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5964: NYTimes.com Article: Haiti Sees a Candidate With a Pair of Visions (fwd)
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Haiti Sees a Candidate With a Pair of Visions
November 26, 2000
By DAVID GONZALEZ
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Nov. 25 The billboards declaring the
inevitable went up even before the first vote had been cast. They
boast a huge photograph of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
with the simple and foregone declaration in Creole: "February 7,
2001. Peace in the Head. Peace in the Belly."
The date refers to the presidential inauguration that, depending
on one's point of view, is seen as Mr. Aristide's appointment with
destiny or infamy. He is the only real candidate in the
presidential election on Sunday, because almost all opposition
political parties, civic groups and international observers are
sitting out the contest after flawed vote- counting in legislative
elections in May gave Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party an overwhelming
majority in the Parliament.
The peace proclaimed from the billboards has been scarce in recent
weeks. At least 11 pipe bombs have exploded, killing two people,
including a 7-year-old girl. The streets of Port-au-Prince were
quieter and emptier than usual this morning, as many people left
town or closed their businesses early just in case there was
unrest. Throughout the night, black-clad riot police with assault
rifles patrolled; residents of poorer areas improvised roadblocks
from concrete, logs or twisted car chassis.
"Peace in the belly" has been elusive in recent years, since the
economic morass fostered by meager investment and withheld foreign
aid made life harder for this nation's impoverished masses. In the
poorest neighborhoods, where Mr. Aristide is regarded as a savior
whose previous attempt at leading Haiti to progress was cut short
by a 1991 coup, there is palpable excitement at mere mention of his
In the neighborhood of Bel-Air on Friday afternoon, several
hundred people gathered for a Lavalas rally broke into smiles and
cheers when they heard that Mr. Aristide was to pass by, a rare
event in what has been a non-campaign with almost no public
A joyous noise erupted when Mr. Aristide's convoy of Jeeps did
indeed speed past. Earlier, a plane had flown overhead dropping
fliers with his photograph (the plane later crashed, seriously
injuring the pilot). In a whirlwind afternoon, Mr. Aristide's
motorcade went through several neighborhoods, stopping only briefly
so he could console the parents of the little girl killed in a pipe
bomb explosion on Thursday.
"It does not matter that there was no campaign, because the day
Aristide left the palace his campaign was already done," said
Abondoit Cazeneve, a Lavalas supporter. "The opposition and the
international community do not like third world countries to
change. That is how they make their money."
Earlier on Friday, Mr. Aristide appeared on television and radio
to urge people to shed their fears and cast their vote. His
entreaties echoed the promise of another Lavalas billboard, the one
reading "Security" just down the street from heavily armed police
officers guarding the offices of the Provisional Electoral Council.
"Sunday, Nov. 26, all of us, brave women and men who want peace
in our minds, and peace in our stomachs, will not hide in the
caverns of fear," Mr. Aristide said.
Lavalas supporters at the Bel-Air rally got the message. "The
people who do not want the elections to happen attack us," said
Ulrich Jean- Lestel. "We believe we will have peace."
Mr. Aristide's presumed victory has left many of Haiti's elite
aghast and unwilling to participate as either observers or voters.
On Friday night, several dozen professional people attended a book
signing at a gleaming auto showroom in the suburbs.
"In a country without a tradition of tolerance or democracy, this
sham of an election in no way will help this country move toward
institutions and democracy," said one civic leader.
"The biggest harm he is doing to the country is the way he is
Among the guests were several former government ministers,
including a few who had worked under Mr. Aristide. They wondered if
he would ever be able to attract people like themselves, who
returned to Haiti with advanced degrees and hope.
"More and more elites should come together and share their vision,
to build a team with good economic policies to get out of this
economic and social crisis," said Rosny Desroches, the president of
the Haitian Foundation for Public Education. "I know some are
working on that already. If Aristide becomes president, they will
have to play a role as a counterpower, because we can no longer say
we have a Parliament."
Behind him, people waited on line to have their books signed. The
slim tome, titled "Vision or Illusion" was about the role of the
elite in Haiti. It opened with a quote from Voltaire.
"One day all will be well, here is our hope," it read. "Everything
is well today, there is our illusion."
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