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a892: Black Caucus calls on US to lift veto on internationalassistance (fwd)

From: MKarshan@aol.com

Black Caucus calls on United States to lift veto on international assistance
Fri Feb 22,11:48 AM ET
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The United States should lift its veto on disbursing millions of dollars in aid to impoverished Haiti, members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus (news - web sites) said Friday.

"The Black Caucus has unanimously agreed that these funds be released immediately," Rep. John Conyers (news) (Dem., Mich.) said at International Airport, winding up a fact-finding mission he and Rep. Carrie Meek (news) (Dem., Fla.) began Wednesday.

"It is morally correct" to release the aid, Meek said after the mission, which included meetings with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, opposition leaders, foreign diplomats, and civil and religious leaders.

Poverty and political instability have increased since flawed local and legislative elections that Aristide's Lavalas Family party swept in 2000. The opposition has accused Aristide partisans of rigging the vote to ensure one-man, one-party rule.

Since then, the international community has blocked hundreds of millions of foreign aid dollars until a consensus is reached with the opposition on new elections.

"The failure to find a solution to the political impasse between Aristide's government and the opposition party coalition could lead to anarchy in the near future," Conyers warned in a written statement released Friday.

The United States has maintained its own dlrs 70 million aid package to Haiti, but is channeling the funds through non-governmental agencies.

However, it has vetoed the disbursement of some dlrs 146 million in low-interest, long-term loans from the Inter-American Development Bank.

"We do not believe enough has been done yet to move the political process forward to assure ourselves that additional aid will be used in the most effective way at this time," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (news - web sites) said Feb. 7.

On Dec. 17, gunmen raided the National Palace and held it for seven hours before fleeing. At least 10 were killed in the attack and subsequent violence.

Aristide said the attack was an attempt to assassinate him and overthrow democracy, but the opposition charges it was a staged event designed to repress dissent.

Meanwhile, Haiti's chronically depressed economy continues to slump. In 1991, the Haitian army ousted Aristide in a bloody coup. In 1995, after U.S. troops restored him to office, the annual growth rate was 4.5 percent. Last year, it fell below zero.

In a Nov. 23 letter to the 38-member Black Caucus, Aristide applauded its defense of his government, saying "the economic blockade imposed on the Haitian people must come to an end so that Haiti can move forward in peace toward economic and social prosperity."

The opposition denies it is standing in the way of progress.

"We have never demanded foreign assistance be suspended, and we won't fight against its resumption," opposition spokesman Mischa Gaillard said.