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#3184: Journalist's murder points to Haiti's slide into chaos (fwd)


Published Saturday, April 8, 2000, in the Miami Herald
 Journalist's murder points to Haiti's slide into chaos

 PORT-AU-PRINCE -- The assassination Monday of Jean Dominique, Haiti's
 best-known radio commentator, put an exclamation point to the country's
descent toward anarchy and is raising fears of even worse violence
ahead. The murder occurred as political instability accelerated, fueled
by a collapsing economy and a spirited controversy over the timing of
parliamentary and presidential elections. ``We're going to have major
turbulence if the situation doesn't improve,'' said Claude Beauboeuf, a
Haitian consultant, university lecturer and radio commentator who holds
a doctorate in economics and international affairs from
 the University of Miami. ``You could see low-intensity civil war with
many groups having weapons, and maybe even state collapse. Then you have
total anarchy.'' Haiti's recurring cycles of violence are usually
accompanied by a flood of boat people desperately trying to reach the
United States, and this one may be no different. A recent poll by Radio
Metropole and the newspaper Le Nouvelliste showed that almost 70 percent
of Haitians would leave if they could. For the moment, there has been no
increase in the number of refugee boats intercepted; nor has increased
boat-building activity been detected. But there is little question that
Haiti is mired in its worst crisis since September 1994, when
 U.S. troops helped oust a military regime and restore Jean-Bertrand
Aristide as president.


 A number of elements has contributed to the prevailing atmosphere of
gloom and uncertainty: There has been no Parliament since January 1999,
when President Rene Preval effectively dissolved it, leaving Haiti in
what a U.S. State Department report called a ``constitutionally
irregular'' situation. The government itself is a de facto one, without
final parliamentary approval for Prime Minister Jacques Alexis and his
Cabinet, who were installed by decree. The economy is near ruin. Haiti's
currency, the gourde, had remained stable for several years at about 16
to one U.S. dollar, but in the past four months -- because of rising
petroleum prices and deficit government spending -- it has
 depreciated to 20 to one and, at one point, reached nearly 23 to one.
That has sent the cost of living soaring, with the price of basic
commodities rising 15 to 25 percent in the past two months, according to
an informal survey. A downtown retail businessman, who asked that
neither his name nor his business be used, said his sales had dropped 33
percent in February and March after the relative boom that followed
restoration of Aristide's presidency. Beauboeuf said anxiety has spread
across economic classes: ``There is a lot of frustration, disenchantment
and even despair. Not just the traditional poor but the middle class and
petite bourgeoisie. It's an unprecedented situation, socially,
 politically and economically.''


 The crisis comes as the Haitian National Police, created to replace a
hated army dissolved by Aristide when he returned in 1994 after three
years in exile, is also in growing disarray. Its strength is listed at
6,200, the only government security force for a country of eight million
people, although some estimates put its actual numbers at fewer then
4,000. Additionally, police are handicapped by a dysfunctional justice
system in which prisoners are held for years without hearings. And
because of the economic pinch, the government is in arrears on its
payroll, including the police. The last residue of U.S. troops stationed
in Haiti left the country in January. The mandates of two international
monitoring and advisory missions for police, justice and human rights
expired March 15. A combined successor mission is not yet operational,
due to lack of funding. ``It's uncharted territory. There is nobody to
put on the brakes'' to the deteriorating situation, another foreign
official said. ``No institutions. No army. No political system. Nobody
who has any moral authority. The moral authority comes from a
 gun . . . there's nothing or anybody out there to put a check on it. At
least Jean Dominique had some kind of moral authority.''


 Increasingly, in Haiti and abroad, blame for the current state of
affairs is being placed on Aristide and President Rene Preval because of
their perceived efforts to manipulate the electoral timetable to assure
that Aristide's Lavalas Movement takes control of both Parliament and
the presidency. This week, however, Aristide said for the first time
that he favors holding elections soon, a development that could alter
the electoral schedule and improve Haiti's political picture. The
government and officials of Preval's Lavalas party have become irritated
as international and domestic pressure increases to hold elections in
time to install a new Parliament by June 12, the date for the opening
 of the second annual session of Parliament.  ``The international
community has been trying for such a long time to turn itself
 into an opposition to Preval,'' Yvon Neptune, a Lavalas spokesman and
candidate, said. ``It is responsible for this thing.'' One businessman
dismissed the whole controversy as moot, contending that November's U.S.
elections are more likely ``to decide what happens here than the
 elections here.''