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#3364: U.S. must press for free and timely elections (fwd)

From: Rosann Clements <rosann@onemain.com>

U.S. must press for free and timely elections
Having spent $3 billion over the last 51/2 years to restore democracy to
Haiti, the United States has more than a passing interest in what happens in
that impoverished and backward Caribbean nation.
Lately, it seems as if the United States has gotten little for its
magnificent investment. Haiti's economy is a disaster. Political
assassinations are an almost daily occurrence. Drug trafficking and official
corruption are increasing. Fourteen percent of the cocaine that is bound for
the United States goes through Haiti, and the chairman of the House
International Relations Committee calls the country a "narco-state."
Furthermore, President Rene Preval rules by virtual decree. He dissolved the
Parliament in January 1999, and it is widely believed that former President
Bertrand Aristide controls him. After much delay and prevarication, Mr.
Preval recently acquiesced to new parliamentary elections that are scheduled
for May 21 and June 25. But international monitors are unconvinced that the
elections will happen then. Mr. Preval seems to enjoy governing without a
Parliament, and Mr. Aristide, who is running for president, is said to
prefer that they run concurrently with the presidential election scheduled
for late this year so as to increase his chances of obtaining a malleable
legislative branch of government.
That some Haitians have begun to mute their criticisms of the Preval regime
is understandable, since critics there often end up dead. But the United
States has no reason to stifle itself; the thugs and hooligans who sow fear
throughout Haiti can't intimidate it. Therefore, the United States can and
should loudly condemn the regime's undemocratic behavior.
At the very minimum, the United States should insist that the parliamentary
elections happen on time and that they be clean, using its great economic
and diplomatic leverage as appropriate. Haiti can't afford to wait another
six months. If Haiti balks, the United States should call an emergency
meeting of the Organization of American States to address the threat to
democracy in the Western Hemisphere.
At the same time, Washington should speak more frankly about the
Preval-Aristide clique's excesses. Having spent billions of dollars to
reinstall Mr. Aristide after the 1991 military coup that deposed him and to
rebuild Haiti, the Clinton administration is understandably reluctant to
admit that it may have tied itself to a venal and violent authoritarian,
especially one who might return to power. Nonetheless, a more honest
appraisal of Haiti's condition would seem to be essential for gaining the
American public's support for any future course of action