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6969: Jean-Bertrande Aristide's second stint as Haiti's president... (fwd)
From: nozier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Jean-Bertrande Aristide's second stint as Haiti's president begins with
a much more difficult political atmosphere ___By MICHELE SALCEDO
Sun-Sentinel Feb. 2, 2001
In 1991, in his campaign to become Haiti's first democratically elected
president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide rode through the country on a
donkey,exhorting his fellow Haitians to follow his example, to defy
violent threats and vote. His popularity was so great, he was
unchallenged in the election, and he was swept into office on a great,
cleansing flood -- a lavalas, in Haitian Creole, which he adopted as the
name of his party.
Nine years later, Aristide, who will be inaugurated for the second
time on Wednesday, comes to the presidency under dramatically different
-- and far more difficult -- circumstances. Aristide is still
considered the most powerful man in Haiti, but he no longer enjoys the
united support of the masses. The military, which forced him into exile
seven months after his inauguration in 1991, no longer exists.
Election irregularities had pushed the 15 political parties that opposed
his Fanmi Lavalas party to threaten to form a parallel government and
hold their own parliamentary and presidential elections, an idea they
abandoned only last week.The international community, most prominently
the United States,which restored Aristide to office with the help of
20,000 Marines, has lost faith in the government of Haiti to foster
democracy. The European Union cut off direct aid to the Haitian
government over the summer, and some $400 billion in international loans
have to be redrawn because of a four-year paralysis of government.
Never a wealthy country, Haiti now ranks third highest in the world for
chronic hunger and malnourishment.
Deterioration of the infrastructure and deforestation on the north coast
have left Haitians near Port-au-Paix suffering from famine.
"If one takes everything into account, (Aristide) finds himself in a
paradoxically weaker position," said Colin Granderson, a career diplomat
for Trinidad and Tobago who has headed civilian missions to Haiti for
the Organization of American States and the United Nations. "He has a
majority in local government, in the presidency, in the parliament. But
he is starting off under a cloud with the international community. The
capital of goodwill he enjoyed in 1991 is no longer present in 2001.
"It's a much more complex, much more difficult situation and one that
will not be as advantageous to his situation as he was in 1991,"
Granderson said, "He is up to the task; it will be difficult, but he is
up to it."
Election irregularities.The parliamentary elections in May raised so
many questions that international organizations refused to finance the
long-anticipated presidential elections, or even to send monitors.
Luigi Einaudi, the assistant secretary general of the Organization of
American States, spent the summer and fall shuttling between Washington
and Port-au-Prince, trying to get Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas to
agree to correct the irregularities in the parliamentary vote. At issue
was the way votes were counted for 10 senate seats. The opposition
parties maintained Fanmi Lavalas candidates did not get a clear majority
of the votes and the seats should have gone to a run-off. The Fanmi
Lavalas held that the opposition would have lost anyway, so a run-off
As a result they questioned the legitimacy of the presidential
elections in November, in which Aristide handily defeated three unknown
candidates..Although Einaudi is credited with laying the groundwork, it
was Tony Lake,Clinton's former national security advisor -- and some say
the impending change in administration -- that convinced Aristide to
address the problem.At the end of December, Aristide outlined an
eight-point agreement designed to mend his severely strained
relationship with the United States and the
international community, considered key to boosting the struggling
Still, tensions remain so high and the political climate in Haiti so
uncertain that the United Nations has decided to discontinue its
International Civilian Support Mission, known as MICAH, on Tuesday, the
day before the inauguration. Outgoing President Rene Preval, Aristide's
handpicked successor, claims he has no authority to sign a new agreement
with the U.N.Observers say the mission's mandate was a failure, and
a decision was made to discontinue the operation after the first year.
Although there has been talk of modifying the mission, observers say
negotiators are at a stalemate with the Haitian government.
While Haiti has operated under international economic sanctions for
many years, it is at the brink of abandonment by the international
community, a situation that could worsen conditions in the country.
"To get out of this crisis, is going to require responsible
participation from both the international community and the various
forces of Haiti,"said Einaudi. "Unless all sides live up to their
responsibilities, it's not going to work. The outsiders cannot just
preach, and the Haitians cannot expect the outsiders to save them from
their own failings."
While Aristide had tepid support from the professional and business
elite, his popularity among the majority of Haitians was overwhelming 10
years ago.Today, there are cracks in the Fanmi Lavalas, and people who
once supported him are moving away, creating their own political
parties."Most of the people who were with (Aristide) are no longer
with him,"said the director of a nonprofit agency working in Haiti, who
asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisal. "It's frustrating.
No matter what we do,nothing gets better. Haiti needs someone to unite
the people."Politics in Haiti has always been more about the
personalities than programs, and leaders of groups who backed Aristide
in 1991 but have recently fallen away, will determine whether their
followers continue to back Aristide or break away into ever-more
narrowly drawn splinter groups.How well Aristide can keep Fanmi Lavalas
together in the first six months of his term is crucial to his success,
said Mary Archer, executive director of the National Coalition for
Haitian Rights."One of the main differences between Aristide's first
term and the environment he's entering now is a question of enthusiasm,"
said Archer."With him back in power, there's a better chance of things
moving forward in five years. But as to the possibility of substantial
change toward a democratic society, it just doesn't seem to be there any
more. Most Haitians don't expect real change in the system."The recently
formed, historic coalition of 15 opposition parties into the Convergence
Democratique is viewed less as a threat to Aristide and his power and
more as a challenge for him to include different points of view and
parties in his government."There needs to be a coming together and
airing of various political differences," said Granderson. "The
government can't be contested at every turn. The country needs
stability. Without stability, it will be very difficult to achieve any
kind of economic development. It's going to be very,very difficult. The
political climate is more polarized than it has been in some time."
Polarization comes in no small part from the fact that Aristide and
the Fanmi Lavalas have control of virtually every level of government
and every public institution. Aristide learned from history: When
opposition members of Parliament were able to denounce him in his first
term, it paved the way for the military coup that forced him into exile
for three years of his five-year term. Ken Boodhoo, an associate
professor of international relations at Florida International University
who has worked in Haiti for more than 20 years,sees Aristide sharing
power only out of necessity for his survival. "The country needs
political stability, some tangible determination to share power and I
don't see any of those," said Boodhoo. "You are talking about a
dictatorial society. You are not talking about a society that accepts
the norms of democracy. It's a winner-take-all society. They will give
in only to the extent it meets its own needs. He just has to hold on to
It's actually easier to use force to stay in power than to solve the
problems that makes the use of force unnecessary. And you're likely to
see that." The U.S. and Haiti Relations between Haiti and the U.S.
were so close in 1994 that former President Bill Clinton sent 20,000
troops to the island nation to restore Aristide to power. However, as
the administrations of both countries change--from Preval to Aristide in
Port-au-Prince and Clinton to Bush in Washington -- their relationship
is at an all-time low.
As much as anything, Aristide was encouraged to embrace the
eight-point agreement to show the incoming administration that he can
address areas of mutual interest, especially reaching an accommodation
with the opposition. It is unclear whether the Bush administration
will accept the eight points or want to include other directives, one
U.S. government official said."Aristide will have to take solid
measures and build confidence,build a relationship with people in the
new administration, so they have confidence in his rule and any
commitments he might make," said the official.
Clearly, whatever policy on Haiti the Bush administration develops will
have the highest impact on Florida, where Bush's younger brother, Jeb,
is governor. But it's too soon to say how the convergence of geography
and family will translate to foreign policy. "It has to have an
impact," said the U.S. government official. "If anything goes bad in
Haiti, Florida is going to feel the effects of it,especially in terms of
migration. I think there is sensitivity to Florida's needs. But there's
been no indication of how that will translate."
While Republican hard-liners like Senate Foreign Relations chairman
Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, and House Foreign Relations committee
chairman Benjamin Gilman, R-New York, and Rep. Porter Goss, R.-Fla., are
urging a "comprehensive,bottom-up review of U.S. policy toward Haiti,"
some observers say Haiti is a long way from producing the kind of
democracy that mirrors the United States. "Haiti has a unique political
culture," said Anthony T.Bryan, professor of international relations at
the University of Miami's North-South Center."Aristide can't change it
overnight. Can Haiti move from a minimal democracy to a sustainable one?
That's a big question."