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#3053: U.S. presses Haiti over elections (fwd)


Published Monday, March 27, 2000, in the Miami Herald 
 U.S. presses Haiti over elections
 No Parliament for 14 months tests patience BY DON BOHNING 

 WASHINGTON -- The talk is getting tougher and patience growing shorter,
within the Clinton administration and on Capitol Hill, over continued
delays by Haitian officials in holding critical legislative and local
elections. And the longer the elections remain stalled, the more
sentiment grows for possible sanctions against Haiti, both at the
multilateral and bilateral level, including economic and diplomatic
isolation and the denial of U.S. visas to those seen as obstructing the
democratic process. Two senior administration officials were in Haiti
last week delivering the message in meetings with President Rene Preval,
members of the Provisional Electoral Council, political party leaders
and representatives of business and civic organizations.


 In a departure statement, Arturo Valenzuela, the top White House
National Security Council official for Latin America, and Donald
Steinberg, the State Department's special Haiti coordinator, said they
had ``expressed the Clinton administration's deepest concern over the
continued failure of Haitian authorities to agree to a definitive date
for legislative and local elections. ``They stressed,'' the statement
added, ``the importance of holding these elections rapidly, in order to
seat the parliament by the constitutionally mandated date of June 12.''
 ``Failure to constitute a legitimate parliament risks isolating Haiti
from the community of democracies and jeopardizes future cooperation,''
Valenzuela said. Haiti has been without a parliament for nearly 15


 Another sign of Washington's growing irritation over election delays --
even within the Congressional Black Caucus, where support for former
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the current Preval government has
been the strongest -- came earlier this month in a stiff letter to
Preval. It was signed by Rep. Benjamin Gilman, Republican chairman of
the House International Relations Committee, along with committee
members John Conyers and Charles Rangel, both Democrats and both members
of the Black Caucus. The letter blamed Preval for precipitating the
current ``electoral crisis'' by his January 1999 action declaring
parliamentarians' terms at an end, which effectively dissolved
Parliament. It called on Preval to ensure that parliamentary and local
elections be held ``without further undue delay'' and that those
elections be separate from the presidential election to be held later in
the year.


 ``The Clinton administration informs us that it will use all diplomatic
means to respond to those who seek to disrupt or corrupt the electoral
process,'' said the letter to Preval. ``The administration has our full
support to so act to protect vital American interests.''  The two-stage
election had once been scheduled for late 1999, then set for March
 19 and April 30 of this year, by agreement between Preval and the
Provisional Electoral Council. The council subsequently postponed the
vote -- apparently without consulting Preval -- to April 9 and May 21,
saying it was organizationally and logistically impossible to meet the
earlier dates. The new dates provoked a schism between Preval and the
council when Preval said that he was not consulted and that only he had
the authority to set the new dates. He argued that preparation for
credible elections could not be completed by the new April 9 date.
 It is now expected that new election dates -- with the first round
likely to take place April 30 -- will be announced this week, perhaps


 A date more important than the election dates, however, is June 12,
when Parliament is constitutionally mandated to begin its second session
of the year -- a day described by one observer as the ``drop dead''
date. It means that whenever voting takes place, it must occur in time
to validate the results so that elected parliamentarians can be seated
on June 12. That could take the second vote up to late May.
 Otherwise, there are already discussions within the administration and
Congress, about sanctions, which include invoking the so-called Santiago
Declaration adopted by the Organization of American States in 1991.
 The declaration calls for the hemisphere's foreign ministers to convene
and determine if there has been a disruption of the democratic process
in a member country and, if so, take the ``appropriate measures.'' Such
measures could include an embargo. Ironically, the provision was first
invoked when the military ousted then Haitian President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide from office. Preval was his prime minister. That episode
culminated in the 1994 U.S.-led invasion that restored Aristide to the