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#5320: Aristide as president again (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
Would Aristide back as president help poor Haiti?
By Trenton Daniel
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Former Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, who was ousted by a military coup and restored to power by a U.S.
occupation, has edged toward a political return by announcing he will run
in presidential elections in which he is the clear favourite.
But political analysts are divided over whether a return to office by
a man, whose passionate leadership of the impoverished masses won him the
presidency in the Caribbean nation's first free vote, will help Haiti a
Once a firebrand Roman Catholic priest, who dislodged the 30-year
Duvalier dictatorship in a popular uprising, Aristide, who registered to
stand Oct. 9, is widely expected to win next month's ballot, which major
opposition parties are boycotting.
Some Haiti political analysts praise Aristide for bringing unity to
ordinary Haitians cowed by decades of dictatorship.
They also credit Aristide, who was ousted in a military coup eight
months after he took power and restored by a U.S.-led invasion force after
three years in exile, for dismantling the nation's feared army.
But analysts have mixed opinions on whether Aristide's return to the
presidency after a five-year absence will be good for Haiti, the poorest
nation in the hemisphere and currently the target of international anger
over tainted parliamentary elections won by his Lavalas Family party this
"He's the only authentic, fully legitimate leader that Haitians have
or have had in the last 200 years," said Robert Rotberg, a Harvard
political scientist who has written extensively on Haiti. "He has enormous
ability and talent."
"On the other hand, he hasn't used that talent in a way that inspires
confidence outside of Haiti. There hasn't been a palpable gain to Haiti
Analysts said Aristide faces crushing problems. In addition to its
grinding poverty -- per capita income is less than $400 per year -- Haiti
has an illiteracy rate of around 80 percent and narcotics trafficking is
Aristide will need to persuade the world community that Haiti's shaky
government institutions are ready to support democracy and jump-start an
economy that has stagnated during President Rene Preval's term, in part due
to political chaos, they said.
After the May election, the value of Haiti's currency, the gourde,
plunged to an all-time low. After falling to 34 to the U.S. dollar two
weeks ago, it now hovers around 25, a rate worse than during a U.S.
economic embargo in 1994.
"Ideologically he's (Aristide's) been a socialist all his life,"
"He could figure out how to return the market economy to Haiti and at
the very least he'd get the Haitian diaspora money and he'd make the U.S.,
Canada and others partners."
Aristide's critics, including former Lavalas allies, say the
ex-president has lost at least some popular support within Haiti. In some
quarters he was perceived as the real power behind Preval, his hand-picked
successor, during years when Haiti drifted from one political crisis to the
"Aristide has never been out of power since 1995. Preval has done
exactly what Aristide wanted," said an independent analyst, who refused to
be named because of a political climate he called unfavourable to criticism
of the government. "What is Aristide going to change? Absolutely nothing."
Haiti has suffered from almost 200 years of military rule and
dictatorship, including that of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son
Jean-Claude "Baby Doc," who terrorised opponents from 1957 to 1986.
Opposition parties will boycott the Nov. 26 presidential election to
protest the May parliamentary election. Aristide is expected to win easily
against several unknowns.
International observers said elections officials miscalculated the
winning percentages of some senate seats in the May vote, giving outright
wins to candidates from Lavalas Family who should have been forced into
Preval's government refused pleas from neutral observers and
opposition parties to recalculate the results, leading to allegations that
Aristide had stacked the deck for his own return to power with a parliament
dominated by his party.
Analysts said that domination of parliament may allow Aristide to
partially unsnarl Haiti's tangled politics.
"If he does come back, he will have the support of parliament. In that
sense it's positive," University of Miami political analyst Irwin Stotzky
said. "The question is: How will the international community demonise him?"
The United States said it would not send $20 million in financial aid
or observers for the November poll after the Haitian government seated the
parliament that emerged from the flawed May election.
Some opposition politicians and analysts have expressed fear that
Haiti is regressing toward another dictatorship marked by paralysed
institutions and rampant corruption.
In August, nearly 200 intellectuals and former Lavalas allies that
helped bring Aristide to power signed a petition in which they asked the
government for fundamental change.
"We...protest the reemergence of repressive practices, very much in
vogue under the military and putschist governments, that force democrats to
go underground in order to ensure their security," wrote the group, which
included prominent diplomats and intellectuals including writer Yannick
Lahens and former Haitian ambassador to Washington Jean Casimir.