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#3268: Sun Sentinel article Fragile Haiti's Hope (fwd)



            Fragile Haiti's hope 

            BY E.A. TORRIERO       
            Web-posted: 12:13 a.m. Apr. 16, 2000

            Torched polling places. Political assassinations. No functioning 
            Parliament. A corrupt and inept voting process. A fearful 
               Democracy in Haiti hangs by the most fragile of threads. After 
            months of unrestrained violence, after threats of international 
            sanctions and the suspension of more than $500 million in foreign 
            aid, Haitians will try to unbind their hamstrung government at 
            polls on May 21.
               "It is a crucial date," said Florence Elie, who runs the 
            country's Office of the Protection of the Citizen, a watchdog 
            for human rights. "The country really needs to have these 
            go well. People must be able to go and vote and express 
               Delayed three times in recent months by political squabbling, 
            mismanaged electoral system, and more than 60 instances of mayhem 
            and protest, Haiti's elections are viewed by international 
            as a key test of the country's seemingly faltering desire for 
            political stability.
               In 1994, a U.S.-led intervention was designed to rid Haiti of 
            ruling military thugs and to restore and uphold democracy. But 
            corruption, ineptitude, violence and low turnouts marred 
            in 1995 and 1997. Then the country's teetering political system 
                Because of infighting and a power struggle between President 
            Rene Preval and the legislature, the last elected parliament was 
            dissolved in June 1998. The country has been without a fully 
            functioning government since.
               More than a half billion dollars in international aid has been 
            withheld because of the government breakdown. The economy of the 
            poorest place in the Western Hemisphere is in shambles.
               10 murders
               In recent weeks, Haiti seemed to be spiraling chaotically 
            elections were postponed indefinitely. Rioters took to the 
            in protest, and 10 people were murdered -- including a popular 
            talk show host with outspoken political beliefs. Last week, a 
            political candidate was hacked to death and his daughter was 
            with a machete.
               As the violence escalated, Preval and the election commission 
            been unable to agree on a timetable for the election.
                Last week, after intense lobbying by the Clinton 
            the Haitian government announced that elections will finally take 
            place in late May. Then, on Friday, the government announced that 
            the second round of elections will be held June 25 and that a new 
            parliament will be in session immediately thereafter.
                The Clinton administration, which is putting up at least half 
            the $20 million needed to hold the elections, has more than its 
            credibility on the line. Recent polls show that as many 70 
            of Haitians are ready to take to the seas toward Florida if the 
            bleak situation deteriorates.
               "The time has never been more ripe for elections," Peter 
            a senior U.S. State Department official told the U.S. House 
            International Relations Committee recently while scolding Haitian 
            leaders over election delays.
               Only once, in 1990, has Haiti held an election untainted by 
            corruption, inaccurate vote counts and mayhem. And only then 
            of the steady watch and interference from international observers.
               Candidates galore
               This time, more than 29,000 candidates from dozens of parties 
            vying for about 10,000 local and federal offices. There will most 
            certainly be the need for runoff elections. And then presidential 
            elections are expected to follow in November.
               During the registration process earlier this year, there was 
            violence at voting offices -- including the murder of some 
            officials -- and allegations that some voters were denied their 
            rights to sign up.
               "We are looking into those charges," said Jennifer Harbury, an 
            attorney from Washington, D.C., who is in Haiti leading a group 
            international election monitors. "If it is true, they could skew 
            election results, and we are trying to make sure that doesn't 
               "I spend all my effort just to ensure there will be an 
            said Evans Paul, the former mayor of Port-au-Prince and an 
            opposition party leader.
               Like several Haitians prominent in politics, Paul has received 
            death threats. Last Sunday, the headquarters of Paul's movement 
            set ablaze. Paul has hired bodyguards and asked foreign embassies 
            provide him and his family with a safe haven.
               Aristide blamed
               Paul and his supporters blame the camp of former President 
            Bertrand Aristide for the escalating violence. Aristide was 
            in a military coup in 1991 and was restored to power in 1994 by 
            U.S.-led intervention. He served out his term in 1996, but was 
            prohibited by Haitian law from seeking re-election.
               Paul split from the Aristide camp after the U.S. intervention 
            has formed a self-styled political movement. And Aristide, who 
            not announced his intentions to run for president this year, is 
            odds-on favorite to become president again. Political opponents 
            Aristide's Lavalas party is orchestrating a campaign of violence 
            that only one election will be held later this year -- an 
            to Aristide, who still has the devout loyalty of millions of poor 
               "It is clear: Lavalas wants to restore dictatorship in Haiti," 
            said Serge Gilles, an opposition leader and Paul ally.
               In two recent speeches in South Florida, Aristide denounced 
            election violence and said he has nothing to do with it.
               "If you had a hidden camera, you would be very surprised to 
            the violence that is being done to us," said Yvon Neptune, 
            for Aristide's party. "We want to put Haiti back in the hands of 
            Haitians, and outside forces are against that. They are the ones 
            promoting the violence."
               Aristide's followers blame U.S-led operatives for the murder 
            weeks ago of Jean Dominique, a popular radio talk show host and 
            Aristide supporter. But so far no credible evidence has surfaced.
               Despite the problems, more than 90 percent of Haiti's 
estimated 4 
            million voters have registered and have received voter 
            identification cards. The card is a lure to Haitians, because 
            lack official documents such as passports or driver's licenses.
               U.S. aid
               "The registration process has gone very well," said Richard 
            Soudriette, president of the International Foundation for 
            System in Washington, D.C., which has received an $8 million 
            contract from the Clinton administration to help Haiti run its 
               Even with the country's faltering democracy, U.S. officials 
            contend that Haiti is better off today than it was during the 
            from 1991 to 1994, when thousands of Haitians fled the country or 
            went into hiding as the brutal military ruled by murderous 
               "We did the right thing," Secretary of State Madeleine 
            recently told editors and reporters at the Boston Globe. 
            things were happening, people had their faces ripped off, 
            were fleeing on rafts."
               Clinton failure
               But critics -- including many U.S. Republicans, prominent 
            Haitians and diplomats in Haiti -- brand the Clinton policies as 
               "This is what was restored: three bad elections; no central 
            legislature and a non-functioning, highly corrupt government," 
            Ernest Preeg, a former ambassador to Haiti during the Reagan 
            administration years. "They keep saying it is a success with some 
            setbacks. That's not the case." 
               But Robert Pastor, an adviser to former President Jimmy Carter 
            who led international election monitoring groups in 1990 and 
            says progress in Haiti must be evaluated over decades, not years.
               "Haiti is not doing as well as anyone had hoped," said Pastor, 
            who teaches political science at Emory University. "But it is not 
            worse than what it was."
               Outside the legislative chamber in Port-au-Prince there is a 
            legacy to the dysfunctional democracy.
               Several luxury cars, once belonging to senators and deputies, 
            were damaged by their drivers before they were returned to the 
            government when parliament was disbanded. They are missing wheels 
            and engine parts. Some have been dented and have smashed 
               Inside the mostly empty chamber, a solitary maintenance worker 
            napped in the balcony recently. 
               Even during the military coup, there was a functioning 
               "I am very sad about this," said Elie Pierre, the public 
            relations man for the disbanded legislature. "When we had no 
            democracy, we had a parliament. Now we have democracy, but no 
            parliament. This doesn't make sense."
               Information from Sun-Sentinel wire services was used to 
            supplement this report.
               E.A. Torriero can be reached at etorriero@sun-sentinel.com or