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#3494: Long-delayed Haitian elections threatened anew - FWD (fwd)


Published Monday, May 1, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

Long-delayed Haitian elections threatened anew
Violence casts pall on voting set for May 21

Escalating violence and ongoing technical and logistical problems once again 
threaten Haiti's long-delayed parliamentary elections, seen as the first step 
toward pulling the troubled Caribbean country back from the brink of chaos.

First-round voting -- already postponed three times -- for about 10,000 local 
and legislative positions is now set for May 21, with a parliamentary runoff 
June 25.

The elections are seen as critical to resolving a three-year-old political 
standoff that has left only a partially functioning government and only nine 
elected officials nationwide -- President Rene Preval and eight senators.

There has been no Parliament since Preval terminated its term in January 
1999. But as the vote draws closer, growing concern is being expressed both 
in Haiti and internationally about political-related violence, underlined by 
the April 3 assassination of Jean Dominique, Haiti's best-known radio 
commentator, and the disturbances that followed his April 8 funeral.

``If, in the coming days, popular organizations continue to promote violence, 
to destroy the cars of honest citizens, if fires continue to destroy property 
. . . the elections will not take place,'' Leon Manus, chairman of Haiti's 
Provisional Electoral Council, said last week at a meeting with political 
party representatives.


The so-called popular organizations blamed for much of the street violence 
have been linked to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, although he has 
denied any responsibility.

The Preval government and Haiti's fledgling police force are coming under 
fire for not acting more aggressively to halt the violence.

``We reiterate that the responsibility for ending this violence and bringing 
the perpetrators to justice rests with President Preval and the Haitian 
government,'' said a joint statement by six liberal U.S.-based human rights 
groups, including the National Coalition for Haiti Rights, the Washington 
Office on Latin America, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights 
Watch, the Center for International Policy, and the International Human 
Rights Law Group.

The April 25 statement also said the groups were ``disturbed that Mr. 
Aristide personally has not used the considerable moral force and political 
goodwill that he still enjoys in Haiti to condemn the violence.''

Aristide reportedly promised a delegation from private-sector organizations 
that met with him April 20 that he would make such a statement, but so far it 
has not been made.

An Organization of American States electoral observer mission, already in the 
country, also chided the government for not acting more forcefully, noting 
``once again that the State has primary responsibility to assure conditions 
of security to permit the functioning of its institutions.'' There is 
widespread speculation among opposition groups and other analysts that 
Aristide and Preval would prefer to see the parliamentary elections delayed 
and combined with presidential elections later this year.

That would give Aristide, still Haiti's most popular politician and a 
presumed presidential candidate, a better chance of winning a parliamentary 
majority. And it would enable Preval to govern without a Parliament for most 
of the remaining nine months of his term.

Both foreign and Haitian analysts are now putting the chance of elections 
being held as scheduled May 21 and June 25 at little better than even, given 
the growing violence, the continued disorganization of the electoral 
machinery and the perceived reluctance of Preval and Aristide to hold them.

At the same time, there are signs of both disintegration and politicization 
in the new Haitian National Police, which replaced the army dissolved by 
Aristide after he was returned to the presidency in 1994 by a U.S.-led 


The latest blow came last week with the resignation of Luc Eucher Joseph, the 
police inspector general who was credited with weeding out some of the 
force's worst elements.

He was the second ranking police-security official to resign in recent 
months. In October, Bob Manuel, secretary of state for security in the 
Ministry of Justice, resigned under pressure from Aristide and his Lavalas 
Family political party.

That leaves only Pierre Denize, the police director general, in place, and 
he, too, came under fire from Aristide and his supporters at the time of 
Manuel's resignation.

The statement by the six human rights groups noted that ``the Haitian 
National Police is in growing disarray, with ongoing serious human rights 
abuses and its integrity challenged by political interference and 
drugs-related corruption.''

The erosion of the police also comes as a new United Nations Mission -- with 
judicial, human rights and police advisory components -- that was to begin 
operation March 15 is being held up by lack of promised U.S. funding.

Clinton administration officials say they now expect that $3 million will be 
transferred to the United Nations sometime this week to help jump-start the 

Special correspondent Stewart Stogel contributed to this report from the 
United Nations.