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#3685: Democracy is on the ballot again in Haiti (fwd)
From: Rosann Clements <firstname.lastname@example.org>
May 17, 2000
Democracy is on the ballot again in Haiti
By Willis Witter
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Democracy, a universal ideal pushed
relentlessly by the United States, gets another chance in Haiti on Sunday
when citizens are scheduled to elect a new parliament and hundreds of local
But in Washington, Haiti has largely been forgotten.
The democratic ideals introduced at gunpoint by U.S. forces six years
ago are a distant memory for Edith Jean, who huddled this week with three
small children avoiding the armed gangs who last year killed her 16-year-old
Like most Haitians, she was euphoric when 20,000 American soldiers
arrived in 1994, bringing the exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, back
to his eagerly awaiting homeland.
Mrs. Jean, 42, thought that the streets would soon be safe, her
children would for the first time go to school, and that she would be able
to earn enough for two and even three meals every day. Those hopes have
For many, if not most Haitians, despair has long since replaced the
euphoria. The U.S. soldiers are gone and when Mrs. Jean and others awaken on
Sunday morning, they will listen for gunshots before deciding whether to go
out to vote.
"In your country, when people vote they don't have to worry about
getting shot," Natalie Beaubrun, a 30-year-old shop clerk told a visiting
Those gunned down in recent weeks include a prominent priest, a doctor,
a politician and the nation's most popular radio personality. All were
critical of the government.
Instead of dusty streets filled with the shouts of campaign revelers,
one can scarcely tell that an election lies ahead. Most candidates from the
33 opposition parties have dropped out of sight. Some have even pulled their
names off the ballots.
To many, the contest seems eerily reminiscent of 1987, when hundreds
died during another election campaign. On the day of the vote, army thugs
sprayed polling stations with gunfire, killing 30 and ending Haiti's
first-ever attempt at free elections.
"It could easily happen again," said Evelyn Paul, 25, a hospital
worker. Apart from political killings, common crimes such as kidnapping and
robbery have also soared. A civilian police force set up with U.S. help
during the intervention has been largely ineffective.
Unlike in the past when bandits relied on knives and machetes, today
they have guns, which are thought to have been confiscated from the Haitian
army that was disbanded by Mr. Aristide when he returned.
Those with political grudges also find guns readily available and have
little qualms about using them.
When someone is gunned down, witnesses either claim to have seen
nothing or refuse to testify, fearing they will meet a similar fate. None of
the political murders of the past two months has been solved. Now, with days
to go before elections, it is not even certain that polling stations will
Western governments and international institutions like the World Bank
refuse to release $500 million in foreign aid until freely elected lawmakers
sit in parliament -something that has not happened since January 1999 when
President Rene Preval dismissed parliament and began ruling by decree.
The government has since managed to register more than 4 million
Haitians for Sunday's vote, giving outsiders the hope that democracy will
once again bloom. But Haitians whisper quietly that militants within the
ruling Fanmi Lavalas Party conducted the recent killings in an attempt to
keep the elections - already postponed three times -from happening.
Spokesmen for the Fanmi Lavalas Party deny any connection to the
killings and condemn the violence, but Mr. Preval himself has been virtually
silent. So has his predecessor and mentor, Mr. Aristide, who was overthrown
in 1991 and returned to power by American troops three years later.
"Since '91 people have been accusing Aristide of all sorts of things,
and it is not surprising that they are accusing the Fanmi Lavalas of being
behind all the violence, and President Aristide denounces it," said Danny
Toussaint, a Aristide confidante and candidate for the Senate.
Among the killings, perhaps the most shocking was that of Jean
Dominique, a radio personality and longtime supporter of both Mr. Aristide's
and Mr. Preval's governments.
Mr. Dominique was gunned down last month as he entered his radio
station on a mountain overlooking Port-au-Prince. Just days earlier, he had
said on air that he was the target of a hit and had named a close adviser to
Mr. Aristide as the one responsible.