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9673: Haiti slum residents protest miserable conditions (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Trenton Daniel

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Slum dwellers of Haiti's largest
shantytown set up burning barricades on a major highway and said they had
seized four government-operated buses on Tuesday to protest their
impoverished living conditions.
     Residents of the garbage-infested Cite Soleil district of the capital
Port-au-Prince said they confiscated the buses peacefully early in the
morning from sympathetic drivers.
     They said they planned to keep the keys in an attempt to pressure
government officials to pay them a visit to discuss their miserable and
insanitary living conditions.
     Government officials did not return calls seeking comment on the
     "We're keeping the buses so that the government can hear our voices,
so that they can see the conditions we're living in," said Calixte Manois,
an unemployed 31-year-old. "We want to live like people, not like a dog or
a pig."
     Mountains of garbage littered the alleyways and streets of the
district, and residents said the pungent stench of broken tin-roofed
toilets forced them to use a field as a toilet. Nearby, animals searched
for food in trash.
     Residents said they were not blaming President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
for whom they widely supported in elections last November that returned him
to office. But they cited widespread allegations of corruption and
ineffectiveness in his administration.
     "We don't have a problem with Aristide, but we do have a problem with
his government," said Paul Moise, an unemployed 40-year-old. "There's so
much corruption -- we want them (government officials) to share what they
have. We want to see why we voted for him."
     In recent weeks, some of the poorest among Haiti's population of
nearly 8 million have erected flaming barricades in Port-au-Prince suburbs
and several provincial towns to protest a lack of electricity, running
water and telephones.
     Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas. Haitians have a life
expectancy of just 57 years and a per capita annual income of about $250,
according to the World Bank. Four fifths of the rural population live in
     A measure of the grinding poverty is the efforts made by hundreds of
Haitians every year to seek a better life in the United States. The U.S.
Coast Guard has picked up and repatriated some 1,220 Haitians at sea so far
this year, compared with 1,394 during 2000. Some 350 migrants were sent
home by U.S. authorities just last week.
     The government has blamed recent economic deterioration on the
international community, and on opposition efforts to unseat Aristide amid
a long-running dispute over parliamentary elections in May last year.
Foreign donors have withheld some $500 million in much-needed aid until
Aristide's ruling Family Lavalas party and the main opposition reach an
accord on disputed parliamentary elections.
     Prime Minister Jean-Marie Cherestal, whose virtual absence from the
public eye has helped fuel rumors that his departure is imminent, declined
a second invitation on Tuesday to present his political and economic
program before the Senate.
     Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, rose to power in 1991 at the
head of a populist, leftist grass-roots movement that help topple an almost
30-year-old dictatorship, but was ousted seven months into his term.
     A U.S.-led-invasion restored Aristide in 1994 but had to step down
because of a constitutional mandate in 1996. He returned to office in