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#921: Haiti's Paralysis Spreads as U.S. Troops Pack Up (fwd)


Haiti's Paralysis Spreads as U.S. Troops  Pack Up

By DAVID GONZALEZ (NY Times)November 10, 1999/

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Five years after an American-led force of
20,000 troops invaded this island and restored constitutional rule, the
Haitian people are entering a new and uncertain era. While crime,
insecurity and a crumbling infrastructure continue to threaten
residents, the Haitian government has been virtually paralyzed for more
than two years. Now, the last of the regular American military presence
in the capital is set to end in January, with the 400 troops to be
replaced  by shifts of reservists on short-term training missions
throughout the  country.      That is yet another blow for a   country
that has made dishearteningly little progress  despite high expectations
--  perhaps unrealistic -- since the  invasion. By the end of this 
year, police trainers and human  rights monitors from the United 
Nations and the Organization of     American States are also to  leave,
although United Nations     officials hope to maintain a   smaller

After Jean-Bertrand Aristide, then a radical Roman Catholic priest, was
elected in 1990 as  Haiti's first democratically chosen president in
decades, an   army-led coup drove him into exile in 1991. After three
years  of repression, he was restored to power in a negotiated      
settlement backed by an  American-led occupation. The current president,
René Préval, was his  hand-picked successor, but Aristide, who resigned
from the priesthood  in 1994, remains Haiti's leading political figure
and is expected to run  again next year.  The American military's role
in Haiti has gone from ensuring security to carrying out the kind of
work that brings tangible relief to the residents of the hemisphere's
poorest nation -- providing free medical care, repairing  wells and
building schools. While thousands of Haitians have benefited from this
assistance, countless more have taken psychological comfort from the
mere presence of the American troops.  On a recent day, Anès Anis came
home from her factory job to find an American soldier sitting behind his
M-60 machine gun atop a Humvee  while another paced the side of her
hilly dirt street. She said she  welcomed those silent sentries.      
"We're happy to see them," she said. "If something happens now, we      
could call on them. Otherwise, we have nothing at all to protect us."   
But the soldiers were not there to bring peace to her neighborhood.
They  had only come to secure the area while dozens of American
sailors   painted a local schoolhouse.  Like Ms. Anis, many Haitians
hoped that the intervention would solve day-to-day problems. The
departing forces leave behind a nation that is  still trying to create a
democratic, functioning state. The Haitian Army was disbanded but not
disarmed, contributing to an  increase in street and drug crimes. While
a new police force struggles to enforce the law, a dysfunctional
judiciary has hampered its efforts.People and cars crowd the streets in
midday, but few people venture out very early or late, lest they become
targets for bandits.  Foreign investment has been a trickle. With
unemployment hovering at 60 percent, factory owners have been closing up
as clients shift orders to  nations with equally cheap labor but more
stability.    With regularity, residents in some neighborhoods vent
their frustration
 and try to get the government's attention by hauling tires and trash
into the  street and setting up flaming roadblocks.  It has hardly
helped. The government itself has been virtually paralyzed  since 1997
while Préval fought with his opposition in Parliament over his     
choice for prime minister. He finally appointed a de facto prime
minister  earlier this year when the Parliament's term ended, leaving
the nation  without a functioning legislature.  Throughout the standoff,
the government failed to pass either a budget or laws that would have
brought $500 million in international aid to shore up its crumbling
infrastructure and reduce suffering.  Legislative elections have been
pushed back from December of this year to March 19, prompting fears of
campaign fraud or violence.International observers and diplomats have
accused supporters of Aristide of trying to wrest control of the
civilian police force to use it for their political advantage. Recently,
a daylong voter education event sponsored by the national electoral
council was disrupted by hecklers. The governmental paralysis has
disappointed both Haitians and other countries, which are coming to
realize that they also had unrealistic expectations. 

  Decades of dictatorship under François (Papa Doc) Duvalier and his   
son, Jean-Claude, left the country with scant experience with democratic
  rule. Now, as Haiti continues the transition to democracy that it
began  when Duvalier rule ended in 1986, other nations say that they are
willing to help but that the Haitian people must take the initiative.  
"The real challenge is for Haitians to come together and address their
past so they can come up with answers that will help them create their
future," said the American ambassador, Timothy Carney. "The political
 culture has got to change." The years since the intervention have
brought some improvements. The United States, working through private
contractors and nongovernmental  organizations, has provided $300
million for health care, education and  judicial reform. Inflation has
been reduced to single-digit figures, and the currency is stable.  Most
important, the leaders of a coup that had ousted Aristide and  ushered
in years of repression were removed. Diplomats say the nation's     
human rights record has improved and individual freedoms have grown.   
The formation of the Haitian National Police from 5,300 mostly raw    
recruits has also been seen as a positive development, although the
force is hampered by insufficient resources and inexperienced mid-level
commanders. Since its inception three years ago, more than 800 officers
have been dismissed for offenses ranging from corruption to human rights
violations. Yet even that is seen as evidence that it is willing to
ensure its integrity by rooting out malfeasance.  "On the human rights
side, clearly a number of things have improved,"said Colin Granderson,
the executive director of the United Nations/Organization of American
States International Civilian Mission in Haiti. "There is an emphasis on
accountability, which was unheard of before. Serious human rights
violations are no longer a policy of the authorities."  But with every
advance there have been setbacks that make Haiti, in the  words of one
diplomat, "a country of push-pull doors." While the police  have been
trying to enforce the law, they have been stymied by an inept  and
backlogged judiciary: about 80 percent of all Haitian prisoners are    
awaiting trial. A school supported by international donors has been  
training judges, and the government recently increased judges' salaries
to  make them less susceptible to bribes. But some feel that the reforms
did  not address the fundamental flaw.  "The problem is we're still
functioning with an old justice system we inherited from the days of the
military dictatorship," said Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis.    
He added that despite the obstacles, the administration was able to
carry out some programs. Land reform has reduced supply costs for
farmers. Cooperatives have  been established, he said. And while the
pace has been slow, the government is privatizing the operations of
ports and the airport.  But much more could have been accomplished had
it not been for the  paralysis that overtook the government shortly
after the 1997 Parliamentary elections. Members of the opposition, the
Organization of  People in Struggle, accused the governing Lavalas Party
of fraud. For two years, they blocked Préval's choice for Prime
Minister, and accomplished little else, said diplomats and international
officials. The deadlock has frozen $500 million in loans from the
Interamerican  Development Bank, the World Bank and other institutions. 
"A lot of that money is going to be lost," Granderson said. "That money
is  not going to be held for Haitians until they make up their minds
that they're ready to use it. The window is closing." The fatigue felt
by donors is shared by ordinary Haitians. Craters filled with mud and
putrid sewage cover long stretches of the National  Highway, which runs
past the sprawling slums of Cité Soleil. "This is the government's
problem," said Israël Domones, on a recent day  after he hit a hole and
the bottom of his tractor-trailer, filled with sacks of flour, fell out,
causing a huge traffic jam. "The water is deep and I did not  see how
big the hole was. The road is stuck. The country is stuck."  When the
Americans first invaded Haiti in 1915, they stayed long enough to build
up the country's infrastructure. This time, their focus has been on  
aid, like the free clinics where hundreds of Haitians line up for hours
to  receive medical care. The military has also built many schools and
repaired wells. The American soldiers speak enthusiastically about their
mission, but they also admit that the nation's impoverished social
conditions can seem overwhelming. "Do they need roads or water now, or
do they need education?" said Lt.Comdr. Joseph Larry of the Navy, the
American military support group's chief engineer. "It's a tough nut to
crack as to what Haiti needs more of."  There is also little time
remaining for elections, which are seen as the only  way out of the
government's paralysis. "People are clamoring for elections to take
place as soon as possible so we can get back to a government of
parliamentary normalcy," Alexis said. "Democracy cannot be decreed. It
can only be built."  With only four months to go, the logistical
obstacles are daunting in a country where phone lines, electricity and
other basics are unreliable. Some diplomats and Haitians fear that the
elections could be delayed again, possibly combined with the
presidential elections scheduled for next November. They say supporters
of Aristide favor that possibility,  hoping to use his coattails to win
seats in Parliament.  Diplomats and international observers also worry
about reports of intimidation by Aristide supporters and reports they
they are trying to gain control of the police.  Yvon Neptune, a
spokesman for Aristide's party, denied those  accusations. "We hope the
election schedule is going to be kept," he said.Much is at stake in the
coming elections, and not just the return of a  functioning, daily
government. The country is at a point where it is being  urged to find a
national consensus on how government can work for all   sectors of
Haitian society. 

"The government itself has been the situation, in their total lack of
management, vision and honesty," said Georges Sassine, an apparel
factory owner and vice president of the Association of Haitian
Industries."You feel there are 200 different governments and within each
branch  you have sub-branches and they all go their separate ways. I'm
not going to call it anarchy. Yet."  He spoke inside his vast, empty
factory, where he had just laid off 260 workers. While the government
has been paralyzed, orders from the  United States dried up. In the last
two months, 22 factories have closed, leaving nearly 5,000 people
jobless, he said. Some people have done well, including those who have
taken advantage of government inaction and desperate poverty to make
fast money in contraband, he said. But most are still waiting.  "Haiti
has not learned there is no individual salvation," Sassine said.
"If      you're in a sinking boat and you jump out, are you really
saved? It's either everybody gets saved or nobody does."