, has also managed to turn some of his staunchest 
allies  the intellectual left  into bitter enemies. They have vowed to make 
his five- year term difficult, if not impossible. But if Mr. Aristide is to 
be successful, he must find a way to please groups with seemingly 
conflicting interests, and his tenure will be defined by how well he 
manages to appease Haitians living abroad, foreign leaders and the Haitian 
Haitians outside the country are perhaps the easiest, most loyal and least 
demanding of these groups. Numbering about two million across the United 
States, Canada, France and the Dominican Republic, this scattered group has 
always been rooting for a better Haiti and has never turned its back on the 
country, regardless of the despot du jour. Haitian-Americans alone send 
back close to $300 million to Haiti every year.
Haitians overseas could contribute still more if Mr. Aristide could curtail 
the security problems plaguing Haiti. In recent years, many Haitians living 
abroad have been reluctant to go home because of numberless stories about 
armed robberies, killings and rapes. They have been patiently awaiting 
action on their wishes for dual citizenship, arguing that their economic 
contributions should be coupled with the right to vote and participate more 
fully in Haiti's future. Many other countries, including the neighboring 
Dominican Republic, have granted this sort of franchise to lure much needed 
human and financial resources.
As in 1990, when he won an overwhelming victory, Aristide has not been 
embraced by Washington. President Bush sent no one to his inauguration last 
month. The United States and other nations have withheld some $500 million 
in aid to protest last year's tainted legislative elections, in which 
Mr.  Aristide's Lavalas party won more than 90 percent of the vote, giving 
it a virtual lock on Parliament. Suspicions abound between Port-au-Prince 
and Washington. Mr. Aristide was overthrown in 1991, during the tenure of 
President Bush's father; many of the people who ran Washington then are 
back in power and have little tolerance for Mr. Aristide.
Part of the suspicion on the American side comes from Mr. Aristide's having 
reneged on accords he signed in the past. For instance, his government 
signed a structural adjustment package that was to privatize some key state 
industries as part of the deal that brought him back to Haiti in 1994. Less 
than a year later, Mr. Aristide, uncomfortable with handing over state-run 
enterprises  repositories of political patronage  waged a public campaign 
to undermine the process. To this day, the telephone company, port and 
airport, the jewels of the package, have not been privatized.
Bill Clinton, having secured an early political success in helping to oust 
a military junta in Haiti, was tolerant of Mr. Aristide. Last December, 
President Clinton sent Anthony Lake, his former national security adviser, 
to meet with Mr. Aristide and offer him a way out of his international 
political difficulties. As a result of that meeting, Mr. Aristide came up 
with an eight-point plan, mainly made up of democracy- building measures 
that, if put into place, would garner him some credibility with the Bush 
So far, there are signs that Mr. Aristide is following through on some of 
his promises. Six of the 10 senators who gained their seats in the 
controversial elections last May have said they are willing to relinquish 
their offices and run again. Mr. Aristide has taken steps to create a new 
electoral council  a body that organizes elections  to replace the dubious 
provisional body used last year. These are concrete actions that Secretary 
of State Colin Powell has recently said he wanted to see before meaningful 
dialogue could take place. Mr. Powell has also stated that strengthening 
Haiti's moribund democracy is one of the administration's priorities. 
Mr.  Aristide needs to continue to show Washington that he is serious about 
But Mr. Aristide already has his hands full with his Haitian opponents. On 
the day Mr. Aristide was being sworn in, the opposition inaugurated its own 
president, Gérard Gourgue, a respected human rights lawyer and educator. 
What the opposition wants is for Mr. Aristide to step down and organize new 
elections, something that no one believes will actually happen. In the 
past, it was easy to dismiss opposition parties as right-wing zealots. This 
new bunch, however, includes the very same people who, a decade ago, 
orchestrated Mr. Aristide's rise to power.
But the opposition has not played smart. Its so-called alternative 
government has been ridiculed, has failed to offer a true alternative to 
Mr.  Aristide and has no popular mandate. Still, the opposition can inflict 
political damage and create gridlock. Things looked so much more promising 
in 1991, before a coup aborted Mr. Aristide's tenure. It will take a 
superhuman effort for Mr. Aristide, once affectionately called "Titid," to 
lead a peaceful Haiti. While the Americans and the people of the Haitian 
diaspora may help him, the opposition will not.
Garry Pierre-Pierre, a former reporter with The New York Times, is editor 
and publisher of Haitian Times in Brooklyn.