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7238: Can Aristide Govern in Haiti? (fwd)
From: radman <email@example.com>
March 5, 2001
Can Aristide Govern in Haiti?
By GARRY PIERRE-PIERRE
When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide took over Haiti last month, he was a
different man from the popular priest who swept into office only a decade
ago. Mr. Aristide is not the only one who has changed. The country has
descended deeper into poverty, and Mr. Aristide, who was never popular with
the moneyed elite, has also managed to turn some of his staunchest
allies the intellectual left into bitter enemies. They have vowed to make
his five- year term difficult, if not impossible. But if Mr. Aristide is to
be successful, he must find a way to please groups with seemingly
conflicting interests, and his tenure will be defined by how well he
manages to appease Haitians living abroad, foreign leaders and the Haitian
Haitians outside the country are perhaps the easiest, most loyal and least
demanding of these groups. Numbering about two million across the United
States, Canada, France and the Dominican Republic, this scattered group has
always been rooting for a better Haiti and has never turned its back on the
country, regardless of the despot du jour. Haitian-Americans alone send
back close to $300 million to Haiti every year.
Haitians overseas could contribute still more if Mr. Aristide could curtail
the security problems plaguing Haiti. In recent years, many Haitians living
abroad have been reluctant to go home because of numberless stories about
armed robberies, killings and rapes. They have been patiently awaiting
action on their wishes for dual citizenship, arguing that their economic
contributions should be coupled with the right to vote and participate more
fully in Haiti's future. Many other countries, including the neighboring
Dominican Republic, have granted this sort of franchise to lure much needed
human and financial resources.
As in 1990, when he won an overwhelming victory, Aristide has not been
embraced by Washington. President Bush sent no one to his inauguration last
month. The United States and other nations have withheld some $500 million
in aid to protest last year's tainted legislative elections, in which
Mr. Aristide's Lavalas party won more than 90 percent of the vote, giving
it a virtual lock on Parliament. Suspicions abound between Port-au-Prince
and Washington. Mr. Aristide was overthrown in 1991, during the tenure of
President Bush's father; many of the people who ran Washington then are
back in power and have little tolerance for Mr. Aristide.
Part of the suspicion on the American side comes from Mr. Aristide's having
reneged on accords he signed in the past. For instance, his government
signed a structural adjustment package that was to privatize some key state
industries as part of the deal that brought him back to Haiti in 1994. Less
than a year later, Mr. Aristide, uncomfortable with handing over state-run
enterprises repositories of political patronage waged a public campaign
to undermine the process. To this day, the telephone company, port and
airport, the jewels of the package, have not been privatized.
Bill Clinton, having secured an early political success in helping to oust
a military junta in Haiti, was tolerant of Mr. Aristide. Last December,
President Clinton sent Anthony Lake, his former national security adviser,
to meet with Mr. Aristide and offer him a way out of his international
political difficulties. As a result of that meeting, Mr. Aristide came up
with an eight-point plan, mainly made up of democracy- building measures
that, if put into place, would garner him some credibility with the Bush
So far, there are signs that Mr. Aristide is following through on some of
his promises. Six of the 10 senators who gained their seats in the
controversial elections last May have said they are willing to relinquish
their offices and run again. Mr. Aristide has taken steps to create a new
electoral council a body that organizes elections to replace the dubious
provisional body used last year. These are concrete actions that Secretary
of State Colin Powell has recently said he wanted to see before meaningful
dialogue could take place. Mr. Powell has also stated that strengthening
Haiti's moribund democracy is one of the administration's priorities.
Mr. Aristide needs to continue to show Washington that he is serious about
But Mr. Aristide already has his hands full with his Haitian opponents. On
the day Mr. Aristide was being sworn in, the opposition inaugurated its own
president, Gérard Gourgue, a respected human rights lawyer and educator.
What the opposition wants is for Mr. Aristide to step down and organize new
elections, something that no one believes will actually happen. In the
past, it was easy to dismiss opposition parties as right-wing zealots. This
new bunch, however, includes the very same people who, a decade ago,
orchestrated Mr. Aristide's rise to power.
But the opposition has not played smart. Its so-called alternative
government has been ridiculed, has failed to offer a true alternative to
Mr. Aristide and has no popular mandate. Still, the opposition can inflict
political damage and create gridlock. Things looked so much more promising
in 1991, before a coup aborted Mr. Aristide's tenure. It will take a
superhuman effort for Mr. Aristide, once affectionately called "Titid," to
lead a peaceful Haiti. While the Americans and the people of the Haitian
diaspora may help him, the opposition will not.
Garry Pierre-Pierre, a former reporter with The New York Times, is editor
and publisher of Haitian Times in Brooklyn.