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6885: Another chance for Aristide (fwd)
From: radman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Another chance for Aristide
Haiti is bankrupt and besieged by violent armed groups, but the
President-elect, whose first
term was interrupted by a coup, shows little appetite for tackling
problems. Some predict he
won't last six months
by Marina Jiménez
PORT-AU-PRINCE - Political opponents and donor nations are giving Haiti's
President-elect a second chance. Jean-Bertrand Aristide takes office on
Feb. 7 with an ambitious agenda to bring peace and prosperity to the
Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.
But Mr. Aristide, whose first stint in office was interrupted by a coup,
has shown little appetite for tackling the corruption and violence that
bedevil Haiti, a country where extremes of privilege and poverty are
Nowhere is the contrast more vivid than in Israel St. Flena's corrugated
tin shack in the suburb of Tabarre. Next door is Mr. Aristide's
air-conditioned house and swimming pool.
The President-elect is protected by a barbed wire fence and a phalanx of
security guards in the six-hectare compound where he lives with his wealthy
wife and two children. Mr. St. Flena shares his cramped garbage-strewn
concrete patio and open charcoal fire with two other families.
Yet he does not begrudge "Ti-Tid" his wealth. He asks only that his
neighbour make good on his election promises when he takes office Feb. 7,
delivering jobs, security and food.
"I can't expect Aristide to help me personally. That would be selfish. But
I hope he does something for the country. If he doesn't, we'll get rid of
him," says the 33-year-old father of three, who has never spoken to Mr.
Aristide, but has waved to him on occasion as he sped by in a motorcade.
The president cannot expect a long honeymoon periodhis election was corrupt
even by Haiti's low standards. Mr. Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas (Lavalas
Family) party handed themselves total power, "winning" all legislative
seats in two series of elections last year.
Now his country is bankrupt and besieged by violent armed groups, many of
them protected by his party.
Some Haitians predict his government won't last six months. With such a
limited life expectancy, Mr. Aristide is finding it additionally hard to
attract credible people to serve in his government.
"He is a popular anarchist who doesn't believe in elections or democracy.
We are going towards catastrophe and disaster," says Jean Claude Bajeux, a
literature professor and former political ally.
Haiti lost US$500-million in loans from international institutions after
Mr. Aristide's predecessor,
René Préval, dissolved Parliament in January, 1999. Some of the money may
be restored, but
some lenders, such as those in the European Union, will continue to
withhold funds until the
validity of last May's Senate elections is established. Without the money,
Mr. Aristide will find it
hard to fulfill the ambitious promises contained in his White Paper --
500,000 new jobs, a 4% growth rate, better schools and public housing.
Meanwhile, "popular organizations" affiliated with Lavalas have embarked on
a campaign of terror that has killed more than 15 politicians this year.
Today, middle-class Haitians routinely travel with
The United States has also issued a travel advisory warning its citizens
not to visit the country and foreign boats not to anchor in Haitian waters.
Earlier this month, one pro-Aristide group threatened to kill members of
the Opposition, journalists and even Roman Catholic clergy. Lavalas
condemned the declaration, but has yet to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Despite the intimidation, the Opposition -- 15 parties grouped under the
banner Democratic Convergencerefuse to be cowed. It is planning a civil
disobedience rally outside the Presidential Palace on inauguration day. Its
members say they will install their own government-in-waiting, calling the
new presidency an "electoral coup d'état."
So far Mr. Aristide has been able to rely on the ti-pep (masses), like Mr.
St. Flena, who make up
80% of the population.
That could change. Because he lives next door to the president, Mr. St.
Flena has electricity 24 hours a day, a rarity in Haiti. But, as he points
out, what good is electricity if there is nothing to eat?
It is as useful as Mr. Aristide's poetic election slogan, "Peace in the
mind will bring peace in the
"The biggest disappointment about Aristide is that people think he is
Nelson Mandela and he is not," says one Western diplomat. "Unlike his first
time in power, the faith of the people is not unlimited."
It is possible Mr. Aristide does not realize this. His first term as the
country's first democratically
elected president lasted barely a year before he was ousted in a coup
engineered by General Raoul Cedras, his chief of staff.
After 20,000 U.S. troops restored him in 1994, Mr. Aristide had only
another year in office before his term ended. Since then, he has controlled
the country from the sidelines, through his hand-picked successor Mr. Préval.
In the interim, Mr. Aristide has also metamorphosed from a Roman Catholic
priest of humble origins who was considered a saviour of the masses into a
paid-up bourgeois in a suit and dark glasses. Today, the gros mangeur (big
eater) rarely leaves Tabarre.
"He was on his way to failure, but he didn't have time during his first
term," says Mr. Bajeux, who was culture minister in the first Aristide
Haiti's friends abroad are also getting restlesscountries such as the
United States, Canada and France who contribute about 65% of the
Many donors are tired of seeing so few results: Haitians' quality of life
has fallen since the 1994
U.S. invasion; roads are worse; there are only 100,000 phone lines for a
country of eight million; and a recent survey showed 70% of the population
would leave for the United States if they could.
It is difficult to believe the new government will spend its funds more wisely.
Mr. Aristide's proposed budget calls for a six-fold spending increase on
the presidential office, while allotments for justice, security and health
stay about the same.
"We are tired of being the grandfather doling out the money with a smile on
our face. Enough
of the blank cheque approach. Haiti must produce," says one U.S. official,
noting that his
government no longer gives bilateral assistance and has cut its overall aid
in 1995 to US$50-million last year.
Haiti is still the largest recipient of Canadian aid in the Western Hemisphere.
It has received about $33-million in various kinds of aid every year for
the past five years. But even Canada is reassessing its commitment.
"Aid in Haiti is a risky business and the higher the risk, the greater the
demand for accountability," says Diane Vermette, who oversees the Canadian
International Development Assistance program.
"The question is, what is the level of risk you can afford? We are
constantly assessing the question, are we still in a position where we can
All Canadian programs are now administered through Canadian agencies
because Haitian institutions cannot be trusted with the money.
Mr. Aristide desperately needs to win back the goodwill of the
international community if he is to last in office.
Last month, in a letter to Bill Clinton, then-U.S. president, he promised
to strengthen democratic institutions, professionalize the police force and
judiciary, install a broad-based government, and rectify the May 21
elections and 10 disputed Senate seats.
Few believe such promises will be kept. As James Morrell, research director
Centre for International Policy, observes, Mr. Aristide's record in
maintaining allegiances is "not
"He doesn't accord the opposition any legitimacy. He considers them to be a
group of free riders. He has chosen the route of personal ambition and
control," says Mr. Morrell, who was an advisor to Mr. Aristide during his
Others believe Mr. Aristide has compromised his credibility by courting
violent political followers.
They point to his condoning "necklacing" or "Père Lebrun"killing someone by
placing a fuel-drenched tire around their neckand recall his famous speech
outside the Presidential Palace in 1991.
"If you catch a false Lavalassien ... don't hesitate to give him what he
deserves" Mr. Aristide told a crowd of excited supporters.
"Your equipment in hand ... Père Lebrun, it's beautiful ... yes it's
beautiful ... It has a good smell. Wherever you go you want to inhale it."
Now he may find he is like the man on the back of the tiger, having handed
over too much power to the street thugs whose loyalty he has cultivated.
Some believe he may even be assassinated by the popular armed groups who
are aligned with rivals within his own party.
"He is very weak. All that he created is turning against him: the gangs,
the goons," says Micha Gaillard, another former Aristide ally now with the
However, Yvon Neptune, the president of the Senate and a close Aristide
associate, dismisses such notions, saying Lavalas has never been
responsible for a campaign of intimidation.
"There are those who always say that Lavalas is evil," he says. "I am more
worried about opposition members publicly declaring terrorist acts."
Hillaire Toussain, spokesman for the Aristide Foundation, which is across
the street from his gracious white home, says Mr. Aristide's favourite word
"It's only to blame Aristide that people say there is violence in the
party. You have to remember we have only had dictatorships in Haiti ...
little by little we are developing our politics."