Long-delayed Haitian elections threatened anew
Violence casts pall on voting set for May 21
BY DON BOHNING
Escalating violence and ongoing technical and logistical problems
threaten Haiti's long-delayed parliamentary elections, seen as the first step
toward pulling the troubled Caribbean country back from the brink of chaos.
First-round voting -- already postponed three times -- for about
10,000 local and
legislative positions is now set for May 21, with a parliamentary runoff June 25.
The elections are seen as critical to resolving a three-year-old
that has left only a partially functioning government and only nine elected officials
nationwide -- President Rene Preval and eight senators.
There has been no Parliament since Preval terminated its term
in January 1999.
But as the vote draws closer, growing concern is being expressed both in Haiti
and internationally about political-related violence, underlined by the April 3
assassination of Jean Dominique, Haiti's best-known radio commentator, and the
disturbances that followed his April 8 funeral.
``If, in the coming days, popular organizations continue to promote
destroy the cars of honest citizens, if fires continue to destroy property . . . the
elections will not take place,'' Leon Manus, chairman of Haiti's Provisional
Electoral Council, said last week at a meeting with political party representatives.
The so-called popular organizations blamed for much of the street
been linked to former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, although he has denied
The Preval government and Haiti's fledgling police force are coming
under fire for
not acting more aggressively to halt the violence.
``We reiterate that the responsibility for ending this violence
and bringing the
perpetrators to justice rests with President Preval and the Haitian government,''
said a joint statement by six liberal U.S.-based human rights groups, including
the National Coalition for Haiti Rights, the Washington Office on Latin America,
the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Center for
International Policy, and the International Human Rights Law Group.
The April 25 statement also said the groups were ``disturbed that
personally has not used the considerable moral force and political goodwill that he
still enjoys in Haiti to condemn the violence.''
Aristide reportedly promised a delegation from private-sector
met with him April 20 that he would make such a statement, but so far it has not
An Organization of American States electoral observer mission,
already in the
country, also chided the government for not acting more forcefully, noting ``once
again that the State has primary responsibility to assure conditions of security to
permit the functioning of its institutions.'' There is widespread speculation among
opposition groups and other analysts that Aristide and Preval would prefer to see
the parliamentary elections delayed and combined with presidential elections later
That would give Aristide, still Haiti's most popular politician
and a presumed
presidential candidate, a better chance of winning a parliamentary majority. And it
would enable Preval to govern without a Parliament for most of the remaining nine
months of his term.
Both foreign and Haitian analysts are now putting the chance of
held as scheduled May 21 and June 25 at little better than even, given the growing
violence, the continued disorganization of the electoral machinery and the
perceived reluctance of Preval and Aristide to hold them.
At the same time, there are signs of both disintegration and politicization
new Haitian National Police, which replaced the army dissolved by Aristide after
he was returned to the presidency in 1994 by a U.S.-led invasion.
POLICE OFFICIAL OUT
The latest blow came last week with the resignation of Luc Eucher
police inspector general who was credited with weeding out some of the force's
He was the second ranking police-security official to resign in
recent months. In
October, Bob Manuel, secretary of state for security in the Ministry of Justice,
resigned under pressure from Aristide and his Lavalas Family political party.
That leaves only Pierre Denize, the police director general, in
place, and he, too,
came under fire from Aristide and his supporters at the time of Manuel's
The statement by the six human rights groups noted that ``the
Police is in growing disarray, with ongoing serious human rights abuses and its
integrity challenged by political interference and drugs-related corruption.''
The erosion of the police also comes as a new United Nations Mission
judicial, human rights and police advisory components -- that was to begin
operation March 15 is being held up by lack of promised U.S. funding.
Clinton administration officials say they now expect that $3 million
transferred to the United Nations sometime this week to help jump-start the
Special correspondent Stewart Stogel contributed to this report
from the United