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6490: Aristide pledges opening to opposition December 29, 2000, in , the Miami Herald (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

  Published Friday, December 29, 2000, in the Miami Herald 

 Aristide pledges opening to opposition

 Concessions could regain aid for Haiti


 In response to U.S. and international criticism, Haitian President-elect
 Jean-Bertrand Aristide has agreed to a series of steps that could mend tattered
 relations between the United States and Haiti and restore the international aid
 Aristide desperately needs to carry out a successful presidency.

 During meetings last week with President Clinton's envoys to Haiti, Aristide
 committed to fix the May 21 elections through runoffs for 10 disputed Senate
 seats and to create a credible electoral council.

 Both the United States and the international community had urged Aristide and
 his Lavalas Family party to agree to new legislative elections and an independent
 electoral commission, as opposition parties had demanded.

 Aristide's concessions, announced Thursday by the White House, came without
 any promises from the United States, U.S. officials said.

 ``What we made clear to President Aristide is that he needs to reestablish his
 relationship with the international community and to recognize that these steps
 are fundamental to building confidence,'' said Don Steinberg, the State
 Department's special Haiti coordinator and one of three envoys who brokered the
 deal with Aristide after months of negotiations.

 ``I think he understands that the success of his presidency depends upon the
 cooperation of the Haitian people, and the international community.''

 Although these concessions may satisfy external criticism, there was an
 indication Thursday that Haiti's opposition may find them unacceptable.

 ``These so-called concessions are warmed-over ideas the opposition will never
 accept,'' said Gerard Pierre Charles, a leader of the opposition movement. ``The
 process was rotten, with an illegal electoral commission at the service of Aristide.

 ``For me, these are not concessions, just accommodations that will allow Aristide
 to stay in power. Now that the food has been cooked, he's proposing this and
 they're asking us to accept a fait accompli.''

 Both the May 21 and Nov. 26 elections should be redone completely, with a
 provisional government to run the country until the results are made public,
 Charles said.

 Among Aristide's other concessions:

   He pledged to enhance drug enforcement cooperation that would allow U.S.
 Coast Guard ships chasing drug boats to enter Haitian waters and to work with
 Haitian police to stop the flow of those drugs across the border into the
 Dominican Republic.

   He agreed to professionalize the police and the judiciary and to ``ensure that
 there is no interference in the professional work of the Haitian police by members
 of parliament,'' Steinberg said.

   He agreed to strengthen democratic institutions with a semi-permanent
 commission of the Organization of American States and through international
 monitoring of human rights.


 Aristide has come under strong criticism in the United States. Earlier this month,
 three influential Republican congressmen called his election a sham and
 demanded that the United States make it clear that he will not be welcome at an
 April 2001 summit of the hemisphere's democratically elected leaders in Canada.

 ``The United States must now deal with Haiti for what it has become,'' it was
 declared in a joint statement by Sen. Jesse Helms, R.-N.C., chairman of the
 Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R.-N.Y., chairman
 of the House International Relations Committee, and Rep. Porter Goss, R.-Fla.,
 chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

 ``Narco-traffickers, criminals and other antidemocratic elements who surround
 Jean-Bertrand Aristide should feel the full weight of U.S. law enforcement,'' the
 statement said. ``Their U.S. visas must be denied or stripped from them, their
 green-card status reviewed to ensure compliance with the requirements of that
 status and their ill-gotten assets frozen.''

 The statement also called for an end to ``all direct support for the Haitian
 government . . . as provided under current U.S. law'' and a ``comprehensive,
 bottom-up review of U.S. policy toward Haiti,'' which they called long overdue.


 Aristide's proposals may be anticipating a more antagonistic relationship with the
 administration of President-elect George W. Bush, according to Charles.

 Haitian officials may also be courting the international community because they
 are trying to access as much as $600 million in loans and grants held up by
 financial institutions until what they deem a legitimate parliament takes office.
 That would be accomplished through the run-off for the 10 contested Senate

 Aristide is unquestionably his nation's most popular politician, winning last
 month's presidential elections with 92 percent of the vote. The opposition
 coalition, however, boycotted the contest, saying members of the electoral
 council were not independent. They also wanted new legislative elections to
 replace those held in May, won by huge margins by candidates of Aristide's
 Lavalas party.

 Aristide takes office Feb. 7 for a five-year term.

 In response to Aristide's concessions, the White House said that if they are
 implemented, they ``can mark a new beginning for Haiti's democratic future.''

 Steinberg explained that there is no deadline for Aristide to implement the
 concessions. However, he said, the bottom line is that if Aristide does what he
 says he plans to do, the relationship between Haiti and the United States will

 In addition to Steinberg, the group included Anthony Lake, the former national
 security advisor who has maintained a good relationship with Aristide since
 Aristide's exile in Washington, and Caryn Hollis of the National Security Council.