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#3346: Haiti begins slide back into anarchy (fwd)
From: Rosann Clements <email@example.com>
Haiti begins slide back into anarchy
Andrew Marshall reports on the malaise behind a journalist's murder
23 April 2000
It is only when the bodies start to pile up that the world takes notice of
Haiti. So the radio journalist Jean Dominique may have performed one last
service to his country when he died in a hail of bullets last week: putting
Haiti back into the headlines at a time when the country is lurching again
Mr. Dominique's death should start alarm bells ringing, said Colin
Granderson, the Trinidadian diplomat who had headed an international
human-rights monitoring mission to Haiti since 1992. "I hope it brings
people to their senses," he said as he left the island last week. "It's time
for everybody to sit down in a wide political dialogue. If not, there will
be a slow descent into violence and even worse."
Jean Dominique, 69, had been a familiar voice on the airwaves for decades
through his station Radio Inter. He broadcast during the long years of the
Duvalier dictatorship, and left the country twice after death threats, the
last time in 1991 when his friend Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted from the
presidency. He returned in 1994 after Aristide was restored to power, at a
time when it seemed as if Haiti's future might be brighter.
Now, the US troops who helped Mr. Aristide back into power under Operation
Restore Democracy are all gone, and democracy isn't looking very healthy
Mr. Dominique's death was just the latest in a series of killings as the
country struggles to survive without most of the appurtenances of a modern
There has been no approved budget since 1997. And there has been no
effective democracy since President René Preval dissolved parliament in
January 1999. Legislative elections that should have taken place last year
have been repeatedly postponed.
The suspicion in Haiti is that President Preval would prefer to wait until
later this year, when presidential and legislative elections could be held
at the same time.
His friend and former boss Mr. Aristide was ruled out from a second
consecutive term, but could stand again this year. His presence at the polls
could help his party, Family Lavalas, to stack up more votes.
Mr. Aristide, in comments in Miami last week, said that he favored a vote
sooner rather than later. "We need elections," he said. But, he added: "We
must have elections in good conditions. My party is ready to participate in
elections as soon as the date is set." He brushed aside suggestions that it
was his party supporters who were behind some of the violence. "These are
not my supporters," he said. "We know the government of Haiti does not want
to have burning tires in the street or have social disorder. But the legacy
of what has come before in my country is a weak judicial system." That is
undoubtedly true. The country's police force is a shambles, say aid
officials; the judicial system is worse.
In theory, the United Nations has a mission in Haiti to reorganize the
justice system, promote human rights and organize elections, but its
finances are virtually non-existent because the US has not paid its share of
the expenses. The International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH)
started work with less than a fifth of its planned strength, and Kofi Annan,
the UN Secretary General, has warned that the operation may have to close.
The US says it wants to pay, but that will be up to the US Congress; and the
Congress isn't happy about the lack of elections.
Pressure is building for economic sanctions against Haiti, as politicians in
Washington start to lose patience with the country. "We are deeply troubled
by the failure of the Haitian government to set a new date for elections,"
said Peter Romero, the State Department's assistant secretary for Western
Hemisphere affairs. The deadline is the end of May. If there are no polls
before then, then the new parliamentary term starts on 12 June, and it will
be too late. That "would risk isolating Haiti from the community of
democracies and jeopardize future cooperation", said Mr. Romero. The US may
even apply sanctions.
The intervention in Haiti was touted as one of the most significant
achievements of the Clinton administration, but it looks increasingly to
have achieved little. Washington seems torn between the urge to declare
victory and get the hell out, as it was described during Vietnam, and a
genuine desire to sort things out.
If it doesn't, then the same reasons that led America to intervene in the
first place may return. There will be more deaths. Recent reports say that
the country has once again become a significant hub in cocaine trafficking.
It will not be long, if things continue to deteriorate, before the refugee
flow starts again.
Mr Dominique's death in fact came at a time when alarm bells were already
ringing; it may help to refocus Haitians and those outside on the country's
"You must understand, for Haitians to vote means more than in your country,"
Mr. Dominique told the Miami Herald in 1991, when Aristide was elected.
"It's the way for the millions who live in dirt and poverty to prove to
themselves that they are human. It is the difference between eternal
darkness and light.''