Saturday, November 25, 2000
Racked by Violence, Haiti Prepares to Vote in Controversial Election
Unsolved attacks further mar presidential poll seen as stacked in favor of former leader Aristide.By MARK FINEMAN, Times Staff Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti--Michele Montas still greets her husband's empty desk with a "Good morning" every day. Montas, the newsroom director at Radio Haiti Inter, still broadcasts her husband's commentaries most afternoons.
But more than seven months after an assassin pumped four bullets into Radio Haiti's director, Jean Leopold Dominique, 69, in broad daylight, there has been no news about the identity of his killers--professional hit men who struck during a wave of political violence that killed at least 15 people before parliamentary elections in May.
Now, as Haiti prepares for presidential polls Sunday that are almost certain to return former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, the unsolved slaying of Haiti's most prominent political commentator is a chilling metaphor for the prevailing lawlessness in this impoverished and increasingly isolated land.
The political violence, too, remains unresolved.
A wave of random pipe bombings throughout Port-au-Prince, the capital, since Wednesday has left two people dead and 16 injured. A girl, 7, was killed Thursday when a bomb blew up a bus she was riding in on her way to school. Drive-by shootings have become so common in some areas that residents erect makeshift roadblocks of burning tires at night.
American Airlines and Air France have canceled all flights here Sunday and Monday because of the violence. And three of the seven presidential candidates have withdrawn, citing the terror attacks and an electoral system that they say is stacked in Aristide's favor.
"Jean's death was definitely part of the same pre-electoral violence we are seeing now," Montas said Friday, blaming the bombings and shootings on unknown forces seeking to keep voter turnout low, weaken Aristide's mandate and further cripple Haiti's faltering democratic experiment.
No one has claimed responsibility for any of the violence.
"The object is to kill or maim enough people to keep voters from going out. If the elections are held, and people aren't afraid to vote, they will vote overwhelmingly for Aristide," Montas said.
In the conspiratorial environment that is Haiti, though, other analysts suggest that Aristide's own ruling Lavalas Family party could be behind the violence--a pretext that would help explain any lower-than-expected support for Aristide on Sunday.
Aristide hasn't commented on the violence publicly. In fact, he hasn't appeared in public at all--not since he registered as a candidate Oct. 9.
As a Roman Catholic priest and champion of Haiti's poor, Aristide rode a tidal wave of support to the presidency in 1990 elections. That victory was overturned the next year by a military coup that drove Aristide into U.S. exile. And the Clinton administration, which returned Aristide to power in the 1994 Operation Restore Democracy--a multibillion-dollar international effort that included 20,000 American troops--pressured him to leave the post at the end of his presidential term in 1995.
After five years largely adrift under Aristide's protege, President Rene Preval, most Haitians believe that Aristide deserves another chance. Preval has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid in the two years since he allowed Parliament to lapse and has ruled by decree.
Besides, most Haitians say, there's no real choice.
The violence-marred parliamentary polls May 21 and July 9, which gave the Lavalas party an overwhelming legislative majority, were sharply criticized as unfair by Haiti's political opposition, the U.S., the European Union, and the Organization of American States, which officially monitored them.
Shortly before midnight Thursday, the Parliament confirmed Jacques-Edouard Alexis as premier 20 months after he was appointed to the post by presidential decree. Alexis will run the government until a new president is inaugurated.
There will be no international monitors Sunday: The OAS is boycotting. There will be no real opposition: All major parties other than Lavalas also are boycotting, and Aristide's three remaining presidential rivals are virtual unknowns. In addition, after a vote that most Western nations are expected to reject, there probably will be none of the estimated $500 million in frozen foreign aid Haiti so desperately needs.
For most Haitians, though, the core election issues are the soaring cost of living in the world's third-hungriest nation, personal security, and what Montas called "a tradition of impunity in Haiti." There have been recent attempts at accountability, including the rare trial, conviction and sentencing this month of more than 50 former army officers and paramilitary leaders responsible for a 1994 massacre of peasants and fishermen. And Dominique's murder still is under active judicial investigation.
"But there are very high expectations of what Aristide can do," Montas said. "And there are very serious concerns about what will happen if he can't."
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times
©2002 NCHR -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED -- Last updated: 01 May 2007