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#3925: FWD from Rocky Mountain News - Haiti far from a success (fwd)
Despite White House line, Haiti far from a success
The last time Haiti had a parliamentary election, in 1997, only 6 percent of
the islanders voted and the results were annulled because of fraud.
This time the turnout was about 60 percent, making it "credible" in the eyes
of the Clinton administration and some 200 foreign observers sent by the
Organization of American States.
But the opposition is crying foul, with good reason.
The election had been postponed five times since November 1998. At least 15
people were killed before the May 21 vote, frightening many candidates into
halting their campaigns. Two more died on election day and three opposition
leaders have been killed since — one stoned to death by a mob of government
Most of Haiti's polling stations were controlled by the ruling Lavalas
family. Thousands of ballots were "lost" in transit to Port-au-Prince, the
capital. And Lavalas declared victory long before the vote count was
finished, paving the way for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to
regain the office now held by his protege, Rene Preval.
To solidify what opposition leader Gerard Pierre-Charles called a "coup
d'etat," Preval's police now are arresting scores of opposition candidates.
Many are members of the Peoples Struggle Organization, which accuses Aristide
and Preval of trying to establish a dictatorship.
Aristide, of course, wouldn't even be in Haiti were it not for American
military intervention. A former Roman Catholic priest, he became Haiti's
first freely elected president in 1991, was ousted in a military coup seven
months later and was restored to power by a U.S. invasion in 1994.
However, his term expired in 1995. Barred from consecutive terms by Haiti's
constitution, Aristide picked Preval to be his proxy until the next
presidential election, due in November, which he obviously hopes to win.
Bickering over the fraudulent 1997 vote paralyzed the government. Preval
dissolved what was left of Haiti's legislature in January 1999 and has ruled
by decree since.
That cost Haiti $500 million in foreign aid, which will only be released when
there is a constitutional government. And even that will not help a country
where 65 percent of the work force is jobless and 80 percent lives in dire
The island is awash in drugs and guns. Although the army was disbanded after
military rule ended, it was not disarmed. The 6,000-man police force that
replaced it, trained by the United Nations, has shrunk to less than 4,000.
It is ill-equipped, overworked, lazy, pressured by Lavalas and corrupted by
drug money. The State Department reported in March that cocaine traffic
through Haiti increased 24 percent in 1999 and the government again failed
the U.S. test for cooperating in the war on drugs.
The report said 67 tons of South American cocaine passed through Haiti in
1999, up from a U.S. government estimate of 54 tons in 1998. This accounted
for nearly 14 percent of all the cocaine reaching the United States, against
10 percent in 1998.
"The judicial system continued to move slowly, and while numerous drug cases
were handed to the system for investigation, there were no drug convictions,"
said the report. "Corruption continues to spread throughout the GOH
(government of Haiti), despite official iterations that it must not be
Yet the White House continues to tout Haiti as a foreign policy "success,"
even though its two major foreign policy goals there have not been achieved.
Besides "restoring democracy" — which Haiti had never enjoyed throughout its
200-year history — Washington wanted to improve the standard of living on the
island to the point where most Haitians would not risk going to the sea in
leaky boats to become illegal aliens on our shores.
But a U.S. Embassy survey conducted in November found that 70 percent of
Haitians believe their country is "heading in the wrong direction." Half said
their family's financial situation was worse than before the U.S. invasion,
44 percent felt more insecure and 70 percent said they had given "serious
thought" to leaving Haiti.
This was demonstrated in most dramatic fashion last week when 10 Haitian
policemen hijacked a ferry with 121 people on board in a bid to reach Miami.
But the ship ran out of fuel off the Bahamas and was intercepted by the U.S.
Coast Guard. Unlike Cubans who get sanctuary in the United States, the
Haitians are routinely sent home.
Holger Jensen is international editor. E-mail: email@example.com His column also
appears on the Internet at www.RockyMountainNews.com/jensen/