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#2498: This Week in Haiti 17:49 2/23/00 (fwd)

"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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please contact the paper at (tel) 718-434-8100, (fax)
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                           HAITI PROGRES
              "Le journal qui offre une alternative"

                      * THIS WEEK IN HAITI *

                      February 23 - 29, 2000
                          Vol. 17, No. 49


"An election without electoral cards equals an electoral coup
d'état!" That was the slogan chanted and brandished by some of
the protestors demonstrating outside the Delmas headquarters of
the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) on Feb. 21. At the same
time, demonstrators were blocking National Route 1 just north of
Port-au-Prince near the town of Cabaret to demand a voter
registration station in their area.

In recent weeks, Haiti has been seething with dozens of such
demonstrations and road barricades, along with sit-ins and press
declarations, denouncing the shortage of voter registration
stations and electoral cards as the Mar. 19 date for municipal
and legislative elections approaches. The protestors charge that
the CEP, with backing from Washington, is trying to limit voter
participation particularly in the countryside and poor urban
neighborhoods so as to undermine progressive parties like the
Lavalas Family party of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"The CEP has taken every measure to reduce the electorate to the
minimum," declared Ben Dupuy of the National Popular Party (PPN)
in a Feb. 21 press conference. "And for whom are they making this
electoral coup d'état? It's clear as a bell, for that thing they
call the Espace de Concertation."

The Espace is a front of center-right parties, similar to the
1990 UNO front in Nicaragua, which Washington is discretely
promoting as an opposition to the Lavalas Family.

It is easy to see why the population is alarmed.  In Haiti's last
election in 1997, there were over 10,000 voter registration
stations, known as Bureaux d'Inscription (BI). For the upcoming
election, there are only about 3,500, most of which in recent
weeks have either lacked personnel or materials to make electoral
cards, or simply been closed. There are many more BI in well-to-
do urban neighborhoods than in poor ones, and the countryside has
the worst shortage of all.

"Some stations have been closed for 22 days, some for 15 days,
and some for 8 days, and there is no registration happening,"
said Charles Suffrat of KOZEPEP, a peasant organization based in
the Artibonite Valley, on Feb. 19. "Throughout the whole
department [of the Artibonite], 90% of all the stations are
closed because there are no materials."

The main "material" missing has been film. When the CEP proposed
using photo identification electoral cards last summer (see Haïti
Progrès, Vol. 17, No. 21, 8/11/99), the PPN was among first
groups to denounce the move as a way to limit popular
participation. Ignoring protests and nullifying an agreement
between the CEP and a Haitian card-producing firm, the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) unilaterally
channeled $3.5 million via the semi-official International
Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) to a Canadian firm, Code
Inc., to produce and distribute 4 million cards, supposedly.

"That's the crux of the plot," said Dupuy, "in the distribution
of electoral material, such as having no film for the electoral
cards. We can say that almost 90% of the registration stations
have been down for the past two or three weeks. They have no
film. The PPN conducted an investigation in the Port-au-Prince
region, in the Western department, where we can say that 95% of
the registration stations are not functioning. People have to
turn around and go home because supposedly there are no
materials. But who controls those materials? It's supposed to be
IFES, USAID, and Code Inc.. They are the one's preparing the
electoral cards."

But the picture gets even worse. This week, a Canadian electoral
consultant to the CEP, Jean-Paul Poirier, claimed that IFES
instigated his dismissal last week because he pointed out several
irregularities in the organization of the election. His principal
criticism was that the CEP's estimate of only 4 million eligible
voters was way low. "These are figures which date back to 1987
and which should have been put up to date in proportion to the
population growth in Haiti," Poirier said. He called on the
Haitian people to be "vigilant."

Furthermore, at a Feb. 17 mass rally demanding more BI held at
the National Theatre by organizations from five regions around
Port-au-Prince (Delmas, Carrefour, the Airport, La Plaine, and
Cité Soleil), organizer Lageroute Desroches charged that only 1.5
million electoral cards, which were manufactured in Miami, had
come through Haitian customs.

It is no surprise, therefore, that many don't believe the CEP's
assertion last week that over 2.5 million people have been
registered, a claim which the PPN called "disinformation."

"The CEP has come with a bunch of figures which have come off the
top of their heads," said Dupuy in the PPN press conference.
"They just were claiming that over 2 million people were already
registered...  That is a shameless lie, because everybody on the
ground can see that for several weeks, the registration stations
have not been functional."

Dupuy reiterated the PPN position that the party "will not
participate in rigged elections, because at this time a foreign
power has taken in hand the electoral process, and since they are
the ones who signed the contract with IFES to furnish the
electoral material, it's clear that they hold the key to the
question in their hands." He said that true and representative
elections could not be held if the CEP stuck to the date of Mar.

Ironically, IFES has also realized how transparent, and
dangerous, their game has become in the face of popular anger and
proposed, in a Feb. 10 Internet bulletin, that, "to allow for all
registration sites to be open for a minimum of 30 days, it
appears likely that registration may need to be extended by two
or three weeks." It went on to conclude that: "In IFES' opinion,
restructuring the election calendar for legitimate technical
reasons is sound justification; it is better to change the
election date [of Mar. 19] rather than compromise the integrity
of the process."

The proposal to postpone elections provoked a storm of outcry
from center-right and right-wing candidates, which was the
epitome of bluff since they all have practically no popular
support or electoral chances. Hubert Deronceray of the Movement
to Save the Nation (MPSN), a far-right alliance of putschist and
neo-Duvalierist parties, declared that "IFES is an instrument in
the hands of the government" and that "the MPSN considers IFES's
suggestion as being a terrible blow to the electoral process, a
truly murderous blow." Deronceray and his neo-Duvalierists
cronies have been trying to maneuver toward what they call the
"zero option," whereby the nine-member CEP would be
reconstituted, elections reorganized, and President René Préval,
who they consider to be Aristide's puppet, forced to resign.

Ironically, the "zero option" is also being bandied about by
Gérard Pierre-Charles of the  Organization of People in Struggle
(OPL), a formerly "Lavalas" party which has been moving steadily
to the right over the past few years and closer to the MPSN in
recent weeks. "If the elections are not held on Mar. 19, it is
the responsibility of the executive, of the President of the
republic," declared Pierre-Charles. "If President Préval does not
have the capacity to carry out [the elections]... then he is out
of place, and he must resign."

The right-wing wants parliamentary elections well before the Nov.
2000 presidential elections, which are likely to go to Aristide.
They fear a coat-tail effect for Aristide's partisans.

Finally on Feb. 16, the IFES office in Haiti had to distance
itself from the IFES headquarters in Washington and issued a
statement saying that "IFES wants to publicly assure the
electoral authorities as well as the Haitian population of its
unconditional support for the holding of upcoming elections
according to the schedule fixed by the Provisional Electoral
Council." Phyllis Forbes of USAID dotted the i's and crossed the
t's when she declared on Radio Galaxie two days later that "it
was an employee of IFES who made a mistake [and ] IFES here made
an announcement the day before yesterday to rectify the
situation." Forbes also tried to smooth things over by announcing
that USAID was doling out $10 million so that "the candidates
present themselves before the population and say 'why you should
vote for me' and thus we will help them to present themselves,
for example, with debates where the people can see several
candidates." Of course, this is a case of do-as-I-say, not-as-I-
do, for in the current U.S. electoral campaign, presidential
candidate debates are strictly limited to the two ruling-class
parties: Republican and Democrat.

Meanwhile, the Espace de Concertation, the likely beneficiary of
the current electoral shenanigans, was not too riled up by the
IFES report and replied serenely that they had faith that the CEP
would stick to its Mar. 19 schedule.

Nonetheless, they seem to have calculated that the best defense
is a good offense after the progressive Eskanp party earlier this
month accused the Espace of setting up exclusive registration
stations for their partisans in the Artibonite. Now the Espace is
accusing the Lavalas Family of the same thing. "There are
additional stations being set up in secret of which even we in
the Espace don't know the location," said an Espace leader, Micha
Gaillard. "They are secret and it is a single political family
who is in those stations," he added pointedly.

Yvon Neptune of the Lavalas Family dismissed the charges saying
that "this type of groundless accusation has become so common
that it is really tiring. We in the Lavalas Family don't really
have the time to respond to this type of accusation; we are too

Desperate accusations are the norm this electoral season. There
is very little debate of substance taking place. Neoliberalism,
privatization, agrarian reform, deforestation, the health crisis,
the crime wave, impunity, and other momentous subjects are being
completely ignored most of the candidates.

"There are electoral forces or electoral parties which don't yet
have the real structure of political parties," said Professor
Roger Petit-Frère, cited in an article by Gotson Pierre and Marc
Kingtoph Casimir at the Sicrad Internet site (Haiti / elections:
the political system in question: An analysis of the electoral
situation). "Petit-Frère takes the process of making alliances as
an example : 'One has the impression that these are alliances
between men and not parties. Because the alliances between
parties suppose a consensus on the application of a political
program.' Which up until now is not the case."

Meanwhile, electoral violence continues to flare around the
country, not only in the western GrandeAnse peninsula, but also
areas like Petit Goâve, Léogâne, Cabaret, Arcahaie, and Croix-
des-Bouquets. The police have proven incapable of really
responding to the demands of the situation. Even President Préval
has no faith in them, at least not in their leadership. "You take
a guy like Mr. [Pierrot] Denizé [the chief of police]. Denize has
never studied policing, he has never, even on the job, taken
classes," Préval said in a Feb. 16 interview on the Miami radio
program Carrefour International. Host Alex St. Surin had asked
him why, as president, Préval had been out taking part in police
operations in Port-au-Prince. "You take a citizen on the basis of
honesty, on the basis of his militancy, and you say, my friend,
take responsibility for this. But it is a profession. And,
myself, since 1991, I have been dealing with crime, so I have at
least 8 years of experience in the matter. So I decided to give
him a hand so as to allow him to organize himself, to allow him
to give some results."

But despite Préval's "experience" and assistance on the police
outposts, violence, both electoral and criminal, continues
unabated. The only solution seems to be more along the lines of
that suggested by the PPN at their press conference. They called
on «the few political parties with self-respect to not commit the
same error that they committed when [Col.] Michel François and
[General Raoul] Cédras [during the 1991 coup] placated them by
saying that everything would be all right... Those parties and
the Haitian people must refuse to be taken in by this electoral
coup d'état, because the longer it goes on, the worse it will

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