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a514: Haitian rice program stirs unrest (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Jan 28 (Reuters) - A Haitian rice importing and
distribution scheme that has been criticized as riddled with corruption was
blamed on Monday for unrest in the capital on Sunday in which hundreds of
people stormed a food warehouse before being dispersed by police.
     Police used tear gas and fired bullets into the air to disperse a
crowd from an impoverished area of Port-au-Prince that stormed the
warehouse holding imported rice and trucks used to distribute it,
eyewitnesses said.
     Rioters from the Cite Soleil district charged trucks carrying rice
imported to the Caribbean nation by the Pou Nou Tout (For Us All)
cooperative, an entity affiliated with Aristides's Lavalas Family political
party, eyewitnesses said.
     "These cops are taking the rice and selling it," said local resident
Joseph Mondesire, 23. "We can barely feed our children."
     Local police officials declined to comment on what caused the unrest.
Residents said several people were injured, but this could not be
independently confirmed.
     The incident was the latest concerning the imports of foreign rice --
an attempt to "reduce the cost of living for the population," according to
Lavalas spokesman Jonas Petit, but one that has brought accusations of
corruption and cronyism.
     Local farmers have complained that the imported rice, sold on the open
market at a cost far below that of locally produced rice, has hurt them
financially. Private Radio Metropole reported last week that many Haitian
senators had been allowed access to the rice to distribute in their home
     "It's a scheme for the senators and government to make some money"
said Hans Tippenhauer, a consultant with a local economic think-tank, Group
Croissance. "Only a few people are benefiting, those with connections to
Pou Nou Tout."
     Haiti's opposition Democratic Convergence coalition called in a
statement on Monday for the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
to set up an independent board of inquiry to investigate the rice scheme.
    The incident was a troubling echo of food riots that flared in Haiti
during the mid 1980s, eventually resulting in the overthrow of the
dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier.