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#3321: Haiti's Faint Hopes (fwd)


Haiti's Faint Hopes
Friday, April 21, 2000; Page A26 WASHINGTON POST

 THERE IS, at last, a small amount of hopeful political news out of
Haiti. After weeks of U.S. prodding, the government of President
 Rene Preval has announced that long-postponed legislative and        
municipal elections will take place May 21 and June 25. This does not
meet the June 12 deadline for the seating of a new parliament that the 
Clinton administration had previously laid down. But it's close        
enough.The question remains, however: How free will the elections be?
Haiti's politicians and its 4 million registered voters have renewed
 reason to ask. Since March 29, 10 persons have been killed in violent 
incidents related to the island's politics. Some of the violence has  
been linked to the ruling Fanmi Lavalas party, which former president 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide continues to control. On Wednesday, gunmen      
kidnapped local opposition candidate Claudy Myrthil. On April 13,  
Merilus Deus, a candidate for local office in the town of Savanette,  
was shot and hacked to death. And on April 8, pro-Aristide crowds 
followed up the funeral of assassinated radio journalist Jean Dominique
by burning down the headquarters of the opposition Space for Concord and
stoning the offices of another political party and an anti-Aristide
radio station. Police stood by and did nothing. "The atmosphere is one
of terror," a spokesman for the Space for Concord said this week. "We
need security for candidates and voters to have a free and fair
election."It seems a reasonable enough expectation. What will the
Clinton administration do to ensure it is met? The United States took an
appropriately tough stance when violence, fraud and media manipulation
threatened the recent presidential election in Alberto Fujimori's Peru.
A similar approach is called for in Haiti. The United States has offered
the Haitian police riot gear and promised technical support for the
electoral commission. It needs as well to take the lead in putting
Haiti's authorities under consistent pressure to stop the political
violence, while encouraging both Haiti's own electoral  authorities and
international monitors to subject the entire process to thorough,
independent and credible scrutiny. Not just Haiti's democratic future
but the credibility of U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean
depend on that.