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#2911: In Haiti, Democracy Sinks Into Disorder (fwd)


In Haiti, Democracy Sinks Into Disorder_______ LA TIMES 03-19-2000
By MARK FINEMAN, Times Staff Writer
GRAND-GOAVE, Haiti--It was just after sunset when "The Gift of God"
mowed down dozens of men and women in this coastal town. Sixteen died on
the spot as the passenger bus bearing the name "Le Cadeau de Dieu"
barreled onto the roadside with lights dimmed. The driver fled on foot
before police arrived. The owner has yet to be held accountable. And, as
three more people among the two dozen injured died in the days after the
March 7 roadside  carnage, Grand-Goave's estimated 65,000 residents took
matters into their own hands.  Thousands stormed the police station,
drove officers out of town, seized their weapons and burned the bus and
two police  vans. "I was actively involved," Mayor Joseph Jean-Pierre
Salam said proudly last week, just days before he and other politicians
across Haiti were to have stood for reelection. "If I didn't
participate, it would have been much worse." 
That display of frustration and populist justice, analysts say,reflects
a perilous trend in this land--where the rule of law has broken down and
democracy is, at best, endangered. The opposition party mayor has no
official control over the town. His legal authority has expired, along
with that of every other elected official in Haiti except one: a
president who has ruled by decree in the 14 months since he dissolved
the opposition-led Parliament and allowed all local officials' terms to
lapse.Long-delayed national polls to replace them were scheduled to   be
held today, but President Rene Preval on Thursday postponed  them by
decree--indefinitely. Citing a litany of registration snags that would
have disenfranchised at least 1 million potential voters, Haiti's  
independent Provisional Electoral Council earlier this month postponed
until April 9 the national polls that are being financed with the help
of more than $20 million from the U.S. taxpayers.                      
Preval's response: He, and only he, has the power to set the election
date, the president told the nation. But still, he hasn't. And in the
continuing vacuum, with the uncertainty,helplessness and ire that helped
fuel the Grand-Goave uprising,this country is descending even deeper
into chaos. 

No U.S. Condemnation of Delayed Vote 
The Clinton administration, which sent 20,000 troops here in 1994 to
drive out Haiti's military dictatorship and reinstate elected President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Operation Restore Democracy, has issued no
public condemnations of Preval's repeated postponements. President
Clinton's personal envoy, Anthony Lake, met Preval in Port-au-Prince on
March 10, a few hours before the Haitian president publicly rejected the
electoral council's new date. But Lake's departure statement merely
encouraged Preval's regime to hold the elections as soon as possible.  
The U.N. Security Council, which was forced to shut down a police
training and monitoring mission here last week after Congress withdrew
U.S. funding, issued a statement calling the elections "crucial to
democracy and all aspects of Haiti's development" and strongly urging
authorities to hold "credible elections as rapidly as possible."       
By all accounts, the nine-member electoral council, which diplomats here
say is as incompetent as it is independent, had ample justification to
delay the vote. Materials for new voter identification cards have been
lost or stolen. There are too few registration offices. And hours-long
waits outside those offices,which testify to the strong popular desire
to vote, deter many of the employed middle and upper classes from
A poll published last week in the daily Le Nouvelliste showed that 52%
of the eligible voters in Port-au-Prince, the capital, want to vote but
have yet to receive their cards. Part of the problem is the utter
disarray in Haiti during the decades of dictatorship and army rule that
preceded Aristide's 1994 return and on through the 1995 election and
subsequent rule of his handpicked successor, Preval. Haiti's last
official census was in 1982, and no one knows how many citizens are
qualified  to vote beyond the 2.9 million who already have secured new
voter ID cards.  "Nobody even knows how many Haitians there are," said
Colin Granderson, who headed the five-year joint U.N.-Organization of
American States police monitoring mission that expired last week. "All
the numbers here are just guesses."But many Haitians view the
nightmarish registration process and many election-date delays as
deliberate tactics by Preval,with the tacit endorsement of Aristide and
his Lavalas Family party. The Haitian Constitution required Aristide to
step aside after one term. The former priest, who remains Haiti's most
popular politician, is expected to run again in presidential polls      
scheduled for December. And most Haitian analysts say his party      
would fare better behind Aristide's coattails if the parliamentary,    
local and presidential elections were held simultaneously. Whatever the
motives, the lack of a functioning parliamentary government has cost
Haiti dearly. It has led donors to freeze Hundreds of millions of
dollars in international development aid earmarked for a nation where
the majority are unemployed, the average wage is $400 a year and the
rate of illiteracy stands at 80%. 
A dysfunctional judiciary has deepened the crisis. And together, those
woes are eroding one of the country's few functioning institutions--a 4
1/2-year-old National Police force that the U.S. government has spent
tens of millions of dollars trying to create and train after Aristide
disbanded the army.  A State Department report on human rights released
last month cites "a sharp increase" in extrajudicial killings by the
National Police. "Allegations of corruption, incompetence and        
narcotics trafficking target members at all levels of the force," the
report states, adding that the judiciary "remained largely weak and    
corrupt."  "Methodical investigations and prosecutions are rare and 
impunity remains a problem," it adds. "Fair and expeditiousprosecutions
are exceptions rather than the rule."                                 
The result: "Vigilante activity, including killings, remained a        
common alternative to formal judicial processes," the report         
concludes. So, analysts here say, the Grand-Goave uprising 23 miles
southwest of the Haitian capital after "The Gift of God" plowed       
through a roadside Mardi Gras procession should not have come          
as a surprise.  "The surprising thing isn't that these kind of things
are happening, it's that there aren't more of them," said Trinidadian
diplomat Granderson of the police monitoring mission.                   
Even Mayor Salam, whose Organization of People in Struggle party
fiercely opposes Aristide's Lavalas party, said he was surprised that
his townspeople didn't kill anyone the day they exacted their small
measure of revenge.  "You cannot imagine the frustrations here," he
said. His town has had no telephone service for 22 days, he said.
Grand-Goave gets six hours of electricity every three months, he added,
"and not even 50 of our young people are gainfully employed." "It's only
when we demonstrate and block the roads that we get any attention," he

 Rumors Spiral Out of Control 
Reporters at the local Radio Saka, which can broadcast only           
12 hours a day on the five gallons of fuel it can afford for its
generator, said there were two sparks that ignited popular passion that
day. Both were rumors: that police had released two suspects arrested
from the bus shortly after the accident, and that the bus was offering
the equivalent of $12 to each family of the dead. As it turned out, the
two detainees were potential material witnesses--not suspects--who had
been transferred to an adjacent town for their own safety. But the
rumors quickly created a hellish reality. Riot police sent to lift the
siege of the police station went house to house, using batons to beat
suspected rioters, according to witnesses. "This is an incredible
situation," said local broadcaster Booz Bellerice. "No one has come to
investigate the killings of all these people. No one has come to help
the victims or the families of the  dead. They just send riot police to
beat us." fOr Salam, an unemployed welder, there is only one immediate
solution: "We believe elections will solve at least some of the problems
we have in this country. We have to build new institutions. Because now,
we have nothing."