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#5061: This Week in Haiti 18:25 9/6/2000 (fwd)
From: "[iso-8859-1] Haiti Progrès" <email@example.com>
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
September 6-12, 2000
Vol. 18, No. 25
NEW PARLIAMENT FACES MOUNTING CHALLENGES
It took 18 grueling months which saw assassinations,
resignations, street demonstrations, election delays, and massive
foreign meddling for a compromise government and electoral
council to install Haiti's 47th legislature, but they finally did
it on Aug. 28. Now comes the hard part.
The new parliament is faced with sky-rocketing food and gas
prices, a collapsing currency, hostility from the Washington and
Europe, and rampant insecurity. Nonetheless, its inauguration has
offered a glimmer of hope to many Haitians weary of hunger and
The Lavalas Family party (FL) of former president Jean-Bertrand
Aristide dominates the new parliament, holding 19 of the 27
Senate seats and 72 of the 82 lower house seats.
Immediately after being sworn in, the legislators got to work,
forming committees and working groups. Yvon Neptune, an FL
senator for the West Department, was elected as president of the
Senate. Extending an olive branch to the opposition, the Lavalas
deputies voted in as president of the lower house Sainvoyis
Pascal, a former Duvalierist deputy, elected under the banner of
the right-wing Protestant formation MOCHRENA.
Washington continues to challenge the elections, held on May 21
and July 9, charging that electoral council computing methods
unjustly allowed 10 Senators to win in the first round, rather
than going to run-offs. Despite heavy U.S. pressure, the Haitian
government has refused to overrule the council, which is
constitutionally designated as the election's final arbiter.
In an Aug. 28 press briefing, U.S. State Department deputy
spokesman Philip Reeker said that the parliament being seated
"prematurely" would cause the U.S. to "certainly question the
legitimacy of that legislature." A week later, at a Sep. 5
meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Clinton
administration announced that unless the summer's election
results were scrapped, it would withhold $20 million in aid for
the presidential elections, which are scheduled for Nov. 26.
There has also been no announcement about some $400 million in
assistance which was supposed to be released once a legislature
was seated. Washington did say that it would not give any direct
aid to the Haitian government but only channel it directly to so-
called "non-governmental organizations," a strategy already
outlined in a USAID five-year plan last year.
Canada has demurred from threatening an aid cut-off, but
announced via a spokesman that "in the present circumstances,
Canada will have difficulty supporting a new observer mission for
the presidential elections in November." The U.S. also said it
will not send observers, a deprivation which many Haitians
When OAS Secretary General César Gaviria visited Haiti from Aug.
17-20, he met with President René Préval, Aristide, and the
Haitian opposition, which was incensed that Gaviria didn't
condemn the Haitian government and the elections during his
visit. When Gaviria presented his Haiti report at the Sep. 5 OAS
meeting in Washington, he only reiterated the same general calls
for dialogue he had issued in Haiti.
This again infuriated the opposition, which drew solace from the
U.S. and Canadian threats. "The secretary general's report didn't
really come with anything new," complained Hubert Deronceray of
the neo-Duvalierist Movement for the Salvation of the Nation
(MPSN). "He basically restated what he already told us here in
Port-au-Prince. What interested us more were the interventions of
the U.S., Canada, and Caricom, which globally went in the sense
of the opposition." Caricom has offered to act as a "mediator" to
"resolve" the dispute.
But clearly the opposition is in no mood to dialogue. With
virtually no popular support, their only option is to goad the
"international community" to further meddle in Haitian affairs
and destabilize Haiti so that they can seize power by other
means. Even Hervé Denis, who Préval had proposed for prime
minister two years ago, called for his former mentor to be
removed from office and a provisional government to be set in
place to hold new elections.
But such incendiary calls find no echo in the Haitian people,
which is telling given the grave economic crisis in the country.
Prices for basic food stuffs are going through the roof. In the
last six months, for example, a marketplace "marmite" (a large
coffee can) of corn or millet has risen from 15 to 28 gourdes
(87%), black beans from 45 to 70 gourdes (56%), and sugar from 6
to 8 gourdes (33%). Meanwhile the gourde, which used to hover at
about 18 to the dollar, is now at 22 and climbing.
The biggest blow to the country, however, was this week's giant
hike in gas prices. For almost a year, the government had
desperately sought to subsidize lower gas prices with tens of
millions of gourdes each month, straining an already fragile
budget. Recently the Finance Ministry announced that it had a
shortfall of about 1 billion gourdes in public revenues since the
government was foregoing its gas tax, further deepening the
budget deficit. As a result, the government drastically hiked
prices on Sept. 2 on all petroleum products: diesel leaped from
22.5 to 30.5 gourdes per gallon (36%), leaded gas from 33.5 to 46
gourdes (37%), unleaded gas from 37 to 56 gourdes (51%), and
kerosene from 17.5 to 26 gourdes (49%).
Downtown city "tap tap" fares jumped from 2 to 3 gourdes (50%),
while the Port-au-Prince to Pétionville fare went from 2.5 to 3.5
gourdes (40%). A trip to Port-de-Paix now costs 125 gourdes and
to Cap Haïtien 135 gourdes.
The gasoline price hikes are expected to loft food prices even
higher within a few days. Many people complained that the
government would have done better to gradually raise prices
rather than postponing the inevitable and creating such a brutal
jump. The government said it would be checking gas stations to
check for price gouging and incorrectly set pumps. The government
will also review gas prices in three weeks, Commerce Minister
Mathilde Flambert said.
On top of all these troubles, schools opened on Sep. 4 this year,
one month earlier than usual, creating yet another hardship for
cash-strapped Haitian families. The start of a new school year is
always a time for purchase of books and uniforms, expenses which
many families cannot meet. Education Minister Paul Antoine Bien
Aimée argued that the extra school days would help counteract
drastically falling test scores of Haitian students.
But Josué Merilien of the teachers union UNNOH vigorously
protested this rationale as diversionary. "It is just a way for
the government to fool people," Mérilien said. "They know that
the schools are functioning without libraries, without trained
teachers, without teaching materials, and that teachers can't
even eat. These are the problems that must be addressed."
Despite the economic crisis and foreign threats, the government
and electoral council aim to hold the presidential elections on
time according to a tight schedule, which was announced Sept. 5.
The mandate for the last electoral council has been extended
since there was not seen to be enough time to reconstitute a new
The council announced that presidential candidate registration
will be from Sept. 24 to Oct. 5, with a campaign season running
from Sept. 27 to Nov. 24. Voter registration will be from Oct. 2
Aristide is expected to easily win any presidential election,
which is why the U.S. is so hell-bent on discrediting this
summer's elections and the new parliament. But such transparent
maneuvers to stop Aristide are only spurring on Haitian
resistance, both in the country and abroad.
For example, in New York, Haitians are planning to demonstrate
"in support of Haitian sovereignty" in front of the United
Nations on Sep. 7 when Préval is scheduled to speak at the
Millenium Summit, which 151 other heads of state will also
"Washington is unhappy with the [election] results," reads the
flyer of the Coalition for Haitian Sovereignty, which is
organizing the action. "Through its bureaucrats, CIA agents,
media control and Haitian lackeys, it has attempted to discredit
the elections and destabilize Haiti, threatening an aid cut-off
and diplomatic isolation. U.S. Special Forces soldiers are also
stationed with Dominican troops along Haiti's border with the
Dominican Republic, poised for invasion. The Haitian people call
on the United Nations and other international bodies to take no
part in Washington's games and to oppose continued foreign
threats against Haiti, a sovereign country."
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