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#1118: Aristide plots comeback in Haiti (fwd)
Aristide plots comeback in Haiti
Five years after election, former leader says he'll run in 2001
BY DON BOHNING////// Herald Staff Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- More than five years after constitutional
government returned to Haiti in the form of a priest relying on
U.S-led troops to restore him to power, the landscape is
littered with unfulfilled expectations. Among them are the hopes
placed in Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose return to the presidency Oct.
15, 1994, symbolized what Haitians and foreigners alike saw as a
promising future. Aristide still dominates the debate over Haiti, as he
has for the past decade, retaining substantial grass-roots support
within the country, but alienating the majority of his more influential
foreign and Haitian supporters. For some, Aristide -- no longer a
priest, now a politician plotting his return to the presidency in 2001
from a walled compound near the international airport -- is most
responsible for the lack of progress. For others, he still represents
the best hope for leading Haiti out of its current morass.
``The most discouraging aspect of the past five years is that Aristide
has had the opportunity two times already and perhaps a third time to
modernize Haiti and democratize its politics, and he has shown no
commitment to do that,'' said Robert Pastor, a professor of political
science at Emory University in Atlanta. Pastor accompanied former
President Jimmy Carter, retired Gen. Colin Powell and former Sen. Sam
Nunn to Haiti five years ago as the United States was preparing to lead
an invasion to oust Haiti's military rulers. The U.S. team
negotiated an eleventh-hour settlement that sent the Haitian officers
into exile and permitted foreign troops to enter the country Sept. 19,
1994, averting what could have been a bloody confrontation.
A contrasting view on Aristide comes from Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., a
member of the Congressional Black Caucus, the core of Aristide's
remaining official support in Washington. Conyers, along with six other
members of the Black Caucus, is listed as a member of the U.S. Advisory
Board for the Aristide Foundation.
`SINNERS AND SAINTS'
In congressional testimony Nov. 9, Conyers said he had recently spoken
with Aristide and, ``while his followers include sinners and saints
alike, I believe that he personally remains committed to the same
principles of fairness, social justice and democracy that allowed him to
ride his wave of popularity all the way to the presidency.''
Among the few bright spots to be found among the debris in today's
Haiti is dissolution of the repressive army that held the country
hostage for three years after a September 1991 coup. ``There is greater
enjoyment of fundamental freedoms, such as expression, movement and
gathering,'' says Colin Granderson, a Trinidad diplomat who has
served since 1992 as executive director of a joint United
Nations-Organization of American States monitoring mission in Haiti.
Emory University's Pastor agrees.
``I think the most important thing to keep in mind,'' he says, ``is
that Haiti under a stalemated democracy is still much better than under
the military. There is not the arbitrary abuse and widespread fear that
had existed for decades and we should not underestimate the importance
of that.'' While the army that carried out a reign of terror no longer
exists, the only bulwark against today's random and rampant violence is
an inexperienced and undermanned police force with a listed strength of
6,000 officers. But some believe its numbers are really about 4,000 --
one for every 2,000 Haitians -- due to resignations, dismissals and
desertions. And their efforts are hampered by a corrupt and inefficient
judicial system that has resisted efforts at reform.
Economists give the government credit for managing the economy
resonably well under difficult circumstances. Positive economic growth
was recorded the last fiscal year. Inflation has been running at a
modest -- for Haiti -- 10 percent annually and the Haitian currency has
been relatively stable in relation to the dollar. After those limited
accomplishments, however, the past five years have been a panorama of
disappointment. Unemployment is estimated at more than 60 percent and
rising, with annual per capita income at $250 and declining. The
International Monetary Fund estimated that in the three years ending
Sept. 30, 1998, Haiti had received a total of a little more than $20
million in direct foreign investment. ``The Dominican Republic gets
more than that in a month,'' observed an economist in Port-au-Prince.
The main road to Cap-Haitien on the north coast, the country's second
city, is described as virtually impassable, although Cap-Haitien is
reportedly booming, as a result of its growing role as an important
transit center for drugs en route from South America to the United
States. Growth in the assembly industry, centered in Port-au-Prince and
the backbone of the Haitian economy in recent years, has seen a
significant drop in employment of some 4,800 out of a base 25,000 jobs.
Political paralysis has made a mockery of what was billed as the
restoration of democracy, dramatized by the fact that in a country of
eight million people, only nine current officeholders are elected,
including President Rene Preval. The political gridlock since June 1997
has cost the country an estimated $500 million in foreign aid.
There has been no Parliament for more than 10 months and elections
scheduled next spring for a new one are uncertain at best. Meanwhile, a
de facto government rules by decree. The last five years, acknowledges
Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamp, have been a period of ``lost
opportunity and lost time. We believe we could have done much
more with the opportunity that we had, but the reality is what it is.''