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#3548: Fear in Haiti as Elections Approach (fwd)
Wednesday May 10 1:58 AM ET
Fear in Haiti as Elections Approach
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Marcellin Jean is afraid he can't provide
for his family. He's afraid he might be robbed in the unlit lanes of his
slum. And he's afraid that if he votes, he will be attacked. Like many
of the more than 4 million Haitians registered to vote on May 21, Jean
knows the elections may be the start of a way out of poverty and
lawlessness. But the fear may keep him home. ``I'm still not sure
whether I'm going to vote,'' the 40-year-old Jean said. ``I don't want
to be caught in a rat trap, with the ballot (as) bait in my hand.''
His fear is not unfounded: In 1987, the army aborted Haiti's first free
elections. Hundreds were killed during campaigning and some 30 were
killed on election day.Jean's wife, Daniella, remembers. And the
intervening years in this desperately poor, increasingly lawless country
have changed too little. She will ``cast her vote for Jesus'' and not go
to the polls, Jean said. Bloodshed and vandalism have marred the
preparations for elections and halted most campaigning. A dozen
people have been killed in politically related slayings since March 29.
Jean himself did not vote in the last elections, in 1997. Disgusted
with the corruption and ineffectiveness of elected officials, 95 percent
of Haitians stayed away from the polls. The result was political
paralysis, and Haiti has been without a functioning government for
nearly three years. International financial institutions are withholding
$500 million in aid until a new Parliament is installed. Without
it, economic recovery is impossible. But organizational bumbling,
politics and escalating political violence threaten to postpone the
legislative voting - already delayed three times - yet again.
Unlike during the 1991-1994 dictatorship when the army and its henchmen
ruled, and killed as many as 4,000, most people are confused about who
exactly is calling the shots now. ``Then we could identify the enemy.
Now the bullet can come from any quarter,'' Jean said. Haiti is in
desperate need of effective government. More than half the work force is
jobless or underemployed, and 80 percent of the people live in poverty.
Illiteracy is widespread. Jean, a street-corner real estate agent, earns
about $100 a month, far above the per capita annual income of no
more than $500. ``It's drug dealers who are keeping (housing) prices
high,'' Jean said. He refused to elaborate, but officials say
Haiti has become a leading drug transit point between Colombia and the
United States. With the depreciation of the currency, the gourde, food
prices have risen sharply. ``We can't keep our heads above water,'' Jean
said. A U.S. Embassy survey in November reported that one out of two
Haitians say their economic situation had worsened since military rule,
when international economic sanctions were imposed on Haiti. Seventy
percent said they had given ``serious thought'' to leaving Haiti. Some
1,502 people were interviewed for the survey, which had a margin of
error of 3 percent. ``Considering our slight progress and the extent of
our setbacks ... there's no doubt it will take about 200 years for
us to catch up with developed countries,'' Group Croissance, a
consulting firm, reported in April. Meanwhile, Haiti's 5,000-member
police force, trained by the United Nations, has been unable to stem
increasing crime. Haitians offer plenty of reasons for that: Police are
ill-equipped, overworked, lazy or even under political pressure from
former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party. Since Aristide is
running again in a vote expected in December, some believe that if he
wins, he will order a crackdown on crime and take the credit.
On April 8, after the funeral of prominent journalist Jean Dominique -
whose slaying remains unsolved - street activists claiming to be
Aristide partisans burned down the headquarters of the opposition Space
for Concord coalition. Police watched, but did not intervene.
On Saturday, gunmen shot and killed former health minister and
prominent physician Ary Bordes, 74. And on Sunday night, gunmen killed
Elam Senat, a well-known opposition militant in the town of Savanette,
and his 23-year-old son, Edner. A priest, the Rev. Lagneau Balot, was
killed during a robbery last week. ``When God is no longer in men's
hearts, society turns into a jungle,'' said Roman Catholic Bishop
Monsignor Louis Kebreau. Provisional electoral council president Leon
Manus has warned that elections may be called off if violence attributed
to the campaign persists. ``The last chances of recovery will be lost,''
he said, ``and the country will sink into the unknown.''