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a864: This Week in Haiti 19:49 2/20/2002 (fwd)
"This Week in Haiti" is the English section of HAITI PROGRES
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* THIS WEEK IN HAITI *
February 20 - 26, 2002
Vol. 19, No. 49
WITH PRIME MINISTER OUT, HOT-SEAT HAS FEW TAKERS
Prime Ministers generally haven't remained in office very long
during the tumultuous past decade in Haiti. Since President Jean-
Bertrand Aristide was first inaugurated on Feb. 7, 1991 (marking
the first democratic regime's entrance after the fall of the
Duvalier dictatorship five years earlier), the country has seen
nine premiers -- including the two puppets installed by the
Haitian army during the 1991-1994 coup d'état -- and two years
without any prime minister at all.
Jean-Marie Chérestal is the latest PM to bite the dust. He
formally resigned on Jan. 21 after a mere 11 months in office. He
is now care-taking until Aristide nominates a replacement.
One might have expected Chérestal to last longer than his
predecessors. He had no problem being ratified, since Aristide's
Lavalas Family party (FL), to which he belongs, dominated the
Parliament. But quickly things began to sour. Three of
Chérestal's key ministers -- Planning, Commerce, and Justice --
were former collaborators of the Duvalier dictatorship and/or the
coup (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 18, No. 51, 3/7/2001). The
government immediately took a neo-liberal tack, disregarding the
FL's previous posturing.
Justice, another FL promise, stagnated, particularly progress on
the litmus-test murder investigation of radio journalist Jean
Dominique and his caretaker Jean-Claude Louissaint (see Haïti
Progrès, Vol. 19, No. 48, 2/13/2002). Examining judge Claudy
Gassant found that his logistical support and security dried up,
while threats and hostility from certain FL legislators grew.
On top of everything, a culture of nonchalant corruption spread
like mold through the ministries and municipal offices of the
government, fueling deep resentment and frustration in the
Haitian people who had put the FL in office to uproot such
legacies of the Duvalier years. Wars broke out among mayors and
ministers, fought mostly through accusations graffitied on walls,
leaked to radios, or trumpeted on the Parliament floor. The most
spectacular battle was that between Chérestal and his Interior
Minister, Henri Claude Ménard, an Aristide confidant. Ménard and
his FL allies struck the mortal blow when they revealed that
Chérestal had bought a home for $1.7 million last fall. The
precise details of the purchase remain unclear (Chérestal argued
that the house was obtained as an official Prime Minister's
residence), but Haiti's hungry masses were outraged that such
extravagant real-estate deals were being made while they are
experiencing growing hunger due to the economic melt-down brought
on by a de facto foreign aid embargo on the country.
The flames of popular anger were also licking at Aristide's
previously unsinged ankles, another reason why he had to cut
loose Chérestal, who was a close advisor prior to assuming his
post. Aristide, who was the architect of his PM's policies, never
openly criticized Chérestal; his modus operandi has always been
to have others do his dirty work while he remains above the fray.
According to some sources within his party, Aristide approved of,
and even inspired, the final campaigns to force his PM's
resignation. Ditching Chérestal and reshuffling the cabinet will
buy Aristide some time as he maneuvers against a relentless
destabilization campaign orchestrated by Washington.
Now the problem is: who will take Chérestal's place? For even the
most power-hungry opportunist, taking the job must give pause.
This week alone, Cité Soleil, the capital's giant slum, was being
wracked by fierce gun-battles between rival gangs, forcing
hundreds of residents to flee; a deputy from Gonaïves, Marc André
Durogène, was shot to death on a Port-au-Prince street by two
bandits; a pro-FL television personality was dragged off a bus
and severely beaten by an anti-FL gang of seven men; a policeman,
chasing a thief through a crowded market in the capital, fired
wildly, killing a 21-year-old woman, Sherline Coriolan, and
wounding a pregnant woman and a child; in St. Marc, a supposedly
pro-FL popular organization trashed the national social security
office, apparently an attempt to pressure for jobs from any new
administration. Meanwhile, the government is massively deficit-
spending, progressive political allies are recoiling, and popular
impatience is swelling.
Presidential spokesman Jacques Maurice said this week that "the
president's desire is to have a government which is very, very
broad, broader, much broader than the government before."
Deciphered this means that, rather than turning back to the
democratic-nationalist positions he once espoused, Aristide wants
to include even more Duvalierists and reactionaries in his new
government than were in the last. Maurice claimed that there are
"informal meetings underway now" with the Democratic Convergence
(CD), the Washington-backed opposition front of 15 or so
miniscule parties."We cannot reveal any names yet," Maurice said.
"We cannot yet give a final report on the consultations" since
they are supposedly on-going.
But Washington and the CD are unlikely to allow Aristide out of
the economic and political cul de sac he has entered and is now
desperately trying to escape. The U.S. has vetoed the release of
about $500 million in foreign aid -- on which Haiti is paying
interest and Aristide made rosy campaign promises -- until there
is a political deal struck with its CD minions over the FL's
sweep of municipal, parliamentary, and presidential elections in
2000. "We are terribly concerned about the political unrest that
continues to haunt Haiti," said U.S. Secretary of State Colin
Powell to a CARICOM meeting in Nassau, Bahamas on Feb. 7 after
the body called on Washington to lift its aid blockage. "We are
concerned about some of the actions of the government, and we do
not believe enough has been done yet to move the political
process forward. We believe we have to hold President Aristide
and the Haitian government to fairly high standards of
performance before we can simply allow funds to flow into the
Although Aristide has met many (if not all) of the demands
originally made by the CD and Washington in the fall of 2000, the
bar keeps rising... since the real purpose of the demands is to
overturn Aristide, not compromise with him. No matter how much
Aristide concedes, Washington officials, especially the
Republicans, do not trust him, nor do the CD reactionaries. They
also feel victory "by other means" may be close at hand. About 30
armed men sympathetic to the CD and on a mission to assassinate
Aristide took over the National Palace for several hours on Dec.
17 (see Haïti Progrès, Vol. 19, No. 40, 12/19/2001).
Last week, the police arrested 14 people allegedly involved in
kidnappings, which have plagued Haiti in the past two months.
Eight of the detainees were low- and mid-level members of a CD
component party, KID. As it has repeatedly over the past year,
the CD is using these arrests as an excuse to not negotiate,
while pointing a finger at Aristide. "This is part of the
strategy of Mr. Jean Bertrand Aristide to weaken the opposition
and to create a situation which renders impossible the pursuit of
negotiations aimed at arriving at a compromise on the basis of a
political agreement," said Paul Denis, a CD leader.
The intransigence of Washington and the CD is all part of the
low-intensity war being waged against Haiti on many fronts, from
cutting off aid in Washington's carpeted board rooms to supplying
ammunition to rival gangs in Haitian shantytowns. Aristide,
having already miscalculated his political leeway with George W.
Bush at the helm of the superpower, is now miscalculating again.
He may be looking for ways to jettison his whole party, so that
he can continue as President in a Convergence-run Haiti. Already,
Sen. Dany Toussaint proposed last month that all the Senators and
Deputies elected in May 2000 resign en masse, rather than hold
new elections in November of this year as planned.
Could such a proposal have been coming from Aristide? Were there
whisperings of this proposal when the Senators met with Aristide
at the National Palace on Feb. 15? Ben Dupuy, secretary general
of the National Popular Party (PPN), prophesied months ago that
only one thing is sure with Aristide: "Other than the presidency,
everything else is negotiable."
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