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29619: (news) Chamberlain: Six months on, Haitians grumble over government (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Joseph Guyler Delva

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Six months after President
Rene Preval took office, little is changed in Haiti -- gangs control parts
of the capital, the economy is moribund and officials accused of corruption
run government offices.
     Half a year is a blink of the eye in politics, especially for a
government starved of funds and facing perhaps insurmountable problems in
the hemisphere's poorest country.
     But some Haitians already complain that the man elected to bring
change has not built roads, freed political prisoners or ousted officials
suspected of rights abuses and corruption.
     "President Preval has disregarded the voters' will by keeping those
officials in place and I feel really outraged," said slum resident Marc
Orel Caseus, 26, who voted for Preval in the general election on Feb. 7.
     Preval, an agronomist and Aristide protege who was president from 1996
to 2001, was the poor's overwhelming choice to replace Prime Minister
Gerard Latortue's interim government, installed after rebels pushed
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power in 2004.
     Washington, always a behind-the-scenes player in its turbulent
neighbor, sent troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide to power after
his ouster in a 1991 coup, and sent them again in 2004 after accusing
Aristide of despotism and corruption and urging him to leave during the
     Security has improved since Preval's May 14 inauguration: Most of the
country is relatively calm and U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police have
established positions in volatile Port-au-Prince slums once wholly
controlled by gunmen.
     But gangs still call the shots in parts of the capital and a Roman
Catholic Church report said gun violence killed at least 228 people,
including 11 police, from June to September.
     The country also remains a major transfer point for drugs en route to
U.S. consumers from South America.
     "Dismantling the gangs and pursuing serious police reform are critical
to every broader goal of the new administration, from education reform,
infrastructure, private sector investment, jobs and agriculture to
governance," the non-profit International Crisis Group said in October.
     Haiti fell to last place on Transparency International's 2006
Corruption Perceptions Index released this month.
     With unemployment at nearly 70 percent, efforts to stimulate
investment have produced little. The volatile security climate is blamed
for keeping investors away.
     Foreign donors pledged $1.3 billion in 2004 to help Haiti build its
economy. But Haitian officials say the money is coming too slowly to build
social and economic programs.
     "We understand the impatience of many people who are suffering," said
Joseph Jasmin, a spokesman for Preval's administration. "But I would like
to tell them that the government is working relentlessly to improve their
     Jean-Germain Gros, a Haiti analyst at the University of Missouri, said
Preval has had modest success bringing together Haiti's myriad political
groupings and allowing the media and other elements of civil society to
operate more freely.
     But the new president has not moved against corrupt officials or
violent gangs and failed to appoint diplomats to important foreign
capitals, he said.
     "I think more could have been done," Gros said. "The government has
been moving too slowly in doing things that could have been done fairly
     Preval says he has released 100 political prisoners jailed under
Latortue, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Interior
Minister Jocelerme Privert. But some advocates continue to accuse Preval of
failing to free scores of Aristide loyalists.
     Some still hold out hope for Preval, the only leader in Haiti's
202-year history to win a democratic election, complete a term, peacefully
hand over power and then get re-elected.
     "Things have not gotten better for me, but I know President Preval has
the will to change this situation," said Marie-Ange Norzeus, 38, a peanut
vendor in Port-au-Prince. "All we have now is hope, but I hope we won't
have to wait too long."