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5998: Challenges Await Haiti's Populist Leader Aristide (fwd)
Monday November 27 11:11 AM ET
Challenges Await Haiti's Populist Leader Aristide By Jim Loney
PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - With opposition parties calling him a
dictator and international allies backing away,priest-turned-politician
Jean-Bertrand Aristide faces a rocky road in his second turn at the helm
of the poorest country in the Americas.Although official results will
not be known until later this week, Aristide is widely believed to have
won a national presidential election on Sunday that was boycotted by all
the major opposition parties and poorly attended at the polls, according
to many accounts. A country with a short history of democracy following
decades of brutal military rule, Haiti won a moral victory of sorts on
Sunday by managing an election largely free of violence after a
weeklong pipe-bombing campaign that killed two children and was
apparently intended to intimidate voters. But a day later and with the
votes uncounted, opposition parties have called the election a farce and
have suggested they may push for a new vote soon after expected-winner
Aristide is inaugurated on Feb. 7. The Provisional Electoral Council
(CEP) announced late on Sunday that voter turnout was just over 60
percent of Haiti's 4 million eligible voters. But local observers and
diplomatic sources scoffed at that figure. The opposition estimated that
less than 5 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots.
Aristide, elevated from his pulpit in the slums of Port-au-Prince on a
wave of popular support, initially was elected with an overwhelming
mandate 10 years ago as the first democratically chosen president in the
Caribbean nation of 7.8 million people. But his term was interrupted by
a bloody 1991 military coup that sent him into exile just seven months
after taking office. A U.S.-led multinational force restored Aristide to
power in 1994 but Haiti's constitution barred him from running in 1995
to serve a second consecutive term as president.
Past Supporters Abandon Aristide
Aristide has been deserted by some of his previous leading supporters.
His tendency toward socialist economic policy has troubled key allies
and even a magic touch with the impoverished masses may be waning,
political observers said. ``Five more years of Aristide won't be very
useful for poor Haitians unless he says, 'OK, I'm really in power and
now I can listen to the foreigners who are telling me a market economy
is better than this quasi-Marxist stuff,''' said Robert Rotberg, a
professor of political science at Harvard University who has written
extensively on Haiti. Haiti's average annual income is about $400 per
person and 62 percent of its people are underfed. Some economists
believe Haiti -- which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with
the Dominican Republic,one of the hemisphere's current economic success
stories -- is worse off now than it was 10 years ago.
Electric power, always a problem, is still spotty. Few residents get
24 hours of electricity a day and many get none. The capital, a
sprawling shambles of crudely constructed concrete block
buildings and tin shanties, seems to have deteriorated in the last five
years. Roads are treacherous and traffic chaotic.``People can eat
rhetoric for a while, but it won't satisfy their hunger,''said Richard
Morse, owner of the famous Oloffson Hotel and leader of the popular
voodoo-rock band RAM. ``The will of the people has been represented, but
not the rights of the opposition.''With the government virtually
paralyzed during the term of President Rene Preval, Aristide's
handpicked successor who won the presidency in 1995, tens of millions of
dollars in available international aid have gone astray.
Solid Control For Aristide
Aristide will be solidly in control of Haiti. His Lavalas Family party
won parliament and mayoral offices overwhelmingly. He is expected to
appoint several Supreme Court justices and a new chief of police.
But analysts within Haiti say that while many of Aristide's supporters
are blindly loyal, some have begun to demand results. This was evident
on Sunday at the polls, where opinions offered by voters ranged
from routine expressions of love for the diminutive former Roman
Catholic priest to demands that he do something about Haiti's
unrelenting poverty.`(There) are many who think that Aristide and the
opposition have got to be together to help this country. Aristide can't
do it by himself,'' said a Port-au-Prince resident who described himself
as a former Lavalas supporter but refused to vote.
Never a favorite of Haiti's upper classes, who monopolize what economy
exists, Aristide has completely lost their favor, some analysts say. Yet
he now lives like them, in a luxurious home with a swimming pool in
suburban Tabarre, far from the fetid slums from which he rose to power.
Canada, the United States and the European Union (news - web sites)
refused to support the election that is expected to put Aristide back in
power because of tainted parliamentary elections held in May.
Analysts say Aristide needs to move quickly toward market reforms and
revive a program begun years ago to privatize national industries like
the telephone company to bring the allies back to Haiti's side.
`Virtually everything he's done has shown a lack of international
vision, an awareness of his need to keep the support of his benefactors
outside,'' Rotberg said. ``I think he's reckoned that he knows what's
right for Haiti and the rest can go stuff it.''