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5869: Haiti's troubled elections threaten its future (fwd)
Published Monday, November 20, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Haiti's troubled elections threaten its future.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is again poised to win Haiti's coming
presidential election. Few would question his popularity, especially
among the poor. But he would do well to measure his wishes. Political
victory may give Mr. Aristide sweet and sweeping return to power, but it
could as easily cost him and Haiti dearly. His quest to rule is
understandable. A democratically and overwhelmingly elected
president in 1990, he was robbed of much of his presidency by a
murderous military junta. A constitutional ban on reelection and U.S.
pressure then forced him to sit out the next race. So his protégé, René
Preval, was elected and took office in 1996.
The years since have seen Haiti spiral downward. The economy and
currency have tanked. Poverty, unemployment and frustration have
increased. So has the drug traffic flowing through the island headed
toward the United States. Only U.S. Coast Guard interdiction prevents
more Haitian boat people from arriving illegally on South Florida
shores. Meanwhile Mr. Preval's government has ground to a halt, a
paralyzed Parliament sitting on some $500 million in foreign aid. It's
as if Mr. Aristide, his ruling Fanmi Lavalas Party and entrenched
corruption all have conspired to block well-intentioned domestic and
international efforts to provide aid and mediate solutions.
The current crisis stems from Senate elections in May. A pro-Aristide
electoral council declared Fanmi Lavalas candidates the winners in 18 of
19 Senate seats -- though 10 of the seats should have gone to run-offs,
according to Haitian electoral law and Organization of American States
election monitors. The organized political opposition has boycotted the
election set for Nov. 26, though that day could be postponed. Yet dogged
efforts, particularly by OAS diplomat Luigi Einaudi, to negotiate an
accord that would assure the election's legitimacy remain stymied by Mr.
Aristide's and his party's intransigence. Eliminating practically all
opposition from government would allow Mr. Aristide to control
Parliament as well as most local councils and mayoralties. But that's so
uncomfortably comparable to the dictatorships that have cursed Haiti,
it threatens to turn a would-be Aristide government into an
international pariah. The poor majority of Haiti, who still consider Mr.
Aristide their savior, no doubt will sweep him into office. Patient
though hungry, they have waited for jobs, better schools, health care
and security. Without international support and foreign investment, it
will be nearly impossible for him to deliver. Failure, Mr. Aristide's
and Haiti's, may be the ultimate price of his intransigence.