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6933: Haiti's Aristide Begins Second Term (fwd)




From: nozier <nozier@tradewind.net>

 Haiti's Aristide Begins Second Term
 The Associated Press, Tue 6 Feb 2001

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)  When Jean-Bertrand Aristide came to power
10 years ago, international leaders hailed his triumph, supporters
painted his portrait on walls and the poverty-stricken masses dubbed him
a prophet.  That fervor, however, has turned sour as the 47-year-old
former slum parish priest begins his second term as president
Wednesday.  The United States, which sent 20,000 troops onto the island
to restore Aristide to office in 1994, is  cold-shouldering his
inauguration, questioning the May legislative balloting that paved the
way for his  election.
 Convergence, a 15-party opposition alliance, on Tuesday accused
Aristide of rigging the vote and set a  power struggle in motion by
declaring former presidential candidate Gerard Gourgue to be the
country's provisional president.
A Convergence leader, Evans Paul, called for the people ``to rise up''
and peacefully demonstrate their  rejection of Aristide Wednesday in
front of the National Palace, where he is to give his inaugural
address.  Many Haitians who once idealized Aristide are less
enthusiastic now.  ``Aristide attracts; he doesn't galvanize the masses
anymore,'' said Mathieu Painvier, an artist. Aristide, he said, has lost
touch with the people since he moved into a 40-acre estate, married and
fathered two daughters. ``Money and power have changed him.''
   Aristide became known under dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986
when, from the pulpit of St. Jean  Bosco, a Roman Catholic church, he
would inspire the poor to resist their oppressor.  Haitians adored the
thin, bespectacled priest they called ``Titid,'' who railed with
messianic zeal against  Duvalier, capitalism and America. But the price
of his outspokenness was high.  In 1988, thugs burned down the church,
hacking and shooting to death at least a dozen of Aristide's
parishioners during Mass. In 1991, he became Haiti's first freely
elected president since independence  was wrested from slave-holding
France in 1804. But after seven months in office, the army forced him
into exile.
 Three years later, then-President Clinton sent in troops to restore
Aristide to power and halt an exodus  of Haitian boat people. The exodus
was stopped and Aristide finished the remaining 16 months of his term. A
term limit forced him to step down in 1996.
 Biding his time while his protege, Rene Preval, held office, Aristide
won a presidential election Nov. 26 against negligible opposition. But
his critics say he has manipulated street demonstrations and rigged
ballots in a Machiavellian plan to establish one-party, one-man rule 
much like the Duvalier regime he  so bitterly opposed.
``Political antagonisms have grown sharper and the gap between the
people and political leaders has  widened. Democracy is backtracking,
making way for anarchy,'' a group of 17 business, professional, and
religious organizations declared on Jan. 18.
 Aristide's problem stems from the local and legislative elections last
May that handed his Lavalas  Family party more than 80 percent of the
votes. Haiti's other main political parties accused Aristide of
mounting an ``electoral coup d'etat.'' But despite warnings that Haiti
would lose the foreign aid that  accounts for 60 percent of its budget,
the government refused to budge.  Six months later came the presidential
election. The major opposition parties boycotted it and Aristide  took
nearly 92 percent of the vote.
 Aristide now says he is willing to rectify the legislative outcome and
include opposition figures in his  government. But talks with the
Convergence alliance broke down Tuesday.
 Aristide is rarely seen or heard in public, but billboards show his
wiry figure standing with open arms, as  though to embrace the nation.
Road dividers have been painted red and blue, the festive colors of the
Haitian flag. And some street cleaners have been seen readying the
capital for the inauguration in the parliament building.

 Aristide's supporters say they hope for change.

``Now the cost of living will go down and we will be able to walk the
streets without being shot,'' said  Gregory Diverson, a 19-year-old
mechanic. Aristide's campaign slogan was ``Peace of Mind, Peace in the
Belly.'' He promised to create 500,000    new jobs and make Haiti, by
U.N. reckoning the world's third hungriest nation after Afghanistan
and   Somalia, self-sufficient in food by 2006.
 But the population of 8 million is growing while the gross national
product has shrunk and unemployment and crime have increased. Keeping
his promises presents an enormous challenge for Aristide  made even
more vivid this week  by the departure of the last U.N. civilian mission
after Secretary General Kofi Annan said its members'safety could no
longer be assured.