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a50: HAITI: COUP ATTEMPT MAKES WASHINGTON NERVOUS (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (IPS) -- Today's violence in Port-au-Prince, described
by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as an attempted coup
d'etat against his regime, is fanning fears here of renewed instability in
a country invaded and occupied by the United States just seven years ago.
Such instability could fuel a growing exodus of Haitians who are fleeing
the country for the Bahamas and the United States, according to analysts
here who said the Bush administration may be forced soon to end its policy
of "benign neglect" toward the Caribbean nation.
"What we see are the signs of unrest," said one State Department
"(Florida Governor) Jeb (Bush) is probably looking at this and the
rising number of boat people and getting a bit nervous," said Rachel
Nields, a Haiti specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America here.
"Right now, the U.S. has no policy toward Haiti; they've just handed it
over to the OAS (Organization of American States)."
The 1994 military intervention by the Clinton administration was
prompted in part by the exodus of thousands of Haitian boat people who
tried to reach Florida during the brutal military regime which took power
after ousting Aristide in September 1991.
In today's events, several truckloads of unidentified armed commandos
attacked a downtown prison and then stormed the National Palace in a
pre-dawn raid. They were beaten back by guards. Later, Aristide supporters
attacked opposition figures and offices around the capital, according to
reports monitored here.
At least four people, including two police guards, were killed in the
commando assault on the Palace, according to reports which noted that
roadblocks were erected throughout the capital in the course of the day.
The U.S. State Department called for calm and urged the government "to
take appropriate measures and maintain calm."
But U.S. officials, as well as independent analysts, including former
Aristide supporters here, said such attacks are likely to recur in the
absence of any serious effort by Aristide to break the political impasse
between his loyalists and the opposition Democratic Convergence coalition.
That impasse began with the disputed May 2000 parliamentary elections in
which Aristide's Lavalas Family party claimed a complete sweep over the
objections of opposition parties and international observers who charged
that the counting had been improperly manipulated.
"The Aristide faction's flagrant cheating in the counting of the May
2000 vote has created a regime of severely impaired legitimacy," according
to Jim Morrell, a Haiti expert at the Council on International Policy, a
think-tank which supported Washington's restoration of Aristide in 1994.
"Without that legitimacy, you're just got a factional power grab (which
is) fair game for the next group of plotters," he said, warning that
nominally pro-Aristide factions may use today's violence assault as a
pretext "to further crack down on opposition politicians, independent
journalists, and human rights workers."
Aristide government officials suggested that the latest attack, like
several last July carried out against capital's police academy and several
police stations, was the work of forces loyal to Guy Philippe, a former
military officer who once headed the police in Cap-Haitien, the country's
second-largest city. He is believed to be based in neighboring Dominican
But experts here said they couldn't be sure who was responsible, only
that the violence was certain to increase tensions which were already
running high in recent weeks, and particularly since anti-government riots
broke out in Petit Goave over the weekend.
The OAS has been working since the disputed elections to gain agreement
by the two sides whereby certain seats would be subject to new balloting.
But the precise details of how and when new elections will be carried out
have not yet been agreed despite more than a dozen missions to the Haitian
capital by OAS Assistant Secretary General Luigi Einaudi.
While tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid has continued to
flow to Haiti, virtually all through non-governmental organizations (NGOs),
as much as half a billion dollars in loans and grants to Haiti have been
held up by foreign and international donors pending resolution of the
In addition, Haiti went on non-accrual status with the World Bank in
September when it failed to pay its debt obligations for more than six
months, making it impossible for the Bank to resume lending or even provide
grant support except for certain kinds of health and related projects.
"The payment of arrears is the least significant," stressed one senior
Bank official. "The key thing is the willingness to improve transparency
and governance. It is best not to lend money, if it is just going to the
purchase of a house for one person or another," she noted, adding that some
recent public spending has been used to buy houses and cars for high
The result is that the Americas' poorest country has been slipping
ever-deeper into misery from which an ever-growing number of Haitians are
tempted to escape by boat, or across the border into the Dominican
"This is putting a tremendous strain on the western part of the
Dominican Republic," said the Bank official, who asked not to be
identified. "It's a time bomb, because the Dominicans are being very
In addition to the growing impoverishment of the country, repression and
general lawlessness also appear to be growing, according to human rights
group whose warnings about the situation have grown increasingly insistent
since Aristide was re-elected as president last December.
In a report released in late September, Amnesty International said that
respect for human rights and the rule of law had fallen to its lowest level
since the military was ousted by the U.S. intervention in 1994.
And last month, Richard Menard, the head of Reporters Without Borders
(RSF), a press rights watchdog, warned that Aristide would be added to his
group's annual list of international "predators of press freedom" if an
investigation into the April 2000 murder of Jean Dominique, a highly
popular radio personality, were not concluded in a fair and transparent
Testimony acquired by an investigating judge so far has suggested the
involvement of Sen. Dany Toussaint, an influential member of Lavalas Family
in the murder of the journalist. The Lavalas-dominated Senate, however, has
refused to strip him of his parliamentary immunity.