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a651: This Week in Haiti 19:47 2/6/2002 (fwd)
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"Le journal qui offre une alternative"
* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
February 6 - 12, 2002
Vol. 19, No. 47
RICE SCANDAL ROCKS ARISTIDE'S PARTY
After less than one year in power, the Lavalas Family party (FL)
of President Jean Bertrand Aristide is exploding in a series of
scandals. FL parliamentarians have been implicated in police drug
busts; one parliamentarian's car was used by "zenglendos"
(bandits), some of whom turned out to be on his security squad,
to commit a robbery and double murder; corruption scandals have
erupted in mayors' offices nationwide, resulting in several
dismissals in the face of popular protests.
The latest uproar involves FL senators and deputies who imported
-- duty-free -- 70,000 metric tons of rice under the auspices of
a fake tax-free "cooperative" spun off from the Aristide
Foundation for Democracy. The duty exemption on the 1.385 million
sacks of rice meant a loss of over 117 million gourdes ($4.68
million) for the Haitian treasury.
The pill might not be so hard to swallow if the "peace rice" --
as it is labeled -- were being freely distributed, as some
sources say it was supposed to be. Parliamentarians were each
given a card by the Aristide Foundation to claim 400 sacks of
rice to be distributed among their constituencies. The architect
of this scheme -- whoever it was -- may have hoped to "buy"
popular allegiance and goodwill for the FL and government, much
as missionaries and the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) have tried to do with their food distribution projects in
Haiti over the years. Another supposed purpose of the "peace
rice" was to force down the high price of rice, which sells for
about 800 gourdes ($32) per 110 lb. sack.
However, the "peace rice" was not being freely distributed but
sold by the parliamentarians for 250 gourdes ($10) a sack,
according to FL deputy Nahoum Marcellus, who exposed the rice
racket two weeks ago. He claims that conflict over this
trafficking was behind the forced resignation of the Prime
Minister Jean-Marie Chérestal on Jan. 21.
"These guys are so steeped in thieving that they commit the crime
today of selling imported rice, when they know that here at home
there is rice production," said Charles Souffrant of the peasant
organization Kozepep, which is based in the rice-growing
Artibonite Valley. "Instead of encouraging national production,
they are destroying it! What a shame on this parliament!"
The National Popular Party (PPN) also denounced the rice scandal
in a Jan. 29 press conference in Port-au-Prince and revealed the
illegality of the importing "cooperative." PPN Secretary General
Ben Dupuy recalled that during the 1991-1994 coup d'etat, it was
de facto Prime Minister Marc Bazin -- presently Planning Minister
of the outgoing Chérestal government -- who granted the U.S.-
based Rice Corporation the monopoly for importing rice, which
continues to destroy national production. "There is a real
monopoly, we could even call it a rice mafia, which has put the
Haitian people through hell in food matters," he said.
Now Lavalas parliamentarians want to enrich themselves at public
expense on the pretext that they are attacking this monopoly to
bring down the price of rice on the local market, he explained.
They set up a fake cooperative called "For All of Us" ("Pou nou
tout"), which the Haitian masses now bitterly refer to as "All
For Us" ("Tout pou nou").
This cooperative was never legally established and yet received
exemption from customs duties and all other taxes, Dupuy
revealed. "So here are legislators, who are supposed to be making
law, and instead they are the first to pass outside of the law,"
In the press conference, Dupuy presented documents gathered in an
investigation of the "cooperative" by Haïti-Progrès. For example,
according to an Oct. 27, 1960 presidential decree published in
the Haitian government's official journal, Le Moniteur (Nº 103,
November 3, 1960): "The National Council of Cooperation [CNC]
alone has the power to authorize cooperatives to function by
granting them official approval" (Article 3). But when Haïti
Progrès visited the CNC, employees there said that they had only
heard of the cooperative "Pou nou tout" over the radio, but had
no such name in the official register. Moreover, the CNC had no
other information about the "Pou nou tout" cooperative even
though "all cooperatives must keep a register listing their
members, their residences, their kind of activities, the number
of shares distributed" (Article 7).
Furthermore, cooperatives approved by the CNC must be published
in Le Moniteur and are to be "politically neutral." But, as Dupuy
pointed out, "we know that this cooperative is composed only of
members of the Lavalas Family party and thus it is formed on a
purely political basis."
In short, the customs duties and tax exemptions granted to this
tax-free "cooperative" were fraudulently obtained.
"We think that [the whole scheme of rice distribution]
facilitates unfair competition with national production and is a
short-sighted, paternalistic policy," Dupuy said. "Ultimately the
consequence is the destruction of our national production.
Objectively, President Aristide has disassociated himself from
the timid land reform and half-hearted gestures of his
predecessor toward the peasantry."
After the scandal broke, hundreds of people stormed warehouses at
the port authority last week and began making off with sacks of
"peace rice." Heavily armed cops of the CIMO, the elite anti-riot
unit, broke up the looting but then began expropriating some
sacks for themselves, according to radio reports.
Meanwhile, concerned about their credibility, some senators
expressed indignation about the scandal and said they had
returned the cards entitling them to withdraw (the remainder of)
their rice quota from the port authority warehouse. Knowing the
best defense is a good offense, one of those named by Deputy
Marcellus, FL senator Prince Sonson Pierre, launched an
"investigation" into the scandal. Among the names he cited as
"founders" of the "cooperative" were FL Senator Mirlande Libérus
(an Aristide Foundation director), Paul Preslet (a former
Foundation director, now head of the National Bank of Credit),
and Jonas Petit, the FL's official spokesman.
During the PPN press conference, Dupuy also addressed the
resurgence of intolerance and anarchy throughout the
country."Each mayor has become a warlord," he said. "They
assemble their own armies, make the law, and, most seriously,
they then fight among each other... We note what recently
happened in St. Raphaël, where a deputy killed a mayor."
He also condemned the growing cult of personality surrounding
President Aristide, and his inappropriate largesse. "All day
long, I hear it said that all that is done in the country is a
gift of the President of the Republic," Dupuy said. "As we
watched the Gold Cup on TNH [national television] last week,
there was subtitling which said that it was a gift from the
President of the Republic which paid to make possible the
retransmission of the matches... Today, it is not the State which
is spending... It is a personal gift of the President of the
Republic. The more things change, the more it is the same thing,"
Dupuy said, remarking on how the Duvalier father and son
dictators also made it a practice to bestow "personal gifts" on
the Haitian people.
Dupuy condemned the continued intimidation of journalists and
government critics, as well as President Aristide's sabotage of
the investigation into the Apr. 3, 2000 murder of radio
journalist Jean Dominique by refusing to renew the mandate of
investigating judge Claudy Gassant, who is presently in Florida.
Dupuy warned the Haitian people not to allow the "opportunists
and sharks" of the Democratic Convergence, a front of 15
followingless parties, to use the situation to their advantage.
"We say to the people to make sure not to run from the rain only
to fall into the lake," Dupuy said. "We all know that the
Convergence has the support of the OAS [Organization of American
States] and is financed by foreigners. They cry scandal but do
not mention that they receive money from abroad to make an
alleged opposition in order to return with the Macoute army."
Aristide disbanded the Haitian army in 1995.
The PPN called once again for the formation of a popular
alternative front to the Lavalas Family and the Convergence."We
call on all the still healthy elements of the popular and
political organizations, of civil society, of human rights
groups, to form a large chain to block the road to intolerance
and to reactionaries who ask for the return of the Army or for
foreign forces to come put them in power so that they can apply
the neoliberal death plan which all the people of world reject
and which would only bring us more misery," Dupuy said, "because
the Haitian people's struggle must continue until final victory."
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