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7082: Another half-chance for Aristide and Haiti (fwd)
From: nozier <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Another half-chance for Aristide and Haiti
Feb 8th 2001 | PORT-AU-PRINCE From The Economist print edition
There can be no doubting that their new president is popular among
Haitians. His task now is to satisfy foreign aid donors about his
IN THE tropical sunlight, the walls of the freshly repainted national
palace are so dazzlingly white that it hurts to look at them.
Passers-by must avert their eyes from the seat of power as they cross
the newly dolled-up park in the centre of Port-au-Prince. All the more
glaring is the contrast with the city’s huge slums of Cité Soleil and
Belair, where the streets remain, as ever, paved with rubbish.
Yet the people of the slums see the redecoration more cheerfully.
“It’s an example of the government’s will to bring about change,”says
Costaho Blemy of RaRam, a rara band of street musicians in Belair.
Hopes are high, too, in Cité Soleil. “We have six hours of electricity
a day,” says Dasmy Louinel, a leader of COMICS, a neighbourhood group
linked to the Lavalas Family party of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “After
February 7th, we will have it 24 hours a day.”
That is a lot to ask of Mr Aristide, who on February 7th was sworn in
as president of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas (with a GDP
per head of $1,379 measured by purchasing-power parity).When, a decade
ago, he became the first elected president after the hated
dictatorships of the Duvalier family, Mr Aristide promised to raise
Haiti’s people out of “misery” and into “poverty with dignity”. He had
little time to do so. A military coup robbed him of three of his five
years in office. In 1994, the United States sent 20,000 troops to
restore him to power—but on the condition that he did not extend his
term to compensate for the time lost. Instead, he handed over to his
chosen successor, René Préval. Mr Aristide, a former Catholic priest
and radical leftist, kept control behind the scenes, and lived in a
luxurious house in an upper-class neighbourhood (he never explained
fully how it was paid for). His election last November came six months
after much-delayed local and parliamentary elections, which saw fraud
in the vote-counting: ten Senate seats should have gone to a second
round, but were awarded straight to Lavalas.
That, on top of months of intimidation and the murder of opposition
candidates, prompted foreign donors to suspend the aid on which Haiti’s
economy depends. The main opposition parties boycotted the presidential
election. Officially, turnout was 61%; local journalists say it was
under 10% . Getting the foreign money back is Mr Aristide’s first
priority. Around $500m (or 14% of GDP) in aid and loans is unspent.
Some of it has been held up for years by political deadlock between
the opposition and Mr Préval, some suspended since last May’s
elections. The donors’ conditions for restoring aid vary. But all,
including the Bush administration in Washington, agree that Haiti must
set up a new electoral council that includes opposition members, and
hold run-off elections for the disputed Senate seats.
In December, Mr Aristide wrote to Bill Clinton promising that, and
more: to co-operate in fighting Haiti’s fast-growing drug
trade,strengthen the police and judicial system, carry out economic
reforms and include opposition members in his government. He
continued in this vein in his inaugural speech, promising dialogue with
But while Mr Aristide knows he needs international aid, “he will do the
minimum necessary to obtain it,” predicts a foreign diplomat in
Port-au-Prince. It helps Mr Aristide that the letter to Mr Clinton,
drafted with (or maybe by) Anthony Lake, the then-president’s special
envoy, is so vaguely worded as to be almost non-committal.
After several postponements, Mr Aristide met the Convergence for
Democracy, a 15-party opposition coalition, but the talks lasted barely
two days before collapsing on February 5th. The Convergence said that it
would form an alternative government, led by a former presidential
candidate, Gérard Gourgue, and invited Mr Aristide to join it.
Social issues, and thugs
That is high farce. No foreign governments will recognise the
Convergence alternative. But the donors’ demands are pretty farcical
too. Even if the election last May had been held properly, Lavalas
would have won most or all of the disputed seats. The
opposition is fragmented, ranging from former Marxists to ex-Duvalier
supporters, and lacks the power to scrutinise aid spending.
The opposition mostly represents the upper-middle class and
intellectual elite. By contrast, Lavalas Family is a tightly-run and
powerful movement. It has deep roots in Haiti’s poorest communities
through such groups as COMICS, as well as rara bands that
sing about political and social issues, and the chimères—violent young
agitators who seem to be Mr Aristide’s budding version of the Tontons
Macoutes, the Duvaliers’notoriously thuggish enforcers. “We’ve heard of
the opposition,” says Mr Louinel in Cité Soleil, “but they’ve never come
The Convergence is undeterred. “We will build networks and gain the
people’s support, the same way we did under Duvalier,” says Mischa
Gaillard, a former ally of Mr Aristide now in the opposition.“But it
took time and we had to fight,” he adds. A day before Mr Aristide was
sworn in, the UN closed its police-training and human-rights mission.
Many donors are disillusioned by Haiti’s inability to govern itself
with probity or efficiency. To convince them otherwise, Mr Aristide
will have to make sure that any money he gets is spent on things like
more electricity for Cité Soleil.