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7549: [haiti] Nation on the Brink of Civil War (fwd)

From: radman <resist@best.com>

Nation on the Brink of Civil War


Haiti's Virtual Government

by Jean Jean-Pierre
Week of March 28 - April 3, 2001

We Haitians, among a plethora of firsts, have always prided ourselves on 
being the first country to abolish slavery as well as being the first black 
independent republic. Last month, however, we earned another first of which 
we should not be so proud: We are the first nation to swear in two 
presidents on the same day in the same city.
On the morning of February 7, minutes before Jean-Bertrand Aristide was 
about to become the first Haitian president to be democratically reelected, 
somewhere in Port-au-Prince members of an opposition coalition calling 
themselves the Democratic Convergence were selecting a parallel president.
There are many reasons to be worried about Haiti's first "virtual 
government." Foremost is the prospect of civil war.
The key issue raised by the opposition is the method of tabulating the vote 
in the May 21, 2000, parliamentary elections. In a letter sent to outgoing 
U.S. president Bill Clinton last December, Aristide promised "rapid 
rectification of the problems associated with the May 21 elections through 
runoffs for disputed Senate seats . . . ": a covenant that was acknowledged 
by Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell during his confirmation 
hearings and endorsed by President Bush in a February 13 letter to 
Aristide. This was one stipulation in an eight-point agreement that is 
considered a sine qua non for the international community to resume 
financial aid to Haiti.
Ironically, Aristide's popular Lavalas Party, which would have won runoffs 
in any event, fell victim to our self-destructive amour propre Haitien, 
digging in its heels for more than six months and refusing to accept 
corrections of elections flaws.
The Convergence, an incongruous bevy of some 15 parties whose paltry 
membership is largely composed of the upper middle class, chose Gérard 
Gourgue, an educator and jurist, as its president. In November 1987, 
Gourgue, now 75, ran for president in elections that were aborted by the 
military when they and their paramilitary gangs murdered dozens of people 
at a polling place in Port-au-Prince. Strangely, one of the first promises 
made by Gourgue was to restore the army, which was disbanded by Aristide in 
1995, one year after he was returned to power by U.S. troops. So it is no 
coincidence that hundreds of former army officers took to the streets three 
weeks ago to demand the reinstatement of that dreaded institution.
Haiti today is reminiscent of Jamaica in the mid '70s, when the U.S., 
claiming that Castro was getting too chummy with Prime Minister Michael 
Manley, helped arm the partisans of then rival Edward Seaga, practically 
staging a bantam civil war in the country. Dozens of Jamaicans were killed.
While the U.S. forces were in Haiti, responding to requests by the United 
Nations and Aristide to disarm thousands of paramilitary gang members, they 
established a gun buy-back program. The $50 per gun the U.S. was offering 
did not yield much. Today those unretrieved guns and weapons owned by some 
7000 Haitian army officers, many of whom were trained at the notorious 
School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, are being used to commit 
crimes throughout Haiti.
Against this backdrop, talk of bringing back the military, which in 1991 
staged the bloodiest coup in the country's history, along with a bristling 
underground arms bazaar in Port-au-Prince, represents a chilling prospect. 
Part of the current gun trade is an outgrowth of Colombian drug cartels 
using Haiti and the Dominican Republic as transshipment hubs, with the 
result that automatic weapons are readily available to anyone for a pittance.
In the wake of the ex-military's brazen performance in the streets, 
Aristide supporters began demonstrating all over Haiti, especially in 
Port-au-Prince. Thick plumes of black smoke from the so familiar tire 
barricades soon enveloped most of the capital. Along with rock throwing, 
this continued until early last week. But around midday on Tuesday, the 
street protests degenerated into real battles, which left three people shot 
dead and scores injured.
Wednesday evening, in a speech broadcast in New York by Radio Soleil 
d'Haiti, a Brooklyn-based subcarrier that claims 500,000 listeners in the 
tristate area, Aristide asked "all political parties to keep on expressing 
political opinions without violence . . . but you cannot have two 
governments in place." As if to warn the Convergence, he added, "To have 
peace, you have to live by the laws."
Michael Zarin of the International Republican Institute (IRI), a 
Washington, D.C.-based organization, doesn't hide where his group stands. 
"Aristide's acts to date," Zarin told the Voice, "are not those of someone 
seriously committed to the cause of democracy. Words are not enough," he 
continued. "He must act to stop the violence."
Zarin's sentiments reflect the attitude of the Bush State Department.  "The 
[U.S.-trained] police response has been erratic and slow," said spokesman 
Richard Boucher. "We urge the Aristide government to respond quickly and 
professionally to protect all of the people of Haiti." Boucher did not 
address the anomaly of the country having two presidents.
The Convergence, whose main outside support comes from the IRI and Senator 
Jesse Helms, claims that its member parties were prevented from running by 
Lavalas last year. It is no secret that these parties have little in common 
but their hatred of Aristide.
Since the end of the Cold War, Haiti has lost its geopolitical significance 
and therefore its purpose for the United States. Today, instead of cajoling 
the right wing, the U.S. seems primarily interested in having any kind of 
Haitian government that can stem the flow of black refugees to Jeb Bush's 
Florida. Beyond this, Haiti offers a pool of cheap labor and a new market 
in which to dump goods and crops subsidized by American taxpayers.
With so much pressure being wielded on Aristide, the obvious question is 
why he has not reconnected with the diaspora, which was instrumental in 
bringing him back to Haiti in 1994. "A few months after Aristide's return," 
said a computer analyst and former core supporter who did not wish to be 
identified, "he surrounded himself with people who see the diaspora as 
Haitians wanting to take their jobs away. Today the lines of communication 
are almost nonexistent."
Indeed, the once stentorian voice of nearly 1.5 million people, who, from 
1991 to 1994, staged protest after protest in Washington, New York, Paris, 
and elsewhere, is all but mum. "How can we take to the streets when he 
[Aristide] does not tell us what he's doing?" asked another partisan who 
requested that his name not be published.
Yet, in spite of their cooling relationship with Aristide, most Haitians in 
the diaspora believe that even if the U.S. and Europe continue to withhold 
funds from Haiti, any concession by Aristide before Haiti's "parallel 
government" is disbanded guarantees that the opposition parties will move 
Is there any hope? Confronted with the escalating violence, Haiti's first 
"virtual president," Gourgue, told the Associated Press last week: "Our 
lives are in jeopardy. The government and the police have abandoned the 
country to street thugs."
Candor or Freudian slip, he was obviously alluding to the Aristide government.