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5954: Fear Hangs Over Haiti Vote (fwd)




From: nozier@tradewind.net

Fear Hangs Over Haiti Vote
The Associated Press, Sat 25 Nov 2000 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)  Surrounded by heavily armed police,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide got out of a car, knelt, clasped his hands in
prayer and kissed the ground where a young boy was killed by a pipe
bomb. Then his guards hustled him back into the car, settling him behind
its black tinted windows. Aristide's first public appearance since
registering to run Oct. 9 took less than a minute on Friday, two
days before Haiti's Sunday presidential election. And few people saw the
man set to return to power in Haiti break his reclusive habit. The
several hundred supporters who were on hand were showered by hundreds of
leaflets dropped from a passing plane, each one showing Aristide with
arms outstretched  like a savior. In an atmosphere of fear and terror as
palpable as the pervasive dust here, Haitians are expected to vote      
back into office their first freely elected president, the populist and
charismatic former priest toppled in a 1991 military coup and returned
by a U.S. invasion in 1994. Because the constitution does not allow    
consecutive terms in office, Aristide stepped down in 1996, making way
for this troubled Caribbean nation's first democratic handover of power
in its 200-year history. His promises this time around include a
far-fetched pledge to create half a million jobs in Haiti, where        
only one in three workers is employed and most people are preoccupied
with the daily struggle to find food. ``After 200 years of political and
economic violence, we have decided to choose peace,'' Aristide said in
radio message urging Haitians to vote. ``Too much misery, too much
insecurity, too much bloodshed. Enough is enough.'But the joy and hope
that accompanied Aristide's first election are markedly absent this
time. All the major opposition parties are boycotting, charging that
this year's legislative elections were rigged to favor Aristide's
candidates and that Haiti is sliding back into dictatorship. 
In what some critics call a farce of democracy, Aristide is running
against six unknowns who, fearful of attacks, have not campaigned. 
Nine senators also will be elected. Aristide's Lavalas Family party is
expected to make a clean sweep. In May, it won 17 of the remaining 18
Senate seats and 80 percent of the House of Assembly.International calls
for runoff elections have gone unheeded, as have warnings of aid
cutoffs. ``We won't participate in an election masquerade. ... People
who vote will vote for the death of democracy,'' opposition parties said
in a message broadcast on radio. Miriam Jean, who sells rice and corn
meal from a basket, called it her duty to vote. ``We believe in        
Aristide. We believe he will keep his promises,'' she said. But not many
others were expected to cast ballots Sunday. More than 4 million voters
are registered but, in an indication of the apathy, of an estimated
800,000 Haitians who turned 18 in recent months, only 125,000 have
registered. ``The best thing people can do Sunday will be to stay in
bed,'' said Jean's friend, Ghislaine Jean-Baptiste. ``People who vote
will have to overcome fear  if they vote.'Nine pipe bombs exploded in
the capital Wednesday and Thursday, killing two children. Schools have 
stayed closed since then, shops remain shuttered and the usually
bustling streets are quiet. EarlySaturday, only the throbbing of voodoo
drums in the hills above the capital broke the silence. Aristide blamed
the bombings on opponents trying to ``block the elections.'' Opposition
leaders claim  they were orchestrated by the government of President
Rene Preval, Aristide's hand-picked successor,to provide an excuse for
low voter turnout.